Saturday, 7 October 2017

Making the Most of Classroom Volunteers!

Having parent (or other adult) volunteers in the classroom can be one of the best assets a teacher can have!  Allocating some tasks to others leaves you more time to plan amazing lessons and create resources for your kidlets.  Today I'm stopping by to share some of the best ways I've found to make the most of your volunteer time.  You'll hopefully pick up some new ideas to make the weeks leading up to Christmas less stressful, and also a few tricks to implement right from the beginning of the year.  

Let's start with a few easy things you need to make sure you have set up before your helpers start any task:

Check your school's visitor policy.  In most schools, volunteers will need to sign in at reception before working in the classroom.  If they are not a parent/guardian of a child at the school, they may also need to have a working with children safety check done first.

Display a volunteer timetable.  This ensures that your classroom helpers know exactly when they are required to be in the classroom, and also communicates the message that help is welcome but does need to be organised.  There's nothing worse than well-meaning mums and dads popping in to help at a less than convenient time! :)

Provide clear, simple instructions.  For helpers who will come in regularly and complete the same activity, it's useful to hold a ten minute meeting before their first day to demonstrate exactly what they'll need to do.  For one-off tasks, a few written instructions should be fine.

Don't share confidential student information.  This might seem obvious, but often it's tempting to ask parent helpers to assist with completing assessment tasks - like phonics or maths checklists.  This is something that needs to be done by the teacher.  Have a few volunteers in the classroom assisting with another task while you take children to complete their assessment.

Ensure your volunteers feel appreciated.  This might include a small gift at the end of each term for those who've committed regular time to help out.  

Now that you've thought through the basics, what will your classroom volunteers actually do??  Here's some ideas to help you make the most of their time!

One-on-one work with students.  In every classroom there's a group of kidlets who need time each day to practise reading, phonics, counting etc.  Provide your parent helper/s with a list of children to work with each day, the resources they need (books, flashcards, counters etc.) and ask them to pull kidlets out one at a time.  Make sure they have a quiet space to work, too!

Small group help.  Although it would be awesome if small groups of students could work independently during literacy or maths small group time, this doesn't always happen.  Classroom volunteers are especially helpful for those groups completing games or technology-based tasks.

Help during art activities.  Sometimes it's easier not to plan activities that involve paint, collage, glue, glitter or clay... simply because the idea of setting up and cleaning afterwards can be off-putting.  (And which teacher wants to spend their afternoons trying to wash dried paint brushes that were used hours before?)  Parent helpers can make art activities so much easier!  Ask them to come in to help you set up during break time, and provide cloths, tubs of water and a dustpan to make the clean up quicker.  Of course, children should be expected to tidy up their own mess, but some tasks are tricky for little learners.

Sharpen pencils.  In my classroom, kidlets have their own pencil bucket that's kept on their desk.  While they can usually manage to sharpen the odd pencil or two during the day if needed, it can waste a lot of their learning time if they sit down to complete work and have a bucket of broken pencils to use.  The easiest way to have this task done is to have the sharpeners out first thing in the morning, and have parents who are able to stay for a few minutes quickly check each bucket for blunt pencils. They may also replace supplies (gluesticks, scissors etc.) that are missing or looking a bit sad.

Organise classroom supplies or resources.  This can mean a quick tidy up of the library shelves, checking that all the maths resources are in the correct container or straightening up the games corner.  It can also be useful to hold a 'working bee' day where volunteers come in and do a complete overhaul of your storage space.  This would include checking that puzzles and games have all of their pieces, making sure that resources/materials are in the correct containers, washing plastic toys (or any manipulative) in disinfectant and drying them in the sun (so important after flu season!!), wiping shelves, getting rid of rubbish etc.  For a job like this, you should also supply tea/coffee and morning tea, as it can take a few hours!  Some parents don't feel super comfortable working with kidlets, or are unable to come to school regularly, so a task like this can ensure they get a chance to help out in the classroom.

File work samples in portfolios.  Having volunteers spend a few minutes each week slipping art or other work samples into portfolios will save you a tonne of time!  I'm guilty of leaving this task until it's way too late, and then wanting to curl up and cry when I see the piles of paper waiting to be filed.  As mentioned earlier, you shouldn't give parent helpers access to assessment tasks, but general work samples (like those that may be part of classroom displays) are fine.

Cut or laminate resources.    Have a tub next to your laminator with any paper resources that need preparing.  Allocate one of your volunteer timeslots to this task - helpers know to come in, check the tub and cut/laminate/staple as needed.  It's best to leave a few written instructions (just as you might do for your teaching assistant), or a sample of the finished product.

Create bulletin board displays.  Hands up if you're guilty of having the same bulletin board displays up all year?  The idea of changing up displays of kidlets' work regularly is great, but it takes time!  Provide your volunteers with the items to display and they can swap your bulletin boards for you.  If you're lucky and have a creative helper, they might even do a much better job of it than you would! :)

Parents who work or have small children might be eager to help out, but simply can't make time to spend in the classroom.  (And let's be honest, for some adults a room full of 5 year olds is not a place they want to hang out!)  Helping out from home can be just as valuable!  Here's a few ideas of what you could have them do.

Donate items.  This is probably the easiest way for a busy mum or dad to help out in the classroom.  I have a laminated piece of card on display near the classroom door, and simply add items there as they are needed.  It can be simple things like empty boxes or containers for craft projects, grocery catalogues for maths tasks, old clothes for dress ups, puzzles/toys/books no longer being used etc.  Before you spend money on supplies for resources you should always ask your classroom community first.  Years ago, I wanted to make a class set of 'Whisper Phones' and left a note (with a photo as an example) asking if anyone knew a plumber who might be able to give/sell me scrap pieces of pipe to glue together.  One of my kidlets' uncle was a plumber and he bought new pipe with his trade discount, turned them into 'Whisper Phones' and donated them for free.  Although I hadn't expected that kid of generosity, you'd be surprised that many families are able (and happy!) to help out with things like this. :)

Cut/laminate resources.  Pop your portable laminator, a pair of good scissors and the items you need prepared in a basket or bag for parents to take home after school.  Like magic, they will appear the next morning all ready to go!  (Do make sure you're only sending home what can easily be done in one sitting - you probably won't have repeat volunteers if you ask for a whole term's worth of maths games to be prepared overnight!)

Prepare craft supplies.  Look ahead to see what art and craft activities you have coming up.  Do you need more paper/ribbon/fabric cut for collage?  Do templates or samples need to be made?  Would it be easier if kidlets had their own set of supplies ready to go in a ziplock bag?  These tasks are great for working parents to do from home.

Make playdough.  Provide a recipe and ingredients for playdough to volunteers and they can whip up a batch or two in the evening and bring it back the next day! (Find the best no-cook playdough recipe here.)

Cover classroom library books.  I'm one of those teachers who covers all of my classroom library books with clear contact!  I find they last so much longer in the hands of eager little readers if they are covered.  Every year there are a few parents who are more than happy to cover a few books at a time - I just leave the ones that need covering with a roll of contact paper in a basket and they take it home when they can. :)

Washing and cleaning resources.  If you've taught little learners for any length of time you'll know just how dirty resources and toys can get.  Towards the end of each term (or before you store them for the next year) it's good to freshen things up again.  Provide volunteers with a box of lego/blocks/maths manipulatives/puppets/art smocks/dress ups etc. to take home over the weekend to soak with disinfectant or pop through their washing machine.  Some items - like scissors and hard plastic toys - can even go through the dishwasher on the top shelf.  It's amazing what a huge difference it can make to the start of a new term when you walk into your classroom knowing that everything has had a good clean!

Making special projects come to life!  I'm not what you'd call handy with a sewing machine or craft supplies.  I often have amazing ideas that I simply can't complete with my own skill set. :)  Luckily, not everyone is like me!  Over the years I've had volunteers (usually mums and often grandmas) sew items like curtains, chairbags, tablecloths and costumes at home, make items for classroom displays (for example turning pool noodles and tissue paper into giant Dr. Seuss Truffula trees) or cook special treats to celebrate the end of a unit or theme.  I buy everything needed to create the special project and clever classroom volunteers make my crazy ideas happen.

I hope by reading this post you've got some new ideas to make the most of your classroom volunteers!  Pleave leave a comment if you've got another great idea that others might find useful too. :)

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