Room Parent 101
Teachers’ work days are non-stop–they’re busy instructing, managing the classroom, planning lessons and attending meetings with fellow teachers or the principal. It’s no secret that teachers also take work home with them, whether they’re grading papers, working on report cards, or trying to plan out extracurricular activities. With so much on their plate day in and day out, many teachers welcome having someone who can assist them with many other duties that they just don’t have time to attend to. That’s where these volunteer heroes come into play: our room parents.
Many parents jump right in as soon as their children enter preschool or elementary school, taking on the role of the room parent. A room parent can be considered the lead volunteer in the classroom, taking care of everything from parties to asking the other parents to pitch in when needed. Teachers depend on these lead parents to keep schedules going and non-academic activities organized.
If you’ve never taken the plunge to become the room parent in your children’s classrooms, we’re here to give you some pointers as to how you can gain the “courage” to become a super volunteer. It’s actually pretty straightforward, and it can often be quite fun.
The First Steps to Becoming a Room Parent
Oftentimes it’s up to the teacher to find a room parent. During the first week or so of school, teachers will hold an evening meeting with their students’ parents to discuss the school year, and during that meeting, they will reach out to see who would like to volunteer. Or, they will send home forms for parents to fill out, one of them asking if anyone would like to be the room parent.
On the other hand, there are schools such as Westdale Heights Academic Magnet (WHAM) that have a system in place to find room parents. “At the beginning of the school year, our PTO asks for volunteers who’d like to be involved in their child’s classroom as the main room parent,” says Bonnie Wilder, a first grade teacher at WHAM. “It’s kind of like a network. The PTO then hands out a room parent binder that has do’s and don’ts, as well as a list of the typical things that need to be done in the classroom.”
Duties Involved with Being a Room Parent
Ashley Stringfellow is the mother of four daughters, eight-year-old twins and two teen daughters. Stringfellow says that she’s been a room parent from the time her oldest daughter was in pre-kindergarten. “There was a period when I was the room parent for all of their classes at the same time,” she says.
Stringfellow says that one of her goals as a room parent is to help with any extracurricular activities the class does to make it a little bit easier on the teacher. “They have so much to do as it is,” she says. She takes on jobs such as collecting money from the parents for field trips, collecting money for the year-end teacher gift, or coordinating special celebrations throughout the year. She also secures additional supplies for the classroom. “During the school year, I will get a list of items that the teacher needs and I’ll send out a note to the parents to see if they can pick up things like Kleenex, paper towels, paints, and other things. We usually have a big year-end party and I put out word to the parents about what they can bring. It’s important that we all work together to make these events happen.”
Clear Communication Between the Teacher and the Room Parent
“I like the discussions I have with my room parents at the beginning of the year,” Wilder says. Wilder will convey to her parents certain needs when it comes to organizing parties or special events. “So, if other parents want to help during their child’s birthday month, the room parent will come up with a signup sheet to seek help getting cups, plates, food, or games they’d like to play,” she says. “Being able to communicate my needs to the room parent, and having them run with it, really takes a lot off of my plate.”
Being a Room Parent Makes the Classroom Experience Enjoyable
Jenna deBarros is the mom of four children and an administrator for the Moms of Greater Baton Rouge Facebook page. She’s been a room parent for her children at Southdowns Pre-K Center and at WHAM. “I’m a very hands-on parent, so I like the ability to go to the school and help where help is needed and be the support for the teacher, that if she needs something she knows, ‘Hey I can just call on this parent.’ I had a PreK teacher call one time when they were making cupcakes in the classroom and she didn’t buy icing, so she called me and asked me if I could bring some to the classroom. That’s just the kind of person I am.”
Where to Find Information
If you’d like to learn more about being a classroom parent for your child, there are many helpful resources available online. Check out PTOToday.com for helpful hints on room parenting, and Pinterest. The most important aspect is that participating in your child’s classroom displays to your child how essential volunteers are, and how one person can really make a difference. ■