What is a Co-op Preschool and is it right for me?

by Molly Doughty

When I was looking for a preschool for my 2 year old daughter I started looking at the typical drop off schools.  While touring all the prospective schools, I envisioned my typical preschool parent rituals.  I would walk her in, sign in and maybe chat briefly with her teacher, give her a quick kiss goodbye and leave.  I was not really comfortable not knowing what was going on in her daily class and wanted to be more involved. 

Nothing I looked at seemed to be the right fit until a chance meeting at a garage sale.  I met a former co-op mom who told me about The Parenting Experience Co-op Preschool.  I was immediately intrigued about the parent involvement, low class ratios and had to find out more.  I met with the director and spent an entire school day with my child in her prospective class.  I knew straightaway that this is where I wanted to send my daughter.

I began at the co-op preschool 6 years ago.  Not only did I bring my daughter, and eventually my son into the school, I also stayed to help watch kids on the playground, pushed some kids on the swing and talked to the other parents for a bit.  When it was my volunteer work day, I would put on my nametag, clean, set up my classroom or bring out new books for snack time. Eventually as my kids were aging out of the co-op, I started working there as the assistant director. 

A co-op classroom is not for everyone.  You have to ask yourself, am I willing to teach, play, clean, fund raise, change diapers, know the other parents, and take responsibility for other people’s children? If your answer is yes, then you should consider a co-op.

Co-op participation can be highly rewarding.  Parents and children develop an extended family and amazing friendships they carry through their lives.

The co-op creates a strong sense of community, provides parent education, and can give you a valuable connection with your child. But all this comes with a commitment of time and energy.  It is the parent’s participation that makes a co-op unique and provides preschool experiences within the financial means of most families.

Here are some quick questions to ask when determining if a school is right for you and your child.

·  Always ask the basic questions about the philosophy of the school   How do they discipline children and resolve conflict? Make sure that the school’s values match yours. 

·  Ask about the stability of the program.  How long has the school been around? How long has the teacher been there? How long the current families have been there?

·  What are the exact commitments in terms of work days, meetings, fund raising and tuition?

·  Arrange to visit the school with your child.  Any school should allow you to visit, to participate or observe. 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 about their experience at the school. 

A volunteer working parent, Jesse Pottebaum with the 3-4 year old class.