If you've got an hour
Spend time in your kid's classroom. This may be the single most important thing you can do to help your child and his school. If you're not thrilled by the idea of reading to the kids or speaking at Career Day (both of which, by the way, are always welcome), do something that reflects your own interests and expertise instead. “My husband fixed computers so that the kids could play educational software games,” says Renee Herron on Facebook. “He brought in memory, keyboards, and mice. The kids were so happy to have their computers running again!” If you're artistic, bring in a project for the kids. If you speak another language, give an introductory lesson. While you're spending time in your child's classroom, the teacher can grade papers, plan lessons, deal with administrative duties, or just catch her breath and regroup, says Jerri Ann Reason, the MC delegate from Alabama.
Go through your child's bookcase to donate titles he's outgrown to the school library. Most schools will happily accept classroom and art supplies, too.
Eat lunch with your child in the school cafeteria. Besides having some unexpected mom-kid together time, you'll also see (and taste!) firsthand what kind of food the school serves the kids. And if you find the experience less than appealing, speak up. Visit jamiesfoodrevolution.com, the website of Parenting contributing editor Jamie Oliver, for tips and tools on how to get your school to serve tastier, healthier food.
Attend a monthly PTA/PTO meeting…or a Parent/Staff task-force meeting…or a School Action Committee meeting…or a school board meeting…you get the gist. This may not be at the top of your list of how to spend a free evening, but when your child benefits you'll be glad you did. The next time parents from your child's school meet to discuss the issues, show up to share your opinion and vote on what you think is important.
Start organizing a “walking school bus,” where kids can meet at designated spots to walk or bike to school accompanied by adults. According to Robin Schepper, executive director of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative, in the 1960s and '70s, 70 percent of kids walked or biked to school, and only 30 percent rode in a car or bus. Today that ratio is the exact opposite—just one of many reasons for the childhood-obesity epidemic. Find out more at saferoutesinfo.org. Bonus: By participating, you'll get some exercise, too!
If you can spare one hour every week, consider tutoring and mentoring a struggling student in your child's class. Busy teachers rarely have time to give one-on-one attention to the kids who need extra help. And when you tutor one kid, every child in the class benefits because it allows the teacher to move through topics faster, keeping everyone engaged and learning.