Volunteering to be the room parent for your child's class is a great way to get involved at your child's school. You'll get to interact with your child's teacher, other parents, and maybe even school staff. Your involvement can contribute to your child having a great school year. I've been the room parent for both of my children throughout their elementary years, and I've really enjoyed how my role helps their teachers, the other parents, and all of the children in each class.
Your primary role as a room parent will vary according to the culture at your child's school, so you'll need to figure out what the expectations are for particular position. At my kids' school, my main task is to help the teachers and PTA communicate with the other parents in the class.
I recommend that you start by talking with your child's teacher, as early in the school year as possible. Ask what he or she expects of you. What happens most often to me is that the teachers will email me or ask me in person to send out an email to the other parents. The message is usually about an upcoming event like a field trip, a noteworthy homework assignment, or a classroom or school need.
One easy way to make sure all parents feel connected and involved is to create a class web site. Shutterfly has a free web site builder called "Share Sites" that makes creating a class web site incredibly easy. Just select a template, input the required information, and you're done! You can use the class web site to create a calendar of events, share photos, post event sign ups (which is very handy for class parties), post homework assignments, and send an email blast to everyone. There are also ways to manage permissions so you can control who can send a group message. To collect the information you need to create the web site, have each family complete a form like this one (Word document).
As a room parent, you'll likely find yourself fielding questions from other parents regarding classroom events and activities such as homework and field trips, and school events and activities such as performances and fundraisers. To help the parents in your class stay informed (and to keep from having to answer the same questions repeatedly), consider sending out a regular email update. Ask your child's teacher if he or she would be willing to draft a quick weekly newsletter to parents to let them know what's coming up during the week, such as field trips, tests, and special events. Also, ask if the school and/or PTA can put out a regular newsletter with information for parents. Then all you have to do is forward these newsletters to the other parents via email and/or post them on the class web site, and everyone (including you!) can be well informed. Some teachers will refuse to do the newsletter, but any weekly update to parents about what's going on at school will help them feel connected and involved.
The most challenging part about being a room parent at my children's school - and probably at most other schools - has been organizing class gifts for our teacher and the annual silent auction basket that each class must donate. These events usually involve collecting money, and since my kids attend a public school, every contribution is voluntary. Most families are great about contributing, but I've been finding as my oldest makes his way up the grades that participation has been falling off. According to my friends who've been involved in PTA fundraisers for years, it's always been the trend that the highest percentage of participating families comes from the lower grades, so it's not exactly a surprise. When the difficulty of fostering participation has deterred some friends at our school from wanting to be a room parent, I've suggested joining forces with another parent and becoming co-room parents so the burden doesn't fall on just one set of shoulders.
Finally, be sure to check in regularly throughout the school year with your child's teacher. Many teachers hesitate to ask for assistance - they may not be used to having a room parent who is genuinely helpful, or they hate to impose, or maybe they're just shy. But your desire to help throughout the year can be a huge factor in making your child's teacher feel that the school year is going well. And that, in turn, will help to ensure that your child has a good school year. And after all, isn't that why you're volunteering as room parent?
Original image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Witthaya Phonsawat.