Why We Love Co-ops

We love the cooperative preschools we’ve been a part of—from the first, where Dave and 2 year-old Zoe played and learned together, to the schools where Anghelika works today, 18 years later. Co-ops are preschools where parents participate in their child’s education and share in the running of things. While there are greater commitments in co-ops than in drop-off schools, we believe it’s a gift for parents to be able to be a part of this great transition, as kids are just beginning to socialize and take on greater and greater tasks in a progressively more structured setting. The benefits of partnering with trained educators and other parents during this season are huge: as children explore, dig into things that interest them, and work things out technically, socially, physically, in their own way and in their own time, we get to learn about how they learn. Cooperative preschools encourage parents while teaching loads of skills in the context of child-directed, play-based learning while providing a supportive environment for the parenting journey, as kids become more and more independent. Awesome right?

But cooperative preschools in the Bay Area seem to be suffering. They struggle with low enrollment, a shrinking pool of teachers willing to work alongside of parents, and a loss of clout among new moms and dads. Why the loss of clout? Co-ops have a reputation for being a lot of work, and possibly also for being a bit old-school, with their earthy, slow-paced, child-directed environment that appears to favor stay-at-home parents. How could such a thing fit into our modern, double-income, high-pressure, prepare-your-child-for-a-career-in-high-tech-Stanford-here-we-come culture? Of course, your child is headed for great things, and you want them to be prepared. No arguments there. But we’d argue that parents should not distance themselves from their child’s education so early, or so suddenly. The argument isn’t about whether or not we need a better education for our kids to help them compete in a rapidly changing economic culture—it’s merely about the best way to begin.

In an any ideal preschool environment, the guiding principles are drawn from the natural curiosities and passions of the children. Young kids grow at a natural, organic pace, and do not need to be told to be inquisitive, interested explorers. Besides providing a varied and stimulating environment for these natural-born scientists and adventurers, what co-ops do in addition is leverage this transition from home to school by engaging parents for the benefit of all. Parents know their children best, teachers know what’s next in development and how little minds work, and the children … benefit from a gradual hand-off from a life at home to a life in community.

For parents, the benefits to be gained by investing in these early years of school outweigh the work involved at co-ops—which is still considerably less work than being alone with your child at home. Busy parents who choose co-ops will have a slower transition to complete independence, but gain so much more in the form of community support, insights into their child’s development, and opportunities for shared moments that will never be repeated in their parenting careers.

What do you think? What are you arguments for or against parents remaining involved in their kid’s education? How long should that involvement last? When is the best time to leave the education to the pros?

[This post originally appeared on The Parenting on The Peninsula Blog]

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