Kids are back to school and our guest blogger, Amy Stewart Deaker, pulled together a blog with four ideas for getting involved at your kids' school. Happy volunteering!
By now, the “First Day of School” Facebook photos have come to a halt. Grinning kids, happily showing off their new backpacks, and the panicked, tearful faces of the littlest ones are no longer filling up our news feeds. It’s too bad, really. I love the beginning of the school year, and the fact that this summer was the Worst Ever due to a month of illness (What the hell? Who gets pneumonia in the summer? ) and living in the house during a kitchen remodel (I have new found respect for Lunchables, is all I’m saying…) meant that I was ready to get the kids out of the house and let someone else entertain babysit educate them! Helping my 2nd grader pick out the perfect pencil box and replacing the nasty science experiments that my 3rd grader called a “lunch box” with sparkling new containers is totally fun. Did I buy myself a new lunchbox and pencil case as well? Cough, cough…maybe.
If your school is like most, you probably have a Parent-Teacher Association of some description (PTA, PTO, PTSA, etc.) and that association is likely (persistently, repeatedly, relentlessly, often annoyingly) reaching out to you, during these first months, in hopes of securing your involvement at your kids’ school. This year, I happen to be the PTA Vice President of Membership and Donations for our elementary school, and I am now quite familiar with the frozen, deer-in-headlights, parents give me as I approach them. “Umm…Umm…Sorry! I was totally just about to mail in my membership form! “ Good lord lady, I was only walking over to see if your kid wanted a playdate! And I could only snort with laughter as, in the midst of a long-overdue gossip session with one of my dear friends, she sheepishly passed her PTA check over to me.
That said, your parent association does, very much appreciate when you get involved at your kids’ school. As a somewhat public face for the PTA, I often have parents coming up to me, apologizing that they cannot be more involved at the school due to work or family obligations. My response is always the same, “We all just do what we can.” No one – seriously NO ONE – expects a working parent to be present in the classroom on a regular basis, or even at all. Those of us who are stay-at-home parents are endlessly grateful to the working parents for providing our kids with role models. The fact that I had a career, prior to having children, always surprises my kids and, given their wary responses, I suspect that they don’t entirely believe I’m telling the truth. So, thank you, working parents, for showing my kids that one can successfully be a mom AND be something else.
But for those of you with a little flexibility, here are four ideas to get involved at your kids’ school no matter how much time/energy you have!
If you can make a weekly commitment of an hour or more:
Many teachers, especially those in the younger grades, appreciate assistance in the classroom. Can you work an hour every Wednesday? You might be working with kids, helping them with reading, assisting with crafts, or you might be doing mind-numbingly easy work like stapling homework. But you know what? It’s totally worth it because you get to SPY on your kid! They will forget you are there after the first few minutes and you can learn so much about your child in their “native habitat.” For example, I have learned that my son falls out of his chair about every five minutes. I’m not sure what to do with this knowledge, but there you go.
Help out in the office. School office staff will have an extensive “to do” list that you might be able to assist with. Laminating, running copies, sorting fliers, changing school message signboards, and decorating bulletin boards are all chores that the staff might be happy to pass on to you.
If you can give an hour or two a month on a regular basis:
Depending on your school, you may have parent-led docent programs, providing art, science, music, physical education or gardening lessons to the classrooms. Being in a class, on a regular basis, is a fantastic way to get to know your child’s classmates (and to recruit them as spies on your child).
Help at lunch (those yogurt tubes don’t open themselves!) or at recess. Playgrounds are frequently understaffed. Your school might appreciate another set of eyes out there to intervene during conflicts and/or to initiate games.
If your school has a yearbook or newsletter, consider writing for, editing or taking photographs for these publications.
If you can give a chunk of time once per school year:
Do you have a talent? Are you a closet ukulele player? Come into the classroom for 15 minutes and teach the kids some songs. Do you know a few magic tricks? Wow the kids with them and them teach them some easy magic! How about origami? The beauty of performing for (or for that matter, doing anything for) little kids, is that you are always going to be better at it than they are. God bless those easily impressed little souls. They will treat you like a rockstar!
Consider volunteering for one of the major school events or fundraisers. If you volunteer for your school auction or walk-a-thon, you will be truly appreciated. More importantly, if someone asks you to volunteer for something else, you can self-righteously, yet sympathetically, say, “Oh, I would love to, but I like to save my efforts for the Holiday Bake Sale!” No one can argue with that!
If you are rolling your eyes at me and laugh/crying because you have no time or energy; you work your butt off during the day and any free time you have is going to be spent with your family so shut up about all this volunteering:
Join your PTA/PTO/Whatever-You-Call-It-At-Your-School. Membership fees are usually nominal and, generally, joining does not require you to do a thing. You are not going to be forced to attend evening meetings, if you do not want to go. You will not be pressured into volunteering or chairing a board, or anything. Just join. It opens doors for you by allowing you to vote at meetings (if you choose to attend) and to see the minutes of meetings (if you don’t attend). Your school often gets a cut of the membership fee, so you’re helping out right there, even if that’s all you do for the year.
Speaking of money, write a check! We’re all in a struggle with not enough time or not enough money in our lives. If you are in the former group, don’t feel weird or guilty about buying the school’s love! I am so thankful that there are parents with disposable income out there. When we need to come up with an end-of-year gift for our teachers, or need someone to donate prizes to an event, it is fantastic to know that there are people we can go to for cash. We all know that teachers spend too much of their own money on school supplies – how about emailing your teacher and asking what s/he needs? If you see colored pencils on sale at Target, pick up an extra pack for the classroom! At my school, teachers often appreciate donations of tissue paper boxes during cold and flu season. Financial donations to the school don’t have to be spectacularly expensive donations of new playground equipment; a ream of copier paper is often the more urgent need.
Whatever your level of involvement at your school, the fact that you get your kid there in the mornings, with only a moderate amount of impatient teeth grinding, (“Your shoes are exactly where you took them off last night!”) means that you are already a success. Go you! Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do much more than that. We are all in this together and we all do what we can!