Not sure your child is ready for preschool? Looking for an inexpensive alternative to traditional preschool? Try forming a preschool co-op!
The spring Monkey was two years old, our local mothers group buzzed with talk of preschool. Moms compared notes about which schools they had visited, how many days a week their child would attend, and which type of program would be the best fit.
I looked at my Monkey, a few months younger than most of his little friends, and wondered whether he was quite ready for preschool. Just as important, I wasn’t sure I was ready.
So instead, we followed a model I had seen from some friends and formed an informal co-op preschool. Here is how you can do the same:
How to Form a Preschool Co-op
1. Gather your friends. One of the most important steps is to choose the other participants in your preschool. While of course you want to pick people that you get along with, you must also keep in mind that these are people you will be working with closely. Make sure you have the same general philosophy and vision regarding the group (see #2) and that they are people you can depend on. Nothing ruins a co-op like folks who don’t hold up their end of the bargain. Especially if the group is small, one mom that doesn’t show up week after week can make a huge difference.
How many kids should you have in the group? That depends quite a bit on how you are going to structure the group, but in our case we found that unless you are going to split into several small groups, 4-5 is an ideal number. Fewer than that, and it’s difficult to maintain the group through the inevitable absences from illness or travel. More than that can be difficult to control, especially at this age.
It is also important to consider the temperament of the children. Some people prefer to have all girls, for example, or those of similar personalities. Ours was a mixed group, both in gender and personality. This worked well for us, since the more focused kids helped to calm down the more rambunctious ones, and kids were encouraged to try activities that they might not normally be interested in.
2. Establish your philosophy. What is your reason for forming a co-op rather than sending your child to traditional preschool? Is it just a way to save money, or do you prefer a home-based model? Are you looking for a curriculum that will reinforce your religious values? Whatever your vision, it is important that this be clearly stated up front, so that you can set your goals and so that there are no surprises along the way for any of the parents.
(If you are serious about homeschooling, I highly recommend Home Field Advantage by Skyla King-Christison, which gives a great introduction to different educational philosophies and methods used in homeschooling).
3. Work out the structure. Questions to consider: Do you want a formal or informal structure? Will all of the parents be present at each meeting, or will you rotate teaching the group? Will there be a focus to the lessons, such as the seasons or the alphabet?
Because our kids were relatively young (ranging in ages from 2 1/2 – 3) and new to formal schooling, we decided that one of our goals was to get them used to a more structured setting, while still allowing plenty of time for play. This also helped us meet another goal, which was to create closer ties among the children.
4. Create a schedule. We wanted consistent rhythm to the meeting, so we created a set schedule, with approximate times for each activity. In advance, each mom would sign up to do two of the following: Circle Time, Introduction to the Letter, Stories, Songs, Activity/Game, Snacks, Letter Craft, and Art Project.
We also built in periodic outings and seasonal parties. These provided a break from routine that we all enjoyed, though we made even the parties educational, with Valentine’s Day crafts and Halloween science experiments – and heavy doses of unstructured fun as well 😉
Traditional preschools have advantages, and so do co-op preschools. I loved having the hands-on bonding time with Monkey and getting to know the other moms and kids. And with baby on the way, I really appreciated that Monkey was developing close relationships with other adults. In fact, the other moms in the group were at the top of our call list to watch Monkey when we went into labor.
Our preschool co-op ended this past spring, and I was sad to see it go. As the children were now older and – thanks to our group – had some experience with a structured setting, most of the parents decided to put their children in traditional preschool this fall. Monkey is now in a regular preschool, and though it is working out well, I do miss our co-op days and the bonds we formed with the other families involved.
Have you ever participated in a co-op school?