School Talk to Prep Parents
My name is Melissa Rogers. My husband Tim and I have two children at Ascot Vale, one in Gr 4 and one in Gr Prep and a little one still at home. I started classroom helping when our eldest child started school and I’m still doing it! But it hasn’t always been a regular commitment and it hasn’t always been easy! We all lead busy lives: there’s paid work; housework; other community work; children to rear; partners, family and friends to care for; and somewhere in that, time for ourselves (or so we keep hoping)! I’ve found over the years that sometimes I’ve been able to put more time into classroom helping than at other times. Sometimes I’ve been able to commit to a regular weekly or fortnightly time, at others I’ve been able to pop in occasionally or accompany the class on an excursion. Sometimes I’ve managed having a non school aged child with me and other times that’s been way too stressful and I’ve enjoyed a reciprocal child care arrangement with a friend. That worked fine until she moved to the country!
What I’ve found though, is that as long as I’ve negotiated with the teachers and they’ve had some advance notice, any offer to help in the classroom no matter how irregular or how short, has been warmly accepted. And for the times I have had a toddler with me it’s been delightful to see that Ascot Vale is a school where it’s cool to care – cool for big kids to care about little kids. If you do have a little one in tow it won’t be long before the big kids are helping integrate your preschooler into the school setting! Surely an asset when it’s time for the littlie to start school life too!
When our first child started school he had a bit of difficulty settling in. Being classroom helper gave me a chance to see that nothing truly bad was happening at school and that actually most of the time he was enjoying himself! It also gave me a chance to fairly quickly build a relationship with his teacher who was always kind, gentle and patient and made me feel that the classroom door and even the playground gate was always open to me as well as my child. Despite his upsets she never made me feel that I’d failed in preparing our child to start school.
Sometimes there were a couple of us classroom helping at the same time so that gave me a chance to meet other parents. One mum in particular, helped put the settling in issues into perspective and spoke with the reassuring voice of experience about things getting better. And of course they did.
At the moment I’m an ‘occasional’ classroom helper. But I continue to do it for lots of reasons: I know that if I show my kids that I find school an interesting and enjoyable place to be, they are likely to feel the same way. I want my kids to know that I care about what happens during their school days. Being in the classroom gives me ‘inside information’ so I can ask strategic questions at home that will get a more detailed response than a raised eyebrow, shoulder shrug and ‘I dunno’ declaration!
It enables me to experience the exciting changes in curriculum content, teaching and learning styles and student-teacher relationships compared to when I was at primary school. It exposes me to some of the terminology our clever kids are learning in their school lives such as ‘metacognition’, ‘reflective learning’ and ‘authorial texts’. That sure helps when it comes to deciphering those mid year and end of year reports!
Being classroom helper gives me a chance to be a fly on the wall and observe my children socializing and learning with others. At the start of the year this included that especially intriguing prospect of watching my little prep mix it with those huge G5 and 6ers in the multiaged classroom!
Being at school gives me opportunities to see, hear and delight in the contributions that other parents and friends make to AVPS: I’ve witnessed a ‘scientist parent’ involve the children in an experiment with cotton plants; ‘actor and dancer parents’ skill the children in the performing arts; an ‘author and illustrator parent’ demonstrate the process of story boarding; a ‘sporty parent’ provide years of free athletics coaching; an incurably social parent conduct all manner of fun (and often fundraising) occasions for the school community. There’s a generous and fit nanna who puts countless hours and personal resources into making the school grounds a much more pleasant and environmentally friendly place to be. There’s a ‘P.A. parent’ who will always be found on the serving side of any sausage sizzle or drinks table. I’m aware of a ‘teacher parent’ tackling a computer animation film challenge, a ‘graphic designer’ parent assisting with specialist art classes and a ‘publisher parent’ including the children in photo illustrations for a children’s text book (not to mention making numerous donations of books to the library). There are lots of other examples too numerous to mention but you’re probably getting the flavour…. at Ascot Vale we LOVE YOU TO GET INVOLVED! Don’t be put off by thinking you have to be eminently qualified, the great thing about classroom helping is that it’s the gift of your time and patience that’s valued. If you want to feel a bit more qualified you can attend the 4 sessions of the Classroom Helpers training that Marg Blair Gannon runs each year. This is fantastic for helping you feel confident in helping your child (and others) with the skills that will have an impact on the rest of their lives – learning to read and write!
Being in the classroom gives me some sense of the cultural diversity that contributes to our school community. It gives me a bit of an insight into some of the challenges that can be faced by our kids in their day to day lives, some larger ones, some smaller ones… and hopefully that makes me more tolerant of these sort of difficulties. If I didn’t already have it, it gives me enormous respect for the staff of AVPS: the intricacies of the jobs they do; the multitasking; the energy that is necessary; and their phenomenal abilities to cope with interruption! And on the odd occasion when I’ve had to raise an issue with staff I think it’s helped that I’ve had some familiarity with them through helping in the classroom.
As you can hear there are lots of opportunities for parent contribution at AVPS: from the big picture stuff of school council or specific tasks like working bees or helping behind the scenes at the Science or Art Fairs… but if your style is more grassroots, classroom helping might be for you! So welcome to Ascot Vale whether you’re new or returning parents and please think about volunteering some time for classroom helping. The bottom line is that these are our children, they are our future and their early years really do matter. We are lucky to have a school that invites us to join with the classroom teachers to be partners in our children’s education. And it also means that your child’s start to school doesn’t have to cause the dramatic snipping of those parental ties that you might have imagined! Good luck to you and your children!