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What to expect at a coop preschool?

The cooperative school format is one that allows each member family to contribute to the school on an ongoing basis.  There are about 40 coop preschools here in Portland that are members of the Parent Child Preschools of Oregon, and there are likely many more that are not on that list.  For those of us who may not know what to expect in terms of commitments and obligations to our cooperative preschools, can some of you share your experiences?  Carole emails:

I am enrolling my child in a co-op preschool next fall.  I'm excited about the preschool, and pleased to be able to participate with my daughter (and see what she gets up to during the day), but admit that I'm a little nervous about the amount of time that everyone warns me that coop preschools end up demanding of the parent. On our registration form, I am already being asked to choose which Board position or classroom duties I would like to sign up for, even though I don't have a good idea how much time each entails. I'd like to ask experienced moms who've been through the coop preschool experience what would be an interesting yet LEAST TIME INTENSIVE "job" I can pick as my coop duty.  (Before it sounds like I am a lazy shirker, I should mention that I'm newly pregnant and will have a new baby in the fall, and really want to minimize time away from the baby.)

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My boy goes to Cathedral Park Co-op in St. Johns. We love it, I should start with. He is three and up to the start of school had not been in a group setting without me. I love the fact that I'm part of his school. I know how the teacher thinks and works with kids, and I know his classmates. I can't imagine feeling this good about another type of setting. (Open House for next year's enrollment is this Thursday, the 28th at 6:30, by the way!) Our time committment is to be in the classroom as parent helper twice/month and to have a job that helps run the school. These jobs range from the person who makes play-doh everyweek to being the board president. As for your question about how to balance baby and co-op obligation, you may want to consider a job that allows you to do your work at home on your own schedule as opposed to being on a committee or having a more administrative type job. I would think you would be offered some descriptions? And for the baby, I'd get a sling and bring him/her along. Until they're mobile, this should really be an option for you if you're comfortable doing it. I also know there are some kiddos at our school who have grandparents doing the helper time in the classroom. I don't know if this is an option for you, but you could explore that if your school allows and you have the resources.

Have fun with it. It's a great experience. It was a little daunting to me at first, but I felt I had to do it or my poor kiddo wasn't going to go to school!

During my time in a co-op preschool, I brought my then-newish baby with me in a sling and the preschool kids loved it! when I would nurse him, the two kids who were still nursing would sidle up to me and look longingly at him, the lucky devil, hehe.

another mama cooked a lot of the meals (usually a week's worth at once), and she brought her baby with her; she played in a pack-n-play while she diced and sauteed. I definitely like the jobs that have you being there and not completing tasks; that way you don't have "homework" but you can enjoy getting to know the other kids in the preschool.

We attend Lee Owen Stone Co-op preschool which we just love. The teacher Maggie Lewis is amazing. I find I really like the fact that a community is built through the collective efforts of the parents.

And really it is not that much time. I have a board position and there is some estra commitment but I also have a part time job and another younger child. And while it can get busy, the benifits are great.

The price is amazing - three 1/2 days for $115 per month. My child loves it when we parent help-it's her special day to show off Mom or Dad. And there is a really small teacher child ratio- 4 adults and 16 kids.

One other thing- Lee Owen Stone is curretly accepting applications for both 3 year olds for two day a week program and 4 year old for the three day a week program. Deadlkine to apply is March 1-

We currently have no applications for 4 year olds and do have a few spots open.

Check out the web site www.leeowenstone.org

Our family has also had an amazing co-op experience! I love getting to know all the kids (and their families) and be a part of my son's preschool experience. You should check with the various co-ops to see what their guidelines are; in the case of ours (Hancock Street Preschool), babies/younger siblings are not allowed to be with you when you volunteer in the classroom (which is about once every 3 weeks). Simply, as a parent helper, you're too busy interacting with the kids, helping with art projects, setting out snack, etc. to have any other distractions. :) But each co-op is different. As for responsibilities, at Hancock you get to rank your preference for jobs, and the powers that be take into account families with small babies when assigning jobs. (One of the coveted jobs is picking up/dropping off books at the library...very easy to do with a little one!)

Good luck!

Momoftwo, does LOS have an opening for a 4 year old now or for next Fall?

The Lee Owen Stone preschool opening for 4 yr olds will be for this fall.

This is a really timely question since we just received our coop registration notice today and have decided not to continue in our coop. Although I can relate to the many positive comments made, I thought I'd add in some observations from the other side.
Our older daughter went to a small in-home preshcool and our youngest currently goes to a coop, so we have had both experiences. In both cases we have met great families and been involved with the schools. However, there are some things to keep in mind with a coop:
- the hours are usually quite short, so it is hard to use preschool time to get much else done
- although the involvement is never super-overwhelming at any one time, there is almost always something to be doing: craft projects, time in class, field trips, night events, committee work, etc. For us (my husband shares a lot of the volunteer duties) it just became too much for a preschool experience
- if you have younger children be prepared to be creative with who will care for them. If you have older children in elementary school, the coop can feel like one more to-do list.
- if you work outside the home at all, the time involved in a coop can get burdensome.

I don't mean to be discouraging, but wanted to offer another point of view. Although we really like our coop and think it's a sweet program, it didn't work for our family. Trying to juggle jobs, kindergarten and preschool, we found the coop requirements too demanding for such a short amount of actual classroom time.

Hi, I am Maggie at Lee Owen Stone Preschool. We are currently looking for 4 Year old girls to take the one last spot for the next school year 2010-2011. If you are interested in a three day program M/W/F ,please contact us at 503.735.4755

I wanted to let folks know of our Summer Camp happening at Cathedral Park Preschool in St. Johns. We can take children ages 2.5-6 and you do not need to be an enrolled student for the school year to participate in our summer program. We have 6 one week sessions, M-F, 9:00-11:30, $45, beginning June 15. You spend one day in the classroom with your child as a parent helper. It's a great opportunity to try out a co-op. You can find more information about us at www.cathedralparkpreschool.org.

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