The fast and easy answer is that it’s a preschool where the parents help out in some way. It is less expensive (because of volunteer help, vs. paid help), and it provides an opportunity to be an active participant in your child’s education, while still providing some “time away” to complete other personal tasks.
For the child, it is a wonderful balance between having their parent as a mentor at this critical age, and also being able to learn on their own, as the parent is not always there. This independence will help them acclimate to what school will be like, while also recognizing the importance of the parent as a teacher.
Preschool Co-ops may exist in your area in a different ways. In one common outline, a teacher is hired to run the show, while the parents sign up to help out in the classroom and/or buy supplies. Though this is more economical than other drop-off preschools, it will still cost a bit to pay for the teacher, and possibly the space in which preschool held. If this is an option in your area, take a look at it! But if you don’t have such options, this website is meant to walk you through starting a completely free co-op for you and your group of interested parents.
More answers on how to run your own co-op are in the tabs above. But here are the basic things you need to know:
Location: Many run co-ops out of their own homes; hosting when it is their turn to teach. This can be done with all the parents are comfortable, and have full trust in each other. Another option is to find a public location that will allow you to use their space. You may find someone (perhaps a church building) that is willing to loan you space for a low cost, or even for free, since you are a volunteer community group, and no one is earning money.
Cost: Free tuition! There will probably be a cost for the initial supplies (crayons, scissors, etc.), and perhaps the location, if rent is expected. This cost should be shared equally among all members of the co-op.
Size: Small! Don’t think this will be a huge undertaking! It’s not hard to put together an ideal group of 5-8 children. Small size groups work better for this age children (3-4 years), and their teachers. The main thing to keep in mind as you make your group is the more teachers/participants there are, the less often you will be asked to provide time to the co-op. Time is shared equally among all participants.
Finally, the question may come up: will this layout sufficiently prepare my child for kindergarten? The answer is a resounding: YES! I have run a parent co-op preschool for each of my children, as well as worked in professional preschool settings. I can say that each one helped prepare the children socially for kindergarten, which is most important. Academic preparation depends on the curriculum of the teachers in each situation, and the great part about a co-op, is you can help decide just how much academic prep they get!