Hi Urban Mamas!
It’s school choice time again and many of you are trying to decide where to send your preschooler. I was fortunate enough to find Hawthorne Family Playschool or "HFP" when our daughter was ready for school and, four years later, I consider myself fortunate to still be a part of this program and community with our son.
I didn’t set out to look for a co-operative preschool, but I’m so glad this is the direction we chose for our family. Maybe this seems obvious to others, but I only recently began to see our co-op as a kind of social experiment. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is something many of us pay lip service to, but we rarely if ever have the opportunity to test it in any real way.
At HFP, 28 families elect every year to run a school together. I’m not sure everyone sees it quite that way when they enroll, but that’s really what it boils down to. It’s true we have a framework and culture already in place from previous years and we have an indispensable visionary and leader in our Teacher, Susan Eisman. That said, I believe our program’s success lies less in following a successful formula, and more in truly connecting with each other around a common goal – in this case, raising our children.
Over time, I have come to realize that a co-op like ours helps parents learn and grow, not just children. Being a part of a tight-knit community like ours is an incredible opportunity to build something bigger than just a school program. Families in a co-op tend to get very close because we really do play together. We get to know (and love!) each-other’s children through parent-helping. There is also a greater level of trust between us because we all work so closely together.
It’s a wonderful feeling watching my children deepen relationships with people that I feel connected to as well. I also have a much greater ability to help them navigate these relationships when I have some personal insight to offer. As a community, we can give each other friendship and support, both emotional and material. We encourage our families to reach out to each other for playdates, arrange childcare swaps, share ideas and resources, and generally just tap into the positive energy that comes from connecting with each other around the children we love.
I don’t know for sure if our school is right for your family, but I feel certain that it is one of the best early childhood programs available and one that everyone should seriously consider. In my mind, it’s a bit of a hidden gem, and I want to encourage you to check out our Open House on Saturday, February 11th (10am to 1pm). We do give enrollment priority to families who attend, so mark your calendars! I’m sure you’ll come with lots of questions that we’re happy to answer, but here are some of the important things to know about us:
Hawthorne Family Playschool or “HFP” is a small, mixed-age cooperative preschool, just south of the Hawthorne Safeway under construction in SE Portland. Being a cooperative, HFP is a great place for families that want to be active participants in their child's early development.
We have the smallest class size of any of the eastside co-ops, with a maximum of 14 students with at least three adults (one teacher plus two scheduled parents helpers). We also enjoy additional support from interns and benefit from a culture that encourages parents to participate.
Our teacher, Susan Eisman, has been working with children for more than twenty years and, in addition to holding a degree in art and women's studies, has completed master's level work in human development with a focus on the stages of childhood. She draws her philosophy from many quality programs like Reggio Emilia and Waldorf without being overly dogmatic. She is a deep thinker and a sweet soul, and she encourages us to think and talk about why our kids do what they do and how we can be supportive in their discovery of themselves as individuals and part of a group.
We are a diverse community of parents who place a high value on creating an environment that supports a preschooler's natural curiosity. I was initially drawn to the school because I loved the emphasis on natural materials and getting fresh air and exercise without pre-scripting play with traditional play structures. Our kids climb hay bales, balance on boards, scale our branch wall and have pretend tea parties in tee pees. The Oregon Environmental Council designated HFP as an eco-healthy preschool and our kids enjoy healthy, vegetarian snacks each day.
Our program is heavily play-based, which I wasn't sure about at first, but I have come to appreciate the fact that 3, 4 and 5 year olds learn much of what they need to know from play and personal discovery. I wondered if a play-based preschool would adequately prepare my children for kindergarten, but I now firmly believe that being part of a community like ours lays the foundation for lifelong curiosity and learning. I also see how much better high-energy kids like my son thrive in an environment that supports their need to move their busy bodies.
I encourage all of you to come visit HFP at our Open House between 10am and 1pm on Saturday, February 11th and meet Susan Eisman, our very special teacher, and our community of deeply involved parents who are the other ingredient to making this a great environment. Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about our school or the co-op experience.
Membership Chair, Hawthorne Family Playschool
Email me at: membership at hawthornefamilyplayschool.org