Opinion Saturday: helping in school

I’ve got another book question for you, people! Though I am a homeschooling mom, my book is directed at all moms who are interested in having a larger than average family. I’d like my education chapter to contain hints relevant to both homeschoolers and public schooling families.

Here’s what I need. If you have several kids in school (even if your family isn’t especially huge) I’d like to hear how you manage to stay involved in your children’s education. How do you juggle your baby’s nap time with volunteering in class? Can you work out ways to go on field trips with several different grades each year? How do you keep up with multiple kids’ assignments? Make sure science projects are done? Sell candy bars for three grades worth of kids at once?

I’m interested in ANY hints that make it easier to juggle multiple children in a traditional school setting. I’ll give my Golden Keyboard Award on Wednesday to the answer that is most detailed and helpful. I may also be contacting a few other people to ask for permission to use your words in my book.

Thanks to everyone who helps me out with this– I really appreciate it!

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  1. Well, we private school two of our four. Thankfully our school welcomes babes in arms and talkative four-year-olds when mom shows up to help. They are always looking for someone to watch over lunch and recesses and those are baby friendly.

    I teach experimental science and another mom (of four–two in school) comes in at the same time and watches my younger two in the library during class. But if someone is sick, I just haul in a pack-n-play and teach with the baby squawking in the background.

    I suppose having other parents willing to child swap the greatest necessity. Several of us parents depend heavily on each other to watch the youngers while we work with the olders. It doesn’t hurt that many of us are families of three or more with young ones at home.

    As far as fund raisers, we don’t do door to door sales. We rely heavily on box tops and the scrip program (where the school buys gift cards for less than face value and sells them for face value) so I can’t comment on selling candy bars–thank goodness!

  2. This may not be a viable option for everyone, but I chose a parent-participation school for my children. Every parent is required to volunteer weekly in their children’s classrooms and drive multiple field trips each year. I have found that this has created a community of parents who pitch in and help each other out. Parents will swap babysitting for younger siblings, carpool, swap work days in the classroom, etc- because we’re all in the same boat and we all need a helping hand sometimes.

    The other thing that I have discovered is that it’s OK to let other’s know when you are overwhelmed, and say “no”. My experience has been that when I do let others know that I’m struggling to keep my head above water- the response is not criticism, but rather offers to help. Take advantage of those offers! Don’t worry- the time will come when you’re the one who seems to have it all together and you can return the favor to someone else who’s drowning in car pools, science projects, and soccer practice!

  3. I have three kids in elementary school at the same time, on in Kindergarten, one in 3rd and one in 5th. One thing that has helped a ton with all the paperwork is to have folder for each child where we leave certain papers we will need to reference again, like calendars, future assignments, etc. We all know where to go look when we need to find something. I also keep a copy of the school lunch menu posted in the kitchen for the month. If they want to buy they put their initial on that day, otherwise I assume they are packing that day, this helps things go smoother in the mornings. Another thing we do is ALWAYS lay our clothes out the night before, this has eliminated a lot of morning stress and leave their backpacks, fully packed by the door so they are all set to go and are less likely to forget things.

    I am not sure if any of this helps, I may have a few other thoughts come to me.

    Your book sounds exciting.

  4. I have seen Mom s with large (and small) families swap child-care with other Moms who also want to volunteer at school. Usually they have kids the same age as the younger ones not involved in school, so the kids just end up at a play date for an hour and a half and they love it.

  5. I have friends in the same boat as me so we switch. I’llwatch her two little ones for an hour once a week,and she’ll watch mine.

    We also try and help with class parties that happend only a few times a year and that welcome younger siblings.

    One year I got very involved in PTA, which met at night and DH could keep the kids while I went.

    One year several friends and I, all with younger kids at home, put on the school carnival. We were the committee so we met at each others homes. When there was “work” to do one would keep all the kiddos and the rest of us would do the work, we rotated. Sometimes we’d just take the kids with us in backpacks, strollers or walking with us to “help: 🙂

    If it’s important you can do it, it’s not easy and you have to be creative.

    Also some years I don’t help. I always take them to school and back, always helps with homework, alwasy go to parent teacher conferences and make sure they have supplies and projects done…but if I have a new baby or am particularly overwhelmed I don’t always get involved in “extras”.
    I have been room mom for each of my kids at least once so they can have that fun memory of plannign parties and me being there .

  6. I am a homeschooling mother to six kids (okay well number six will be here in six weeks but…:)) I have had tremendous secess with using Managers of Their Homes by the Maxwells. It’s a book that shows you how to work up a schedule for your family. Each child ends up with a color on the schedule so it’s easy for them to find what they are supposed to be doing at any given time. The most helpful hint in the book for me was to pair up my smaller children with my bigger children for a block of time. For example maybe for a half an hour your three year old would be assigned to one of your 9 year old boys and he would have to play with her for that amount of time. You would have already set up an activiity for them to do (i.e. play with the wooden blocks) your five year old would probably be paired up with somebody too durring that period and that would free you up to do reading with your new 9 year old. After the half hour (or whatever time frame you deem appropriate) is up the children switch activities and partners. I hope I explained this okay, it’s much better said in the book but check out this book, it’s really great. The same family also has a chore book and I think it’s called Managers of Their Chores. These books have worked for a lot of large homeschooling families – I’m pretty sure the Duggars use the scheduling one and they have 17 children. Blessings to you!

    (And yes, just because I’m a homeschool mom doesn’t mean I can spell :P)

  7. I have 1 in 8th grade, one in 5th, one in 4th, one in 2nd, and a kindergartener…at two different schools. I am NOT the most involved of moms INSIDE the school. I tend to have VERY heated disagreements with teachers, so I stay out of the classrooms (I homeschooled for 4 years, and generally dislike PS, but this is how it is working right now…).

    Anyway, I DO spend time at my middle schooler’s band things…Driving her to the activities, keeping up with who is doing what, etc. We let her be responsible for her assignments, as she is a VERY responsible child, but she knows to come to us if things get to be too much for her….and she has done that.

    Our elementary students have a bit different system. I keep up daily with each of their assignments, making sure that their homework gets done, and pushing them in the areas that are their personal weaknesses.

    Again, I don’t get involved in their classrooms, but we try to do extra activities several times per year with each of the children, making sure we attend all parent-teacher conferences, and trying to get to know each of their teachers. We have also set aside every school evening for homework, only…no going out and playing with neighbors or spending the night with anyone else.

  8. I have seven kids. Right now, I have a six-month old baby, and then older ones are aged 3, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12. My eldest is at a new school this year, for sixth grade, and it’s a much bigger school with less importance placed on parent participation. My daughter and I had a little talk about it, and she said that it was totally okay if I didn’t get too involved in her school, that she’d always have the memory of elementary school and she wanted her younger siblings to have the same thing.

    At the elementary school, and my three year olds’ preschool, I am really involved. I’m the class parent for almost all of them, and I coach the girl’s volleyball team and the boy’s third grade soccer team. I also teach the ceramics elective for the fifth graders, which is so much fun even though I don’t have a child in that grade right now. I’m really enjoying getting to know this year’s class, and sometimes I bring our golden retreiver and chocolate Lab to come and visit. One of my friends just moved her with her first baby, and she’s experiencing typical first mom neurosis, so she wants to “socialize” her daughter and I’m happy to lend her my baby during class times. Whenever she can’t do it, I bring my baby to class with me, and all the kids absolutely go insane. They’re so cute with her–they only know her as “Olivia’s little sister” and they all want me to bring Chloe over to their tables so they can coo at her while they make their coil pots. That’s worked out really well. I’m glad that I have such an understanding school.

    I try to make sure to balance out my involvement between each kid in elementary school, and that can be difficult because I also want to give other mothers the space to get involved in their kids. Our major thing, I guess, is the fundraising carnival which we throw each year with my best friend and her husband, because they own a ranch (pony rides! petting zoo!) and my husband owns a pizzeria. My best friend from college, who also is my seven year old son’s godmother, is an award-winning playwright, and she always sends us a brand-new script for the fifth and fourth graders to put on at the carnival. That’s always a lot of fun, and never fails to raise a couple thousand dollars. I think that this is a better way than selling candles or cookies, because it’s more eco-friendly and really, do any of us need more strawberry-shaped (and scented) candles around the house?

    I think that the main reason I get so involved is because my own mother didn’t. She worked a lot as a CEO, and simply didn’t have time to be there when my brother Davy and I made milk carton-Graham cracker-gingerbread houses. I really want my kids to have something different, to remember me as being really passionate and committed to making their education experience a really fun one. Plus, it’s always so wonderful to see each of my kids in their element at school with no siblings around to distract from their stardom, whether it’s my one of my sons on the soccer field at recess or my social-butterfly daughter surrounded by friends at lunch. Especially my three year old son, whom we adopted from China two years ago with a cleft palate, and is finally talking and becoming more and more confident, with his sister there for stability.

    Wow, sorry this is so long! I guess I really did have a lot to say.


  9. I hope to have a chance to stop back and comment. Currently, I have 6 kids in grades kindergarten through 12th grade! What really struck me about your post is that we just (on Friday) finished selling candy bars for my 3 kids in elementary school. Have you been spying on my house? Could I interest you in a few candy bars? We still have 30 left!

  10. When all my children were at the same school we made sure to ask all the teachers to coordinate appointments so we only had to make one trip to the school. With the kids all over town, email in invaluable.

    Feeling ok about saying no is helpful to. We no longer do fund raisers, but write a check out directly to the school instead. When there is a great “prize” available to the child (for participating in the fund raiser), we talk about what the actual value of the prize would be and generally it becomes less appealing to them, but there is a lot of talking about marketing and such before hand.


  11. We have 4 kids and one more bio on the way and hope to adopt from Ethiopia in the near future. I have a DSS 13 who lives in another state–1000 miles away. But we have always tried to maintain contact with his teachers. We used to all go there once or twice a year and DH and I would take shifts helping in the classroom and watching the little ones. Now that he’s older and our other kids are more involved here, we can’t do that as much but DH always arranges Parent-Teacher conferences once a year or more when he is visiting there.

    I used to be a teacher at my kids’ school here so I know a lot of the staff. I serve as someone’s room parent every year, show up on the playground at recess from time to time and go on field trips whenever possible. I have a couple friends who are moms at the school and we swap watching the littler ones so that we can all have chances to volunteer. My youngest who is in nursery school 2 mornings a week no longer takes naps and he enjoys going to the school too when it’s not too disruptive. My daughter’s kindergarten teacher asked me at the beginning of the school year if I wouldn’t mind helping with a specific task every Wednesday morning for a few minutes when I drop her off. So now, once a week, my little guy looks at books while I stuff the “Wednesday Envelopes” with important notices from the school. Because I’m familiar with the school, I can be especially helpful in ways such as going to the office to ask the right person for a new envelope for the new student in the class, etc. As a former teacher, I know how time-consuming these little details can be so it’s nice to take some of that off the teachers’ shoulder.

    This year, since my youngest (so far) is in school a couple days a week and my DH happens to work from home those days (so he can do drop off and pick up at the preschool) I am able to substitute teach at my kids’ school on those days. Any teacher knows how much good subs are important, so I really feel like I’m contributing to the school in a significant way. And it’s great for my kids to see me there. Most of the kids know me so I come with a bit of credibility. This has also been our main way of adding income to save for our adoption. Now that I’m pregnant and not feeling so hot, I’m limiting my sub time a bit and won’t be doing it after this spring since I’ll be taking care of the new little one. But it has been a nice season to be involved in a unique way.

  12. I don’t volunteer directly in the classroom but will make phone calls, bake cookies or donate items (used books etc), things that I can do from home. The older kids help out at my younger child’s school, at carnival my 17 year old sold raffle tickets at one of the booths, leaving me free to hang out at the carnival with my 10 year old. I think having me with him was more important to him then me doing the volunteering. Also the elementary school kids thought my daughter was way cooler than me, so it was a win-win situation for everyone.

    I do not sell fundraising items ever. Not for the schools, not for their sports organizations. Like another commenter I write a cheque to the school in lieu of fundraising. I realize that is not an option for alot of families but it is what works for us.

  13. i have only 5 kids, but i do babysit during the day. i have 3 in school right now (5th, 3rd and K), and watch (depending on the day) 1 to 4 kids. i volunteer at school once a week. i do recess duty for an hour and a half, and i also pitch in for any field trips and parties. i just bring all the kids up with me. if that means i have 6 kids at the playground for 90 minutes, that’s ok. they need volunteers, so they don’t complain. i have had a tougher time keeping up with the kids and their school work, but we have been working on personal responsibilities with the kids. my kids go to a catholic school, and we have been pretty happy with it. the only complaint i have had is the amount of homework my K has. i believe in homework, but in K, you shouldn’t be expected to read for 30 minutes, and do worksheets on letters or whatever. i have been very fortunate to have kids that don’t struggle with school work, but i don’t want them to get burned out on learning!

  14. Kate in NY says:

    Maybe this is kind of a cop-out, but I consider it “helping out the school” to deliver 4 well-rested, well-fed, more or less cooperative and polite children to school (mostly) on time, with their homework completed and their permission slips signed, every single day. It was hard for me to give up my desire to be seen as a “super mom,” the kind who volunteers for every bake sale and back-to-school picnic, hair coiffed and manicure un-chipped and all that. But I did let it go, and I haven’t looked back! I try to go on one field trip per kid per year, and I always volunteer to read in each child’s classroom (except for the middle schooler – can you imagine!) a few times a year (and I bring my little one with me). But I no longer participate in any stressful, ultra time consuming activities, and I am never a “committee chair” for anything.

    If I really adored being involved in this way, or if my kids’ school was sorely lacking in parental involvement (it is not – in fact, parents are often put on volunteer waiting lists!) then I might think differently. My point is that having a large-ish family requires certain concessions – you just have to let some things go, or you’ll drive yourself and the rest of your family mad – and in my case, this is one of “those things.” Now, if only I could be as laissez-faire about the state of my house. Mary, I hope you will include a chapter on how moms of large families deal with all the MESS!!!!!!

    Kate in NY

  15. texasknights says:

    I teach at my kids’ school. The biggest plus is that I know ALL the kids and have a pretty good feel of who I want my kids to hang around with and who not. But before I taught, I was there ALL the time (we too attend a parent-partnership school) “working” and getting to know the kids and teachers.

    I keep a folder for each child for each activity he or she is involved in. I also have a magnetic basket on my fridge for all current papers that must be tended to ASAP.
    We do homework at the dining room table and read our nightly 20 minutes on the couch together.

    I keep up with the curriculum and am on top of what they are studying and where the kids should be in the scope and sequence of things.

    My oldest child and I just started praying through a Mom’s calendar ( I have used it personally but decided to involve him). It has been an awesome opportunity to chat with him and teach him what to pray for. He was shocked the other day when he realized I pray for his friends and am concerned what he does even on the playground. We recently prayed for compassion for even the troubled child in his class. I was convicted that our kids have to know that every bit of their lives matter and just b/c they go off to school, does not mean I have handed them over. The only handing over I do is to the Lord.

  16. I agree with Kate… I have only 3, one in elementary, one in middle, and one in high school… plus the baby. I spend one on one with each kid every morning since they each depart at different times, and I drive the 4th grader to and from every day. I serve a hot breakfast, pack a healthy lunch, and watch over homework and get them showered and into bed early. We don’t do TV during the week, we never do fundraisers, and each kid has only one activity after school depending on the season. I email a LOT to teachers, esp since two of my kids have some special needs. I do go in for frequent conferences and make sure that all the teachers and secretaries know me by sight and name. I try very hard to show appreciation to the teachers: sometimes sending in some muffins or a DD gift card. The middle school is different as they don’t want parent volunteers anyway, but I maintain contact with a few specific teachers via email. At the high school level, I email the guidance counselor pretty regularly. The oldest kids help out if there is a school carnival or book fair, and we ALL go to each others events: concerts, games, etc. I enforce most (but not all) school rules at home and the rule here is if you get in trouble at school, you also get in trouble at home. I appreciate the teachers, we happen to have a great school district, and I work hard to make sure my kids work hard… but I’m not that PTA chairperson!!!

  17. D (above) makes some good points – being involved in your kids’ education is always essential . . . being involved in their schools is, in my opinion, not. And we dont do any sales-oriented fundraisers either – especially when they are about selling chocolate or – yikes – incredibly overpriced David’s cookie dough (the current 5th grade fundraiser at our school). My kids think I am a humbug, but I cant in good conscience ask people to buy junky foods or ridiculously expensive wrapping paper. Usually I write a check for $25 to the PTO for the big holiday fundraiser and call it a day. At least I know the $$ is going directly to the PTO. And I do let the kids pick out a few books at the twice-yearly book sale at school (I’m not a total meanie !:))

    Kate in NY

  18. We have five kids right now, four of which are in public school. Three in elementary 2nd, 3rd and 4th, and one in middle school 6th grade. Our youngest is in Preschool two days a week for 2 1/2 hours each of those days. On the days that she is in preschool I go back to the elementary school to help in classes. I am almost always there to help in parties and watch assemblies. My youngest travels right along with me. I love being around the school a lot. I know all the teachers and they know me. I think this really helps in knowing what is happening at all times at the school. I also have organized to make things easier. Each child has a cubby right inside of the laundry room from the garage where their lunch boxes go and backpacks. On the kitchen counter I also put stacking “in” boxes with their names on them. They come home and put all their papers in their boxes. This way I know who’s is who’s and we can get things done as they need doing. I think the key to keeping involved with your kids education is being organized and ready to sit and chat with your kids when they need it.