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Your child is starting at a new school soon. Perhaps it’s the first year of ‘big school’, or maybe high school is just around the corner. You may have moved to a new area – or even a new country – and the social landscape in your child’s new setting is as unfamiliar for you as it is for your son or daughter.
In this excerpt from her best-selling book, SCHOOL READY: A practical and supportive guide for parents with sensitive kids, teacher and Kids First founder Sonja Walker shares some gentle words of wisdom to help smooth your way was you transition to your role as part of the parent community at your child’s new school.
I have a group of 5 friends that calls itself ‘The Inner Circle’. We met when our children were in Kindergarten when one highly hospitable mum decided it would be nice to have a get together at her house. In the early days, a big crowd of mums would gather on the last Friday night of each term and it quickly became apparent to me who the cool chicks in the room were. Five funny, smart but all very different women seemed to naturally gravitate toward one another on the sofa in the middle of the room, and over time these five cool, interesting ladies became my friends.
Our original hostess probably never imagined that the six of us would still be getting together at her house on the last day of term when our kids aren’t even at school anymore! Such is the power of friendships forged at the school gate.
The Inner Circle has seen its members through thick and thin. Serious illness, divorces, kids acting crazy… you name it, we’ve laughed, cried and nibbled our way through kilos of cheese and bickies as we’ve held one another up, celebrated one another’s successes and generally had each other’s backs.
And more than a decade on from our first meeting, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
How to find your own Inner Circle
Starting school is a new beginning for you and your child, and who knows, over time you might be lucky enough to build amazing relationships like I have.
Most schools roll out the welcome mat when new students and their families arrive, but getting to know teachers and other parents will require some effort on your part too.
The best way to build understanding at school is to be an active member of the community. When you get involved, not only do you get the chance to meet teachers in new contexts, but you meet other parents too. And remember, children love to see their mums and dads at school. When you get involved, you’re not only giving your child the message that you value their education, but you also show the rest of the school community that you appreciate what they are working towards and that you want to play your part.
Getting Involved Tip 1: Be a Classroom Helper
Many teachers appreciate and rely on the support of parents during busy times in the classroom and being a classroom helper is a great way to observe your child in the context of his or her peers. At the start of the year, teachers usually let parents know what kind of assistance they are looking for. Some of the activities that you might be able to put your hand up for include helping with:
- Reading groups
- Maths groups
- Art and craft sessions
- Weekly sport
- Making props or costumes for a class performance
Don’t worry about not knowing what to do when you volunteer for these kinds of in-class roles. The teacher will know exactly what he or she would like you to do and will be grateful for your help.
If I can give you one tip though, don’t commit to a promise you can’t keep! Teachers will program their day around the planned activities that you have said you’d be part of. If you can’t be there on a regular basis, don’t volunteer. The last thing you need next year is to start your relationship with the teacher with a quickly gained a reputation for unreliability.
Getting Involved Tip 2: Join the P & C
Joining the P & C is one of the best ways to get a sense of how your child’s new school runs. P & C meetings usually only take place once or twice a term, so if you are a working parent who can’t get to school during the day, they are a perfect opportunity to show your interest and get involved in your child’s school in a meaningful way.
When you attend P & C meetings, you’ll get an opportunity to meet teachers, talk with parents whose children may have been a part of the school for longer than yours, and contribute your thoughts, idea and skills. As a first time parent, no one is expecting you to put your hand up to be the president, so don’t worry about diving in at the deep end. Just show up and be interested. These out of hours meetings are a great way to let people get to know you and, through you, your child.
Getting Involved Tip 3: Do canteen duty
Twenty-first century school canteens are changing, so if you last went to the ‘tuckshop’ in 1987, you’ll probably notice a few differences. In most parts of Australia, school canteens are regulated by food safety regulations and some even operate as stand-alone businesses. Some schools now have online ordering systems that have replaced old fashioned paper bags with orders scribbled on them, and favourite recess snacks like cheezels and chips are definitely off the menu.
Having said that, if your child’s school has a canteen that is run on parent power, it does offer a terrific opportunity to get involved with parents, teachers and students. Sure, you’ll probably end up making 47 vegemite sandwiches and 3 cheese salads, but as you do you’ll get the chance to chat with other parents and learn about the school. Some schools employ a coordinator who is paid to look after ordering and rosters, so don’t worry that you don’t know what you are doing. If you have a day a month that you can give, the school will be grateful and your child will be thrilled to see you on the other side of the counter at lunchtime.
Getting Involved Tip 4: Find your way to the Library
Many parents don’t realise that donating their time to the school library is an easy way to get involved at school. With hundreds of books that need to be covered, repaired, stamped and catalogued every year, librarians need all the help they can get form interested parents who have an hour or two to spare.
Little kids love their books, but as they go in and out of school bags, books can get a bit frayed around the edges. If time is hard to come by because you have work commitments or younger children to care for, might you have time of an evening to roll out the contact and get your book-covering skills on? The school would appreciate your help.
Getting Involved Tip 5: Volunteer to be Class Parent
I know. You’ve already got so much that you are responsible for and the last thing you need is something else to organise, right? But, take it from me, taking on the role of Class Parent is a great way to get to know all of the key players in your child’s class next year.
The Class Parent helps the teacher to build a sense of community by being the ‘go-to person’ for information about informal things like class picnics and group playdates. At the end of the year, the Class Parent often coordinates a common gift from the kids for the teacher too. Being Class Parent doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but if you’re worried about not knowing anyone, this small role will give other parents a reason to talk to you and get to know you. If you don’t want to take the whole thing on yourself, you could volunteer to share the role with another mum or dad who also want to get to know people. You never know, the start of your own Inner Circle could begin, just like mine did, with an end of term get together organised by a Class Parent.
Getting Involved Tip 6: Share your skills
Every school has a finite number of teachers and lots of kids who have different interests and abilities. That’s why teachers are always grateful when parents offer to share the load when it comes to organising activities that enhance the curriculum or give kids a chance to enjoy a new hobby. You might be a handy netballer, have a special interest in painting, or just be an excellent list maker and delegator. All of these skills could be used at school next year and are another great way to meet people and to indirectly build understanding for your child.
Not sure if you have any skills that might be of value? Take a look at these ideas and see if any of them resonate with you.
If you’re interested in physical activity, you could:
- Run an after school coaching clinic
- Team up with one of the teacher to coach or manage a team
- Volunteer to be a helper weekly PE sessions
If you have a special creative interest, you could:
- Offer to help with the costumes for an assembly or concert performance
- Assist the teacher who runs the school dance group or band
- Give some time to the classroom teacher to help during Art classes
If you have administrative or IT skills, you could:
- Work with the teacher to create a class newsletter or Facebook group
- Help out in the classroom when the children are doing computer lessons
- Offer to be a ‘go to’ person if the teacher needs emergency IT help
- Lend a hand during big school events where IT and PA systems are used
If you love to work in the garden, you could:
- Lend a hand during working bees
- Offer to help look after the school vegie patch
- Liaise with the teacher to build a small class garden or set up seed in pots so that the children can watch them grow
- Volunteer to help the teacher who coordinates the school’s environment club
If you are a keen cook, you could:
- Contribute to cake stalls, school fetes or a monthly charity drive
- Consult with the principal to see if there is a way that you can make an occasional meal for a family in the school community that might be struggling (this happens more often than you might think!)
- Coordinate with other parents to cater for a monthly morning tea for the school staff
If you have extended periods of time available, you could:
- Volunteer to be an excursion helper
- Be an extra adult supervisor for a school camp
Remember, even if you don’t think you have any specific skills if you have two hands and are willing to help, you will always be welcome at your child’s school. There are many incidental ways in which you can get involved at school, and every time you do, you;ll get chances to meet and talk with teachers and parents.
So this year, don’t be shy! If volunteers are sought to help out at Open Day, or if tired teachers simply need someone to help them put chairs and table away after a P & C meeting, lend a hand. You might be surprised at how those small moments add up over time and how you and your child will benefit from getting to know the teachers and parents of your child’s school in settings that go beyond the boundaries of the classroom.
Written by Sonja Walker
© 2020 Kids First Children’s Services
Is your child School Ready?
The article above is an excerpt from SCHOOL READY: A practical and supportive guide for parents with sensitive kids by Kids First founder, teacher and best-selling author Sonja Walker.
SCHOOL READY reached best-seller status on Amazon in just 5 hours and has been described by Maggie Dent, Australia’s most respected parenting educator, as ‘one of the most comprehensive books ever written fr parents who have children transitioning to big school.’