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October 30, 2013 It Takes a Village: Maximize Parent Engagement By Lindsey Petlak
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    It takes a village . . . to run a successful classroom. I’m not too proud to admit that in order to run the type of classroom I envision, I need help! Asking parents for that help is a no-brainer. The benefits for parents when they engage in their child’s education are immeasurable. Send out an S.O.S. for parent involvement and discover ways to successfully involved parents (and other family members).

    Classroom Economy

    If you read my post about our Classroom Economy, you’ll see that it’s more than just a classroom reward system. Teaching students about economics, writing and cashing checks, planning a shopping budget, checking out by paying the cashier, and making change are difficult tasks. Not only do parents lend a much-needed helping hand, but students benefit from the financial literacy discussions that often emerge from this activity.

    Parents may help in the following ways:

    • Oversee check writing

    • Assist bank tellers when cashing student checks

    • Help students plan budgets

    • Serve as student personal shoppers

    • Cooperate with cashiers at the store check-out

    Science Experiments/STEM

    Just this past week, our “cruisin’ class” enjoyed two days loaded with experiments on waves, light, and color. For our class, this was the first set of experiments this year. I wanted to run four simultaneous science workstations both days, all of which were highly involved, and needed adult supervision. I opened up the opportunity to help with our science experiments and had four volunteers within 24 hours. Best of all, DADS were the first to sign up, so I now see STEM activities as vehicles for additional father involvement.

    For parents who may not be able to attend during school hours extend these opportunities:

    • Ask for experiment materials and recognize those who donate

    • Send home an extension activity science challenge for parents to participate with their child at home

    • Invite parents with science/STEM careers to speak to your class on career day

    Mystery Readers

    From kindergarten to fourth grade, I’ve always found incorporating Mystery Readers into our classroom activities to be a huge hit. Students are always surprised by the mystery reader identity reveal, and it's just one more way to expose children to literacy.

    • Parents secretly sign up to be mystery readers and must provide clues to their identity prior to their day of appearance.

    • Sessions are approximately 30 minutes on Friday afternoons.

    • Put a sign on the outside of your door that instructs the mystery reader to knock three times and wait for your class to call them inside.

    • Before calling the reader inside, read the parental clues to the class and see if they can guess whom the mystery reader is!

    • Teachers may select specific books to read, or you might want to leave that up to the parents.

    • Tie comprehension, fluency, accuracy, or vocabulary skills of the week to the book that was read to maximize the academic impact of this exciting weekly event.

    Fine Arts Enrichment

    Our fabulous PTO implements a Fine Arts Enrichment program, which opens the door to art history and masterpiece exposure to students at a very young age. As stated in our PTO program description, “The Fine Arts Enrichment Program is a curriculum that introduces students to 12 master artists throughout their years at Indian Trail. Each year, students will learn about two artists. The artists selected represent a variety of artistic movements. All have large bodies of work and have made major contributions in the art world.”

    • The PTO volunteers will direct two of the presentations, and my plan is to ask for parent volunteers to help direct additional fine arts presentations throughout the year.  

    • I will provide the fact-based presentation and art project, but having parents deliver this experience to the class is a great opportunity for engagement!

    • These presentations consist of a PowerPoint presentation followed by a hands-on art replica project for the artist they have just learned about. 

    • I link academic standards to the presentations we participate in. 

    • Last year, after our Picasso presentation, we applied our academic standards for biographical reading and writing to a multi-media research-based project on the life of Picasso. It was one of the best projects we participated in all year.

    • This year, I plan to incorporate at least one artist into each region of the U.S. that we are studying about.  


    If you’ve ever hosted a party for 20-30 children hyped up on (the mere thought of) candy because it’s Valentine’s Day or Halloween, you know you need more than your own two hands to wrangle the crew! I love incorporating parent involvement into our class parties to help maintain my sanity and make our party rotation stations more hands-on and academic. Read my blog post about our Halloween Mad Science Spooktacular to learn more about our parties and how parents are involved. 

    Include parent volunteers in the following ways:

    • Party supplies or monetary donations

    • Parent contact coordinators (for volunteers)

    • Set-up/clean-up crew

    • Party station rotation helpers

    • Party planners (if you prefer NOT to plan the parties yourself)


    Classroom Library Overhaul 

    It’s a gross under-exaggeration to say that my classroom library is in disarray. T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E.  I’ve been collecting books, cashing in Scholastic points to purchase new ones, and performing a highly-involved classroom library makeover. In order to ensure I finish before the end of the year, I need outside help. So, I called in the big guns. Parent assistance on this project has been hugely helpful. Look for a future blog post on my library makeover!

    Parents are overhauling my library by:

    • Checking book bins for damaged books in need of repair

    • Scanning the bar code of each book to enter them into my new digital catalog/checkout system

    • Categorizing books by location and genre

    • Labeling reading levels on each book

    • Organizing everything into the newly revamped library setup

    HELP!  Parents want to contribute but can’t volunteer in the classroom! 

    Don’t think for a moment that parents who want to lend a hand but cannot make it into the classroom are unable to volunteer. 

    • Scholastic Reading Club parents: Send home your monthly fliers, class code labels, and extra send-home materials from Scholastic each month. Parents assemble the materials to be sent home with students and return them to class with their child. Home helpers may monitor your online orders, add to your wish list or recommended books, and place the order at the end of the month. If reminder emails or notes need to be sent home, this parent volunteer may also be perfect for that task.

    • Library book repair at home: You send the damage books and repair materials, they work their magic at home and return the books with students.

    • Skype Mystery Readers: Parents may still be a mystery reader for your class by providing clues and either performing a live Skype session or pre-recording the reading of a book and sending you the digital video.

    • Binder assembly: Send home a completed sample binder and all materials needed to assemble student binders (data binders, writing binders, etc.). Parents follow the sample you provide and fill the remaining binders accordingly.

    • Cutting lamination

    • Assembling centers and workstation components


    Last, but CERTAINLY NOT LEAST, I want to extend my sincere gratitude to all of the fabulous parent volunteers, PTO members, and parents who contribute by lending a helping hand at home, or sending in donations for events and projects. Without you, your child’s classroom experience would be missing key elements and engaging events. At this time of year when we focus on being thankful, YOU are at the absolute top of my list. Thank you for being a part of “my village” that’s helping make our classroom a successful learning environment!


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Susan Cheyney