Why Do Parents Participate?
By Megan E.
I have been asked to write a bit about the Parent Participatory aspect of our son’s preschool, The School of Grace. My oldest son began attending the school in January 2010 at 4 years old, and finished up there this past May. Previous to signing him up, he had been home with me the whole time and I had very little experience with any sort of preschool, meaning neither of us had any idea what to expect. I wasn’t so sure what to make of the Parent Participatory aspect myself at first, but we have come to love it and I’m happy to share my opinion on this program.
First, what is “Parent Participatory?”
Well, at it’s most basic level it’s simply a program requiring parent participation. At School of Grace, this means that we drop off our children inside the building every morning and pick them up on the playground when school is over, instead of doing a carpool. It also means helping out in class as “Helping Parent” a couple of times a month, as well as once a year events such as helping out at the fund raising yard sale or helping to clean the classroom during Parent Work Week.
When we first signed on to the program, I have to admit I was a bit worried. I was a sleep deprived mother with a rambunctious preschooler and a newborn and while I was excited to have one of my children in preschool, I wasn’t so sure how I’d handle being so involved. I would have to take both kids into the building every morning, I’d need to leave the baby with a sitter twice a month to help out, I’d need to add snack for the class to my shopping list a couple times a month, etc.
And yet, I found that not only was it completely do-able, it was enjoyable, so much so that we’ve signed our younger son (now almost 2) up for the program for this next year.
So, the “drawbacks” to the parent participatory aspect are rather apparent. It requires more time out of the parents, and more work, than your typical preschool. But what are the benefits? What does everyone get out of this?
There are three groups of people who benefit from a Parent Participatory preschool, those being the three groups involved with the preschool scenario: The teachers, the children, and the parents.
For the teachers the benefits are obvious. An extra set of hands, a provided snack, information on how a child’s day is going, etc.
For the children, there are also some wonderful benefits. Again, more adults working in the classroom means they’re more likely to find someone to read them a book, build a train set, or paint a picture with. Because parents can bring just about whatever they want for snack, there’s always a variety of healthy foods ranging from every day favorites to new and exotic. Also, whenever a parent is “Helping Parent” their child gets to be “Helping Child.” The children are ecstatic when it’s their turn to be “Helping Child”, relishing in their duties for the day like ringing the bell, reporting on the weather, or providing something for show and tell.
So with these two groups reaping the benefits, what do the parents get out of it?
Well, I will admit that at first it felt like I wasn’t getting much. Obviously my son was loving his preschool and his days as Helping Child, and his teacher seemed happy to hear about any rough patches in the morning (such as waking up too early) when I dropped him off. And yet I was so busy rushing around to get everyone in and out of the building or arranging a sitter or trying to figure out what I should do as Helping Parent that at first it seemed a bit like a hassle.
It didn’t take too long though before I started to see the benefits I myself was getting from this whole set up. On my days as Helping Parent I really got to have some special time with my older son, and got to see him in a whole new light. Before preschool he had just been home with me all day and to say we used to butt heads would be an understatement! And yet here he was following rules and laughing with his friends and coming up with new art projects. I had thought that whenever I was Helping Parent he and I would end up attached to the hip, and yet I learned pretty quickly that while we would have some wonderful moments together, such as setting up snack or reading a book, he often wanted to play with his friends and just come back to me from time to time. I found that my days as Helping Parent had me getting to know his classmates and teachers. I was always happy to provide one of the shyer children with some company, and while it took awhile I got snack set up and clean up down to a science, freeing up the teachers to have more time with their students.
On a day to day level, sure a carpool would have been convenient, but I found I really enjoyed the interaction with the other parents that drop off and pick up provided. Every morning we’d walk in and greet everyone by name. At pick up, we’d all sit back and chat a bit on the playground while watching our children burn off energy. My older son loved to have the extra time with his classmates, greeting them and their parents warmly, and my younger son loved all the attention he got as other children and adults fawned all over “the baby” every day.
In short, not only did I find that the Parent Participatory aspect added a great deal of practical benefits, I also found that it created a real sense of community within the preschool. My older son truly flourished in this environment and to me that’s what really matters, and why we’re so excited to send our younger son to the same preschool. I would highly recommend that anyone interested in this program contact The School of Grace and see for themselves what the preschool has to offer.