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Co-Op Nursery Schools by Kitty Robertson Morse, Heirloom Wooden Toys

April 30, 2011

Last month we attended the California Council of Parent Participation Nursery Schools’ annual convention, “Children – Nature – Play” in lovely San Rafael, CA.  We had a table in the convention marketplace, and really enjoyed meeting some incredible moms, teachers, kids and school administrators.  Our neighbors ranged from a woman selling handmade jewelry to a company that brings preschool dance and movement teachers to schools, to an artist writing and self-publishing children’s books featuring Herbert the Owl.  In addition to being a fun way to spend the weekend, we always enjoy meeting our customers face-to-face.  Being an online store, we generally don’t interact with customers except by email and sometimes by phone – and they are always wonderful!

My own kids went through a Parent Participation or Co-operative nursery school, and I thought it might be interesting to share a little bit of what these schools are all about.  The basic principles are:

– A learning experience that is catered to the understanding of the child,

– An environment that nurtures the creativity and curiosity of the child,

– A belief that active parent participation will provide the best education for the child,

– With the belief that Nature Play nurtures the spirit and growth of the child.

How does this relate to Heirloom Wooden Toys?  Well, most of our toys are specifically selected to inspire the child’s creativity, not to instruct them in an adult vision of how children should play.  Wooden blocks, play kitchens, simple vehicles and dress up costumes allow the child to explore her world in her own way.  Some toys are specifically designed to help children learn a basic principle, for example the concept of fractions or shapes and colors.  These toys have their place, but a child also needs plenty of free play with open-ended toys so she can invent her own play universe.

Nature play was also a very important component of our Parent Participation experience.  Natural materials were used whenever possible, rabbits and snakes were kept in the room, flowers were planted in the spring, mud play during the rainy season was encouraged.  There was a kid-friendly cooking project every day.  Messy?  Sure!  But it’s truly a joy to watch kids play this way, especially when it’s not in your own house.

“Active Parent Participation,”  in our school, meant several work days per month, when parents worked as assistant teachers in the classroom.  This was a semi-professional role, with training and discussion groups every day to explore a parenting topic or developmental principle, led by the school’s director.  If you were a “Parent Teacher,” with a commitment of two or three days per week, there was a monthly evening meeting with the classroom teachers to discuss specific developmental issues arising in the group.  I learned so much from all of this, including the opportunity to observe and interact with children that weren’t my own – definitely providing an unusual perspective I don’t think I would have otherwise had.

Parent participation nursery schools aren’t for every family, as the time commitment is rather intensive.  For us, it was the perfect way to learn about our children (and children in general), make some lifelong friends, and explore a parenting style that felt right to us.  I’d love to hear about your nursery schools and preschools!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2011 2:48 pm

    Co-op preschools are a great idea, but you have to be comfortable with the other parents. My sister was disappointed to participate in one with a bunch of crazy helicopter parents who called her son (to his face) verbally abusive for calling someone “stupid” or some such thing. He was 2 or 3. I do a co-op with moms from my church and love it. Everyone is pretty mellow and laid back and realistic about children’s behavior. I wish we all shared the nature philosophy — a few of us do!

  2. June 13, 2011 9:56 pm

    Good point, Betsy! There were times at our school when certain parenting styles clashed with the school’s philosophy. Generally, the teachers and administration were able to intervene and avert disaster! Our school had a very established culture (it’s been there 50+ years) so I think the parents who didn’t fit well were able to see that before enrolling.

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