This morning, The Wall Street Journal had an article in the Work & Family column on the benefits to children of parents volunteering at their schools.
The School Volunteer Jobs That Most Help Your Kids states that cash-strapped schools are even more dependent on parents. They may enlist you for fundraising or any number of other important functions. “But for parents with limited time and energy, which roles deliver the biggest benefit for your kids?” Sue Shellenbarger, the author of the article, asks.
In elementary school, the author suggests : “Volunteer where your child can see you.” The message the child receives is: “My parent is at school, my parent cares about me.”
As a volunteer myself in my daughter’s first-grade classroom, I know this to be true. Not only did I get to know the teacher and the curriculum but also how I could best reinforce the material at home. I could also see where my daughter stood in relation to her peers. Students in first grade represent a wide spectrum. While one student effortlessly reads the entire sentence, another struggles to sound out words. I gained empathy for the struggling students, whom I worked with, and the formidable task facing a first-grade teacher.
In first grade, students who have difficulty with the material begin to form negative perceptions of themselves. They are now aware of what mastery they have or lack. They now compare themselves to peers. As a parent, particularly if this child is your eldest or only child, you might not be aware that your child is having difficulty with the material. You might not be aware of how well your child’s peers are doing. If you are in the classroom, you will know. In the afternoon at the kitchen table, you can help your child by going over the material and making sure that your child catches up with his/her peers.
As a teacher myself, I know that despite my best efforts, some students fall behind for any number of reasons, many beyond my control. A parent is a child’s FIRST and PRIMARY teacher, it is up to parents to ensure their children do NOT fall behind particularly in the first three years of elementary school. Attitudes are shaped not only toward school but about oneself such as: “I’m not good in math” or “I’m not good in reading” or “I’m not smart” or “I hate school.” NEVER reinforce this by saying: “I wasn’t good in math” or “I didn’t like school either.” If you do this, you are giving your child permission to fail. You are setting low expectations. Parents can and must shape positive attitudes toward self and school.
What can parents do to shape positive attitudes? The author states: “If you lack time to volunteer, or find yourself at the bottom of a long waiting list of wannabe school helpers, don’t despair. How you coach your child at home matters more.” The author adds: “Throughout school, the most important parental role of all is to shape your child’s attitude toward learning and school, communicate high expectations, and help him or her set goals and solve learning problems.”
In middle school, kids do not want parents in the classroom. The author suggests you volunteer where you can learn the most about the school’s curriculum and classes. In high school, volunteer where your student can learn from your example. Volunteering in high school has less impact on your child. “The coaching role is nearly five times more powerful at this stage,” the author states. However, volunteering at your student’s high school still communicates: “I care about you and your activities.” Another benefit: children of parents who volunteer are more likely to volunteer as adults.
Children learn from our example. We need to ask ourselves, “What has my child learned from me today?” and “What example did I set?”