Preschool Co-ops: Being An Involved Parent Is Great, But I Prefer My Freedom

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My three-year-old daughter started preschool a few weeks ago and it has sort of changed all of our lives. I now have time alone with our 15-month-old son, which I’ve never had before. And if he takes a nap while his sister is at school, then I have time alone. Alone! It’s kind of incredible. I can read a book, actually focus on a crossword, get some work done or choose to nap right along with him. (I have to be honest, sleep usually wins.)

I naturally assumed that my sister, whose children are the same ages as mine, must be experiencing a similar kind of freedom or respite with her son in school three days a week. Turns out I was wrong. My (adorably sweet and frightfully intelligent) nephew attends a co-op style preschool, which means my sister actually gained additional responsibilities and another workload when her son started school.

To be sure, I’m not talking about a day or two of volunteer time over the course of a school year. I’m talking about many, many hours and multiple weekly obligations. To feel the full weight of her situation, I asked my sister to tell me exactly what is required of her and/or her husband. Here goes:

  • Two three-hour indoor maintenance sessions per year.
  • One three-hour outdoor maintenance sessions per year.
  • Join one of seven or eight major committees with the number of hours dependent upon the committee (last year, she and my brother-in-law were on the outdoor maintenance committee, which ate up about 15 hours of their time. Now she’s on the Halloween Carnival committee, which she estimates will end up being a 25-hour expenditure).
  • Choose a job for the annual auction (five to 10 hours) and make a donation of funds or goods equivalent to 50 bucks.
  • Work one day every week in your child’s classroom, supervising and then cleaning up a specific area/
  • Attend two two-hour parenting classes every month.
  • Are you feeling it? Or am I a horribly selfish woman to think that all adds up to just a little bit too much? Especially when you have another child (or children) at home who’s not yet in school and requires childcare while you’re off fulfilling your duties as a co-op parent. To help offset that cost, my sister worked out a babysitting swap with another parent at the school. So, of the three days her son is in school, one of them is spent working in his classroom and one is spent taking care of her daughter plus her swap partner’s child, leaving her just a few hours of time alone with my 16-month-old niece. Oy. I’m tired.

    To find out if my dear sister’s situation is an anomaly among co-ops, I spoke with another mom, Kristi Roark, who sent both of her children to a co-op school in Wolfeboro, NH. The list of duties she provided sounds a bit more reasonable, but still fairly demanding – especially if both parents work:

    • Serve as a Parent Helper in the classroom eight to 10 times per school year.
    • Participate in two fundraisers and raise at least $200 per fundraiser.
    • Encouraged, but not required, to serve on the board (the incentive being that board members’ children bypass the lottery system, guaranteeing them a spot in the program).

    Kristi says she served on the board for five years and found that, “It just becomes a lot. Having a parent-operated business means high turnover and lots of volunteer hours just trying to keep things running smoothly. It becomes interesting when you are spending so much time on a project for the co-op and you’re leaving your child/children with a babysitter so you can better their school.”

    But both my sister and Kristi say they wouldn’t make a different choice if given the option. I want to include the benefits they cite in their own words because these two women, who don’t know each other and live on opposite coasts, had almost the exact same response.

    My sister had this to say:

    There are so many benefits. It’s much more affordable than most private preschools and it provides a community of friends and playmates. Also, you get to be involved in your child’s education before they go off to “regular” school. You learn how to be an active, engaged parent and you’ll take that with you throughout your child’s educational life.

    And Kristi echoed her sentiments:

    All in all it was an amazing experience and I would never do it another way. I was able to be completely involved in my child’s first school experience. With the co-op comes a sort of family atmosphere so it was a great way to connect with other people in the community. My kids got an excellent education…it really was an excellent way to begin ‘school.’

    So there you have it. Yes, it’s a ton of extra work but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. I, however, remain unconvinced – not that it’s anybody’s job to convince me. I’m just saying I cherish the relative freedom that a drop-off preschool has given me, though I will admit I have absolutely no idea what my daughter does all morning…

    (Photo: Brand X Pictures)