As my oldest child boarded the bus on her first day of kindergarten, I was very emotional and full of questions. Would she make friends? Would she like her teacher? How would I fit into this new chapter of her life?

As a stay-at-home mom of three (including a very active 1-year-old), I knew I wouldn’t be able to volunteer during school hours or help with events on weeknights. Luckily, the PTO had effective strategies for reaching out to new parents that helped me get involved and feel connected to the school.

When school started, words like Box Tops for Education, winter fair, and TerraCycle were all new to my vocabulary. A cheat sheet supplied by the PTO explained what these fundraisers were and how they worked. Soon I was clipping box tops, saving drink pouches, and looking forward to the family activities offered at the school.

The PTO offered a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, including several jobs that could be done from home. I volunteered to help with the publishing center, which produces bound copies of student-written books. A few weeks after I signed up, handwritten books were sent home in my daughter’s backpack along with clear directions, samples, and paper for this task. Each book took approximately 10 minutes to type and print out. I could easily type up books during naptime or other lulls in our household.

It was fun to prepare the books, and because I was never given more than five books at a time, I never felt overwhelmed by the task. Throughout the year, I typed up a total of 25 books. I appreciated the fact that the PTO had a meaningful way for me to participate despite my limited availability.

I also liked that the PTO used email as its main form of communication, cutting down on the paperwork that came home from school. It was clear to me as a parent that the PTO used great discretion in sending out these emails, minimizing the number of messages and keeping them brief. Because I knew emails from the PTO contained vital information about things happening at school, I actually read them when they arrived in my inbox!

Email also gave me a comfortable way to interact with people I hadn’t yet met. We had just moved to a new town, and it was daunting to meet so many new people; email gave me anonymity to ponder the choices and decide where to help without having to respond to each request in person.

After any event or fundraiser, our PTO thanked volunteers and reported on the success of the event. As a newbie, I had wondered if anyone even noticed that I worked the spin art booth for two hours at the fall festival. Getting an email the next day helped me feel even better about how I helped the PTO. And when they explained the specific ways a fundraiser benefited the school, such as providing funding for family fun nights and teacher appreciation dinners, I could see how my involvement made a difference.

This year, as my daughter gets on the bus for 1st grade, I’ll be looking forward to volunteering for more programs. In addition to helping with the publishing center, I’m thinking about helping out with the winter fair and teacher appreciation dinners. And I know that the PTO will help me stay connected with the school, whatever role I take in the group.