Mom and Dad help in the classroom, too

What role should parents play in their child's classroom? Or should they be there at all? Some teachers prefer no parental assistance, while others welcome it. Fathers, mothers, and other community members can broaden the scope of instruction, lighten the work for teachers, and personally benefit by donating time or talent to their schools. I was reminded of this while reading notes pulled from a large brown envelope.

"Thank you very much for showing us the things from China and Japan. Your slides were stupendous. I learned many things I did not know. I'm trying to learn how to play the game that Julie played," said one student's letter.

"I had a great time and I loved watching those slides and even the upside down ones too. Thank you for the fortune cookies," said another.

The notes conveyed the impressions and feelings from three second-grade classes after our afternoon together. The teachers were concluding a study on Japan and asked if I'd share a 22-day trip I had taken to the Orient. I hesitated, envisioning the children falling asleep during a slide show. Woundn't it be repetitious after their eight weeks of filmstrips, artifacts, books, and discussions, I wondered. Then a date was set. The teachers assured me the children would be interested.

Squeezing three weeks of travel into one hour of highlights became easier when I considered what my own children had enjoyed. Plans finally fell into four 15-minute segments: selected slides, discussion, Japanese games, and ending with cookies and small pictures of a geisha girl to color.

Everything went according to plan -- for the first 30 minutes. But the second segment just wouldn't end, as one discussion led to another. I was flooded with political, geographical, historical, and environmental questions that showed much thought and concern. "Why don't the British let more Chinese into Hong Kong?" "Are there hiking trails to the top of Mt. Fuji?" These seven- and eight-year-olds not only seemed mature, but also truly hungry for facts and current events. Finally another class arrived to use the media center, and we finished up in classrooms.

The next day a parent called to report her son's reactions."I think more parents would participate at school if they saw how much it means to the children," she said.

I was certainly enriched, too. I felt the children's eagerness for understanding those beyond our own culture. I heard and saw genuine student enthusiasm, which parents sometimes think is missing in schools. And I watched the children sharing their new knowledge of a Japanese game as they taught one another. All this helped me to know my daughter's classmates better and be in touch with her school beyond the homework or room-mother contact.

Parent participation may be as easy as marking papers or listening to beginning readers, or a little more detailed, such as teaching a lesson, but children and parents are sure to learn from each other. Most of all, this communication promotes a supportive atmosphere between the home and school.

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