Photograph by Aaron Dyer
From supporting teachers to planning celebrations to raising money, the work of most school volunteers is urgent and endless. So how do you enhance your kid's education without stretching yourself too thin? Here, parents -- classroom veterans as well as eager newbies -- share tips on smart, effective ways to lend a hand. Plus, three sure-fire ideas for volunteer snack-duty.
Show the Teacher Some Love
I go in at the beginning of the school year and help get the classroom organized. From labeling books for the class library to making copies and putting together workbooks, I take care of things that the teachers would usually do on their own time.
Lisa Ely Lake
Many teachers appreciate donations of classroom recess or playground equipment. I've given a game or two for indoor recess and balls and jump ropes for outdoor fun.
Once in a while, I let my kids' teachers know that I'll be taking care of their lunch, then send bags to school with the kids. The teachers are excited to have a meal that they don't have to make, buy, or think about.
When I was class parent, I'd ask teachers for a wish list of items for the classroom. Then I'd use that list to give other parents ideas for holiday teacher gifts.
Fort Smith, AR
For a teacher with a July birthday, we threw a surprise classroom party for her half birthday in January. She was very touched.
During Teacher Appreciation Week, we spruce up the staff bathrooms. A group of parent volunteers equip the room with scented lotions, nice toilet paper, air freshener, and a few small decorations, such as a vase of flowers. Surprisingly, it's the teachers' favorite part of the week. They just love it!
Recruit a Village
Before you can organize parents, you need to get to know them. Early on in the school year, we plan a moms' night out or a happy hour for parents to meet and mingle. There is also a casual book club for parents, to keep everyone social throughout the school year. It is easier to ask parents to volunteer when you all know one another.
As the room parent, I give the other moms and dads a short survey during orientation. I ask which kind of tasks interest them and how they would like to volunteer. The survey gets parents engaged right from the start. Then I refer to the forms when I need party or classroom helpers or someone to send in treats.
Our school takes a team approach to holiday celebrations. Parents in each class are separated into four teams; those teams are responsible for snacks, activities, and entertainment for just one holiday. With three children in the school, I chose a different holiday for each. That way, I could focus on one fun snack or activity at a time.
It can be very hard for parents to volunteer in a classroom when they still have little ones at home. I started a play group for moms and tots at our elementary school. While our little ones play, we work on a project for one of the teachers.
Create the Ultimate Teacher's Aide
Photograph by Aaron Dyer
Readers Dede Bessey and Carolyn Metaxas had a similar, brilliant idea for making an educator's life easier. On the first day of school, they send in a "just in case" kit, filled with little essentials like those shown to the right.
1. Adhesive notes
2. Lint roller
3. Gold stars
4. Nice pen
5. Hand cream
8. Sewing kit
9. Nail file
13. Pain reliever
14. Snack for teacher
16. Lip balm