What is A Cooperative Preschool? Is it Right for My Family?
Have you ever heard of a cooperative preschool? Until recently I was vaguely familiar with the term, but had no idea what an amazing experience being a co-op family could be. However, that all changed this spring when the twins began attending one two days a week. My eyes have been opened to a really unique early education setting and I thought I would share our experience with you today- who knows? Maybe a co-op could be in your future, too!
What is a Cooperative Preschool?
A cooperative preschool differs from a traditional preschool because parents are expected to play a much bigger role in their child/children’s education. Although there are trained teachers at the school, parents help in the classroom on a rotating schedule. For example, I am required to be “parent helper” in the twins’ classroom twice a month (one day per child). As parent helper, I must arrive early and stay late for cleaning duty, assist the teacher during school time, and provide a snack for the classroom on my helper day. Parents also must devote a certain amount of “sweat hours” to the school every semester, which can include cleaning/building maintenance, gardening, leading classes in special activities (my favorite), doing laundry, helping with fundraising (VERY important), etc. There is always something to be done at the co-op! All of this parental involvement keeps our staff needs to a minimum and allows us to keep our tuition super low compared to traditional preschools.
Why I Love Our Co-op
I know it sounds like a lot of work, but believe me, the cooperative model provides SO many amazing benefits! You may have guessed from reading my blog that I am very hands-on when it comes to the twins’ early educational experiences. Since parent involvement is welcome and encouraged at the co-op, I have the opportunity to work with the twins in the classroom while also allowing them the valuable experience of learning from and interacting with other adults. They love the days when I stay in their classroom but they also love the days when I don’t! I have noticed that the twins often respond more enthusiastically to certain activities when they are done as a group with their friends vs. when we do them together at home. Being able to play and learn with them in the classroom is giving me so much great information about their strengths, weaknesses, and interests that I may not have been able to see otherwise.
One of my favorite aspects of the cooperative education model is the awesome sense of community that you can feel the moment you walk in the door. Everyone there is working together for the good of the school and ultimately the children, and it’s so lovely to see so many people who are dedicated to providing a quality educational experience for their kids. On any given day you will see parents at the school volunteering in the classroom, working on the grounds, or just simply lingering to enjoy each others’ company. I’m happy that during my time at the co-op I will know the families of my children’s friends very well and that their teacher is already someone I consider a good friend after a few short months. I also think it’s very valuable for the twins to see me working and collaborating with other adults and interacting with other children- it expands their view of my role from just “Mommy” to someone who has value in the community as well. Plus I am modeling important social and relationship skills for them that they will need later in life. I am also loving that there is a different parent helper each day in the twins’ classroom- they are exposed to so many different adults, all of whom have something new and different to share with the class. For instance, when my friend Melissa is helping in the classroom, she reads to the class in Spanish, exposing the children to a different culture and language in an organic way. I’m thankful that the diverse parent contributions make this learning environment so very rich for my little ones!
Is a Cooperative Preschool Right for My Family?
If you are wondering whether a cooperative preschool is right for your family, you must first consider whether you have the time and energy it takes to be a co-op member. You must be able to fulfill all of your volunteer and parent helper requirements, so if you have a full-time job or a job without flexible hours, a cooperative situation may not be for you. I am lucky to have the opportunity to stay at home with my kiddos right now, so having the time to devote is not an issue for me. Be sure to get a good idea of the requirements at your local co-op (if you are lucky enough to have one) before making your decision.
Cooperative preschools are by nature only as good as the people who create and maintain them. Participation is vital in everything from chores to classroom duties to fundraising events. The more you are able to give to a co-op, the more you can expect to receive in turn. And take it from me- there is SO MUCH to gain from cooperative education!