While it appears that children whose parents volunteer at their school do better academically, how many mamis have the time or the energy to actually come in to read stories, shelve library books, or chaperone field trips on a regular basis?If you don’t do it, however, you’ll end up feeling guilty, because the public school system in the U.S. requests—and expects—that parents be heavily involved in PTOs, fundraisers, functions and, oh yes, meetings, lots of meetings! Plus, your younger kids will tell you that Johnny’s mom comes in every day to help the teacher, so why don’t you?
When my eldest entered kindergarten, I stumbled upon a way to volunteer and be of service to her school without leaving the house, where I have my office.
It happened when I received the first newsletter of the year, which was bilingual. I was surprised by the Spanish translation, which was so poor it was comical and worst of all, nearly impossible to understand. I scheduled a meeting with the vice-principal, explained the importance of Spanish-speaking parents being able to read school-issued communications, and offered my translation services for free. That made us all happy, and although throughout the year I would also chaperone a field trip or two, my main contribution was as a translator. Of course, I explained it to my daughter, so she wouldn’t think her mami was a slacker on the volunteer front!
If you simply cannot make it to your child’s school to volunteer lest you lose your sanity to one more activity that bites into your work or personal time, there are ways you can make it happen without ever setting foot on school grounds:
- Volunteer your skills. Whether you’re a website designer, a translator or a seamstress, volunteer your talent. Offer to upgrade the school’s website, translate their paperwork, or sew the costumes for the Christmas play. I would also suggest baking cupcakes if your school has not banned home-baked goods for safety reasons (many public schools have).
- Use your profession or business to help out. If you run a PR firm, offer your services to the school for free. Have a screen-printing business? Provide the football team with their uniforms, or print the school spirit T-shirts. Find ways that your business can help out with logistics, services, or products.
- Suggest a field trip to your place of work. If you can’t go to the school, have the school come to you. If you have a fun or interesting job, suggest and help organize a field trip to your workplace. Don’t underestimate what could be interesting to children. Bakeries, a department store, a restaurant, a fire station, a bookstore, an office, a factory, a college, are all destinations that provide entertaining learning experiences.
- Donate books to the library. When your children outgrow their storybooks, donate them to the school library or the classroom. My children’s teachers always appreciate the gift of books, as school supply funds are increasingly scarce.
- Coordinate events. If you can’t come in to the school fair or jog-a-thon, perhaps you can make phone calls or send out e-mails from home to coordinate the event, find sponsors, or design the flyers.
- Help with fundraisers. No, I don’t mean harassing your co-workers, family, and friends, begging them to purchase expensive trinkets or cookies for a school fundraiser. You can help count the money (literally), organize and send in the order forms, or distribute the fundraiser orders if they aren’t shipped directly.
- Assist teachers in preparing crafts. Teachers do so much prep work that they are often overwhelmed. Ask your child’s teacher if you may take home any craft project she needs to prep and do it for her. It’s also a fun activity that you could share with your kids.
Contact the PTO or Volunteer coordinator by phone or e-mail and ask how you can help from home. There may be many other possibilities that would be a better fit for you.