Last summer around this time, I was wondering what to do for socialization for my toddler son. He wasn’t quite old enough to start preschool, but I wanted him to have more experience being dropped off and taking directions from adults other than yours truly. Enter: playschool. I sent off an email to some local friends with an idea: what if we joined forces and created a preschool co-op once a week for the kids to play, learn to share, and maybe learn a thing or two?
Within the month, we had a group of 8 kiddos ready and willing to start after Labor Day. We called it “playschool” and here’s how it worked: Every Thursday, each parent would take turns hosting the group. Every week, the host would also have a helper, and on the 4th week of the month, we would all get together for a field trip around town. Our “curriculum,” so to speak, was based on classic children’s books.
On the weeks that I wasn’t a “host” or a “helper,” I would smoosh a water bottle and an art smock in his backpack, and off he went. It was the perfect jump start into a more structured group setting for him, and I got to do luxurious things like go to Target by myself. Win-Win.
If “playschool” is something you would be interested in starting, here is a breakdown of how we did it and what worked for us!
Find the Kids!
- Our group happened to (pretty much) all know each other, and all of the parents were either stay at home parents, had flexible part time jobs, or were grad students. Think through your network of parents: Church? Neighbors? Moms who were in your birth class or Stroller Strides? I think the sweet spot would be to find about 5-8 kiddos.
Decide on a Curriculum and Schedule
- We met once a week from 10am-12pm and based each session on a classic children’s book. Every week, the host would plan low-key activities based on the book they chose. Our kids made binoculars for going on a bear hunt, their own very hungry caterpillars, and clay rainbow fish. One of the best things we can do to help preschoolers learn is by reading to them, so that was our rationale for choosing books for our curriculum. The book Story Stretchers has great book and activity ideas, and Pinterest has a plethora of ideas, as well.
- We would spend some time playing as kids arrived, then a read aloud of the selected book, followed by activities, and, of course, snack. Sometimes we got cutesy and made a snack to go with our book, but for the most part we gave them graham crackers and grapes and called it good.
- Once a month, we would plan a free or cheap field trip around the Denver Metro Area. These trips were all hands on deck–everyone attended with their child. Some of our favorites were the Littleton Historical Museum, the Denver Firefighters Museum, and Hudson Gardens. Hammond’s Candy Factory or the local fire station would be great free or cheap choices, as well.
Make it Equal
- One of the best parts of playschool is that each mom or dad gets a little break on the weeks they aren’t hosting or helping. However, the week that you host or help is a whirlwind (to say the least). It worked out so that each parent hosted twice and helped twice. The host would pick the book and lead all the activities, and the helper would lend a hand and care for any younger siblings of the host. Sign-up genius was an amazing resource for us to coordinate who was hosting and helping.
- We each planned to spend around $15-20 dollars for each session so we were all contributing equally financially. Any extra supplies got passed around to use again, and at the end of the year we sold our extra supplies to craft scraps (Check these guys out. Amazing idea!) to pay for our end of the year party. All in all, each family spent about $80 for “playschool” for the year, much cheaper than any traditional preschool.
Utilize your Local Library
- When I asked our children’s librarians if I could check out a felt board for my lesson, they told me they could do better than that. They had just recently acquired a new one and generously let me take their old one. Score! They also had puppets and all sorts of materials for us to check out. When you need to keep things cheap, you can’t beat the library!
Of course, it wasn’t always perfect. Things got a little chaotic when younger siblings of the host and helper were added to the mix. The group felt large at times, but the plus side was that each parent had more weeks off. All in all, though, we are so glad we made this step for our son.