What exactly IS a cooperative preschool? A parent cooperative preschool is organized by a group of families with similar philosophies who hire a trained teacher to provide their children with a quality preschool experience. The teacher is responsible for planning, and implementation of the curriculum. Parents administer and maintain the preschool on a non-profit basis. Parents assist the teachers in the classroom on a rotating basis and participate in the educational program of all the children. Each family shares in the business operation of the school, elects a board, votes on all aspects of the preschool including curriculum, field trips, class events, etc. Parents also attend regular membership meetings, the time between varies from co-op to co-op, but is generally once a month.
A co-op is a very different kind of early education experience. Parents don't just drop their child off at the door. They are an integral part of every aspect of their child's learning. Most co-op preschools also educate parents on early childhood education, a key difference from other preschool options. Parents have a hands on role in their child's preschool experience, and have a voice in all matters regarding the classroom. A licensed teacher works side by side with the parents, and both teacher and parent work closely with the children to ensure a fun, safe place for learning. Parents have the unique opportunity to not only spend quality time with their own child, but to observe other children around the same age. Parents can learn useful ideas, and share their own experience and expertise with other children and members.
Belonging to a co-op preschool is a commitment like any other. Parents time and energy are key components to a successful school. Parents are the co-teachers, fundraisers, treasurers, janitors, maintenance workers- just about everything! Providing snacks, doing laundry, making playdough- these are just a few things parents who choose co-op learning do, along with interacting with the students and helping the teacher as needed. Jobs are designated, or volunteered for, and each parent is responsible for doing those jobs. Good communication between members and with the teacher is very important to make sure everything runs smoothly.
So is co-op learning for you? Co-op participation is very rewarding,extra time spent with your children, bonding and forming relationships with other families, and the peace of mind that when your child does go to kindergarten, you have given them an amazing foundation. If you are ready, willing and able to co-teach, clean, play, fund raise, prepare food, be around other preschool age children, meet new parents and learn some great things- then a co-op is definitely for you!
There are some basic questions a parent should ask when choosing a preschool for their child. The following list offers some tips to help, no matter what your early educational choice may be!
- What is the philosophy of the school and teacher?
- How do they discipline children and resolve conflict?
- What are their goals in terms of childhood development?
Make sure that the school's values match yours. Remember, preschool is designed to give young children a foundation for learning, building social skills and self help skills. School readiness skills are important, as are developmentally appropriate practices.
- How long has the school been around?
- How long has the teacher been there?
- How long have the current families have been there?
Also important to ask:
- How much are the children sitting in teacher/parent led activities?
- Is there a balance between child centered and teacher/parent centered activities?
- Are the materials age appropriate?
And questions that are unique to a co-op preschool, such as:
- What exactly are the commitments in terms of work days, night meetings, fund raising, and tuition?
- What are the penalties if these commitments are not met?
- What are the policies around parents' leaves of absence, illness, pregnancy?
- What sort of flexibility is offered when life changes occur?
Make sure you are comfortable with these terms- don't be afraid to ask what kind of leeway there might be.
Plan a visit with your child. Any co-op should allow a visit, whether it's a set day and time, or as a drop in. Make sure that you are comfortable with the play area and classrooms and that your child seems comfortable as well. Talk to the other parents. You will be working with them!
I hope this has helped answer any questions about what a co-op preschool is all about. It truly is an amazing, unique experience!