Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Classroom volunteering

I remember when my mom would come in to volunteer in my class when I was a kid. There was something so special about those days. My mom was the one helping us with our practice reading or journal entries; my mom was lacing up my friends' skates and handing out hot chocolates at the skaing rink; my mom was chaperoning this or that field trip, my mom was helping with this or that concert or assembly.

So when my boys started school I wanted to make sure I could volunteer to help out in their classrooms as much as I possibly could.

It's not that easy to find the time to do. For working parents, sick days and vacation days tend to get used up for actual sick days. (The kids' sicknesses - not yours. Any parent knows that unless you're actually on your deathbed you aren't going to get a day off just because you happen to be throwing up every five minutes or running a fever of 108 degrees. Your sick days are for when the kids are sick, or have a dentist appointment, or a PA day, or a snow day or strike day or random other school or daycare cancellation.) It's hard to find a day in your working week to volunteer on a field trip or help out in the classroom or the lunchroom or the schoolyard. And what about non-salaried workers who have to sacrifice a day's pay in order to volunteer for a few hours?

It's just as hard for at-home parents to find a free day to volunteer, since most at-home parents happen to be at home because they have younger children there to take care of. Who'll watch the toddler while you're walking a straggly line of second-graders to the community pool and what what will you do with the baby while you're helping with Math Minutes? A day's pay lost, a day's daycare costs added - this is becoming a very expensive couple of hours of classroom helping.

I've tried to volunteer as much as I can over the years. When my eldest was in kindergarten I did a few half-days helping out with a read-a-thon and an author visit and a field trip to see a play. Middle Child, a toddler at the time, spent those mornings at my girlfriend's home daycare and I made up the lost hours of work by taking home extra paperwork to do in the wee hours in the middle of the night when the boys were asleep. Once he was in kindergarten it was much easier and that year I volunteered for dozens of classroom days, school events and field trips for the boys' kindergarten and Grade One classes, coordinating volunteer hours around my fairly flexible work schedule and taking entire days off for big things like field trips. By the next year, though, Baby was born and it has been much harder to find those hours and days. I don't want to put Baby in daycare unless it's absolutely necessary - but I also don't want to miss out on those experiences with my older two boys. This year I managed a field trip to the tree farm with my eldest's class and helped with the "Scientists in the School" day with Middle Child's class. My husband took vacation days to be home with Baby for the few hours I was gone. I'm hoping to do a bit more next year - perhaps once a month in each boy's class and a field trip or two for each of them. I'm still not comfortable leaving Baby in someone else's care. But in a few short years the older boys simply won't want me coming in to help out (Your mom's here? How embarrassing.) and I don't want to miss out on this part of parenting.

I love seeing them interact with their friends. I love that their friends get to know me and feel comfortable with me. I love getting to watch them in their own worlds doing their own things separate from the world of our home and our family where what I say goes. I love the memories we make on these field trips or classroom projects. And I love the idea that when they grow up they'll look back fondly and remember when Mom used to come in to help in their classes, too.

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