Experienced teachers know that parent-volunteers can be a tremendous resource in the classroom. This month, teachers who have worked seamlessly with parents throughout their careers share ideas on how they involve parents in supporting the classroom and their children's learning experiences.

What are some of the ways in which you take advantage of the energy, enthusiasm, and expertise parents and family members have to offer?

"After many years of teaching and having to stop and explain to parents what to do, I decided there must be a better way. So I devised a Parent Center, based on a learning center. It's a place in the classroom where parent-volunteers are directed to go when they arrive. They have a notebook for signing in and keeping track of the days when they volunteer. There are several pockets with cards in them. The pockets are labeled with the types of activities I need completed, such as making copies, assembling homework packets, taking inventory, tutoring students one-on-one, leading group activities, doing prep for crafts, etc. In the pocket is a card or cards that describe what needs to be done and how to do it. I keep all the materials parent-volunteers will need in the Parent Center, and they can simply get to work without my help. If I am going to do a special activity that requires extra hands, or if I want my volunteers to work with specific groups of children, I can then go to them during a natural break and let them know. I have gotten very good feedback on this system from parents. They feel more compelled to come in and help if they know they have a direction to go when I cannot get to them right away."

—Sarah Andres, Las Vegas, Nevada

"I've been teaching kindergarten for five years, but I only recently started hosting family nights. For September, I hosted Family Math Night. I sent home flyers asking parents for times and dates that they would be available to attend. I also made sure that siblings were invited, so parents didn't have to arrange for babysitters. The children learned several math games in school, such as Disappearing Train, Spin-a-Number, Bowling for Subtraction, Number Bingo, and M&M Graphing. At Family Math Night, they got to be the teachers and teach their families how to play the games! Each child who attended got to take home a packet for each game they played. For the month of October, I hosted a Family Reading Night. For November, I hosted a Family Science Night."

—Lindsey Jackson, East Moline, Illinois

"Something fun I do to get the dads involved is host Donuts with Dads once or twice a month. Every month, a different dad or two volunteers. He comes in with donuts and juice and does a presentation for the students. The dad and I work together on coming up with something he would be comfortable presenting and the students would be interested in. We have had presentations covering all topics from using an abacus to being an FBI agent to National Hispanic month. They also bring one of their favorite books and do a mini booktalk for the class. The kids love seeing fathers involved in school because traditionally they aren't around schools much. The dads love it because it is a minimal commitment, just one morning a year!"

—Rhiannon Dame, Fairfax, Virginia

"Teaching a kindergarten class for a couple of years now, I realize that there is one supply we always manage to run out of no matter how much I stock up at the beginning of the year. And that supply is play dough! To help with the play dough shortage, I initiated the Play Dough Maker's Club. Early in the year, I send out a survey asking the parents which volunteer activities they would like to participate in (if any), and I compile a list of members for our elite club of play dough makers. When we run low, I pick a name on the list and send home the ingredients in a bag (all they need to add is oil and water) for the children to make the play dough at home and then bring back to share with the class. That way, parents who work full-time have the ability to give something back to the classroom, and I never run out of play dough."

—Tracie Bolin, Henderson, Nevada

"Early in the year, not too long after Open House, I contact each parent by phone so that I can get a feel for what is going on in their life and if an extra commitment would be an inconvenience to them. After many prayers and viewing these details for a week, I approach a student's mother about taking on the responsibility of being the Class Mom. The duty of this mother is to arrange a coffee/tea get-together with the other parents at least once a month for bonding and any class details or concerns that I may have listed. The Class Mom also meets with me once a month to go over any special event or class party details and is in charge of contacting the volunteers to make additional arrangements with them for upcoming events. This takes a huge amount of stress off of me. I feel really good that if I'm not available for questions, then someone is, and it is extra set-up help for me the day of the event. I send thank you cards after each event/party to every parent, and at the end of the year, I present the Class Mom with a gift of appreciation. Having someone in charge of this frees up extra time for me so that I can spend more time planning lessons, etc."

—Angela Lewis, Rustburg, Virginia


These ideas were named "Winning Ideas" in Teacher magazine's monthly contest for teachers.