Being the Class Mom Takes Time, Sensitivity and Tact

Filed under: Just For Moms, Just For Dads, Playground Bureau, Day Care & Education, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Education: Big Kids, Education: Tweens

room mother classroom

Are you planning to volunteer at your child's school this year? Credit: Getty Images

Claire Van Arsdale has been room mother for her daughter's class for the past three years, and she says she would do it again in a heartbeat.

"I enjoyed getting to know the teachers a bit better than I would have otherwise," says this Rochester, N.Y., mom of one. "I really enjoyed being part of my daughter's classroom experience."

Now that the calendar is beginning to flip toward fall, it's time to start thinking about back-to-school, and that doesn't just mean getting back into the academic groove or buying school supplies. It also means thinking about how -- and if -- you plan to volunteer at your child's school.

There are plenty of ways to get involved, of course, including fundraising or participating in the PTSA and other formal school-based organizations. But if you're looking for a more intimate experience with your child's classroom, you may want to consider being the class mom.

Just what does that entail? According to Van Arsdale, duties typically include organizing and participating in special events in the classroom, meeting with the teacher to plan those events and coordinating the purchase of gifts for the teacher at the end of the year or at the holidays.

The 46-year-old tells ParentDish the room mom also may be called upon to help gather and supervise parent volunteers needed for those parties and events.

"I helped with behind-the-scenes projects, too, like putting together display cabinets and assembling poetry books," she adds.

If that sounds like a big-time commitment, you may be right. The job includes work both inside and outside the classroom -- such as e-mailing parents or procuring supplies -- and may require moms who work outside the home to ask for time off. For moms who stay at home, there may be child care considerations for younger children who are not yet in school.

While it may take a lot of effort, Julie Stephens of Austin, Texas, says being a room mom is time very well spent. She worked in the classrooms of both her son, Andrew, 7, and her daughter, Sarah, 4, and tells ParentDish the experience was "great."

"Much of the responsibility of the room mom is to help build a connection among the parents," Stephens says. "The most important thing to know is that this role requires someone who is willing to enthusiastically support their child's teacher ... and encourage parental support."

To that end, room moms typically need to be outgoing and personable, Stephens adds. Like Van Arsdale, she warns prospective room moms that a willingness to give extra time and deal with other parents are the top requirements for a successful experience.

Kim Nero, a first grade teacher in Los Altos, Calif., says the perfect room parent is one who is willing to sit down with the teacher before school starts, so the two can map out a plan of attack for the year ahead. Nero also appreciates a volunteer who is both creative and enthusiastic, like one of her all-time favorite room moms.

"I once had a room parent who coordinated class parties with face painting, freeze dance, cookie decorating and truly great games and crafts," she tells ParentDish. "She also recruited parents for the set up and clean up portions of the party so I didn't have to worry about the details of class celebrations. The parents and children loved class parties that year, and I was freed up to focus on more pressing academic/educational tasks."

Two other valuable qualities for a room mother? Tact and sensitivity, Nero adds.

"Some children in the class have parents who can help often. Some have working parents who can't," she says. "A class parent who shows compassion toward all family situations joins the teacher in treating all families with respect, tolerance and understanding."

As for Van Arsdale, she says she has already raised her hand to be room mom again this coming school year, and that she's ready to take on the classroom's parties and special events. Her advice to parents who are interested in doing the same is quite simple.

"In the end, I think you just need to be thoughtful and well organized," she says.

Related: Back to School Countdown Calendar

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