Involving parents in events for their children sounds so... perfect. The parents get to spend more time with their kids, and you get to focus on creating a successful event with all of your newfound help. But is it actually better for the children?
Here’s where things get a little tricky. On the surface, parent volunteering just makes sense, but when you dig a little deeper, things get a little complicated. So, is parents volunteering creating positive or negative event outcomes?
Let’s dig in and see!
Understanding Parent Volunteers
The Institute of Educational Sciences and the US Department of Education released a survey in 2017 showing that a massive 89% of ALL parents take part in some form of a school event. And, to top it off, 43% of parents actively volunteer at school events.
Almost all parents want to participate in school events and just under half of them want to help plan and execute those events. For event planners working on events geared towards children, having those extra hands can be massive.
Between dwindling school budgets and an increasingly distracted student body, creating successful school events requires some outside-of-the-box thinking. And parent volunteers can found sitting right outside of the box patiently waiting for you to stick them into your event. They don’t need any money, and they will work tirelessly to help your event shine. Having parent volunteers is GREAT for your event?
But is it great for the kids?
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Parent Volunteers
The old African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child“ may be more accurate than you think. But, that doesn’t mean that parent volunteers are always a completely positive thing. For event planners, schools, parents, and children, the positives FAR outweigh the negatives for parent volunteering.
And, if we wanted to be succinct, we would just tell you that, yes, parent volunteers generally promotes a positive environment for children and helps them (and the event) succeed. But, we want you to know the whole truth. So, let’s talk about the positives and negatives of parent volunteers.
1. It drives the school events industry
There are school events that simply can’t happen without parent volunteers or extra staff. Schools don’t always have the budget to score the ultimate staff it takes to throw together incredible events for all of the rugrats or teenagers. Event budgets need to be carefully managed, and having to onboard paid staff can seriously wreck your finances.
To put it simply, you may NEED parent volunteers to make your event happen at all. Here are some events where parent volunteers come in handy:
- Field Trips
- Sports (Coaches, referees, food support, awards night planner, etc.)
- Theater Productions (stage director, costume designers, makeup, etc.)
- After School Events
- Overnight Field Trips (Science Camp, etc.)
- After School Activities
2. It helps children academically
Research on this is mixed. Having parents volunteer for school events has been shown to improve their child’s test scores. But, it may also, well, not. There’s a big body of work on this topic and most research papers found a positive correlation. However, research has also found no correlation in the following studies (here, here, and here.) And some research even claims that there is a negative correlation between parent volunteering and grades in these studies (here and here.)
That being said, meta-analyses papers (i.e., studies where they add up all the good, the bad, and the ugly and try to figure out what the actual answer is) almost always point towards parent volunteering as a positive.
3. It definitely improves child behavioral issues
Research isn’t mixed on this one. Parental volunteering efforts improves child behavior overall and we aren’t just talking about a specific set of years here. This effect has been shown in adolescence and in the teenage years. When parents have a chance to witness problematic behaviors, they can help correct them early on. This leads to improved social functions later on in life.
4. It helps parents spend more time with their children (vice versa)
Some benefits can’t be quantified with research. Getting to spend more time with your child is typically front-of-mind for most parents or at least it should be. And events can provide the perfect opportunity for that to happen. Parents can see their children interact, engage, and participate in real-world events with their friends while helping support school events. It’s a rare opportunity that every parent should take advantage of.
1. Expect a few parents to be difficult
Let’s be honest here — some parents are a serious pain. You know the ones. They may be overprotective and bossy. Or they may try to focus only on their child and ignore the event itself or other children. Having volunteers that are too passionate is definitely a problem sometimes.
You will also almost certainly have to deal with parents who think they know best for their children. And you’ll likely run into a few that try to completely overtake your job because they think they know best. When this happens, you need to be able to handle the situation and have contingency plans in case the parents get angry at each other over their children’s interactions (e.g., one child bullying another child, one child flirting with another child, etc.)
2. Some parents take parenting too far
Have you ever heard the term, "Helicopter Parent"?
This is a person who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child. Helicopter parenting isn’t good or beneficial for anyone. It disrupts your event, is distracting to parents and children, and can have some seriously bad consequences for their own child's independence. And you will probably have to deal with it. Surveys say that around 10% of parents are “helicopter” parents.
3. Some Parents Will Feel Left Out
Chances are, you have some room at your event for parents to volunteer. But if you’re at a large school, you may not need ALL 42% of parents to show up to your event. For parents, this can be frustrating, no one likes being limited especially when it comes to their children. They want to volunteer, but there just aren't enough jobs. Plus, they see all of the other parents that do get to volunteer, and that can lead to some frictions.
To avoid these types of situations, you can put out sign up sheets for all the events throughout the year so parents have a chance to sign up for at least one event with their child.
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