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What is a Co-op Preschool?

June 3, 2021

Research has shown that preschool can provide an important foundation for a child’s education.  And for some, the time to choose a preschool sneaks up pretty quickly. Choosing the right environment for your little one while also sticking within your budget can be challenging. One option that offers some flexibility and lowers your cost is a co-op preschool. But what is a co-op preschool?

A co-op preschool is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, democratic organization where each family shares in the planning and operation of the school. Co-op preschools are primarily run by parent volunteers, along with full-time teachers. Sometimes a group of parents in a neighborhood or with similar interests create a co-op preschool for their children. However a co-op preschool is formed, it always includes parental involvement. And often parental involvement means that a school can charge lower or reduced fees because the paid staff requirements are lower. Some parents can get more involved in a co-op preschool, by volunteering to help with cleaning or even administrative duties.

How Did Co-op Preschools Start?

Preschools started in 1916 when a group of wives on the faculty at the University of Chicago found a way to give themselves free time for Red Cross work while providing a social education for their children. About 10 years later, in 1927, the Children’s Community Center was started in California, and is the oldest continually running cooperative preschool today, according to PCPI. In the 1940s, co-op preschools started popping up across the country as well as Canada.

As a way to guide parents and educate them on co-op preschools, various schools and councils created manuals. In 1954, Dr. Katharine Whiteside Taylor published what would later be called Parents and Children Learn Together. In it, she touches on topics such as helpful practices for classrooms and how to organize and manage a cooperative. Two years later, according to the PCPI, Whiteside Taylor created a quarterly newsletter to share creative practices among schools across the U.S., Canada, and internationally.

How Do Cooperative Preschools Work?

As mentioned above, cooperative preschools are run with parent volunteers. There will be a full-time teacher with the children, but there is a schedule where parents rotate to help run the school. The responsibilities and amount of time parents need to commit depends on various factors. Some of those include:


- The size of the school
- How often the class meets
- Class hours
- Tuition


In most co-op preschools, every family will serve on the board or be on a committee. Some co-ops require parents to do most of the administrative duties, which could include:

-Maintaining payroll
-Tuition management
-Enrollment
-Event planning
-Fundraising

The age range of those who attend a co-op preschool can be anywhere from 2 months old to 5 years old. And while each school is different, there are a few common features. These include:

- A play-based curriculum
- Classes structure based on the age group
- Age-appropriate activities for the children
- As the children get older, the classes get longer and a parent’s time in the classroom gets shorter.

Co-Op Preschool

What Are the Benefits of a Cooperative Preschool?

A co-op preschool truly allows parents to be involved in the children’s early education. It allows you to work together with other families that have similar interests for their children to give them a fun learning experience. By being in the classroom, your child can slowly build their trust for learning with you by their side

By enrolling your child in a cooperative preschool, you can have a say in how the school is run. Being involved in the classroom, and the administrative side, allows you to make changes based on the children in the groups and the needs of the parents and teachers.

It’s important to note that there is flexibility. Yes, you can work and still enroll your child in a co-op preschool. Because you are a part of the school, you can set the boundaries and a schedule that works for you to make sure you are there for your children.

Lastly, the cost is often more affordable than a traditional preschool because you are also paying in the form of your time.

How Much Do They Cost?

Because cooperative preschools are run by parent volunteers, the tuition is not astronomical. Just as the amount of time you spend at the school varies, the same applies for the cost. Some things that are factored into tuition include:

- Class hours
- The age of the children
- Where the school is located

All of the above can affect the monthly or weekly cost for your child to attend.  

Research has shown, though, that the cost of a co-op preschool could be one-half to one-third the cost of a drop-off preschool.

Sometimes, depending on the school, tuition could be discounted or off-set depending on how much time you spend volunteering your time to help run it. Fundraisers could play a big part in helping to keep the cost of the tuition affordable for all parents.If you think a cooperative preschool is right for your family, you can easily see if there are options near you by searching for preschools in your zip code at Upfront. Bigelow Cooperative in Somerville, MA and Chickpeas in Brooklyn, NY are just two examples of co-op preschools you can find on Upfront. Just as with any preschool, you will want to take a tour and ask questions – specifically about how much time you will need to dedicate to your child’s education. And if you’re feeling ambitious, and your neighborhood doesn’t have a co-op preschool, you might just want to look into starting your own.

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