Have fun learning with your child and your friends this fall!
1Assemble a few interested families
You don’t need a big group of families to start a co-op—in fact, smaller is often better, as the families can get to know each other better and the meetings may be less overwhelming for the children. Ask two or three parents from your neighborhood or church who have children close in age to yours if they’d be interested in a co-op. Of course, a bigger group is a lot of fun if you find enough interested families! We had 6-8 families regularly attending my weekly co-op last year, which was a nicely manageable size.
Once you have a few interested parents, organize a planning meeting. I’d suggest something fun and lighthearted like a potluck brunch, a bonfire with s’mores, or an evening night out; a primary goal for most co-ops is to build community and fellowship among the parents, as well as the kids.
2Choose a regular meeting space
Hopefully there are several options for a place to meet. You might take turns hosting the co-op in your homes, or you might reach out to local churches or libraries to ask if there’s an empty space you can use, or you might even meet at a park if the weather is pleasant year-round where you live. My co-op uses a room at a local parish. Give thought to somewhere that the children can roam freely, so that you don’t need to hover in worry that they’re going to break something. An outdoor space for nature play and a gymnasium or field for sports would be wonderful additions if available.
3Map out the logistics
At your planning meeting, you can map out a course for the coming year. You’ll want to discuss how often to meet and for how long, as well as your goals for the year. Since children this age learn best through open-ended play, you may choose to keep your co-op primarily a play group, with perhaps a brief circle time and a parent-directed game or activity. If the children are a bit older and seem ready for more structure, you might choose to use a formal curriculum; you’ve got loads of options there, including Seton, Mother of Divine Grace, Catholic Heritage Curricula, Twenty-Six Letters to Heaven, and Little Saints—and that’s just a handful of the Catholic ones, not to mention the many Christian and secular options!
Personally, members of my co-op use many of the storybooks and recommended reading from these various curricula, but without adopting any one of them wholesale. Instead, we’ve done unit studies, in which all subjects at the co-op relate to a certain topic for several weeks, and then we finish the unit with a relevant field trip; for example, we visited an aquarium after a unit on sea animals, a farm after a unit on farm animals, and a natural history museum after a unit on dinosaurs. My co-op has found that it works well for one or two parents to be in charge of each subject. Another option, especially if the children are too young for more than an hour of co-op, is for the families to take turns planning the entire session.
4Make a schedule
Here’s the schedule my co-op used this past year: Circle time, Art, Snack break, Music, Science, Sports/Free play. We spend about 15-20 minutes on each subject, leaving plenty of time to transition between them.
My group has found it works best to begin and end the day with open-ended play, as families trickle in for the start time, and as parents socialize at the end. We like to start with a morning prayer, and you might also consider reading aloud about a saint of the day, or stories from Scripture.
Art and science can be educational (and tons of fun!) while remaining age-appropriate with simple, sensory activities; Pinterest is an invaluable resource for preschool activities to fit any theme. If the kids are a little older, they might enjoy simple sports games; soccer in particular is easy to comprehend from a young age.
My co-op has found it easier to use Facebook rather than email for planning, after that initial meeting; if you create a Facebook group for co-op members, you can set up polls to make decisions, and create events to remind everyone of field trips and park days.
A preschool co-op is a wonderful way to ease your child into a class setting (or kick off your homeschool journey), and can be a lot of fun for both parents and children. Best of luck getting yours started!
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