From our friends at Parent Child Preschools Organization

Northwest residents love to co-op. We co-op our groceries, flex our office space, crowdfund, and proudly Buy Nothing. But perhaps it was co-ops for our youngest community members, preschoolers, that got this cooperative craze rolling decades ago. Parent Child Preschools Organization (PCPO), a network of 61 NW cooperative preschools and kindergartens, has been supporting play-based learning for children, parents, and educators for 60 years. PCPO guides cooperative schools so that they, in turn, can educate our youngest learners and their caregivers.

But what exactly IS a cooperative preschool? Professional educators lead creative, fun, and age-appropriate classrooms with the help of parent volunteers. Those same volunteers run the business side of things and hold school “jobs” doing everything from making playdough to managing finances.

Parent helpers allow for a low adult/child ratio, which means more one-on-one instruction for students and lower tuition for families. Curriculum is emergent, following children’s interests and discoveries, and is rooted in the research that the seeds for future academics, emotional health, and the love of learning are planted in these early years. There is special attention to social and emotional development, with teachers and parents helping children learn to express their emotions, resolve conflicts, and recognize and acknowledge peers’ feelings. Students in a cooperative setting learn by doing: they paint, dance, sculpt, cook, navigate obstacle courses, dress up in costumes, make music, and do lots of playing outside! Academics are taught in a language that speaks to the brain of the 3-5 year old. Science, art, music, math, and literacy are intentionally woven into play-based activities. Children discover science by testing if objects float, and they explore literacy through alliterative fingerplays. Math concepts are introduced by balancing block towers or estimating the distance a paper airplane will fly. Gross and fine motor skills develop through shaping playdough, climbing a play structure, or using tweezers to pull apart a sunflower. 

“A child’s most important job is to play. This is universal. A child’s mind learns by exploring the environment and figuring out how the world works. This essential learning cannot be taught. It must be experienced through play.  These experiences provide the foundation for successful academic success.” 

PCPO President and reading specialist Kathy Ems


Kids aren’t the only learners at co-ops. Parents also benefit from an emphasis on parent education, a pillar of the cooperative school experience. Teachers and guest speakers share knowledge on child development, discipline, allergies, mental health, and social skills. PCPO leads workshops and networking meetings for members, where experienced cooperative leaders advise on topics like drafting teacher contracts, organizing fundraisers, or negotiating a lease.

“We knew going in that cooperative preschool would benefit our children. What we didn’t know is how completely it would change our lives as parents. Our school had an emphasis on parent education that taught so many parental tools that I continue to utilize every day. I can honestly say I came out a better parent than I was when we started.” 

PCPO staff member and co-op parent Jo Salicos-Murphy

PCPO’s upcoming early childhood conference on March 16th is an extension of this education and the highlight of the year for the organization. Parent education is such an integral piece of PCPO’s mission that its conference is open to the public, scholarships and group rates are available, and costs are kept low to remain accessible to all. Conference Coordinator Kimberly Peterson reflects, ”I feel so excited when I see parents and teachers coming together to learn, to be their best selves, and to do all they can for their children. Co-op preschool was life-changing for my family, and I’m proud to be a part of this organization, sharing ‘learn through play’ with others.”

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It is the learn-through-play, cooperative philosophy that really makes this early childhood model unique. If cooperative preschools sound like the perfect addition to the list of amazing Northwest co-op opportunities, learn more at www.parentchildpreschools.org.

Delve further into the benefits of play-based learning, register for the early childhood conference, or locate a co-op near you!

PDX Parent Staff - Admin
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