To Co-op or Not to Co-op: That is the Question

’Tis the season… for preschool decisions!

KathyWhen Doodlebug turned two, iDad and I started looking at preschools. Since she’s an only child, we wanted her to have some time with other kids. And, okay fine, having two mornings a week to myself sounded pretty good, too. We went to several open houses, and while Doodlebug tested out playgrounds and did crafts, iDad and I chatted with teachers and listened to presentations about the schools’ philosophies and the role of the parents.

And, because were looking at cooperative preschools, the level of parental involvement was pretty high. Maybe co-ops appealed to my control freak tendencies – being involved in the classroom! Really getting to know the teachers and the other kids! And it certainly helped that the price tag was lower than traditional preschools. As a trade-off, each family at the school we ultimately chose was expected to serve on a committee (fundraising, social, library, etc.) and to spend 6 hours each year on maintenance tasks. Also, about once a month you were required to co-op, which meant joining the two teachers in your child’s classroom for the day.

It was a great school – the staff was warm and positive, the kids were encouraged to choose activities that interested them, there was a whole room devoted to pretend play. And there was a huge emphasis on being outside, even in unpleasant weather, which meant Doodlebug got plenty of mud-puddle time that I didn’t have to directly supervise. But the co-oping. Oh, the co-oping!

Spending three hours in a room with a dozen preschoolers is one of the most draining things I’ve ever done. It’s not that it wasn’t fun – I got to be there for Doodlebug’s birthday celebrations, help make cranberry relish for the Thanksgiving feast, and visit with pet rabbits. But I would come home with a pounding headache and the desire to hide in a dark room for the rest of the day. So if you are considering a co-op preschool for your child, here are some of my survival strategies.

  • If you love a certain school but co-oping sounds like a total nightmare, see if there’s a buyout option. Some schools let parents pay extra tuition in exchange for skipping the co-oping duties. Our school also offered a half buyout, which meant you helped less frequently. (Buyout families still have committee duties and maintenance hours, so it doesn’t mean you’re blowing off your commitment to the school.)
  • Split up the co-oping duties with your spouse if possible. iDad and I did this, and it was so much easier to go into my scheduled day knowing that I had eight weeks to rest up before the next one.
  • Get a good night’s sleep and make sure to hydrate. Not too much, though, because you may not get a bathroom break!
  • Choose your co-op day carefully. Doodlebug’s school offered a few afternoon activities, like lunch bunch and dance. I scheduled my days so that she would be occupied (without me!) for an hour or so afterward. This made my cleanup duties easier and gave me a tiny smidgen of downtime before I needed to pick her up.
  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT plan anything major for the remainder of a co-op day. This is not the time to go berry-picking or to drag the whole family to the mall for haircuts. If your kid still naps, hallelujah! You have built-in recharging time once you stagger home. If not, maybe you can start a tradition of movie afternoons on co-op days. It’s also an excellent night for ordering pizza. If all else fails, three words: Nutella hot chocolate.

— Kathy

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