How to Get Great Parent Volunteers and Keep them Coming Back!

The first time I had a parent volunteer to work in my art room I nearly fell over!  I had been teaching for years and I had never, ever been approached by a parent to volunteer.  My head was spinning with all the possibilities and projects I could have volunteers help with.  Over the course of that year I had not one, but three outstanding, reliable, parent volunteers.  It took some tweaking, but we developed a system together that really seemed to click.

Here are a few tips if you are considering working with parent volunteers.

1. Make yourself known.

Looking back that was a big part of why I didn’t have volunteers initially.  I was a brand new, traveling teacher trying to keep my head above water and PTO meetings were not on my radar.  Well, they should have been!  The PTO is a great place to start looking for volunteers.  They collect the names of volunteers for all kinds of events throughout the year.  Maybe the art room could be one of the sign-up categories?  You won’t know until you ask.  I suggest reaching out to your PTO president to see who he or she might recommend.  Network, network, network!  Is there a parent who has a creative flair?  How about a retired art teacher?  If you don’t have parents knocking down your door, try reaching out to those who might be a perfect fit.

2. Set a schedule. 

This is absolutely key!  You and the students are on a schedule and your volunteer should be too.  Be clear and direct up front.  Decide on a time that works for both of you and let them know that you require 24 hours notice if they cannot make it.  Life happens, its true, but you are a professional and should be treated as one.  If tardiness or late cancellations become an issue, nip it.  Thank them for their time and service and move on to the next volunteer on your list.  Keep in mind, they are supposed to be making your life easier, right?

3. Play to their strengths.

The art room can be outside some people’s comfort zones (to put it lightly).  If you get a volunteer who is ready and willing to help paper mache, congratulations!  Others may not be so brazen.  Find out about your volunteers and then match them with an activity that suits their ability and plays to their strengths.  I had a parent who was a graphic designer prior to staying home with her sons.  She came once each weak and changed out all 8 of my giant bulletin boards of student artwork (I’m talking up on a ladder and everything!).  I had to have everything ready to go (artwork, teacher names, project blurb, etc.), but she did a fantastic job of visually displaying the artwork and she LOVED doing it!

4. Let volunteers work with students.

This one was a little hard for me.  I had trouble initially “letting go” and allowing a parent to participate in the lesson.  Looking back, I regret not doing this from the beginning!  It is wonderful to have a second set of hands in the classroom.  Parents can help pass out supplies, run a “station” for printmaking, help students write an artist statement, or pull a small group to assess color mixing in the hallway.  When you give parents a role that involves working with students (in my experience) they step up to the challenge.  Students receive more assistance and attention and parents get to see exactly how much learning occurs in the art room.  This is a natural advocacy opportunity.  Parents chat and news of all the wonderful things going on in the art room spreads!

It does take some time to iron out all the details and get used to having another adult in your classroom, but I promise it is worth your time and effort!

How do you use parent volunteers in your art room?

Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Project Manager and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • Jorena

    I use parents in all of the ways you talk about, but there is one additional way I use them- prep.  Usually kids in 3-6 grades make art from scratch, but occasionally I have a K-2 project that requires some prep and the parents have become an invaluable tool for this.  A perfect example is a “sewing” project that I do with the little ones.  I send out a note asking for in-class volunteers and at home volunteers.  I ask them to either e-mail me or write me a reply on the back of the letter I sent.  I always get a few that volunteer to come into the classroom and help with the yarn and threading big plastic needles.  But I also have some willing to do prep at home.  For that particular project, I need to cut up brown grocery bags,punch holes in the sides, and then measure/cut yarn and tie it on the first hole.  By myself this took FOREVER.  However, most parents are perfectly willing to do a class worth at home.  I send a plastic bag of materials and instructions with a finished example and a date (usually a week before for wiggle room) and I get back a bag of pouches ready to be “sewn”. I haven’t done prep on this project in the last 3-4 years. 

    • I like the idea of the ‘take home kit’ – Helps you plan ahead and makes it easier for parents to help out, even with their busy schedules.

    •  That is a really smart idea because sewing/weaving is a TON of prep! 

  • I used a retired art teacher as my art room volunteer. This worked out great, because she knew about art and understood what I was asking without a long, drawn out, explanation. I’ve also had wonderful parents work in the art room. It just depends on the year and the situation. 

  • Artdoc664

    I found that most of my parents don’t have time to come INTO the art room, but they want to help. I realized I was spending way too much time cutting & prepping stuff, so I started making that part of my “volunteering activities”. 99% of my volunteers take stuff home with them (I simply bag it up & sent it home with their child) & they have a week to finish it all & send it back to me. 

    This has been super helpful in letting go of a lot of the prep-work so that I can focus on teaching and working with the kids. It also helps when I need artwork matted or prepped for shows or contest. In the past few years I have had many Hispanic moms come to my aide. The folks who help are people who want to play a small part in their children’s school lives, but simply cannot afford to be there on site. Many get their kiddos to help them prep MY work! The kids bring the stuff back bragging about how they helped too! Too cute, plus it makes them feel like they are a part of a bigger picture. 

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