Room Parent Survival: The Basics

Whatever we accomplish belongs to our entire group, a tribute to our combined effort.
– Walt Disney

It’s true, people, we are in this thing together so we may as well learn from one another. This is my 9th straight year serving in the role of Room Parent in my kids classrooms and, since the youngest will graduate up into middle school next year, it’s also my last. When I signed up to fill this role, my now high school freshman was an adorable kindergartener. I was working full-time, pretty intimidated by the mom’s who had years of experience under their belts, and deeply worried about disappointing the teacher and an entire classroom of sweet, cherubic children. It must’ve gone well because here I am, preparing for another fun year. I’ve had overwhelming successes and epic fails (never try to transport hot chocolate in a crockpot to the classroom, I don’t care how cute your Polar Express winter party theme is).

If you’re wanting to take the leap into the Room Parenting role, don’t start from scratch. Let me share my experience and be your Room Parenting Spirit Guide! I’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting organized, keeping parents in the loop and encouraging volunteerism, throwing memorable class parties, and celebrating your teacher with thoughtful, useful gifts.

Back To School

You’ve dropped off supplies, picked up your schedule, and have met the teacher. You put your name in the running for Room Parent and were honored with the role – CONGRATULATIONS! Truly, service begets service and this is more than just a chance to flex your creative muscles. You’re showing your child that you have school spirit, care about their classroom, and are able to volunteer your time to make their experience that much better. They don’t need to know that you’re about to get a whole lot out of the experience yourself!

If it looks like you’re going to be lone man on the classroom mountaintop, take a mental note of the other parents and start courting yourself a co-parent right away. Two heads truly are better than one (and three really is company so be careful) and, in my experience you might just end up with a lifelong friend by the end of the year. I could truly dedicate an entire post to the soul purpose of gushing my love and respect for my dear friend and co-parent, Lee Ann. She’s the butter to my bread and together we’ve pulled off some amazing feats of room parentry. Without her endless creativity and chutzpah, I’d be lost, and much of the insight below was garnered through our time together in the trenches.

Your very first to-do list looks a little something like this:

1. Compile a classroom directory
2. Get to know the teacher
3. Communicate with the classroom parents
4. Understand certain school policies

Most PTA’s will put together a handbook for Room Parents each year, which includes a blank classroom directory, a PTA calendar, policy notes that pertain to your role, and a list of expectations. Just in case they don’t, here are a few resources that you can download and use – maybe even LOOK WIDER STILL and develop a Room Parent Handbook that your PTA can use in the future.

Welcome Letter to Parents

First you’ll need to send a short Welcome Letter home to parents that introduces yourself and requests their input for the Classroom Directory. Print it in color or on bright paper to make sure it isn’t easily lost in a backpack or Tuesday Folder.

Fillable Classroom Directory Form

Download this Fillable Classroom Directory Form and keep an electronic copy for your records. This will be a life-saver when you create Sign-Up Genius lists or Evites in the future. Once you have every student accounted for, provide a hard and/or electronic copy to your teacher!

Get To Know Your Teacher

Act right, people, you are in the presence of greatness! “Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.” – Henry Brooks Adams. Truer words have ne’er been spoken. This person is a gift, a god or goddess, a unicorn. This is someone you WANT to know, so make it a priority. A simple All About the Teacher survey is one resource you absolutely cannot live without this year, so make sure you have your teacher fill one out right away. This will be a tremendous help to you as you plan parties, teacher appreciation events, birthday celebrations, and more throughout the year.

Communicate With Your Classroom Parents

Regular, clear communication is key to a great year! Our schools switched to using PTA Board, an online communication tool that allows room parents to send messages to parents, request their help, organize their classroom directory, and more. But before this awesome program was instituted last year, I was building closed Facebook groups for each classroom. Use your Classroom Directory to invite parents via email to join your group, and start sharing Sign-Up Genius links, photos, reminders, and that awesome All About the Teacher survey. In Scouting we say “Keep It Simple, Make It Fun.” Try to be short, sweet, and direct when you communicate with parents!

Celebrate!

The biggest and best role of a room parent is to bring the fun! That means classroom parties, teacher appreciation, and more. Most of us feel a lot of pressure to create an Instagram-worthy affair that the kids will talk about into their old age, but the fact of the matter is that they just want to have fun with their friends and don’t care about the details. When it’s time to plan a party, here are the basics you NEED to have covered before you go crazy and start making crockpot hot chocolate en masse and drive it three miles to school in the back of your Santa Fe. Remember that most class parties last about an hour!

1. Start thinking of themes for your standard winter and summer class parties – September is NOT too early to set a theme and make smart purchases.
2. Determine at least 4 stations that the kids can rotate through for about 12 minutes a piece, taking special consideration for the space they’ll need to occupy.
3. If one of those stations is a craft, check your local Dollar Stores or visit online stores like Oriental Trading to get more bang for your buck!
4. Include a photo booth in your plan. A few photo props, a wrapping paper backdrop, and your camera on a tripod is more than enough to capture some wonderful memories. What kid doesn’t love a silly picture with their friends?
5. If your school allows food at special celebrations, plan something simple and easy to clean-up. Cupcakes, chocolate covered pretzels, cookies (do all of the yummy things start with “c”?) are great examples. Lemonade or fruit punch are universally kid-approved. Just make sure you check with your teacher to ensure there aren’t any special food restrictions or allergies you need to be aware of.
6. Make a running list of items you’ll need for the party, like volunteers, paper goods, or giveaways. Create a Sign-Up Genius or Amazon Wishlist and ask parents to help by either sending in the items you need or volunteering to man one of your stations.

Some favorite winter party themes I’ve planned in the past include The Polar Express (complete with train tickets, jingle bells, lantern craft, foam train picture frame craft, the ill-fated hot chocolate, a photo backdrop, and a reading of the book itself), How The Grinch Stole Christmas (with wonky gift towers, plenty of colored lights, Pin the Heart on the Grinch game, photo backdrop, and Minute to Win It games), Winter Mayhem (a fun one-handed team gift wrapping game, Jingle in the Trunk and other Minute to Win It games, a snowball fight, and photo backdrop), and Blizzard of Kindness (kindness snowflakes with special notes from and for each student, Minute to Win It games, and a special service project providing treats and toiletries to our Troops through Operation Shoebox). Visit my Pinterest Board for ideas!

You can do no wrong with a beach-themed summer party, but here are a few of my past favorites that might spark a little more creativity. Have A Ball This Summer (give each student a beach ball for their friends to autograph, Beach Floatie Toss, the Tacky Tourist relay, and photo backdrop), Crazy Carnival (with red and white plastic table cloth “tents”, carnival golf game, a can toss, skee ball, Minute to Win It games, and a photo backdrop), and Kids Choice Awards (with slime, a “red carpet”, Minute to Win It games – are you seeing a pattern -, student nominated superlative awards with certificates, and a photo backdrop). Visit my Pinterest Board for ideas!

Teacher Appreciation Week rolls around only once a year – can you believe that – and you’re ready for it because you have the All About the Teacher survey in your toolbox, right? Right! By the time Teacher Appreciation Week rolls around in the Spring, you can bet your teacher will be ready to be appreciated. Your school will likely send you a calendar of events well in advance that will help you prepare for this very special weeklong event. In addition to the schedule they provide, consider this an opportunity to LOOK WIDER STILL. Bring your teacher breakfast or lunch during the week, coordinate with your classroom parents to send in gift cards for a fun Gift Card Tree (omg, you all, gift cards are a teacher’s best friend), or pop in with flowers or treats. I repeat… gift cards are a teacher’s best friend. Write that down. Make a sticky note. Tell your friends. While we’re at it, don’t just stop at Teacher Appreciation Week. Your teacher’s birthday is another perfect opportunity to say thanks to the super hero educating your child! Visit my Pinterest Board for ideas!

Advocate For Your Teacher

Check in with them regularly to see where they need help. Maybe they need someone to make copies of their lesson materials. Perhaps there’s a field trip chaperone opening they need filled. I imagine they need a classroom reader, a study buddy, a few supplies. If your teacher expresses a need, it’s your job as Room Parent to either meet it or find someone who can! Use that Classroom Directory to reach out to parents and make a direct request for help; explain what needs to be done, how it can be done, and when it needs to be done. Do you have a teacher that doesn’t know how to ask for help? Offer suggestions (like all of those above) and be ready to get in there and make it happen. Trust me, an investment in your teacher is an investment in your child!

While we’re at it, don’t wait until the school year starts to help our teachers prepare for the year ahead. Have you seen the #clearthelist effort online? Chances are you know someone with an Amazon Wishlist full of books, supplies, and teaching materials that you can put a dent in. Check with your teacher friends on social media and see how you can help. If nothing else, spread the word, and remember that any teacher will be thrilled to receive a gift card! Seriously. Gift cards.

Hopefully you’re not feeling overwhelmed; I did, afterall, refer to all this as the “Basics.” Trust me that it is. This is your launching point but it’s truly up to you how you want to Room Parent. The fact that you’re up for the job says a lot about your interest in making this year a memorable and fun experience for you and your children, and you’ll be GREAT! Have faith in yourself, seek out inspiration, talk to other room parents in your circle, and run with your good ideas. You’re going to have a great time volunteering your time and talents to your classroom and you’re about to make a lot of kids (and a teacher) very happy.

Have I in any way quelled your fears? Did this post help you prepare for the year ahead? What tips would you add? What’s your favorite room parenting win or your most epic fail?

Good luck!
-Rebekah

Published by Look Wider Still

Rebekah is the mother of two wonderful sons, Michael and Nate. She and her husband, Mike, married in 2002 and have built their family on a foundation of adventure. Between geocaching, camping, hiking, cooking, fishing, crafting, reading, and snuggling their Irish Terrier, Bentley, they enjoy a long and happy career in Scouting. The boys come from a long line of Scouters, including Eagles on all sides. Mike has served as assistant den leader, treasurer, and Pack Committee member, and Rebekah has served as den leader and Cubmaster for Pack 521 out of Mechanicsville, Virginia. LookWiderStillBlog@gmail.com

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