I’m sure there are many moms out there researching preschools, and you may not fully understand what a co-operative preschool is, so I’m hoping this post will help explain (note this is only based on my experience at our school—I have not done any research into other co-op preschools).
My daughter Lily goes to a co-op preschool (a nonprofit program licensed by the state of NJ) that is part of a church. The co-op aspect means that the parents are actively involved in school activities, in the class as well as with other activities such as:
- Writing for the school newsletter
- Helping at the open house
- Bulletin board decorating
- Helping with fundraisers
- Taking pictures at events
- Minor repairs within the classrooms or on the playground
- Planning and working at special events
In Lily’s school, each parent is required to be on at least one committee. It’s not an overwhelming commitment. I am on the publicity committee—so far this year, I’ve had to list some school events on various online calendars and contact the local newspapers to publicize the events. My husband is on the building committee and so far he has had to fix a door on a toy refrigerator and put polyurethane on two chairs for a fundraiser.
The main difference is in parent participation in the everyday school setting. Unlike other schools where there may be multiple teachers or assistants to handle the class and maintain the required adult-to-child ratio, each class at Lily’s school has one teacher and one or more volunteer parent helpers, depending on class size. With fewer people on staff, tuition at a co-op preschool may be less than at other schools. Each family is required to provide one parent helper to co-op on a rotating schedule.
Lily’s class has 13 children, so two parent helpers are in her class every day. A class mom is designated who coordinates the schedule and tries to accommodate everyone’s scheduling requests, such as avoiding certain days of the week or being the helper on your kid’s birthday. She emails the schedule and posts it on the bulletin board outside the classroom.
I am a parent helper in my daughter’s class about once a month. Dads, grandparents, and other family members often sign up too to join in the fun. My husband’s mom, a retired preschool teacher and school director, goes in once a month and loves reliving the school experience with her granddaughter. One of the moms was attending school full time and had her own mom fill in for her. The nanny comes in for another mom who works. Switching my assigned date has never been a problem since we all stay in touch by email, and I always get a substitute within hours of asking.
Our school also provides “sibling care” at a very low cost for your other children while you co-op, so you always have somewhere to put your younger children who are not in school yet or your older children are off from school. They have a nursery for infants and other rooms for older children. There’s usually just a few children in sibling care at any one time.
In Lily’s class, parent helpers lend the teacher a helping hand each step of the way, such as:
- Getting anything the teacher needs from the supply closet
- Rounding the kids up for circle time
- Playing with them or reading to them during free-play time
- Setting up crafts/snack time and cleaning up afterwards
- Helping the kids with a particular craft or activity
- Supervising on the playground
- Escorting the kids to the bathroom
- Helping the kids to put on their coats and collect their projects to take home
The beautiful thing about this experience is that from day one, I knew all the moms and kids in Lily’s class. The moms keep in touch by email about illnesses going around or things the kids might be talking about in school. Over the year, I’ve gotten to know all the kids’ personalities, their favorite toys and lovies, their siblings’ names, etc. Having conversations with my daughter about her day is so much easier knowing what she typically does in class and who her classmates are. When I walk into her school, I don’t feel like a visitor.
And all the children get to know each other’s moms. It’s such a nice feeling when one of the other kids excitedly asks, “Are you the parent helper today?!?” They’ll pile into our laps during story time, ask us to play with them, or grab our hands as we walk outside. All the children (or sometimes, just all the boys or just all the girls) are invited to each other’s birthday parties.
Initially, I thought that my presence in the class was going to result in the kind of stubbornness and bad behavior that children of this age love to reserve for their parents. But I was assured that this happens rarely, and I was pleasantly surprised at how Lily fell right in line even though I was there. That’s not to say there aren’t trying moments with your kid when you’re in the class, but in general, it all flows smoothly.
One last note, Lily attended a regular non co-op preschool last year (the only one in the area that would take kids mid-year as soon as they turned 2 ½). I’m not sure I even learned all the names of her classmates, and rarely had the opportunity to speak to any of the parents. So, I can contrast the two experiences and confidently say, I love the co-op preschool experience!
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog by Darla, a New Jersey mom.
Photo credit given to Memorial United Methodist Church.