Last fall, I volunteered twice in my older son Sam’s kindergarten classroom. Because I’m able to drop off and pick Sam up from school sometimes, I had a sense of his teacher and his school surroundings, but still felt like it might be nice to be more involved.
The first time I volunteered was on a class trip (to the lovely musical A Year with Frog and Toad ) – this required taking a day off work. There were 17 parent volunteers for the 40 kindergarteners! As a newbie parent, I noticed that I was assigned just to Sam and no other kids, while the more seasoned parents got up to four kids to watch. So it was just Sam and me, which turned out to be helpful in the play, because when Sam was frightened by the ghost story scene, he could just turn in my lap and bury himself in my neck.
The second time was just a regular day in the class, although I noticed Sam’s teacher kind of self-consciously told me that in fact it wasn’t a regular day as the kids were kind of celebrating the holidays. I served even less of a purpose this time, as the kids were either engaged in either free play or in activities directed by the teacher which required no assistance. However, I did sharpen all the stubby pencil crayons at the art centre. Oh, and when Sam didn’t want to watch the Grinch video, he didn’t have to, and we played (with gusto) in the sand table (filled with cornmeal) instead.
What did I learn from these volunteer activities? Well, not a whole lot, in some ways. Certainly I gained no Insight into Sam’s overall learning process. And sharpening those pencil crayons, I could think of a few other things I’d rather have been doing.
Still, I’m not sorry I went. I got to know his teacher even better. I have a greater sense of who Sam’s schoolmates are and how they play together. On the school trip, I met a number of the children’s parents, many of whom have older children at the school, and I learned more about the school community. I felt a little more a part of things.
Amongst the best reasons for being there was Sam’s obvious pleasure and comfort that I had come. He doesn’t assign a value to my presence based on my ability to make some tangible contribution: he just likes having me in his world. It’s kind of refreshing.
Just last week, Sam asked me if I could volunteer in his classroom again. Pencil crayon stubs floated before my eyes, and I hesitated. But I know I will. Of course I will.
I know just what you mean about it not seeming like much, but then a connection is formed, and you have a clearer picture of your son’s day.
Yes, the connection – and when Sam tells me about his school days, I can almost see that he knows that I know what he’s talking about.
My elder daughter is in junior kindergarten, and I try to go once a month. My husband has volunteered in the classroom once. I really like having a sense of the rhythm of her mornings, and figuring out how the pieces of the endless stories she tells me about her day fit together! I also like how much she enjoys having me there. I know the day will come when having me around with her friends will cause no end of shame and embarrassment, so I am treasuring these moments when her face is all lit up because I’m there–even if I do spend some of the time washing playdough equipment. It’s tricky, because I have to beg my husband to take a few hours off work to look after the baby while I do this, but I’m so glad to have the opportunity.
Rhythm – that’s such a good word for what I want to be part of and help to create – the rhythm of his days. I have a keen sense of it being special because this position I hold in my son’s life right now is unique too – like you, I do know making the effort to be there is worth it.