Last year was my initiation into school volunteering.
My daughter entered kindergarten, and volunteer sign-ups were in full swing from the first day of school. Each parent received a list of school and classroom needs via email and hard copies in the kid’s take-home folders. Not wanting to be known as a “slacker mom” right away, I signed up for quite a few things — which ended up being way too many things.
I focused on involvement that sounded interesting to me — art club, Junior Great Books, and the yearly fundraising event. Little did I know how many additional opportunities for involvement would come up in the following months of school – like field trip chaperones, class party committees, and more.
I started strong, but by the second half of the year, I was declining involvement for things I’d committed to in September. Slacker status kicked in.
I worked part-time, so I thought I should have had more time to spare. But opportunities didn’t always align with my days off, and I was paid hourly, so any time away from work was unpaid time. That being said, my family doesn’t rely on my income to eat or have a roof over our heads. Mine is a privileged perspective, so I can’t imagine how hard it would be to manage involvement guilt as a single parent, a parent without work schedule flexibility, or whose family relies on their hourly income. Sometimes, parental involvement at school is just not feasible, and those parents shouldn’t be made to feel guilty.
We’re all doing the best we can. If you want to and are able to be involved with your child’s school, here are a few ways to do it without making the overcommitment mistake I did.
Let your child help choose your involvement
I recently read another mom’s comment about how she was making the resolution to volunteer at her child’s school only for activities where she was visible to her child. I thought it was such a smart constraint to use. When signing up for activities last year, I didn’t take into account that kindergarteners couldn’t be part of the art club or Junior Great Books, so my daughter didn’t even see me on those days I was volunteering at her school.
This year, I told my daughter I wasn’t going to be at every field trip or class party, but I asked her where and when she wanted to have me at school. We agreed I’d drive to one field trip and come to the Halloween and holiday parties. Anything else I’m able to do this year will be a pleasant surprise to her.
Having a conversation with your child at the beginning of the year can help set their expectations and manage any guilt you may feel for not being present for everything.
Sign-up for teacher appreciation contributions
Many schools and daycares have events for Teacher Appreciation Week. Parents can sign up to bring snacks, beverages, paper products, or help set up and clean up. If you want to become more visible to the larger school community, this can be a time-saving way to help contribute by dropping something off that will be appreciated by the staff outside your child’s classroom.
Ask your child’s teacher how you can help
If you still want to help, but it’s just not possible during the school day, don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teacher how you could be involved outside school hours. “This doesn’t always have to look like physically coming into the school to volunteer,” said elementary school educator and mom of two, Sarah Popowich. “Teachers, especially in younger grades, can always use help prepping, cutting, stapling, pulling out workbook pages, etc.”
Suggest sharing room parent duties
If you feel compelled to be a room parent, first, you are amazing and appreciated. Second, consider sharing the responsibility.
Our room parents plan the class parties, assist the teacher in the classroom, and coordinate the collection of funds and purchase class gifts. It’s a lot to manage, so by having at least one co-room parent, you know you’ll always have a partner to show up, help clean up, and wrangle up the kids (and other parents) at classroom events.
Know it’s OK to outsource
During kindergarten, my daughter had a holiday party, a holiday concert, and a gingerbread house-making party all on separate days in the month of December. Somehow, I was able to make all three, but one of my daughter’s friends had his high school-aged neighbor helping him build the gingerbread house. I thought it was adorable to see a teenage boy volunteering in the kindergarten classroom. And I’m sure it gave the parents some welcomed breathing room between all of the holiday festivities.
Not everyone has kind neighbors, family, or friends nearby, but if you do, tag them in! School volunteering doesn’t need to be an activity reserved only for parents.