Many working parents understand the benefits of being an active member of their child’s school community, but feel too time poor. The good news is that helping out at your child’s school isn't as difficult as it first may seem. By maintaining open communication, you are bound to find a way beyond the tuckshop counter and library shelves to actively contribute to your child’s school.
Jim Davies, CEO of Principals Australia Institute says it begins with being connected, interested and engaged with what your child is learning, whether it be sourced from a classroom or elsewhere. “A school is a community of learners, and parents are significant members of that community. The most important role of a parent is to be receptive and encouraging to their son or daughter, sharing their learning with them in the home environment.”
Rob Mason, dad and KidsMatter Primary’s Victoria Coordinator says research spanning several decades shows clear benefits for children when schools and families work together. “It shows that when school staff and families partner together, a caring school community develops around students. This makes a significant positive difference to the wellbeing and learning capacity of students regardless of outside factors such as socioeconomic factors.”
Rob emphasises that schools need to make opportunities for dads and working parents to be involved. “It’s about tapping into their skill sets and finding really concrete and useful things they can do around the school. It could be as simple as a working bee, reading with students, or holding a twilight sports day so dads and working parents can attend.”
The benefits of having dads involved can reach beyond just our own children, Rob explains. “When schools give dads opportunities to be involved, all students benefit from seeing male role models around the school.”
When it comes to being involved outside of the usual ways, the key is communication. If you make schools aware of your willingness to be involved and how you would be interested in helping, they’re more likely to let you know when opportunities arise.
Here are ten ideas to get you started:
Help organise an event – School events happen regularly throughout the year, and often outside of school hours. A few emails and phone calls to help coordinate things won’t take much time, but will make a big difference in sharing the workload.
Guest speaker – Schools are often looking for opportunities to have guest speakers at presentation nights or assemblies. If you have something that you can talk about to students, no matter how briefly, your time will be greatly appreciated. If you’re not the public speaking type, perhaps you can volunteer to contact a local politician, high school or university representative, or another inspirational person who would be willing to give a little of their time.
Special interest club – Do you have a skill you can share with students? It could be as simple as handball, chess, or craft. Hosting a club can be done after school or even on weekends, and the school or their OOSH program can often handle the appropriate paperwork.
Contribute to a lesson – Teachers are always on the lookout for new and engaging resources and ideas. With topics spanning from Indigenous culture to scientific investigation to performing arts, there’s bound to be something you have access to that will enhance children’s learning experience.
Student banking – Budgeting and saving money is a great life skill for kids to learn, and most schools have a student banking program to encourage this. Picking up the banking envelope to deposit once a week is a great way to support kids financial learning.
Social media – Love a bit of Facebook time? Work out the protocol with your principal in regards to posting news updates and photos, and take on the responsibility of the school Facebook page to engage the school community and keep them informed.
Use your specialised skills – Think about how you can apply your professional or personal skills to school needs. Can you design the yearbook? Install software updates? Maintain the garden? There’s an endless amount of jobs that don’t need constant attention, but require somebody skilled to do them.
Take work home – While they’re not the most exciting jobs in the world, covering books, putting together information packs, and counting supermarket school vouchers all need to be done and they don’t take a lot of brain power at the end of a long day.
Support new parents – Starting at a new school can be just as daunting for parents as kids. Help out by organising opportunities for other parents to meet such as class picnics and group outings. Speak another language? Find out if this can be of any help to other parents in the school who may not be confident with their communication.
Take the day off – Just using one of your leave days to visit your child’s school can be a great buzz. Go on a class excursion, get involved in a sports lesson, help out with morning reading or just be an extra hand in the classroom. Your child will love the surprise and you’ll have a lot of fun just taking the time out to be there.
It’s also important to remember to take the pressure off yourself, and not take on too much guilt when you can’t be there. If there is something important you can’t make it for, call on other family members where possible, as your child will also benefit from this. Jim explains that it's important for the significant adults in any student's life to be involved in their schooling. “A good school is one that respects differences and diversity. Mothers, fathers, grandparents and other adults can all support through their engaged interest in a student's schooling experiences. The voices that constructively challenge, discuss, debate and show genuine interest in a student's formative learning are invaluable.”