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How to Start A Home School Preschool Co-op
A cooperative school is a small-group preschool usually run by 5-7 parents of the participating children. Starting one of your own is a great way to save money, introduce a curriculum you approve of, and work with your schedule. Another benefit is building upon the strengths of parent-teachers who each have their own teaching styles. This hub will help you start a co-op preschool of your own.
What Is a Co-op Preschool?
A Cooperative (Co-op) Preschool Is...
- A small group preschool that usually meets at member's homes or suitable public location such as a church.
- An organization of like-minded parents.
- Parents act as teachers.
- A real preschool with stated goals, meeting times, and curriculum.
Finding Others Who Want to Join
Several years ago my oldest daughter was preschool-aged. We wanted her to have a great preschool experience, but enrolling her in a private preschool was not an option at the time. Fortunately, other parents had the same idea as me, and I joined with some other women that I attended church with to partipate in a co-op preschool, using Richard and Linda Eyring's Joy School curriculum. We had a wonderful experience in our home preschool. It was laid back and a wonderful opportunity for my daughter, who was an only child, to make friends.
One of the first places you should look to find other potential preschool parents is within your church or synagogue, or parent's groups you may belong to, because it helps to have things in common with your other co-op parents.
When Things Go Right
My experience enrolling my child in and teaching a co-op preschool was a positive one. I worked with 5 other moms who had children approximately the same age as my daughter. We used a structured curriculum and had a similar background and goals. Because we laid out ground rules and taught from a structured preschool curriculum, we had a positive first year. We also planned and attended several enriching field trips attended by most of the parents. This gave us a chance to really get to know each other. Although we had one parent drop out, four others continued through a second year of preschool with our group.
What Can Go Wrong?
My friend had a not-so-good experience with a co-op preschool. Things started out well. Her group identified what they wanted parents to teach, and began teaching for about a month. However, the group, made up of a variety of different religious faiths, had never discussed teaching religious topics. A group of parents who had predominantly similar religious views started discussing how to incorporate religious teachings into the co-op preschool. They came up with a written charter statement for each parent to sign, which included some religious belief statements that my friend could not agree with. After about 3 weeks of stress and tears, she was very politely asked to not participate.
My strong suggestion is that unless all of your co-op participants share the same faith and values, that you have a very clear understanding of the nature of your preschool before you invite other parents to join. This is a courtesy to the people who are joining and will save feelings down the road.
First Things First: Some Things You Should Consider
As you start up your co-op preschool, you will want to think about some basic rules of operation. It is a good idea, once you have made some decisions, to write out a parent/child contract. Answer these questions as you decide how your preschool will operate:
How Often Will You Meet? How Long Will Each Preschool Session Take?
Will you meet twice a month for a few hours on a Saturday, twice a week on a Tuesday and Thursday, or once a week on Fridays? Will you designate one day a month for field trips? How many hours will the preschool meet? During that time, how much time is allocated for instructional activities, and how much is unstructured play time? You don't have to create a rigid schedule, but it is important to set expectations about how long you expect parents to teach.
Where Will You Meet?
Here are some of the options you will want to consider:
- Meet at the teaching parent's home. You could set up a rotating schedule and have a different parent teach for a week or a month at a time at his or her home.
- Meet at one participant's home all the time. If space is at a premium where you live, or for some of your participants, you may want to find one parent who is willing to act as a preschool host. If you choose this option, try to be considerate of that person by helping keep their preschool space clean.
- Meet at a public location. In our small town, one of the local churches made their basement meeting rooms available to our Girl Scout troop, while another church converted an area of their small building into a dance studio for a non-profit group that worked with children. Other churches have dedicated public areas for clubs and other groups. Is there a public parks and recreation facility in your town? Sometimes these buildings have rooms for rent for a nominal fee. If you will be meeting at a public space, consider where you will store supplies and snacks, and find out what kind of rules will affect your craft projects. Does your location allow play-dough, for example?
What student/teacher ratio do you want to maintain?
If you have more than 5 or 6 young children, I suggest you assign one parent to teach and another parent to assist, so that there are two parents available at all times during the preschool. This will enhance the preschool experience by allowing one parent to teach while the other parent focuses on children's needs, such as potty breaks, snack preparation, and dealing with emergencies (such as sick children, minor mishaps, etc.)
What will your preschool's disciplinary approach be?
Most parents have different disciplinary styles and expectations, so it is a good idea to have some expectations and rules about what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior. What behavior is expected of the children? What are some examples of misbehavior? And how will your preschool teachers be expected to handle incidents of misbehavior? I recommend that once you have agreed on what constitutes misbehavior, that you write up some preschool rules. Make them simple, concrete, and easy to understand. For example, No Hitting, Always Help Clean Up, Listen to the Teacher, No Yelling, No Fighting. These are so simple but they are the ones we are using in our current home preschool.
Do any of the children in your group have food allergies? What snacks will you serve?
These questions seem trivial until you find out that you've fed peanut butter to a child with a peanut allergy or milk and cheese to a child with lactose intolerance. Food allergies pose a serious health threat to children who are affected. Make sure to get allergy information about each child in writing. Also, are there foods that you prefer not to serve to the children in your group? Does a participating parent restrict their children's sugar intake? What to feed children becomes especially important if you decide to feed lunch to children.
What will you do if a child gets sick?
Make sure that in a worst-case scenario, you have emergency medical and dental information for each child. But you should also decide if your group will be allowed to administer such medicines as Children's Tylenol. Do your participating children have medical allergies? Make sure you get this information for each child, too.
What will your curriculum be?
One year our co-op preschool used a purchased Joy School curriculum created by educators Richard and Linda Eyre. Fortunately, one of the participants had already purchased the curriculum materials, so we were able to use them without much expense. This curriculum was really structured. It even suggested specific picture book titles, such as A Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats, to read to the children.
There are certainly other options out there. There are many, many high-quality preschool education resources on the internet available for free. Other hubbers have done an excellent job of covering this topic.
The second year we did our co-op preschool, we used the Eyre's Joy School concept of learning by discovery, but we came up with our own curriculum, focusing more on teaching the children letters of the alphabet and numbers. By this time the kids were older and we were more concerned about Kindergarten readiness. We called our school "Adventure School." Using a less-structured curriculum worked well for us, because by that time we had a sense of each teacher's teaching style. For example, my style was more verbal. I used lots of picture books, finger plays, nursery rhymes, and singing. Another parent was an aspiring children's illustrator. Her preschool lessons usually included art projects. Another teacher had a kinesthetic (hands-on) approach. In her classes, "H" was for horse, so she would take the children out to feed her horse as part of the lesson. During another lesson, "D" stood for Digging in the Dirt! The kids made mud pies and came home with "Dirt" dessert.
What will your curriculum NOT include?
Make sure you identify areas you prefer not to discuss in your preschool class. Be sensitive about cultural or religious differences in your group and be open and honest with the other parents. Honesty and respect is key here.
If you are especially concerned about this area, consider purchasing a prepared preschool curriculum and sticking with the curriculum.
Field trips? Anyone?
Field trips are a lot of fun for young children, but if a goal of your group is to give parents "the week off" when it is not their turn to teach, you may want to set some limits on field trips. What is the farthest you are willing to travel? What is the most you are willing to pay? Will your field trips be arranged during regular class times, or on a separate day of the week? Try to keep your field trips simple and inexpensive. Taking a 2-year old child to a science museum 45 minutes away is probably not a good idea, but touring the grocery store and identifying colors might be a lot of fun, especially if a stop at the florists results in a free balloon!
If one of the goals of your group is to save on the expense of traditional preschool, then you will want to discuss some money-related matters:
Supplies — Will your group keep a set of common supplies for your preschoolers? Think scissors, crayons, manilla paper, construction paper, butcher paper, pencils, glue sticks, elmer's glue, play dough, etc. If so, determine a price for these items and divide the price by the number of participants. Or perhaps you will assign each participant to buy a list of supplies at the beginning of the co-op preschool period. This enables frugal families to reuse items from home.
Curriculum materials —If you are using a purchased curriculum, you will want to divide the cost of this curriculum among your group's members, unless one member wishes to pay for, then keep the materials at the end of your school session. Do you want to use a paid online teacher site that has a yearly service fee? Does your preschool want to purchase nap mats or other preschool supplies? Think about your approach to developing lesson plans for your preschool and try to anticipate hidden costs such as photocopying, mailing announcements to parents, and laminating materials you purchase.
Snacks—Your group may want to allocate a specific cost for food, especially if you are providing lunch for the group on a regular basis, or if one person is hosting the preschool at their home each time you meet.
Don't Forget to Have Fun!
Participating in a co-op preschool can be a lot of fun. With the right up-front preparation, you and other parent-teachers will learn a lot along with your children. One of the greatest joys of teaching children this age is seeing the delight of their personal discoveries as you expand and enlarge the world around them. You will end your co-op preschool experience with a very clear picture of your child's strengths and abilities in a learning situation, and possibly have a better sense of your child's learning style. You will also have a first-hand glimpse of how your child interacts in a group situation. Whether you later enroll your child in a public school setting, private school, or continue to home school, she will benefit from the small class size and the extra attention you can give the children in your co-op preschool group.
Have you ever participated in a preschool co-op?
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