Advice about Being in a Co-op Preschool

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Pros & Cons of Parent Co-ops

May 2014

Hi BPN parents, I am looking into preschools for my 2.5 year old child, and am intrigued by the many parent cooperative preschools that are in the bay area due to the financial savings as well as being able to participate and be in the classroom once every week or two. I don't know of any parents who sent their child to a parent co-op preschool and wanted to hear from this community about their experience--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Are there any disadvantages or pitfalls to avoid in choosing a parent cooperative preschool? Thank you!
wanna send my child to a parent coop preschool (maybe)

Our son attends a co-op preschool in Berkeley, Dandelion Nursery School , and we couldn't be happier there. Even absent the tuition savings (which are considerable), we would want our son to go to Dandelion -- the space is beautiful and full of opportunities for exploration, the teachers are warm and responsive, and we have joined a supportive, diverse, and interesting community. The time-commitment, however, is not negligible. In addition to volunteering at the school 2-3 times a month, we also have a family job that takes up 5-10 hours a month, and we are expected to be involved in various work days and fund raisers throughout the year. My spouse loves volunteering at the school, and the events are fun and worthwhile, but it can be a lot to juggle. If both my spouse and I worked full-time, I'm not sure we could make it work. In our case, though, there is no question that the co-op experience has been worth it. Happy co-oper

Our twins are at the Children's Community Center , an 85 year old play-based parent-teacher cooperative. It has definitely been the right choice for our family. Our children love their teachers and love all the participating parents. It is a safe and supportive place where I continue to grow as a parent and to learn new things about my children every day. The aftercare program is run by teachers only. Every co-op is different. Ours requires children to attend five days a week.

We would have paid at least twice as much for less time had we gone with our second choice.

I participate two days a week (one day for each child) from 8:45am-12:45pm. Each family has an admin job and is required to attend a monthly evening meeting and to do at least two building and grounds parties per year. There are also fundraising requirements. For me, although I do sometimes feel overwhelmed, this has been a blessing. I have learned so much about working with others from a variety of backgrounds and I feel very invested in the school. This works for me, because I am not working full time, but it can be challenging for parents who do have long work weeks.

I would be happy to answer specific questions you may have about the co-op experience generally or about CCC in particular. Debra

My kids are happy co-op kids and I am a proud co-op parent (Albany Preschool ). I love the co-op model and I think it really benefits my children to have a large community of caring parents embellish their play and education. We moved to Albany just before my first began preschool and we were immediately welcomed into an amazing community of APS families and have made many wonderful friendships. Another wonderful aspect of the co-op is the rich cultural influences and traditions my kids have been exposed to by having other parents in our community act as their teachers. I also love that as parents we are able to truly participate in our children's growth and development and work with like minded teachers and parents. APS Parent


''Buying out'' of co-op preschool duties

October 2006


I am looking at the El Cerrito Preschool Coop and the Albany Coop Preschool for my child for next fall, and I was wondering if current parents at these schools could share their experiences about having to ''buy out'' of their participation duties. I love the coop philosophy and am eager and excited to participate in the programs, but we are hoping to have another child in the next year or so, and I could see how I might need to opt out for a while (I assume this could be a somewhat common situation?). But I hate to sign up for a coop and not be able to pull my weight; I wouldn't be applying if I didn't value their philosophy and the way the program works. So, my question is, is it relatively easy/flexible to buy out (full or partial?), or take on extra family jobs or something to make up for maybe not being able to work at the school during the week? How do families where both parents work full time do it? (or do they just go elsewhere?). thanks for your help!

I am a parent at Albany Prescool and I wanted to let you know there are several options for you... first, the afternoon program at APS is not parent participation. You are still a member of the Co-op and you still have family jobs and share in the community but you don't need to work at the school during the program times. Also, many people who can't do their work in the morning program either ''buy out'' of working full-time or just hire a sub on the days they can't work. We'd love to have you at our school! candace

I was a parent of a child in the morning program at Albany Preschool. I ''bought out'' of my morning participation on several occassions. Basically what it meant was calling a sub from the list and paying them the fee directly. I think if you want to buy out on a permanent or even semi-permanent basis, you can pay an additional tuition fee. However, if your concern is only being away from the program after giving birth, they do have a version of ''maternity leave'', I believe, and in addition, you are allowed to bring your baby with you to participate, up to 5 or 6 mos of age. Good luck in your decision. anon


Coop preschool and new baby

Feb 2003


I'm wondering what a coop preschool is like with a second baby as I'm thinking that we may have one when our son is in preschool. Have you done it? If so, where and how? How did it work out for you? Would you do it again? I've heard that some preschools let you bring your baby with you--is this common? thanks for any advice that you have...

It has been many years since I was a co-op parent with a new baby (my kids are now 16 and 13!), but I remember it as a wonderful time. When the babies were little, our co-op (Skytown) allowed them to be ''worn'' in a front or back pack. When mine got too big, I would trade off with another parent who also had a baby--I would watch her baby on her participation day, and she would watch mine when I worked. Our babies became fast friends! One of the best parts of the co-op situation for me was the sense of community it encouraged, and this was just another example of that experience. Judy

Our co-op had a sibling care day 1-2 times a week depending on demand. The afternoon care teacher would provide this care at pre-determined times and the parents who had babies would sign up for their co-op duties on those days. Worked pretty well. Parents were asked not to bring their babies when they were working at the school unless they were using sibling care, which allowed them to more fully participate. This was Bancroft Co-op which is no longer around. G.

Hi. I have a daughter in a small coop and a 7 mo. old son. I've decided not to bring my son, though I could if I needed to. Most of the bigger coops do allow you to bring an infant up until they can crawl. But, I don't feel that I can have my attention on the preschoolers *and* my infant at the same time. I've brought him for an hour or so until my husband could pick him up and I felt completely crazed. Unfortunately, the money that I'm spending having him watched while I work the coop is almost as much as the discount I get from being in a coop. Oh well. Best of luck. anon

Hi. I have a daughter in a small coop and a 7 mo. old son. I've decided not to bring my son, though I could if I needed to. Most of the bigger coops do allow you to bring an infant up until they can crawl. But, I don't feel that I can have my attention on the preschoolers *and* my infant at the same time. I've brought him for an hour or so until my husband could pick him up and I felt completely crazed. Unfortunately, the money that I'm spending having him watched while I work the coop is almost as much as the discount I get from being in a coop. Oh well. Best of luck. anon

I co-oped with 2 children and have many friends that do so, one with 5 children! The way we managed it was to hook up with one another at the ice cream social our school puts on before school starts. (If your school doesn't have a social get together before school starts you could ask for the class list and phone people and make playdates so that you can meet each other).

We would trade off in baby sitting - this works well but it is a commitment if you are co-oping 2-3 times per month because you also have to baby sit in return for the same amount of time. Having said that, it is a wonderful way to build community with in your school - something coops are renowned for.

Being in your child's classroom on a regular basis is a gift. It is a time that never comes again and is so brief. As they get older you have less opportunity and they also may not want you there. I really encourage you to find a baby sitting trade and stick with it - it is worth it!!! anon


How much time does a co-op school take?

Feb 2002


I would like to put my child into a coop preschool in fall of 2003. Recently I have become a stay at home mom to spend more time with him, and would like to take advantage of this to be as involved as possible with his experience in preschool as well. My one concern is how much time a coop actually calls for in commitments and juggling possibly having a second child in year one or two of the program. And advice or experience on this, or recommendations of specific programs - we live in Oakland - would be most helpful. We looked at MCPC in Montclair but there is only one posting on the website about it and it is from 1999.

I send my 3.5 yo son to a co-op preschool and I have a 17 month old as well. The most common way to secure child care for your younger child is to swap with other parents in your preschool. My retired neighbor watches my daughter on my work day, which works out great because I don't have to drop my daughter off anywhere -- no extra stops. I was committed to a co-op environment before I even knew what I was going to do with daughter and I just felt that it would somehow work out. And it did.

Every co-op is different, but generally you have a set amount of hours to work each week (usually one preschool day/week), plus you have meetings to attend in the evenings, fundraising activities, and a committee job. My school has maintenance days once/month, general meetings once/month, board meetings every 6 weeks (I think?) and committee meetings three times/year.

So yes it is a lot of work but then again you're involved in your child's school and community. I love the co-op environment and can't imagine sending my kid to any other kind of school.

My child is enrolled in a co-op preschool, and there is quite a bit of participation involved. Because he only attends three mornings a week, I work only every other week for one morning (9-12). (He also spends afternoons there, but they are not part of the cooperative.) On participation mornings I have an assigned duty (art table, cooking table, yard, etc.) It's not that much, but if he were enrolled five mornings, I would have to work one morning a week, which would be too much for me (I work outside the home).

Aside from the morning of participation, I attend a monthly evening meeting, take part in fundraising events, handle a ''family job'' that takes a little time and effort, and my husband will go in for two mornings this year to do clean-up. It's not terribly demanding, particularly if you don't work outside the home. But if you do, and/or if your partner is not interested in helping, you may find it a burden.

One issue that has come up for me is my feeling that women who work outside the home are at a bit of a disadvantage; because many of the mothers are at home with their kids, I have sometimes been made to feel that I don't spend enough time with my child (''wow, your child spends a lot of hours in school,'' ''your son doesn't really need play dates -- he needs more time with his parents'' etc.) I am not very patient with long meetings, where other people seem to have all the time in the world. But perhaps this is just my guilty conscience speaking.

On the whole, despite my grumpings about working outside the home, we have been very happy with the co-op situation. We have met some interesting parents and our child now knows some of the kids he will go to kindergarten with. And the cost is much more reasonable than other kinds of preschools!

Good luck with your decision. Co-op mom

I sent both my children to MCPC and it was a wonderful experience. My second daughter was three months old when my oldest daughter started. The school has a maternity leave program where you get 6 weeks off once you have a baby. Lots of mothers trade childcare on the days they work at the school, so it's usually not too difficult to find someone to look after your infant. There is nothing like working in a coop. You grow very close to the children and parents and grow to love and appreciate the community. The best part of MCPC is working with the kids. There is a lot of extra work, however, especially in the 2nd year when you sit on the board and run the school. But I found the work rewarding and looked at it as an opportunity to develop new leadership skills. Also, the director and teacher are fantastic and the curriculum is innovative and fun. My daughters loved the place and so did I. Frances

My two older children both attended a co-op preschool. I expect the baby will be in a co-op too. I think they all have very similar practices. I really liked being able to participate sometimes, and also I liked having so many other interesting adult role models (parents) around. I have two comments to add to what others have already said: 1) many co-ops will let you ''buy-out'' all or part of your work requirement. This way you could still enjoy the benefits of co-oping sometimes but with a lesser time demand. The best feature of co-ops is the opportunity to meet other parents and observe other children the same age as yours, so I wouldn't choose a co-op if I NEVER wanted to participate, but I agree that the weekly participation is difficult for working parents. The cost of co-ops is usually lower than other pre-schools so even if you buy out, you may still be coming out ahead cost-wise. 2) Hours are required of parents at many (most?) other private schools, not just co-ops. Weekend clean-ups, fundraising, and mandatory parent meetings are common. So you may find that any preschool you choose will have some level of required participation. It could be that the only additional time expenditure at a co-op is the one-morning-a-week participation, which you might be able to partly buy out of. G.

What's it like in the Coop world?

Oct 2002

Hi. I have spent 10+ years working as an extra curricular teacher in preschools but up until now didn't have a child in preschool myself. I'm very interested in the Parent Coops in this area, specifically Peter Pan and El Cerrito Coop. My question is whether not having more than one or two 'daily' teachers is tough on the kids or not. Do the children get used to having lots of different grownups around all the time? Also, I'm conflicted about whether all the time required of the parent in the coop is a benefit or a detraction - I see that there's the obvious financial benefit, but what's it really like to attend so many meetings and 'work weekends'? I'd love to hear why you joined a coop, or why you've left a coop. Thanks for your input!! A possible coop parent

We had our son in a co-op (Albany preschool) for one-and-a-half years, and we felt that it was a very positive experience. The children do not seem at all bothered by the presence of many adults; in fact, it was a bonus to have so many willing hands to help, and I think even the small kids developed a sense of real community. We did not find the requirements for participation to be a big drain on our time -- but I switched off with my husband on the participation day. The extras (family job, weekend work days) were not at all time-consuming. Generally you can make many decisions, great and small, about how much you want to do. You can choose a family job that fits your schedule and doesn't make unreasonable demands, or you can throw yourself wholeheartedly into the process and volunteer to be fundraiser or some such. I would highly recommend the co-op situation for getting to know people in your community, for establishing ties that will last as your child starts school, for having close-up experience with your child's education and socialization, etc. In short, we found it to be a good thing. Good luck with your decision,
a satisfied co-op parent

I'm the President of Broadmoor coop in San Leandro. I can't speak for the two coops you asked about, but I'll be happy to answer some of your questions. ... (see Broadmoor Parent Coop for the rest of this review)


How to increase our co-op's enrollment?

May 2002


I'm a concerned parent of a small cooperative preschool in Berkeley, where we are having trouble breaking even every month due to our current low enrollment. Since going to mornings only from full days last fall, the school has been really struggling to make ends meet. As it's a parent cooperative, we are all involved/distressed by the idea the school may have to close. Does anyone have any ideas how we can best get our numbers up? I have posted the opening all over this site, we've handed out flyers and are considering paid advertising, though our budget is obviously limited. I am refraining from listing our school name because I don't want to seem desperate or for it to appear that we're not good enough! Any advice or referrals for folks looking for p/t preschool would be appreciated. thanks anon

In checking out preschools recently I was eager to try a small parent cooperative based on the description in the NPN Preschool Directory. When I called to make an appointment to visit the school, however, I learned that the school had changed its schedule to mornings only. This was a big disappointment, as I am a single mother and must have a full-day program. I'm sure a great deal of thought went into the decision to change to mornings only, but it does limit the number of families that can take advantage of the program. Perhaps it should be reconsidered. Robin