14 Ways to Help Your Child's School
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14 Ways to Help Your Child's School

Haven't got a lot of time to spare? No problem. Pitching in at your child's school is about quality, not quantity.

Lend a Hand

The day I visited my son's first-grade class to read a copy of my children's book and discuss how books are made, I probably got as much out of it as the students did. They may have learned about the writing process and how the words made their way from my computer to the hardcover book they passed around, but I was able to watch how my son interacted with his classmates; I saw firsthand how the teacher used his dry sense of humor to discipline; and I got to spend some time exploring the classroom. Plus, what better reward for volunteering than witnessing that huge grin plastered on my son's face because his mommy was the center of attention.

Every study shows that children are more likely to enjoy school, perform better, have higher self-esteem, and be more successful in life when their parents actively participate in their education, says Tim Sullivan, publisher of PTOtoday, a magazine for school-parent group leaders nationwide.

Volunteering at school is a great "do as I do" example-setting activity, Sullivan says. "Mom and Dad demonstrate that school is important to the family and Junior takes note." It's also a great lesson when a working parent gets involved even in a small way, he adds. "The message is: 'Wow, Mom is so busy, but she still makes a point to do what she can for my school.'"

Of course, not every parent has the time to do weekly playground duty or volunteer in the cafeteria on a regular basis. It helps if you're an at-home mom or dad, or have a flexible work schedule. But it is possible to have a full-time job and still find time to be involved in your child's school. The challenge is to find effective ways to participate that work for both you and the school. "More schools are getting creative with involvement in recognition of the time demands on today's parents," says Sullivan.

Of course, not every parent has the time to do weekly playground duty or volunteer in the cafeteria on a regular basis. It helps if you're an at-home mom or dad, or have a flexible work schedule. But it is possible to have a full-time job and still find time to be involved in your child's school. The challenge is to find effective ways to participate that work for both you and the school. "More schools are getting creative with involvement in recognition of the time demands on today's parents," says Sullivan.

If you can't volunteer in the classroom on a regular basis, consider using an occasional vacation day to chaperone a field trip or help with a special class project. Even when you can't get to school, you can send in cupcakes, help plan a class party or make a few phone calls from the office.

Schools also need parent volunteers for projects that stretch beyond individual classrooms. You can learn what's going on by attending parent-teacher organization meetings. Sullivan suggests presenting your availability, your skills and your passions to the teacher or school officials and working together to find how the school might use your help.

Get Involved


Share your talents. If you're a professional public relations whiz, why not help publicize the school's upcoming fundraiser? This can range from a major time commitment to just writing a press release or making a few phone calls to local newspapers or radio stations. If sewing is your hobby, offer to make costumes for the school play and round up some junior assistants to help you. Are you a storyteller? A puppeteer? A good cook? Share your skills with a class.

Give the teacher a break. With large class sizes, teachers can always use an extra pair of hands. Offer to come in on a regular basis or whenever you have time to work with small reading groups or help the kids struggling with algebra with some one-on-one attention.

Join your child for lunch. A simple way to be involved is to occasionally eat lunch at school with your child. Busy lunchrooms often welcome extra adults who can monitor behavior and give children a chance to practice conversation skills.

Involve your employer. Does your office throw out excess folders, paper, pens or other supplies that your child's school can use? Do they dump usable computers when they upgrade? Do they print up key chains, pencils or other promotional items that can be donated for prizes at a school fair? Check out what's available and round up some kids to make an after-school delivery. Your employer can be a valuable partner for your child's school by helping to print flyers, giving work-site tours or providing a facility for a fundraiser. Make sure the boss gets a thank-you letter from the school to pave the way for future involvement.

Talk about your career. Teachers usually welcome parents to come in to talk to the class about their careers, especially if it relates to what they're studying. If you're a nutritionist, come in during National Nutrition Week and talk about healthy eating habits. If you're a scientist, offer to conduct some special experiments. If your child's class is learning about the Internet and you work for a dot.com, show them first hand how it works.

Bring in the experts. Even if you don't have expertise in an area your child is studying, perhaps you can help find some people who do. Work with the teacher to round up local artists, authors and experts to help bring the curriculum to life. Then come in and moderate the panel.

Help out the school. Offer your services to the school as a whole, not just your child's classroom. Every school can use an expert in computers to help set up programs and fix glitches or to supplement enrichment programs, which are the often first to get slashed when money is tight. Volunteering throughout the school helps build a sense of community. You'll also get to know other teachers and administrators in the building, which will help your child as he or she moves up in grades.

Are you connected? Help design a school Web site or teach students how to safely surf the Internet for information on a topic they're studying. If you have an older child who's a computer whiz, this may be something you can do together.

Use your artistic air. If you have an artistic talent, take your child's class to the park and teach them how to sketch the trees. Develop a unique idea for the annual Father's Day gift or help decorate the classroom for Halloween.

Go on a class trip. Even if you have to take half a day off, your child will love having you accompany the class. Talk to the teacher and check out the trip schedule so you can plan ahead and pick the most convenient time to go.

Help at a one-time event. Perhaps you could volunteer during school registration, yearly health screenings or the end-of-the-year field day. Offer to run a booth at a school fair or help set up the annual bake sale. These activities often require only a limited time commitment.

Organize a group. Maybe you see an unmet need at your school, but there's no organized group to handle it. Get one going. For example, if the arts have suffered with budget cuts, start a cultural arts team of other interested parents. Expose the classes to famous artists and their work each month or bring in local talent -- dancers, wood carvers or storytellers -- on a regular basis. Often these people will visit just for the asking.

Volunteer on the weekend. If you're too busy to help during school hours, perhaps you can keep the school looking good by helping out on the weekend. Organize a playground cleanup for a Saturday, or gather other parents and kids to plant daffodil bulbs on the school grounds. This can be a good activity to do with older kids who might be embarrassed by your presence in the school during regular hours but wouldn't mind working with you to paint a mural on a blank playground wall or help hang new nets on the basketball hoops after hours.

Volunteer from home. If you can't get into the classroom there are ways to help that you can also do with your child. Volunteers are often needed to put together a school phone book, staple copies of workbook packets or cut out hundreds of pumpkins for the harvest festival. The activity itself isn't important; it's the fact that you're doing it together. --Bethany Kandel

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