How Much Do You Help Out at School?

Updated on August 26, 2011
B.S. asks from Lansing, MI
16 answers

Earlier this month I asked a question about what the norm was for others for a school notifying them of orientation and such things at the beginning of the year. A couple answers to that question were telling me that I needed to volunteer more then maybe I could help with this issue.

I am a full time working mom whose husband works 60 hours a week. I try to do my best with helping. I do PTA meetings (even though its really a joke, because no one barely shows up and I feel like an outsider with their small clique). FYI I"m not going to be able to do PTA meetings anymore either anyway because they start at 5:30 and my husband is not home until after 6. My only option would be to hire a babysitter and I'm not going to go to all that trouble for an hour. The reason I say its pointless is because the help they need are things that are just impossible for me to help with. Examples: Help popping popcorn all day on Fridays (During school hours while I'm at work), Help with the field days - also during school hours...etc, They do put on a fundraiser that I always have my child participate in. They also put on a family picnic twice a year that I also bring a dish to pass that I participate in. They have games outside with the kids at these events and my husband will help do them.

Outside of this, I also try to at least take one day off during the school year and come into the classroom. I take off mornings or late afternoons and go on field trips too. I also supply items to the classroom whenever asked and also sometimes supply some fun things they don't ask for.

Last year my husband was a soccer coach for the K-1 team (this was before he started working 60 hours a week). I helped him with schedules and contacting parents/children about games and so on.

Is that enough? Because apparently others think I should also work in the office or take office work home so that I can get a notification by mail/email about the happenings of my daughter starting her school year. They have 2 secretaries in the office. I realize they are busy...but so am I at my job!

So my question is how much do you think someone should help at their child's school?

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all the responses.

To answer a few questions: They did have babysitters at the PTA meetings at one time, apparently, but then found out they couldn't because it broke some kind of licensing daycare rule. Or at least I was told that by one of the parents that was super involved. But this year, the president is new and is best friends with a neighbor I know I'm sure through this neighbor I will be able to still help the best I can even without going to meetings.

I'm not getting guilt at the school. Actually, I got a nice compliment from my daughter's Kindergarten teacher last year who stated I was a wonderful parent to work with. So I feel I must be doing something right?? I guess my main question was in regard to the previous question I had where I was complaining about the lack of communication about information for starting school. And the lack of response to an email I sent. Someone suggested I needed to get in the office more even after I told them I had a full time job. Apparently, they believe I'd be able to take school office work home. And maybe that is true, but I guess I feel I do enough already. Maybe not as much as others, but I feel I do a fare share.

More Answers


answers from Washington DC on

I am currently the band's uniform mom and band parent secretary. I've been the PTO chair, the dance chaperone, and more. I am home and work part time, but I don't spend every waking moment at school. I'm too busy for that. I do try to cover the events that happen in the middle of the day, so that working parents can stay employed.
During Elementary school, we had working parents that prepared things at night for the teachers -- that included cutting out shapes that they would use in class, cutting out things that had been laminated, stapling sets of papers together, and more - all of this was sent home with a child at the end of the day with a note when it was needed at school -- usually a week later. It worked quite well... The PTO did a math review packet during spring break one year -- the working parents stapled the packets together weeks before, the teachers distributed the packets the friday before break, the SAHMs collected the papers, and both working parents and SAMs graded the packets after break. Everyone was involved as much as they could or wanted to be.
In middle school, the parents all seem to disappear and those few SAHMs are left to do it all. I've found that asking parents to volunteer to chaperone one dance a year (there were only maybe 8 dances in the year) is often too much for the working parents. They say they can't get off of work. Well, they seem to be able to take an afternoon off to go skiing.... So why can't they take an hour or two off in the afternoon and chaperone the dance??
My husband works 60 hour weeks and commutes and hour each way... He has never missed an event. He has even left work early to chaperone a dance when we were desperate for help -- if you don't have enough chaperones, the event has to be cancelled. He did that for the kids, not for the PTO, trust me. He has never missed an opportunity to be there for the kids. Our children are in marching band. He has never missed a football game, a band camp, a competition, or a fundraising event. He pities those parents who do...

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answers from San Francisco on

You are doing plenty, do not feel pressured into doing any more!
As a SAHM I have had the extra time to volunteer a lot but I have learned over the years to only sign up for the tasks I actually enjoy doing.
Helping in the classroom during centers, going on field trips, working on the school auction and yearbook? LOVE doing those.
Parents Club, room parent and classroom party committees? Oh H**L no!!!
Do as much or as little as you like. Believe me, there are plenty of parents who do nothing at all so DON'T FEEL GUILTY!

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answers from Austin on

First of all I and my husband also worked.. I owned my own business.. So I know what you are talking about.. Most of the parents worked. But I found things I COULD do at night to help the school.

When I was a PTA President there were tons of things that the working parents helped with.. The mothers, and the Fathers.

They were invaluable with the website.
The news letters.
Communications between the school and the parents.

Also there are parents that do better with a buddy. Look for someone that has a project going and offer to help them.. Example.. If they are working on tshirt sales.. they need someone who can make the "order form" . Who can have them printed and bundled for each classroom.. Who can tally the sales..

The people that helped with communications for the "classroom volunteers" was a full time working parent and she was great at sending out the reminders for the once a month update on what was needed for the classroom help. The teachers sent her requests and she sent a"group" email to all of the people that had signed up to help.. Many times it was the Special area teachers that needed volunteers - Art, PE,Music, Librarian, computer lab, Spanish teacher, Special Ed.... Since they do not have homeroom parents.

For our carnival.. we bundled tickets into $5., $10, bundles so when the kids or parents purchased tickets it was easy to hand out.. Many, stay at home parents volunteered to do this.

I volunteered to do the book orders (scholastic) for our daughters class. This was about every 4 to 6 weeks.. It was easy and 1 less thing the teacher had to do.

Maybe you could send an email to the school secretary and ask what types of things you could help with? See if the Librarian would like for you to find her some volunteers.

If you feel like the PTA is cliquish, just deal with the President. Let that person know you really want and are able to do small projects from home.

I was kind of stand offish when our daughter started at her elementary school.. The PTA looked like a clique.. but in reality these were parents that had children of all ages so some of them had been there for years.. When you have 3 or 4 children spaced out in 2 to 3 years.. You are going to be spending a very long time in different schools.. You are just naturally going to get to know other parents and a lot of the teachers.. And they are going to call on you for help..

I was called upon by a mom that noticed I had volunteered to help the teacher, so she asked me to help with a PTA project. Once I was involved with that, they called on me for other things. It just bloomed from there.. I tried to change the perceptions of our PTA from being "exclusive to being inclusive".. We learned who can be counted on and we learned who is a flake and cannot follow through or would forget. .. Just like at work.. except you cannot fire volunteers. hee, hee

Do not be discouraged if there is nothing right now or if they cannot think of something right now.. It is not a snub, they just are getting the year started. Send a note or email to the Principal, the School Secretary, The classroom teacher and the PTA President.

Your children are going to be excited that you are helping their school!

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answers from Pocatello on

I have volunteered in different ways as my schedule allowed over the years, and I understand that sometimes you just aren't able to do as much as you'd like to. A few ideas: Ask the teacher if there is anything that you could take to do at home to help her such as grading papers or cutting out things for her. Ask her if there is anything that she needs donated to the classroom such as a new pencil sharpener or just some extra hand sanitizer. Just talk to the teacher once in a while and be friendly, she will appreciate it! Try to take one field trip a year with the class, you could probably arrange one day off for it, especially with plenty of advanced notice. When the school does a picnic, volunteer to come early to help set up or stay late to help clean up. For the fundraiser, if they have a silent auction or raffle, you can get donations from businesses you frequent (you are there any way!), I have had great success asking for gift cards or other donations (for school fundraisers and a community fundraising event) from local vintage clothes stores, an independent movie theater, a bakery, and even a nice theme hotel that donated a nights' stay! If you ask they are likely to say yes, especially if they know you are a regular customer of theirs. You can make an important contribution in the little time that you have, you just have to be dedicated! And you will set a wonderful example for your child! Remember, volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they have the heart!

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answers from Charleston on

I think you're doing plenty. There are many overzealous PTA moms out there who don't work and think EVERYONE should be volunteering every second of their free time to the school. (I'm a SAHM and on the PTO board and this attitude drives me nuts.) Sorry, but I like to do stuff that doesn't revolve around school/PTA, and I don't want to live at the school everyday. If they choose to do that, that's their business. Stay out of mine!

Don't let anyone bully you or make you feel guilty. If there is something extra you could do occasionally like take your child's class to lunch once a month to relieve the teacher - that's always a nice treat. Other than that - you're doing what you can handle and it sounds generous to me!

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answers from Dallas on

I am right with you girl:) My son's school has moms who actually come up and eat lunch EVERY DAY with their children.
SO - I go on every field trip they need help with, I am an approved volunteer. My hubby and I join the PTO so they have my demographic support (the more parents/males, etc they get different grants or recogniton. I go to parts of my son's field day (they only have one a year) and I go to every after-hour school play/concert that he is in and I attend Parent teacher conferences.
I work and do not have time to just chill up at the school. My son is comfortable with the amount of time I am there and therefore, so am I. He did ask me one time why I never came to eat lunch with him, so I did a few days over my lunch and he ignored me, so I didn't do it again and he never asked again - LOL!
You are doing plenty and don't let anyone tell you you aren't:)

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answers from Miami on

Wow!! I think you do a lot. :-) I work full time also, so I only help out at things that are out of work hours (after 6pm or weekends) I am a single parent so it works out better for me if my dd can go with me, not the PTA meetings though which are usually once every 2-3 months. Before I started working full time I helped at everything, so to me I did my part when I could. We are lucky to have a really good PTA group (no cliques) and they are happy for ANY help, no matter how little. I am the treasurer for the PTA so I usually just do all that stuff in the evening or during my lunch and that's only once a month. I have a fabulous boss who lets me away on the odd occasion to attend school services or help out at the Christmas Fayre and maybe once every couple of months I will have lunch with my dd, but that is all I am willing to do during work hours. Please don't feel pressured by others to do more - you are doing a great job considering you work full time. :-) I know stay at home moms who have all there kids at school who do nothing to help out so you should definitely not feel bad.

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answers from Los Angeles on


I help out when I can at my daughter's school. We've been blessed with great teachers, so helping out has always been a pleasure and a well organized task. I don't work outside the home, however, so this has been an easier job than if would be for others. That said, it sounds like you are doing a great deal of volunteering your time and efforts as it is. I was a room parent a few years ago, and I always appreciated the parents who just responded to our classroom requests for items or monetary donations. It's too bad that others are pressuring you to do more, as it seems to me that you are going beyond what is needed to help out at your child's school.

I'd say you keep doing what you are, but don't overdo it and burn yourself out. I'm sure your kids love having you there for field trips and for the days that you are able to be in the classroom, but if would not be worth the frustration if you spread yourself too thin.

Take care, and kudos to you for doing all that you are!


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answers from Washington DC on

I am a SAHM - my boys will be in 4th and 6th...

I have volunteered 3 days a week at their school...for the last 6 years.
When I worked, I was lucky and worked close to the school and had a great boss - so I was able to volunteer 2 days a week..

you need to do what's right for you and your family. don't feel pressured to do what someone else is doing....

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answers from New York on

Whatever you decide to do and however many hours or activities you choose to do is enough. There are some parents who will basically "live" at the school, helping in the classroom, cafe, office, etc. I think it's way to much. There are other parents who don't do a thing, or even come to the family nights, etc. You need to do what works for you.

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answers from Boston on

I would push for your school to hold PTA meetings later (like 7) and offer free baby-sitting, which is what happens in my town. A 5:30 meeting is really passive-aggressive and obnoxious. It says "well you working moms asked for it to be after work so 5:30 is after work" while ignoring the fact that you have to, I dunno, drive home, pick up your kids from daycare, cook dinner, etc. I can't imagine that that time works for SAHMs either as it's right when people are starting dinner, and many SAHMs are in the position of not having a spouse home at 5:30 to watch their kids either! I think a later meeting time and free baby-sitting would work and more people would show up for the meetings.

In any kids have been in school for 8 years and for many of those years, the PTA boards were mostly - if not all - working moms so it can happen. I'm the treasurer of one PTA now and work FT, and the other board members all work FT too. Sometimes I'll have to use a vacation day here or there to be at a school event but we usually manage to have enough parents who are around during the day to run daytime events such as the book fair.

So to answer your question, I am a treasurer at one school (middle school, where no one wants to volunteer because they're burnt out of volunteering) and at the elementary school, where there is a glut of volunteers, I just help out at evening or weekend PTA events. I don't volunteer in the classroom. I do help out with other projects - landscaping on a Saturday morning, or this summer we painted the office and entrance so that was a couple of hours after work, etc.

Regarding volunteering to be privy to information, that's ridiculous. Part of the school's core responsibilities is to communicate things in a timely and effective manner. Once these dates are known, they should be sent to everyone, not just some secret inner circle of volunteer parents who hang out at the office. We got Kindergarten orientation info last June, teacher assignments for the younger kids in July and the middle school info isn't released until the week before school starts, which is maddening.

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answers from Detroit on

I was like you but if I had it to do over, seeing all that my daughters do despite working, I'd try to do more, taking vacation days or seeing if my boss would let me juggle my hours around half-days off here and there etc. It is super important but I totally get how very difficult it is. My daughter arranged to hire older kids as sitters for their PTA meetings so the children can go with her. Her 8th grader earns good money helping out this way and it's a win-win all the way around. The parents chip in for it and sometimes they use money they've fundraised for. Parents who don't work are prejudiced against those who do and that's very unfortunate. I sure felt that, and from teachers as well. It shouldn't be.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Don't feel pressured. Or feel pressured, but you have every right to decline...everything, technically. You're already busy. It's your time...only you can give it away.

I turned down being the room social parent (meaning organizing social events outside of school) b/c 1) I was it last year and did nothing 2) I volunteer teach and decided I liked that better 3) wasn't motivated to do MORE stuff with the school. Enough already! Go with what you like to do, since you're more likely to actually do the work.

At my boys' school, it's private but families are asked to provide a certain number of volunteer hours. Right now, since I'm a SAHM I do more, knowing that I might have to pull back in the future. No worries, I know I'm covering for other folks, in a way!

PS My folks just celebrated 45 years and in my toast I noted how they prioritized family time over everthing else (except reasonable work). Both worked full time and got very good at declining extraneous pressures. While they didn't have a huge social life, we have a great family life and that's what I remember. I remember my parents visiting my classes, but b/c it was rare and special. I remember them coming to games, etc. I don't remember them stuffing envelopes or answering the phone in the office or attending meetings (I viewed that as them being taken away). If you volunteer, I'd as much WITH your kids as possible. JMHO :-)

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answers from Saginaw on

I am on the PTO board at our school and we are so happy to have parents volunteer in any way they can, but also understand they have job, families, other obligations, etc. Our PTO does free babysitting and uses high school students that need volunteer hours....maybe something you could suggest to your school's PTO. Are there other volunteer activities you could help with like counting Box Tops at home in your own time if your school collects them, calling or e-mailing volunteers to coordinate those that can do activities at the school during the week....again, just finding things that you can do at home in your own time without taking time off from your job. Ask the PTO if they have any things they could use help with, maybe they would have a few ideas.

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answers from Detroit on

Man I wish people would get off their high horse and realize not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to be at school at every opportunity! Yes, you do get more info by being there more often but that is no excuse for a lack of timely communication on the school's part. Last school year I was there so much I should have been paid. I probably spent more time volunteering than I would have spent at work if I had a job. However, even though I was there 4 out of 5 days a week there were still instances where I didn't find out about something until the last minute. Newsletters and e-mails that were supposed to come on a Monday would often times not come until Thursday!

It sounds to me like you help more than some of my fellow stay at home parents. Don't let people make you feel guilty for supporting your family.

I won't be volunteering much this school year because I have an infant at home. I can't bring a 4 month old to school and expect to be able to help out and be useful.

You are doing what you can and that's enough. At least you are involved enough to notice a lack of communication. Some parents are clueless all year.

Sorry for the rant :) this topic has always bothered me! Hope this school year goes better for you :-]

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answers from Dallas on

There is no set rule and should not be a set rule on volunteerism at school. You are VOLUNTEERING your precious time and PTA's, teachers, etc should be thankful for what you do.

Most of the time, the issue here lies within the PTA and a bunch of people who all want to be the chief and delagate. You have to find a good balance for you and your family.

As for volunteering, I don't work inside the school as much anymore.. my daughter is a Junior. However, Booster clubs are very busy with fundraising, etc. Last year I was the President of the cheer booster club and responsible for getting the program ready in time for the first football game. We had to sell lots of ads to cover the cost of the program plus fund our cheerleaders for competition. It worked out but it was not an easy year. I had a VP who did things her way no matter what was agreed upon.

This year in a Sr. High School, I was asked to be on the board again as Secretary. Again, a lot of work (part time job) but I do find it rewarding and not as difficult as managing everything as President. There is a lot more money involved at this level and you have to know UIL and NCAA rules for athletics.

So, that said, I spend a good amount of time on school related functions.

When daughter was in elementary school, I was there a lot weekly sometimes as a volunteer and sometimes as a substitute teacher. I still substitute teach at this elementary school because I love it so much.

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