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I went with my baby grandson Bert to his preschool co-op at Edmonds Community College on Friday. Our family -- my husband, both my girls and I -- were enrolled in this program before the girls started kindergarten.
I had a lovely morning playing at the preschool with Bert. There are climbing toys designed specially for pre-walkers, sensory tables where the babies can splash in water and play in all manner of squishable materials, circle time where parents sing to their babies, and of course a finger food snack. Bert had three servings!
I was struck by what an important role this program plays in our community. It's not merely a preschool; at it's heart it is a Parent Education program. The preschool itself is considered a "lab" where parenting practices are modeled by Early Childhood Education specialists. These specialists also facilitate discussion groups on topics relevant to raising children ages birth through 4 or 5.
There are several preschool co-ops affiliated with Edmonds Community College. The infant-toddler program is housed on the actual college campus, but preschools for older students are located in sites throughout the community. The off-campus co-ops are run by a parent board, and parents are required to volunteer in the school one day a week.
The model has been so popular by attending parents that they petitioned the Edmonds School District to design a school based on the same model. And thus we have the Maplewood K-8 Co-op in Edmonds, a public school that is so popular it can only be entered by lottery.
Because the co-ops are parent run, they are also a good leadership development program for adults. The most famous program graduate? U.S. Senator Patty Murray, who got her political start when she fought a threat by the Washington state legislature to cut funding to parent education programs.
So truly, preschool cooperatives, which can be found at every community college and vocational technical school in the state, are the epitome of a "grass roots" movement.