Help in the classroom

Any mum who has moved to Australia with school age children will tell you that getting involved with your children’s school is a great way to get to know other families in the community and feel more settled in your new home. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved; from providing help in the classroom, to school excursions, working bees and volunteering to work in the uniform shop.

All schools in Australia have a P&C (Parents & Citizens) or P&F (Parents & Friends) committee that build and manage the relationship between parents and the school. In our experience the P&F fulfils many roles; fundraising for the school, helping with reading groups, nominating class parents to handle communication with the wider school community, helping with school sports carnivals and assisting in the school canteen or tuck shop.

Some schools have a very active P&F or P&C community that are always communicating with parents and organising social and fundraising events; other schools may be less well supported but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get involved.

Since our eldest son started school last year we have slowly increased our involvement with the school’s parent volunteer community. It’s been fun and rewarding to get to know other parents, teachers and students. We wouldn’t like to be at school every day; this probably isn’t ‘cool’ for our son, but children seem to genuinely enjoy seeing familiar parent faces around the school. In my experience, our son usually blanks me and it’s his friends that gather round and want to have a chat.

Initially, getting involved can seem daunting, especially if you’ve just arrived in Australia or your first child is starting school and you aren’t familiar with how things work. If you’re keen to do something at school but feel a little nervous we’d suggest speaking to the school secretary in the first instance to understand how the P&F is run and who the committee members are. You could also speak to your child’s classroom teacher. If there’s an active P&F it probably won’t be long before there’s an opportunity to volunteer; we’d suggest starting small and increasing your involvement as you feel more comfortable and get to know more people.

Working with Children Checks for parent volunteers

A small note on Working with Children Checks: To volunteer in schools in Australia you will need to complete a Working with Children Check. In NSW this can be completed online and your school should provide you with the details. At my son’s school parents attend a 40 minute presentation before being sent the online link to complete the form. Parents have to do this regardless of where they have worked before or previous checks they have completed.

Making your mark…

My recent involvement with my son’s school and P&F has been in the capacity of “Lunch order co-ordinator”. I’ve been co-ordinating parent volunteers to order and deliver sandwich lunch orders made at a local bakery. It’s been a fair amount of work but it’s a rewarding task; children love the fresh sandwiches and the service being provided to families who work full-time and struggle to make lunches at home is invaluable.

I was nervous the first day, arriving at school with my preschooler in tow, because I knew the service was under the spotlight from parents and I didn’t want any mistakes to mean that hungry children had to wait for their lunch. The lunch order process we created worked well and the delivery from the bakery was perfect, however my first endeavour in parent volunteering at school wasn’t without incident.

Part way through the morning shift of collecting lunch orders from the students, my preschooler locked me in the tuck shop. We had a fly screen between us and I couldn’t find the school office number on my phone to call for help. Whilst I tried to get online and find the number a student I knew walked past and I shouted for him to get the keys from the office to let me out. I was a little mortified as I heard the whisper spread around school…”There’s a parent stuck in the tuck shop!”

Thinking that was enough excitement for one day I returned to school at lunch time to distribute the lunches. Another mum helped me and we arrived to a big puddle of water in the tuck shop which we dutifully reported to the school. The school secretary kindly explained that someone had put the plug in a sink with a dripping tap…yet more mortification as I know this is my preschooler’s favourite trick at home.

If you’ve just arrived in Australia I’d thoroughly recommend volunteering at your children’s school. In the future I’m going to stick to days when my preschooler is at school, although he’s certainly helped me make my mark!

Have you been a school volunteer or member of a school P&F or P&C in Australia? How did you get on? Do you have any tips or fun stories to share with other families moving to Australia? We’d love to hear them. Thank you.

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