When it comes to choosing a preschool, there seem to be endless possibilities. Parents living anywhere on the Mid-Peninsula can find preschools that offer all educational philosophies and models. As a parent of a pre-school aged child myself, I faced the search for the right placement for my child just last year. We were lucky to find a wonderful school and the right fit for our family in our local parent-cooperative preschool.
I spoke with a few co-op families about their experiences to give you a full lay of the land about what it means to be involved in a parent-cooperative model – the good, the bad and the beautiful and ugly!
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: PARENTS’ REFLECTIONS ON THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES
- What made you decide to “go co-op”
“I wanted to be part of a school in my own neighborhood, and get to know other families with same-age children. I had the time to volunteer. I liked the philosophy, energy, and physical layout of the local co-op. I love everything about child development – research, materials, parenting, play, learning, etc.” – Susan Arbuckle, former parent at Woodside Parents Nursery School
“We sort of stumbled on Mountain View Parent Nursery and met teacher Claire. That and it was very clear just from visiting the preschool that everything was beautifully kept and well structured. Co-ops aren’t fun if they are messy and chaotic!” – Holly Spiers, Parent at Mountain View Parent Nursery School
“I knew that I wanted to participate in a co-op right away, because I am a teacher by trade, and I am home with my kids just until they are both in kindergarten. I have always noticed that kids whose parents are involved thrive in school, so I wanted to be able to do that for my children. And then, once I went on my first tour at Cupertino Co-op Nursery School, I was hooked. I loved everything about the co-op style.” – Andrea Nutter, Parent at Cupertino Co-op Nursery School
“We weren’t happy with the one-size-fits-all philosophies we saw touring schools, preschools and daycares. The co-ops support play-based learning with outdoor play time that traditional schools are lacking. Another thing co-ops do a better job of is embracing each child’s unique personalities and allowing them to be and come into their own without a lot of pressure. There is just the right touch of guidelines/structure for the tots.” -Diana Luc, Parent at Mountain View Parent Nursery School
“When my first of three kids was three, and we were searching for preschools, I saw a flyer in a storefront window for Los Altos Parent Preschool, and went to the Open House. We walked in, and I knew that a co-op was the best fit for my son. It felt comforting; I liked the high adult:child ratio and loved the play-based philosophy. My son was very shy and spoke no English at the time, so this type of nurturing, supportive environment where I wouldn’t have to drop him off immediately in a strange place and leave, felt much gentler and kinder to him.” – Vinita Alwyn, Parent at Los Altos Parent Preschool
- What, to you, are the unique advantages of the co-op experience?
“Lots of opportunities to build genuine relationships with other families. Dropping off and picking up without interacting is too easy if you’re not involved with preschool/school.” – Holly Spiers
“You are part of a community. You see other parents’ styles and challenges, other personalities and ways of being, other genders, etc. It gives you a better understanding of your own child’s personality and tendencies. You can contribute to the richness of the children’s experience when you are volunteering, as well as learn new techniques and approaches. You also see each teacher in action, and learn a lot from them. You see how other adults interact with your child.” – Susan Arbuckle
“So many! Children learn to relate and communicate with both other children and adults with confidence. With the high adult:child ratio and teacher support, the learning of skills such as conflict resolution are much more supported. The play-based environment is perfect for exposing them to all manner of experiences; the more I’ve seen and read, the more I understand how powerful learning though play is. My children were exceptionally well-prepared for Kindergarten and I credit it to the co-op experience. As a parent, I benefitted tremendously from the parent education, and support of the teachers and parents; it made me a more confident, effective parent and I learned so much. I also love that we became part of a community – I had never felt that until I joined the co-op. We are still in regular touch with friends from our first class, and that was 7 years ago!” – Vinita Alwyn
“You get to share in your child’s very first school experience, and see them explore, learn, socialize/make friends for the very first time. You get to take part in shaping their safe learning environment and learn with them. We have learned so much from our co-op experiences.” – Diana Luc
“Community forms around children. I found that out when I had my oldest. I joined a MOMS group and found support, playmates, sounding boards. Co-ops provide a continuation of that level of support. I love the community I have found at Cupertino Co-op, and the support I get from all these wonderful teachers and parents. I think there are countless unique advantages to a co-op, but three stand out to me right off the bat. One advantage is that you have a group of volunteers who chose to be actively involved. You are self selecting for a group of responsible, caring, and hard-working co-volunteers. And these are the kinds of people your child is then surrounded by in their first school experience. What a great way to introduce your child to the school world! Another clear advantage of a co-op is getting to see your child in their school environment, how they cope, communicate, what they choose to do, And then, you get to work with other children at the same developmental stage and the perspective that gives you as a parent is invaluable. And finally, co-ops are parent education communities. We attend speakers and meetings and are constantly learning about children and parenting and teaching.” – Andrea Nutter
- What is/was your single favorite part about being part of a parent co-op?
“The families! We have met so many wonderful people since our daughter started here.” – Holly Spiers
“My single favorite part about being in a co-op is being able to be an integral part of the running of a school, and seeing my child in his first school experience up close and personal. I have learned so much about my child and the way he responds to other children and adults and learning. That glimpse will hopefully help me guide him all through his school years, even when I can’t be right next to him.” – Andrea Nutter
“We had the opportunity to meet some very amazing good people/families that we’re not sure we would have outside of the co-op experience. Some of the families you end up becoming good friends with outside of school, which we’ve been lucky enough to have, being that this is our second year at a co-op.” – Diana Luc
“The community – our family has built a life-long network of friends and we continue to grow and share the journey of parenting even now. And just watching my kids play and have fun in an imaginative environment – it’s priceless.” – Vinita Alwyn
“The friends my child and I made, who accompanied us all the way through 8th grade and beyond. We were a core group of school volunteers and committed parents with similar values and shared, fundamental experience in parenting.” – Susan Arbuckle
- What is/was the most difficult part about being part of a parent co-op?
“The nature of a co-op or parent participation preschool is that parents share in the operating and planning of the school. It does take time and effort, and with the pace of life that the Bay Area demands of people, it can be a challenge to make that work. But if you can make it work and throw yourself in there whole-heartedly, the rewards are completely worth it.” – Vinita Alwyn
“Probably the hours. I think co-ops are more limited in the hours they can offer due to reliance on parent involvement/numbers. For us the trade off is worth it, though we’re now thinking of applying for a day or two at an additional preschool so I can get a bit more time! I think with co-ops it’s fairly common to have your child go to a regular preschool as well for this reason.” – Holly Spiers
“I would say the most difficult part of being in a co-op is just learning how to juggle all the meetings and responsibilities with those you hold at other schools, and of course, with the things that need to be done to keep your family and home running smoothly. It is a lot of balls in the air, constantly. But, I find, as my children grow older, that this is a fact of life with a family, and so I have decided these years are good training for me, as mother and manager of household affairs.” – Andrea Nutter
“Needing more time for myself which is challenging because drop off is two days a week and only three hours at a time. When it’s a week I’m sick too or my other child (if you have more than one), it’s tough to balance everything and not feel worn out. This is only if you compare it to a traditional drop-off.” -Diana Luc
“Honestly there wasn’t anything difficult for me (if I had a stricter, more demanding work schedule, or other kids at home, I imagine it could have been difficult).” – Susan Arbuckle
Next week, I will publish my interview with the director of a local parent co-op school for even more insights… stay tuned!