Ask an Expert: What Is Cooperative Preschool & Is it Right for My Family?

Disclosure: Triangle Cooperative Preschool and Ann Arbor Nursery Cooperative Preschool have sponsored this article on Cooperative Preschools. It was written by Kristen and Catie, board members at each school. All opinions are theirs (although I also loved our years at a Cooperative Preschool).

If you’re a parent of a young child, you may have heard the term “Cooperative Preschool” thrown around at playdates, the library or other activities. Perhaps you know of someone who has children that have attended one. They sound like a cool concept, but you find yourself wondering what are they all about, really? My friend Catie and I have teamed up to bring you the nitty gritty about Ann Arbor’s cooperative preschool model.

Ann Arbor Nursery - Stair Climbers

Between the two of us, Catie and I have almost seven years of combined co-op experience. We are both board members at our respective preschools. She is at Triangle Cooperative Preschool. I am at Ann Arbor Nursery Cooperative Preschool. We both feel like the cooperative preschool model has been great for our kids and pretty wonderful for us too.

How Co-Op Preschools Work

Cooperative preschools are based on a simple philosophy: parents play an active role in running the school. This is more than volunteering in the class or bringing in snack once in a while. Parents work together to make the school function. They assist the teacher in the classroom. Parents also do the administrative and behind-the-scenes work necessary to keep the school running smoothly. Don’t let this intimidate you though. The teacher is the authority in the classroom and assist roles are well-defined. One assist parent might help kids at the art table, another might prepare snack and clean up the classroom afterwards, and another may be an extra person to help facilitate play.

Ann Arbor Nursery - Snow Fun

Every family is usually assigned a job to help the school run. These jobs can be anything from housekeeping or pet care to a board member, such as treasurer. Again, no need to worry – you get to help decide what job would be the best fit for your family and we all help each other along the way.

What do you get in return for all of this investment? First and foremost, the cost of preschool is dramatically reduced – up to ¼ the price of traditional programs. This is a big deal for many families, especially if one parent stays at home or is working part time. But, the benefits are much more than financial. We’ve asked some current parents to chip in on what makes a co-op special.

Why Choose a Co-op Preschool?

Most parents like the idea of spending some time at the school, for a variety of reasons.
Some kids feel more secure having a parent around, and this provides a gentle transition into school. Others, like myself, come in search of some social interaction after having been at home with a toddler.

Ann Arbor Nursery - WalkingFor Rosamond Rice, a current parent at Triangle, it was similar. “I chose a co-op because I wanted to connect with a parenting community, participate at my daughter’s school, and receive the benefits of reduced tuition costs, especially after finding some very high-priced schools in the area!”

For others, like Beck Murray at Ann Arbor Nursery, “It was simply a priority for me to be involved in my sons’ education.”

Triangle Cooperative Preschool - Assist Parent Cooking

Being present at school from the very start sets the stage for a child’s educational career. It sends the message that school is important and valued.

The Benefits of a Cooperative Preschool

When I talk to anyone about co-ops, community rises to the top of the list.

“I gained so much more than I ever expected from our years as a co-op family” says Beck. “We met so many wonderful families who have become great friends.”

Rosamond says, “I have met a bunch of fun-loving, responsible and warm parents who have welcomed me to the co-op community as well as helping me adjust to winter life in Michigan! I love the connection I have to my daughter’s school – feeling that I know her teacher and the families in it.”

Being in the classroom brings many benefits. Catie’s daughter feels so special when her mom is there: “My daughter feels so excited when it is her turn to have me assist in the classroom. She loves getting a chance to bring a snack to share with her friends and have me participate in activities with her. I love being in the classroom because I get a chance to watch her grow, learn and play in a school setting.”

Triangle Cooperative Preschool - Exploring Aquarium

Photo by Petal Lens Photograph

As Beck says, “It was so valuable to me to model to my children how to work with others in the classroom.”

I liked the fact that you learn from watching kids the same age as yours, and how the teacher and other parents handle typical conflicts. I can’t tell you how many times I went home to my husband and said, “Don’t worry, this is totally normal. All three-year-olds do this!”

In fact, parent education is a key component of some of Ann Arbor’s Cooperative Preschools. There are newsletter articles and guest speakers offering advice on a variety of topics, from dealing with tantrums to choosing a kindergarten program.

Play-Based Preschool

Many Ann Arbor cooperative preschools are play-based; this is generally the model you’ll find at co-ops across the country. This means that the majority of time at school is spent in free play instead of teacher-directed tasks. The teacher makes sure there are plenty of things available to engage the kids, but ultimately kids choose what they want to do.

Triangle Cooperative Preschool - Playtime

Photo by Petal Lens Photograph

Play-Based Preschool is well-supported by research that holding off on formal academics actually helps future school success*, and parents agree.

“I have found that play-based preschools really respect the developmental needs of the children and teach them effectively by working with where they are at mentally and physically and leveraging that in terms of their learning, rather than pushing them in ways they are not yet ready.” Rosamund says, “It created a joyful, confidence-building environment that well prepares them to continue into kindergarten.”

Beck adds, “Age 3-5 is a magical time of transformation in terms of social emotional development. I felt that the most precious gift I could give my sons was time to develop their superpowers through the magic of play. I was able to watch my sons’ imagination, cognition, and social development grow and change before my eyes.”

*Play-Based vs. Academic Preschools, by Kathy Ems, MS of Parent Cooperative Preschools International

More About our Preschools

Ann Arbor Preschool Guide

Find more preschools in our 2019-2020 Ann Arbor Preschool Guide.

Ann Arbor Preschool Guide for 2019-2020 Sponsored by Early Learning Center Preschool

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