Preschool: Traditional or Co-op?


Believe it or not I still haven’t settled on a preschool for my son. I began contemplating the preschool versus no-preschool option at the end of last year and visited a few open houses in January. I applied to two schools in our area and my son was accepted into both.

Initially I wavered on the idea of sending him to school at all. I really enjoy my time at home with him and I certainly don’t want to kick him out of the nest any sooner than necessary, but there are not a lot of children in our neighborhood to play with during the day. The majority of kids attend daycare or preschool, so on most days my son and I are the only ones at the playground. I’ve tried to set up play dates with other kids, but they tend to fall through more often than not and while I do not believe formal socialization is necessary I do think it would be nice for my son to make a few friends his age.

So I’m pretty certain I’ll send him to preschool in the fall and I narrowed my choices down to two very different options. The first, is a co-op, which requires fund raising, school cleaning, mandatory meetings and regular interaction in the classroom. While I’m not a fan of fund raising or cleaning I do like the idea of attending school with my son. He tends to be very timid around other children and I think it might help to enter the world of school with me close by. The school does not require forced separations, which means I can stay every day if he is not ready for me to leave the classroom.

The second option is a traditional preschool located in a church near my home. This school is within walking distance which means we could walk to and from school on nice days. The overall class size is slightly smaller; 9 children and 2 adults, versus the co-op which contains 12 children supervised by 1 teacher and 2 parents.

The major downside of the traditional preschool is that they have a drop and cry policy, which means you give your kid a big kiss on the first day of school and say goodbye. I have a feeling that my son will cry during his first week or two as he is very attached to me and I’m not certain that I can stand the sight of those tears or the fear he might feel in leaving me. As I mentioned above the co-op never forces you to leave your child and you can stay as long as they need you in the classroom. I believe the experience overall will be better for my son in the traditional setting, (once he gets through the tears), but this policy is causing me to lean towards the co-op model.

The traditional preschool is also in session longer each day; 4 hours versus 2.5 for the co-op. The majority of that hour includes lunch. My son will only attend two days a week this year which amounts to an extra 3 hours of school. Three hours doesn’t seem like a ton of time this year, but next year the difference would be 7.5 hours at the co-op versus 12. Again I’m not certain that I want to spend more time away from him as I really do enjoy our time together.

Having said all of that I do believe the traditional preschool would offer more for my son. They have a weekly storyteller come to their classroom and a weekly music class taught by a local teacher/performer. I believe they travel on more field trips and have indoor and outdoor playground equipment so they can be physically active regardless of the weather.

Looking forward I also think my son will gain more from his experience in the traditional school. The teachers in the three and four year old classrooms are very engaging and excited to teach the students and explore with them. The classrooms are bright, colorful and inviting.

At two and a half my son is already learning to sound out words and read. He can spell his own name and ten or so other other words, so I’m not concerned about the educational aspects of preschool, though I would like to see him engage in new and challenging experiences as he ages. At two I think of preschool like a big playgroup at three he may be able to attain more from his experience there.

Everything in my heart is telling me to choose the traditional preschool, but the fact that he will probably cry is pulling me towards the co-op model because it won’t force him to separate from me until he’s ready.

My very first memory as a child is crying in preschool and I’m certain I’m pushing some of my fears and phobias onto his first few days and weeks there. I see in him the timid child who doesn’t want to leave his mommy and as a mom I’m not so certain I’m ready to leave him either.

I’d love to hear comments. Any advice or wisdom? I’m really struggling to decide.

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3 thoughts on “Preschool: Traditional or Co-op?”

  1. First of all, I’m very glad you’re feeling better!

    I work from home and although my twin daughters had had regular babysitting at our house or their grandmother’s house, when they started preschool just before their 4th birthday, I was afraid they would cry. They had never been in any kind of a group care setting. Their school also has a drop-off policy similar to the one you described. It’s part of a parochial school, so parents for kids in grades K-8 use one parking lot and there is a separate, lower parking lot for preschool parents. Only occasionally do kids (including mine) cling to their parents and cry, and in those cases it’s clear the kid is just having a rough morning. It seems to make for a more cheerful transition to have the teachers come to the car and say good morning, often with a classmate or two standing behind them on the curb or sitting on the steps. The kids usually walk in in groups or holding the teacher’s hand, and they have a few moments of chitchat. My daughters are in their second year of preschool. After a few weeks, the girls got used to the routine and even began holding other kids’ hands. It’s really very pleasant and sweet. At pickup time, the parents wait outside and the teacher leads them out.

    There are things I’m not thrilled with about their preschool. Class size is at the top of that list, and a close second is the fact that it is a multiple-age classroom for 3 to 5 year olds. Last year it didn’t seem significant, although my friends whose kids were then pre-kindergarten complained a lot. But this year I feel that the energy and short attention span of the younger ones is really holding the older ones back. They require so much of the teachers’ attention. It feels more like a daycare than a preschool at times. Enough parents have complained (this is the fourth year the preschool has been open) that next year there will be two classrooms, separated by age. The teachers are thrilled.

    But I do love the long mornings (7:55 to 11:25). I would consider anything less than 2.5 hours a total waste of time and energy, unless it’s free. I thought it would be hard to get them out of bed and to school that early. Sometimes it is, but it’s still easier than the days of getting them out the door at 9 or 9:30. Also, parents have the option of choosing mornings or full days and the number of days/week. My daughters go 3 mornings/week.

    I help out at school whenever I’m asked (class parties and activities), and I also volunteer in the school library with the first graders and help with fundraisers and such. There is always something going on. Class parties are wild because the entire preschool is in attendance, and I’m exhausted afterward. I don’t think I could handle more than one in-classroom morning every month. For my personality type (INFJ), I try to be protective of my time and energy, especially because I work from home. Believe me, the preschool hours go by very quickly!

    One other concern relates to other parents and the negativity that can permeate every discussion of school. Parents of school-age kids ALWAYS have something to complain about, and it WILL affect your own perception of your child’s happiness and well-being, as well as the school’s quality. Certain parents are worse than others and will drag down everyone’s mood. I very quickly learned that I need to guard my own happiness as well as my time. The co-op meetings will likely be more frustrating and negative than you expect, especially if there is only one teacher. And directing parent volunteers requires a lot of a teacher’s time — time that will take away from actual instruction.

    I hope this helps. Good luck!

  2. I did both with my boys (3 years in parent co-op w/older one; one year with younger one). Both were truly great experiences, but I have to say that I loved the co-op and am still friends w/some of the parents I met there–14 years ago! I see their kids, now 15 and 16, and think quietly to myself, “I changed your diaper,” or “I remember when you tried to climb the roof/went through the biting stage/wouldn’t share your toys and look at you now.” It’s just sort of a cool thing to feel so connected to other families, especially because my closest family members live hours away.

    I chose it because it was inexpensive and walking distance from my house, but it ended up being a really great thing for me. Honestly, the co-op was as much an education for me as it was a preschool experience for my kids. I learned a lot about positive discipline strategies, how not to quell my anxieties as a new parent, and early child development, but mostly, I found a group of quasi-to-mostly stay-at -home moms w/whom to hang out. We ended up back in the workforce by the time our kids entered 1st or 2nd grade, but those early years of meeting at the park or friends’ houses when it was raining are some of my most treasured memories.

    Co-ops don’t work as well if you need/want the childcare for working in or out of the home and/or have another child whose nap schedule might interfere w/your co-op work shift. Going back to half-time work is pretty much why my younger son ended up at a regular (and wonderful) preschool when he was 3.

    Anyway, sorry for the long response. Whichever you choose will probably be the right choice. If you are thinking about the coop, though, I’d see whether you could bring your son for an hour or two one day this spring. We did that all the time for prospective members. You can really get a sense of the teacher, the structure, the other parents, etc. by spending a bit of time there w/your child.

  3. I have a pretty independent 17 month old but just recently went from working three hours a week (a sitter came to our house) to four hours most days. One day a sitter and her two kids come to my house, two days he goes to an in home daycare and one day I go to the house of the sitter with the two kids. He did cry the first three weeks at drop off but has just this week not cried, and the providers assured me that he stopped crying very quickly after I left. I found that arriving early and absorbing the new environment for 5-10 minutes, engaging with the caregiver or the other kids helped settle us both down before saying goodbye.

    I wonder too if there might be an activity that you could sign up for that’s short, like an hour once or twice a week where you would leave him to get him used to the idea that you leave, he has fun and then you come back. Our rec center sometimes has these kind of pre-preschool kinds of classes. Lots to think about, I enjoy these posts of someone who’s a little ahead of us in life’s experiences.


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