I opted for a parent-founded preschool co-op for my 2-year-old and couldn't be happier. Our preschool co-op meets for two hours on Fridays at a local church's nursery space. This type of preschool alternative can be a great option for families overwhelmed by the preschool admissions process. However, a few weeks into the experiment, our small group of parents has already learned from our early mistakes in planning the co-op, or rather over-planning it!
I'm happy to share some of what’s working and what hasn’t in case it might help other like-minded parents succeed in building their own preschool co-op.
We hired a teacher who plans and leads the class, assisted by one mother on a rotating basis each week. There are seven children in our co-op and our costs for the teacher, space and supplies comes out to less than $20 per week per child.
Here’s a look at what we’ve learned about preschooling our kids through our coop experience so far:
Choosing Your Group
Since the parents are the ones making all of the decisions in a co-op school together, it's important to do it with a group of people you feel comfortable with. Ideally it should be a group of families who have the same priorities and expectations for the co-op and can agree on things like lessons, discipline and costs. My co-op was created among a group of friends, so we enjoy planning together and are willing to help each other out by filling in or swapping when a mom needs help with her responsibilities to the group.
Don’t Over-plan the Curriculum
We originally got excited planning out the lessons to start teaching our kids letters, numbers, colors – the basics. We quickly realized our 2-year-olds had something else in mind! What works best for our young group is short periods of activities interspersed with free play. We learned to set some of our expectations aside and follow the kids' lead. Of course, co-ops for older children will require more organized lessons. Parents can create those plans themselves, or find lots of curriculum to follow on the Internet.
Organizing the co-op was as much for us moms as for our kids. We were eager to have a little time to ourselves each week, and to ease our kids into time away from us with another adult in charge. For that reason, bringing in a teacher rather than doing it all ourselves was key. We actually found out our children do much better when we aren’t there! We also know of co-ops with 3- and 4-year-olds that work well with the mothers doing all of the teaching themselves on a rotating schedule. That also reduces the co-op costs.
Scheduling and Back-up Plans
We found it’s best to plan the year’s schedule of moms' duties ahead and be able to plan accordingly, rather than working it out week to week. Of course there will be sickness, travel and other things that come up and require schedule changes. So we also have a back-up schedule for each week and try to be flexible in helping each other out.
Budget and Supplies
One of the big benefits of a preschool co-op is the low cost, and there is no reason to spend a fortune on supplies. In our group, some of us brought in puppets and musical instruments from home for the co-op to use. That can save big time on your budget.
Backpack? Keep it Simple
I now have sympathy the child care providers in other situations where I drop off my son. It really is a lot easier to have a small bag with just the essential diaper supplies clearly labeled with the child’s name on it. We have a rule about not bringing in your own snacks and toys; it prevents confusion and bickering among the kids.
Class Time: Hits and Misses with Our 2-year-olds
Our group of toddlers seem most interested and engaged in physical activities, games and music. The “Freeze Game” is a big hit, as well as songs with hand and body motions.
We’re also having success with tons of repetition. Each week the kids are going through the same routine and starting to get more involved. Again, free play is also necessary and a good part of our day. We were surprised that art time was not a bigger hit with our class. They just don’t have a very long attention span for anything, especially for sitting at a table coloring. So, we aren’t forcing art too much right now and will try to introduce more later.
My son is having a great time at the co-op each week and comes home exhausted, yet excited to show me the new songs and movements he learned that day. It's great to see him take this first step into his school experience.
Photo by Madgerly via Flickr.