Cooperative Preschools Help Families Start School Together

For more than 50 years, parents in Redding and Paradise have formed two cooperative preschools, an arrangement in which parents collectively hire a trained teacher to provide their children with a quality preschool experience. Parents, grandparents or nannies of each child work at the school throughout the week, taking an active role in their children’s education. Angela Radford, a parent and board member at Redding Cooperative Preschool, says, “A cooperative preschool bridges the gap between school and home, both for children and parents.”

Redding Cooperative Preschool (RCP)

“Parent participation is key and we all enjoy learning together,” says Molly Evans.

Molly Evans’ son began at the RCP this year after attending another preschool last year. “He loves it! And I’ve loved seeing him enjoy learning and developing new interests,” says Evan. “He has become interested in art, science and creating.” She also notes that the preschool co-op has equipped her with the ability to ask guiding questions and direct playtime to maximize teaching opportunities at-home.

Like other co-op parents, both Evans and Radford go to school with their children once a week to provide snacks, facilitate activities and help children learn.

“I enjoy seeing the children make friends with each other. I marvel at how differently each child’s brain works and how every child has a different approach,” Evans says.

“My daughter is very social and independent,” says Radford. “She doesn’t need me there, but she loves it when I go with her. Every morning she asks, ‘Is today your working day, Mommy?’”

The school day runs from 9 am to noon from September through May, three days a week for the 4-year-old class and twice a week for the younger children. After spending time outdoors, the children come inside for group activities that promote academic and social development: singing, listening to a story, and learning numbers, letters, and days of the week. The day also includes time for snacks, small group activities and learning through free play.

Preschool co-ops also build community among parents. Besides swapping stories and tips with the teacher and one another, they often invite guest speakers – like a speech pathologist, librarian or YMCA representative – to share parenting advice and opportunities for families at their monthly parent meeting. “Parenting is not always intuitive,” says Evans, “so it’s helpful to do it together.”

Paradise Cooperative Preschool (PCP)

Maranda (age 4), Peyton (age 5), parent volunteer Lana, Tristan (age 4), teacher Jessica and parent volunteer Cristy all share a love for learning and educational enrichment.

Sixty years ago, in a single room without heat, water or an indoor toilet, three dedicated mothers founded the PCP. Since then, generations of children have started their school careers in the caring environment of the preschool co-op, now housed in the United Methodist Church. Jessica Kennefic, who has taught at the school for the last seven years, sees the power of parent involvement in children’s education. “It’s the parents’ school,” she says. “I just keep it organized. The parent’s weekly shift means they know exactly what their children are learning. If something bothers them, they can bring it to the board and change it.”

From 9 to 11:30 am, August through May, two- and three-year-olds travel to the play room, circle room, project room and snack room, while the four-year-olds rotate through the rooms with their own class. This year, 19 families form the school’s safe, intimate environment.

Like the RCP, this co-op promotes healthy amounts of imaginative learning through play and also offers structured education in very intentional, engaging ways. To best prepare her students, Kennefic visited several kindergarten classrooms, consequently basing her lesson plans on multiple kindergarten curriculums. “One of the tools we use is Sound-a-bet,” says Kennefic, “which helps children practice the pronunciation of the alphabet – rather than just the names of the letters. We also focus on sight-reading frequently used words that are hard to sound out, like ‘the’ and ‘you.’ Half of the four-year-olds are reading already because they started practicing when they were two.”

The Redding and Paradise co-ops both charge minimal admission fees to cover basic operating costs. To supplement the budget and alleviate what parents pay out of pocket, each school holds several fundraisers throughout the year, like the RCP’s Children’s Concert and annual garage sale. Parents of current students and alumni often give donations of toys or supplies. The PCP makes appearances at the Gold Nugget Parade in Paradise and conducts rummage sales. On May 6, the Paradise preschool will hold their “Spring Fling,” a carnival-style fundraising event with everything from performances to face painting.

Evans sums up the co-op experience this way: “Cooperative preschool has been wonderful for our family. It definitely takes commitment, but it is paid back in so many ways.”

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Jenna Christophersen
About Jenna Christophersen

Jenna Christophersen is a Chico native who loves her community and can never get quite enough of the arts. She supports fostering creativity in any venue, especially as a part of young people’s daily lives.

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