I will never believe that preschool is necessary for a child’s development. However, when my firstborn was 3-years old, the two of us were invited to join in a neighborhood Joy School, which I had never heard of before. I have always loved playgroups, the kind where both the moms and their children spend time together, so the idea of a co-op preschool appealed to me. Our little Joy School was made up of four moms and four adorable 3-year old children, two boys and two girls. We gathered our children together twice a week, rotating our homes, and each mom took her turn as the preschool teacher.
What I liked about Joy School: 1. It was super inexpensive. 2. It was value-based instead of academic-based. 3. It was easy-peasy to do because it came with step-by-step lesson plans, complete with a suggested routine.
What I disliked about Joy School: I was always tweaking my lesson plans to suit my creative whims. This did not make the Joy School director happy because she preferred that I follow each lesson plan “to the T” with no deviation what-so-ever.
When it was all said and done, I learned that I love preschool co-ops, but I prefer to dream up my own themes, routines and lesson plans instead of following someone else’s ideas. Overall, that one and only Joy School year was a positive experience for us. My favorite memory was when our children acted out the nativity and sang Christmas carols at a nursing home.
The following year, a neighbor friend talked me into enrolling our sons together in a “professional” preschool out of someone’s home. I caved because our sons were best friends, but I was unimpressed from the get-go. All my son did as far as I could tell was color on worksheets. It was more expensive than Joy School and much less satisfying since I wasn’t involved. I was not heartbroken when we ended up moving two months later out of state.
When my second child turned 3-years old, I remembered my Joy School experience and formed my own preschool co-op. It was a great decision on my part and a lovely group of moms and preschoolers came together. I ended up doing this for four consecutive years with each of my daughters, when they were 3 and 4-years old. It was a huge success. Each year produced a unique group of moms and preschoolers and we created a lot of fun memories together. In short, we had a blast!
This was basically how I formed my preschool co-ops:
- I spread the word that I was forming a co-op. Most of this was by word-of-mouth, but I remember once putting an ad on an online community board. I aimed for at least three other moms with preschool-aged children, and the main requirement was that the moms had to participate by taking a regular turn to teach.
- Once I had enough interest, we met together to discuss and plan how our group would work. I think it works best to have one mom assigned as the director. She’s the one who makes sure everything comes together. Since it was my idea to form the group, I took this role, but I wouldn’t have minded if another mom wanted to do it. The most important thing to me was that every mom feel equally included. Every mom had full say in how and what she taught when it was her week.
- Our first meeting was to introduce ourselves and our children and iron out some crucial details together, including, but not limited to:
a) Days and times (usually it was decided that Tuesdays and Thursdays work best, for two hours starting at 9:30am), as well as the “calendar school year”. I gave each mom a blank copy of the upcoming months (September to May) and we’d pencil in the teaching rotation. For example, first week- Camie, second week- Kristine, third week- Julie, fourth week- Nancy. I’d gather up some necessary info. from each mom such as phone numbers, address, child’s name, birthday and allergies.
b) A basic routine, such as starting out with “circle time” followed by the lesson, an activity and/or craft related to the lesson, a healthy snack provided by the teaching mom and free play.
c) Some general guidelines/rules, such as how we’d discipline a child who acts out (time outs), agreeing to be punctual with drop off and pick up, it was the teaching mom’s sole responsibility to plan her week’s lessons and collect/buy the snacks and materials (this way we didn’t exchange money) and I remember someone came up with the idea of brief parent notes outlining what we did in preschool that day. We also agreed to buy our child his/her own supply of crayons, safety scissors, a pencil, etc.
c) Monthly/weekly themes, such as farm/zoo/forest animals, space, the ocean, whatever we could think up. We naturally incorporated seasons and holidays. For those who wanted a little academics introduced, we’d loosely assign an alphabet letter, number, shape and color.
d) Fieldtrip and party ideas. These were usually done quarterly and each mom took a turn planning them. We always visited a pumpkin patch in the fall, had a Halloween costume party, an Easter egg hunt, a Christmas party, we visited a bakery and a fire station, and that’s what I remember off the top of my head.
e) A name for our co-op. We each gave suggestions and then voted for the one we liked best. One year our group of four girls was called, Flutterbees. We even had our girls paint butterflies and bumble bees on sweatshirts which they wore on fieldtrips and we made little pins for the moms to wear.
All this was many years ago now. My girls are both adults now. I remember these were some of my favorite years with them. I didn’t get the chance to repeat this kind of experience with my baby because we lived in Arequipa, Peru, during his preschool years. He actually attended a Peruvian preschool, which met five days a week for four hours each day. I didn’t like how much time that took him away from me, but looking back, it was a fun experience for him. I refused to make him do the homework they sent home and he was given a report card just like elementary school. It was a little over-the-top, but his class adored him since he was the only blond haired American child. Here he is in his preschool uniform. (And if you form your own preschool co-op, I’d love to hear about it.)