Ask any parent you know and she’s bound to tell you she wishes she could help out more at her child’s school. We all know that parental involvement is a crucial part of a child's education, but with so many of us trying to juggle commitments at work and commitments at home, it doesn't leave a whole lot of time for volunteering in the classroom. But that doesn't mean you can't provide some valuable support to your child's teacher. Consider these non-classroom based ways to volunteer:

  • Ask your child's teacher what she needs for the classroom and buy it. Twenty-five years of teaching in the Maine school system has taught kindergarten teacher Carol Turner that "parents want to make themselves available but they don't know in what way." Turner says that sometimes parents don't know how to help because teachers aren't communicating their need for supplies. "Especially new teachers are reluctant," says Mrs. Turner. "They think if it's going to cost money, then they shouldn't be asking for it, when, in fact, parents would be more than happy to help, especially if they can't make it into the classroom." Most of the time the supplies teachers need are small necessities a school budget may not provide for: Ziploc bags, tissues, an extra pair of snow pants to keep in the classroom or, Turner says, "it can be as simple as purchasing office supplies.”
  • Create a virtual bulletin board. If you think that sitting in front of your computer won't be very helpful to your child’s teacher, then ask yourself: when was the last time you really read one of the crumpled-up missives from school that made it out of your child's backpack and onto the kitchen counter? Setting up and maintaining a classroom website that parents can check for announcements and needed supplies is a great way to volunteer. Not only does it reduce the amount of paper coming home, but it reduces the teacher’s workload too; all she needs to do is email you with updates.
  • Be kind. In-kind donations are a way to give of yourself; you may not have the money to buy supplies for the classroom, but you surely have a talent or skill from which a teacher could benefit. Put your green thumb to use: consider planting a classroom garden and providing the students with tips of how to take proper care of it. Use your artistic eye to create a community display of student artwork. Help fix the wobbly bookshelves in the classroom or, better yet, build some new ones for your child's teacher. No matter what your field of expertise is, there's a way to use your talents to improve your child's classroom.
  • Be a new-age PTA parent--participate online. As James Martinez of the National PTA tells us: "Technology has certainly played a huge role in parent involvement. Our PTAs are having meetings online and they're hosting podcasts. If you want to be involved, but you don't have time, you don't have to go to the meeting; you can watch online or go to the chat room." Of course, online participation can't take the place of the social component of PTA meetings, but it can help you be involved if meetings are scheduled during your workday.
  • Be an old-fashioned PTA parent--be a room parent.  Dedicate yourself to helping the classroom teacher prepare materials and coordinate events. According to Turner, not only can a room parent "help with the logistics of whatever is needed," but there's always a need for someone to help out with all the prep work that goes into daily classroom activities: cutting, laminating, photocopying and library cataloging. Most of these things can even be done in your own living room.

The bottom line is it doesn't matter how you volunteer—just that you do it! Whether you're buying, building or behind the scenes, your child (and his teacher) will benefit from your participation.