Happy To Help

Volunteering mum Suzy Mills is delighted to find she’s cool at school.

I’m not sure who enjoys my weekly canteen duty more – my boys, or me. I get such a thrill when I see the grins on their faces as they rush to be first in line. Of course, they’re happy to see me in the middle of their school day, but I suspect their enthusiasm may also have something to do with the ‘free’ stuff they get (which they pay for with a kiss over the counter).

When I was studying to be a teacher, I read a mountain of research that found parental involvement in schooling was a strong indicator of a child’s success. The literature suggested children whose parents had high aspirations for their kids, backed up by their involvement in the school community, had a better chance of doing well regardless of wealth, ethnicity or the kind of school they attended. Years later, with these findings in mind, I volunteered at my sons’ kindergarten and then at their school. But I must confess the research I read no longer inspires me to volunteer at school. Now I do it simply because I love it.

I was lucky enough recently to help out on an excursion to the zoo. My son, four of his classmates and I worked our way around the exhibits, with me answering their questions. It was exhausting for all of us, but also a valuable chance to get to know some of my son’s friends (and work out why he seems to clash with certain other children). My son was so proud to have me with him that he chose sitting with Mum on the bus over the lure of the ‘cool’ back seat.

As well as regular canteen shifts, I listen to the kindergarten students read once a week. I feel like a rock star as I enter the classroom and the children clamber to be my first customer. I relish the chance to see how the class works from the inside and get insights into the personalities of my son’s friends. While it gives me the chance to gauge my son’s progress in relation to his peers, I hope listening to the kids read also relieves a bit of the teacher’s burden.

I know not every parent is able to volunteer time during week days (we had to move house to be able to afford to live off one income). However, there are always opportunities for parents and grandparents to get involved in the school community. Governing councils and sub-committees cry out for fresh ideas, and being at the meetings gives unique insights into the issues facing school administrators, and a behind-the-scenes look at how schools are run. Volunteering also allows informal chats with teachers, parents and school administrators that can provide useful information about your child’s progress, friendships and upcoming events.

Parents might offer expertise in fields such as web design, gardening or sports, or they might like to learn new skills by helping out in the office or library. Whatever time or knowledge you can offer, it’s worth talking to your child’s school principal and finding out how you can get involved.

Showing your child that their school is as important to you as it is to them is a great foundation for success. Personally, I just love being a part of my sons’ adventures in schooling.