Tips for Volunteering At Your Child’s School When You Work Full-Time
Just when you think the mommy wars are behind you, the next level of mommy wars begins at the elementary school level. Fortunately, only a small handful of women participate, but unfortunately in my case, they are on the PTA. While I have worked full-time since my kids were babies, I’ve always had flexibility with work so that I could volunteer and attend school events.
Since my boys both went to daycare that doubles as preschool (meaning they were there from 9 – 5:30 every day), I was only around other working parents. I was blindsided when my son started elementary school. Suddenly, it was like we were back to battles over formula versus breastfeeding, but it was working mom versus stay at home mom.
While my son’s school has three aftercare programs, meaning a lot of kids have two working parents, somehow, all of the school events and activities are during the workday. Our parent/teacher conferences are during the week between 2 – 4 p.m. Our class performances are at 10 a.m. on a weekday. Our school “dances” are at 1:45 on a Wednesday and our Halloween carnival is on a weekday at 1:45.
To make matters worse, only children who are escorted by an adult can attend the parties and dances, which essentially excludes kids who attend an aftercare program. Unless you have a friend who will escort your child, your child is out of luck. Between those types of events, random days off for teacher training, a two week spring break and a two week winter break, you’re already taking a lot of time off from work, assuming your child never gets sick. It can make working parents feel like they can’t get involved at school since they are already using so much time off.
So, can you still volunteer at your child’s school if you are a working parent?
Volunteer Opportunities for Working Moms
Studies have shown that regardless of income levels, students whose parents are actively involved in their education do better academically. Don’t worry, before you start freaking out about how you’re going to take even more time off work to get involved in your child’s education, there are ways to get involved that don’t require taking time off.
It took me some time to figure out where I fit in at the elementary school since my son went to a different school than all of his/my preschool friends. Now that we’ve been there a while, I’ve found my footing and am able to volunteer in many areas, despite being a working parent. My is at an age where he is proud that his mom is around school, so I try to do as much as I can without taking too much time off work.
If you are new to the elementary school scene, here are some ways to get involved in your child’s education without needing a day off from work.
- Save the reading for home. My son does his homework during aftercare but I make sure we do the reading portion together at home. I love reading and want to help foster that love of reading so it is something we do together, just the two of us. He loves the one-on-one time and the fact that his little brother can’t be part of it.
- Connect with the teacher. Let the teacher know that while you can’t help in the classroom, you’re happy to assist them on things you can do from home. Trust me, they’ll appreciate the help since that just means one less thing they have to do from home. If you don’t know what types of things can be done from home, see below.
- Advocate for the working parents. Several working parents at my son’s school spoke up about the fact that our kids were excluded from the Halloween carnival since it took place on a Wednesday at 1:45. After two years of voicing our frustration, our school finally moved the event to a Saturday. Guess what? They had the largest turnout ever and they raised more money for our kids. Sometimes, it just takes someone pointing out a problem for it to be addressed.
If you are stuck on the types of volunteer opportunities available for working parents, here are some of the things my friends and I do at our kids’ schools even though we all work outside the home in very different fields.
- Take work home. Make copies, cut paper or stuff folders from home for the teacher.
- Be the reading room representative. This person tallies the amount of pages students in the class read per month. The logs can be sent home in your child’s backpack and you can email the teacher the tally.
- Be the Box Top coordinator (or class coordinator). This job may require two people if you are doing it for the entire school and need to collect the Box Tops from the school office during school hours. If you are just doing it for your child’s class, their teacher can put them in their backpack for you to work on and return. I once taped box tops to the submission sheets while waiting for a medical appointment.
- Volunteer for a committee that meets after hours. I volunteer on a district budget advisory committee, which meets monthly at 7 p.m. I have a friend who volunteers for a school budget committee that meets at 5 p.m. once a month. Ironically, we are both the only moms on both of our committees, but these budget committees are great opportunities for all working parents, not just dads. The best part is, we have a say on how money is being spent on our children’s education.
- Choose volunteer projects that can be done from home. For example, my son’s school needs parents to help make goody bags for their Halloween carnival. That is the perfect activity to be done from home, in front of the TV. I have a friend who volunteers for her son’s school’s silent auction because she can reach out to local businesses in the evening and get everything sorted and organized from home. Get creative. Sometimes the people in power do things the way they’ve always been done so it might take a little push to change things, but once you do, if it is successful, it will stick.
- Share your talent. My background is in marketing so I help our school principal with publicity and promotions for our school. I even write her monthly column in our school district newspaper (with her input of course). I have a friend who is a realtor, so she clearly has a strong sales background. She has been a huge help to our school in getting sponsors for events. What do you do well? Is it something you can do for the school remotely?
- Make your own way. A friend was frustrated that her suggestions were ignored so she went rogue and created her own events for her son’s grade level at times working parents could participate. Her first event was a huge success and we all got to meet working parents we had never seen on campus. We’ve all started taking the ball and create our own events for all families, not just the few kids who have a stay at home parent. The best part? The dads who never got to attend anything were thrilled to have something to join.
While it may seem like the mommy wars are back in full force when you start an elementary school, luckily, it is just a small handful of moms who participate. I have made some amazing friends at my son’s school – both working moms and stay at home moms.
We all respect each other and watch out for each others’ kids. The best part? We can work together on volunteer projects and use our availability and talents to the schools advantage. The moms who still focus on judgment and mommy wars aren’t people I would want to be friends with anyway so I just find my tribe and stay positive.