A Busy Mom's Guide to Volunteering at School

Get involved with your child's school beyond the bake sale -- by finding the perfect volunteer spot for your situation and schedule.

mother holding child at bake sale Kritsada Panichgul

One of the most important things a parent can do for her child is to volunteer at school. Giving your time makes a positive impact on the learning environment, and when you make time to help, kids learn that you value their education. Plus, most kids love it when their parents help out. Whether you have a day job or not, finding a volunteer opportunity that realistically fits with the time you have can get tricky. The most important factor is to find something you actually enjoy doing, so that rearranging your schedule and donating your time will seem like a treat and not a chore. To help you find the right fit, here are volunteer roles to consider while assessing your schedule and skills.

    If You Have Another Young Child at Home

    If you welcome the break of having one child at school for even a few hours or you prefer to use free time running errands or spending some alone time, opt for a volunteer position you can do at home.

    Craft Contributor If the teacher is short-handed, help out at home by cutting out artwork for class activities or making homemade Play-Doh. Or put together the year-end class slide show or scrapbook to give as mementos. Your children will enjoy helping after school and will take pride in their behind-the-scenes work when items make it back to the classroom.

    Classroom Coordinator Help recruit and organize classroom volunteers and parent readers, bring food for class parties and treats for appreciation events, or update the school's website or online calendar.

    If You Have a Full-Time Job

    Job requirements can make it difficult to volunteer for activities during regular working hours, so any of the opportunities listed below would be a good fit.

    Room Mom Being a liaison between the teacher and the parents requires good organization and delegation skills as well as time to send emails, without having to be present at school. As a bonus, you'll know in advance when special events (such as class parties and field trips) are scheduled so you can make arrangements to attend.

    Reading Volunteer Being the class "guest reader" is usually something you can do once a month, perhaps after drop-off or during your lunch hour. If you travel for work, ask the teacher about being a guest reader via Skype.

    Event Crew Schools always need help with preparing for or cleaning up after big events (school carnival, art show, or music night). Big events are usually in the evenings or on weekends, so they're more doable if you have a tight schedule.

    Garden Caretaker If you have a green thumb, offer to weed the school garden and plant the beds. This is a weekend job the whole family can enjoy together.

      If You Have a Low Tolerance for Chaos

      Not everyone has the enthusiasm and energy that a grade full of kids requires. So try these ideas if you don't want to be stuck on the playground at recess with screaming students or sandwiched between little singers on a field trip bus.

      Library Aide Contact the school librarian to help with re-shelving books or showing students how to find good material to read. This is the perfect activity for book lovers, especially because kids already know they need to be quiet.

      Parent-School Group Representative Kids aren't usually at parent-teacher meetings, so it's a good time to interact with other adults at the school. Volunteer to be a treasurer, communications organizer, fundraiser, or event planner.

      Fundraiser If you have sales skills or contacts with local retailers, this is a perfect opportunity that involves organizing events, contacting sponsors, and coordinating volunteers from anywhere (such as the comfort of your own home or office).

        If You Love Being Around Lots of Kids

        If you can't get enough of kids and have a flexible schedule, look into opportunities that help the teachers and administration at school.

        Cafeteria Helper Work in the cafeteria during lunchtime to supervise kids, keep an eye on food lines, and maintain calm.

        Art, Music, or PE Assistant Activity-related classes usually have a higher student-to-teacher ratio, so teachers need all the help they can get. Art assistants can prep art supplies, PE assistants can lead games and twirl jump ropes, and music assistants can arrange music stands and tap out beats.

        Special Skills Sharer Offer to teach kids a skill or introduce a hobby. If you have an acting or singing background, showcase your passion by putting together a talent show. If you have a technical background, coach kids in the computer lab or help them explore fun math and reading apps.

          Karen Bantuveris is the founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot (volunteerspot.com), the free time-saving (and stress-saving) coordination tool that makes it easy to sign up, schedule, and remind parents to help schools, teams, and more. Connect with her on Facebook (facebook.com/VolunteerSpot) and Twitter (@VSpotMom).