By Beth Goss, Parent Education Instructor, North Seattle College
(Estimated reading time: 4 minutes)
Cooperative Preschool: A school for young children where caregivers participate and play a vital role in the functioning of that school.
In the fall of 2000, I was the proud mom of a brand-new kindergartener. I was nervous about handing her over to the “big kid” school, but I also knew she was ready. On that first day, while we waited in the hallway to pick up our 5-year-olds, I noticed something interesting. Lots of parents were chatting comfortably, while I was wondering if I’d missed some sort of first day event for the grownups. It didn’t take long for me to find out that these parents had known each other since their kids were babies. They’d all met at the neighborhood co-op preschool, and had spent the last four years watching each other’s children grow and learn while they created a solid community of support for themselves.
I felt a little jealous, but was mainly curious to learn more about the co-op model. At the time, I was an early childhood educator and teacher trainer, and there was clearly a whole preschool community I knew nothing about. Several years later I actually got a job teaching parent education with the North Seattle College co-ops and I never looked back. I’ve been supporting families at cooperative preschool for 21 years and I’m clearly hooked! My own kids are grown, but I’ll be sitting at circle time until I retire.
So, what’s so special about the co-op model? For me, I view it as a complete package.
- Children have the opportunity to attend a high quality preschool
Teachers create a play-based, developmentally appropriate classroom environment and curriculum. Classes include art and sensory areas, dramatic play, building with a variety of materials, small motor play (puzzles, bead stringing), outdoor play, and circle time with singing, dancing, and stories.
- Parents, grandparents, and other caregivers learn together in a supportive community
Parent Educators are there to support you as you navigate the ups and downs of raising young kids by providing research-based tools, discussion sessions, and one-on-one support both in and outside the classroom.
- Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The cooperative preschool system in Washington State is actively working to create schools where all families feel welcome. Program coordinators across the state work together to critically analyze teaching methods and co-op systems, and share updated research with classroom teachers and parent educators.
- Classes cost much less than drop off care
Co-ops can keep costs low because parents work in the classroom one morning or afternoon a week and help to run many aspects of the school. Annual costs for a weekly toddler program can run as low as $540. In contrast, the average cost of annual childcare for a toddler in the state of Washington is around $14,000.
- Parents and caregivers can build leadership skills
All adults are required to participate in the running of the school. Some participate on the all- school board and learn more about balancing a budget, personnel practices, and group management. Others support the teacher and class by arranging parent get-togethers, helping prep materials, or putting together a placemat so that children can find photos of their school friends while they eat at home.
Additionally, I’ve seen cooperative preschool become even more important after the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a whole generation of families who were born, or grew, during lock-down. We weren’t meant to raise our children without help, much less alone in our own living rooms! As families have been returning to our “new normal,” there’s been both hesitancy and eagerness in rejoining the community. Co-op can be a safe place to dip your toe back into things like children sharing a snack together and children sharing (or not sharing) toys. As the kids get a little older, it’s a place to slowly work on getting more comfortable with separation. Toddler parents may have an in-class parent ed session while the other parents are watching the children. 2s, 3s and 4s parents will be dropping off their child one or more sessions a week, giving adults a little time to focus on other aspects of life.
Co-op can be a natural “next step” after Newborn or Baby Peppers groups. Many parents who participate in PEPS want to keep those relationships going, and a lot of those parents wind up joining an infant or toddler co-op class together. It’s a way to nurture those early relationships, while continuing to learn and practice parenting strategies in a safe and accepting environment. PEPS families already understand that there’s value in raising children “in a village,” and co-ops are a great way to continue that practice.
- List of cooperative preschools in the Puget Sound areaHow co-op works (from the North Seattle College co-op website)
- Parenting Takes a Village podcast
About the Author
Beth Goss (she/her) is a full-time faculty member at North Seattle College and has been teaching parent education classes in the co-op preschool system since 2002. She is also a Certified Gottman Educator and Training Specialist for the Bringing Baby Home program, a Certified Childbirth Educator, and a PEPS Guest Speaker. Beth’s philosophy of parenting is relationship-based, and her goal is to empower parents to stay in connection with their children while weathering the ups and downs of raising a family. She is the proud mom of two semi-adult children.