How To Volunteer At Your Kid's School When You Have No Time

Photo: Anna Samoylova, Unsplash

During the course of the school year, my son’s school has needed volunteers for more activities and events than I could possibly recall. They need volunteers to run the canteen. To man the food tables at the annual “Doughnuts with Dad” and “Muffins with Mum” events. To supervise a slew of second-graders for an excursion (not to mention on the bus ride there and back). To help get kids into their costumes before the Halloween parade and to plan — and run — the latest fete.

It takes a village to raise these kids and yet, sometimes, we find ourselves in a season in which we may want to volunteer for all of it (or some of it), but we simply haven’t got the time. There are still ways to get involved and help that don’t require you to duck in and out of the office at all hours of the work day.

Be the material donor

I’ve been the mum who helps with preschool crafts, who pops in as the kindergarten class’ “Mystery Reader of the Week” and who chaperones the class field trip to the pumpkin patch. I’ve had years in which my work schedule allowed for that flexibility, and knowing that so many other parents didn’t have that option, I offered up my time whenever possible.

But things have shifted for me in recent years, and as the amount of time I can spend at the school decreases, my donations for whatever the teachers need has increased. I send in supplies for every class party, I buy candy for the fundraiser, I send in boxes of tissues and containers of antibacterial wipes, and I save stacks of newspapers and plastic bottle caps for art projects. It takes fewer minutes out of my day but still allows me to contribute.

Help behind the scenes

One of the biggest time-sucks for a teacher is the endless amount of preparation. If your daytime hours are already spoken for but you have a little time in the evening to relax in front of the TV, ask your kid’s teacher if there’s anything they’d like to send home for you to help prep. An extra pair of hands to cut out letters or shapes for projects, sort and staple packets of paper or prepare supplies for activities is almost always appreciated.

Bundle your time

If being physically present in the school is important to you but you can’t be missing work for every last event, trying knocking it all out at once. Daisy Wademan Dowling, founder and CEO of Workparent, writes in the Harvard Business Review that parents might try planning ahead and “bundling” all of their volunteering together in one day.

Schedule a personal day well in advance and use it entirely for school volunteerism. Maybe you’ll be the “reading helper” in your daughter’s second-grade class in the morning, walk the school’s neighbourhood safety patrol in the afternoon, and take the minutes during the fundraising committee meeting at 5 PM. When the day is over, enjoy knowing that your yearly contribution has been made in full — and efficiently.

Or, just, don’t

If all goes according to plan, your kid will be in school for 13 years (not counting daycare, preschool and any higher education, that is). And yes, those years will fly by, but there are still a lot of them. You will find a way to contribute at some point, even if that point isn’t right now. If you’re simply stretched too thin, it’s ok to let yourself off the hook.

Just be sure to offer a heartfelt thank you to the parents who always seem to be organising the holiday parties or volunteering to wrangle the kids on the latest field trip. They’ll appreciate being recognised for their contributions and one day, you might be able to pitch in when they can’t.


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