Have you ever wanted to start a co-op preschool? Here are some helpful tips to make it a success!
I have set up an at home preschool with friends for each of my four kids! Not only have the kids built lifelong friendships, but I have too! I'm excited to share all of the details with you that I've learned after eight years of running co-ops.
Inside this post I share how I set up my co-op preschool with friends, how it works, what the parent responsibilities are, and some curriculum ideas.
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What is a Co-op Preschool?
A co-op preschool (or homeschool preschool co-op) is a school created by a group of parents that work together to provide educational and play-based learning opportunities for their kids.
There are also non-profit cooperative preschools with directors and paid educators and there are parent participation schools where parents work with teachers at a school. These are all great schools as well, but are not what I am talking about.
The type of co-op preschool I am talking about today is much simpler. It is created by a group of 4-5 parents who take turns teaching kids in their homes. Each parent takes a turn while the other parents get a break!
No money is exchanged and there is no tuition. Each family participates equally as best that they can.
How do you start a Preschool Co-op?
1. Make a decision to start one.
That's the most important first step. As you make that decision, you may want to talk to other families who are doing similar things (or have in the past) or research a variety of ways that other families have done co-ops. There is no wrong way since each group of kids and parents will be different.
2. Decide on the age range for your co-op.
It's important to decide on the age range for your co-op and look for kids that fall into that age range. Having a mix of boys and girls can vary things up a bit as well.
I typically do a preschool co-op with my kids when they are between the ages of 2-5. We usually do a co-op for the two years before they start kindergarten.
With both of my boys, we did all boys co-ops. With my girls, we did boy/girl co-ops. Both worked great and were successful for different reasons. I preferred the boy/girl groups because the dynamic and interests were a little bit more varied so made it more fun for me to teach.
3. Find some families that want to participate.
In order to start a preschool co-op, you need to have some families that want to participate.
Here are some places you can look for participating families:
- Within your friend group (and their friends)
- Within your family (if any is local)
- Church community
- Local Facebook groups
- Local preschool friends/moms groups
- Within your neighborhood
When you're looking for people to join, you'll want to look for families that gel with your parenting style and that feel comfortable leading a group of kids independently and having them over to their house (if possible).
4. Have a parent meeting to work out the logistics.
Once you have a few families that want to work together, have a meeting and work out all the details. I'll share more about this below.
Often we will get together to meet with the kids and chat while they play. This helps us see how the group of kids is working and talk through any questions or concerns.
How many kids should you have in your co-op?
My favorite number of kids to have in a preschool co-op is four. I have done years with 5-6 kids and years with just 4 and four is my favorite.
Four is a manageable number and doesn't seem overwhelming to me or unsafe. I also like having an even number of kids for activities and materials.
You might think 2-3 sounds better. Pick what works for you!
How does a Preschool Co-op work?
Here's the quick version:
- Preschool is 1-3 days per week (Pick what works for your group).
- Co-op sessions last 2-3 hours and are drop-off.
- Each family teaches for 4 weeks and then it rotates.
- Preschool includes circle time, play time, and some activities.
Here are more details:
A preschool co-op can be one day a week or several depending on the needs or interests of the families. I love doing our preschool co-op just one day per week when my kids are 2 and 3 and then using the other days for field trips, 1:1 playdates, and other activities.
Each family hosts co-op at their house for four weeks and then we rotate. After all families have gotten a turn to host, we start the rotation over again. Usually by the end of the year, each family has hosted preschool for 2.5 different 4 weeks sessions. I like to have a consistent teacher for four weeks because this helps the teacher get to know the kids better and establish a routine. It also helps kids with any separation anxiety issues to have time to adjust. Changing each time or each week can cause a lot of anxiety for some kids. Some preschool co-ops like to change hosts each week. Pick what works best for you and your kids/families.
Our preschool co-op is a drop off program, which means that parents drop their child off and then come back and pick them up a few hours later. If a child struggles with separation anxiety, families and the host parent work together to help make drop off successful.
Our co-op classes usually last for 2 hours or 3 hours depending on the group of kids and parents and schedules.
As part of preschool, the host "teacher" usually does a simple circle time with songs and stories and also includes a lot of free playtime and some simple activities. Preschool is fun, low-stress, and predominantly child led!
What does a typical co-op day look like?
Each parent does co-op a little bit differently depending on their personality and experience working with kids. Often when we meet together at the beginning of the year we'll pick specific things we want our kids to work on or share what our kids are interested in so that we can work those into preschool. We also talk about routines that we can all use to help keep things consistent- like singing the same hello song at the gathering activity and the same goodbye song at the end of school.
Some years, my co-op parents are really organized and some years they are more fly by the seat of our pants sort of groups (or a mix). Both work and the kids thrive and enjoy the time together!
Here's one typical co-op day schedule:
- Free play
- Gathering activity/Welcome song
- Story time (and snack)
- Activity (Sensory play, fine motor, learning activity)
- Free play
- Activity (Sensory play, fine motor, learning activity)
- Free play
- Clean up/Goodbye
What curriculum do you use for your Co-op Preschool?
Since each group of parents and kids is different, each curriculum has been different. We don't use a scripted program but the curriculum is usually based on children's books or the interests of the kids, plus holidays!
Some curriculum ideas we have used include:
What are the responsibilities of parents in a Co-op Preschool?
Each group of kids/parents will be different. Have an open conversation at the beginning of the year and work through the details so that there aren't any surprises. Here are the basic responsibilities we each had.
- Host your allotted weeks during the year.
- Arrive on time for drop off and pick up.
- Send your child with a change of clothes and extra diapers/underwear.
- If you or your child is sick, alert the group as soon as possible, especially if you are hosting.
- Don't bring sick kids to preschool (or teach when you are sick).
- If you are unable to host one week, swap with someone else for another week.
- Be positive and kind and help kids be the same to each other.
- Watch children at all times (no phone calls/texting unless an emergency).
- Keep TVs and devices off.
- Kindly encourage children to participate in group circle and activities.
- Use positive discipline strategies if there are issues with the children and alert parents about any challenges. Work together to make class a positive experience for all kids.
Those are just a few of the things we've discussed prior to the start of co-op preschool.
What did we miss? What other questions do you have?
What about younger or older siblings that are at home?
Often when I've taught co-op I will have a younger sibling (or two) at home as well. During years when I'll have more kids at home, we make our co-op groups smaller to keep the group manageable.
When I've had babies to watch during co-op preschool, I try and time the baby's nap so that it starts right before the kids arrive. If that doesn't work, I typically will wear the baby in a wrap while I teach the group of preschoolers or I'll put the baby in a highchair to do modified activities alongside of us.
When I've needed to nurse babies during preschool, I'll just set the kids up with some free play activities and will sit down nearby and nurse. Over the years I got very good at moving around and helping kids and nursing babies at the same time.
When I've had younger toddlers (under age 2) at home while also trying to teach preschool, I try and include the toddler as much as possible and just modify activities for him/her.
How can we keep things safe/germ free?
When you are organizing your preschool co-op, make sure to include discussions about cleanliness and materials use to prevent germs from spreading.
Here are a few discussion topic suggestions we've used during the pandemic:
- Masks- Discuss will adults wear them? What about kids? What are local guidelines where you live?
- Group- What size of group of kids can be together safely for gatherings where you live? Can your group commit to being a stable cohort/bubble if that is what guidelines require?
- Temperatures/symptoms- Have each family check their child's temperature before they come to school. If they have any worrisome symptoms, keep them at home.
- Toy cleanliness- Encourage host families to clean toys before/after students visit. Make a quick safe sanitizing spray to use before/after kids come.
- Materials- Try and have a set of materials for each child versus sharing everything when possible, especially with sensory materials or materials kids might put in their mouths (playdough, sensory bins, snacks).
- Wand washing- Encourage hand washing as often as possible in fun and playful ways, especially before/after meals, after a child has sneezed/coughed, and after a child has used the bathroom.
- Outdoor play- Is there space available? If so, try and build outdoor time into preschool when possible.
- Illness- What are your plans for when kids/families get sick? How long should kids be fever/symptom free before they can return to school?
Do you have any other suggestions or topics you think families should discuss before starting a preschool co-op?
Have you ever started a co-op preschool?
Tell us more about it in the comments!
Preschool co-ops take some work at the beginning to get things set up and then they are so awesome! I have loved my time to get to know my kid's friends and I also have loved my time off when I am not hosting preschool!
I hope you have as much fun starting a preschool co-op as I have!
RELATED: Need more ideas? A mommy and me book club is another fun program to set up!