Make Your Own… School! How to Create a Preschool Co-op

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Who would’ve thought that my rejection from the preschool we wanted most would lead to the best decision of our schooling years… to make our own preschool!

That homegrown co-op school became not only the perfect place for my kids to enjoy their toddler years, but created an incredibly strong and rewarding support network for participants, giving us a true sense of village parenting that has continued as extended family for us to this day, 8 years later. And the original co-op preschool is still thriving for families in our neighborhood, without any original founding members involved. What a legacy — for us, for our kids, and for the community!

If you are thinking of creating a preschool co-op, then GO FOR IT!

Whether you didn’t make it into a school of your choice, or simply want an easier and cheaper way for your toddler to experience more than playdates and story time, or you crave some break time, and a greater support network in general…

…you will find great joy in starting your own preschool co-op. 

It’s possible. Very possible. Especially in a city with neighbors abound, anxious for community.

The basics for getting going are described below, followed by four models you may use.  I have experienced all four models and they are all excellent for different reasons. Choose what works best for you first and advertise with that model, or ask for the group of interested parties first and then choose what model is preferred. Remember, you can switch things up as the year or years go on!

Basics of Creating a Preschool Co-op

Gather anywhere from three to ten children, using on-line or physical neighborhood bulletin boards to advertise and garner interest.  Decide what number of parents will constitute the board of directors. It could be some of the parents or all. The board is responsible for directing the school in all manners of logistics, student discipline methods, teacher supervision, relationship with rental property if used, management of funds, and school plans. It helps to have roles chosen for the board members – treasurer, parent communications, teacher supervisor, curriculum developer – but it’s not essential. Board members work on logistics, including days and times of preschool, which model will be used, child to caretaker ratio, how the flow of the school day will go, field trip schedule, and curriculum.

We found 9 am to 12 pm two days a week worked well for 1.5 to 2.5 year olds and the same time three days a week for 2.5 to 4 year olds. Four or five days a week from 9 am to 1 pm works well for older 4 and 5 year olds.  You can definitely continue these co-op models into elementary school as well – you just need to file as “homeschooling” for official state purposes. Lastly, create forms for participating parties – health forms, parent waivers, parent contact forms, and a school handbook covering general guidelines and expectations. Many examples of these forms are available from existing co-ops. 

Four Models of Parent Led Co-ops 

1. In a Home, Led by Parents

Home school co-op is the simplest way to make your school happen. This model uses the parents’ homes as the school location, and the parents or caretakers as the teachers and assistants.  No fees are needed unless the group chooses to contribute to a materials fund, snack fund, or end of year celebration fund.  Our home school co-op took place for one year at the same family’s home, regardless of which parent was teaching, and for two years at rotating homes, depending on who was teaching. Both models work just wonderfully. Parents rotate teaching duty and assistant duty (only needed if number of children requires two or more adults), and the teaching parent is responsible for planning the day, bringing the required materials, and leading the class.  The assistant is responsible for bringing snack and follows the direction of the lead to help throughout class. We loved giving the children of the teaching/assisting parents duties as well, such as setting up snack, calling others to circle time after free play, or being line leader. 

2. In a Home, Led by Paid Teacher

The group hires a paid teacher to lead the class, and all families share the costs of the teacher’s salary.  Parents can choose to rotate assistant duty if needed, or also hire an assistant along with a teacher.  The classes again can be taught at one home or rotate homes based on assistants or a set schedule.

3. In a Public Location, Led by Parents

Same as original model, but group finds a public location to hold preschool.  This may be a free spot, like a recreation center, and outside at playgrounds or Rock Creek Park if weather permits, in which case no fees are required.  Or it could be a rented location, like a church or synagogue room, in which case parents need to share the monthly rental.  Some of these locations required we bring our own furniture like tables, chairs and bookshelves (all easy to find on craigslist or yard sales), some had furniture for us to use.  Some let us leave our toys and books up throughout the school year, others had us put our things in cabinets at the end of each week. 

4. In a Public Location, Led by Paid teacher

As described! This option is the most expensive, and the hardest to configure, as the parents need to secure both the place and the teacher. But, it provides the most time flexibility for parents who aren’t able to serve duty days or offer their home as a viable option. And it will almost always come out less expensive than private preschools.  Also remember, the board is still made up of parents, which gives them more control than in private schools.  That is not only empowering, but the support network and community it builds is invaluable.

Enjoy!  If you’re not up for creating a co-op from scratch, be sure to ask around your community to see if some are already in place. They are splendid options for our little explorers AND parents. 

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them below! 

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Joy is a mother of two children, ages 9 and 7, and she has been working as their primary care taker since the first one arrived. She loves that she can pursue her other passions and training while being a stay-at-home-mom, including teaching, being outdoors, lessening her environmental footprint, being with friends and family, dancing, and playing! Now that the kids are in elementary school, she has enjoyed using the extra time to work on projects such as school, church, and neighborhood volunteer efforts, helping others with new baby prep and care, political resistance, and tutoring.

3 COMMENTS

  1. There are many state and local regulations for training, facility, hours, background checks, and adult to child ratio that should be thoroughly researched before starting a cooperative preschool. Another option is find your local licensed, accredited co-operative nursery school who has already done this legwork and has openings. https://www.preschools.coop/ is a good resource for information on starting your own co-op and how to locate an existing co-ops in your area.

  2. I’ve had the benefit of being part of many of these schools, and can confirm it’s a great experience. Much to my surprise, I discovered that I like teaching— who knew!? Plus we explored DC in a way I never would have without our coop school. It was hard work but so worth it.

    • Heather that’s awesome. I’ve had neighbors who’ve gone the parent-led co-op route including the local park as one of their public locations to gather and be.
      Also know that the Smithsonian Insititute and other cultural organizations in the city are open to homeschool groups.

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