Sometimes, because our staff is so capable and when everything in general is running smoothly, it's easy to forget what makes a cooperative childcare centre different than a standard centre. Sure, you have to go to a meeting every few months, and fees are lower than they'd be elsewhere—but the meaningfulness of being part of a co-op can get lost in the busyness of every day life.
It certainly did for me for awhile, but what inspired me to adjust my approach was reading a tribute to a former playschool parent whose legacy continues at the school to this day. It was the part about her and her partner coming in to playschool at the weekends to repair and paint the baseboards to help pass a health and safety inspection, and that detail made me realize: "Oh, wait. I've only just been showing up."
The story of the baseboards is not extraordinary. Yesterday, I came to playschool and a parent had a drill and was installing a light fixture—we're all doing our part. But what can we do to do even more than that? How do we take ownership of this community (which is difficult to do with turnover being what it is—few of us are ever here for more than a handful of years)?
1) Ensure your Parent Job is meaningful. There are two ways to do this: first, understand that the job you do is hugely important to our programs running smoothly, whether it involves cleaning duties or administration tasks. It means something to all of us.
But another idea is to lend us the benefit of your specific talents: do you have a background in finance? Project management? Fundraising? Have you served on non-profit boards before? If you have this kind of experience, let our board members or teacher know. (This is also a nice way to keep resumes current if parents are taking time off from work during their children's early years, and to add additional experience to your own CV.)
2) Be a part of our programming. We welcome opportunities for parents to join classes and teach special programming (music, art, movement, etc.). Join us to share stories about your culture and help us partake in its celebrations. This is an incredible chance to be part of your child's educational experience, and all the children benefit.
3) Speak up! If you see something that needs doing, offer to take it on. We are aiming to foster a culture of ownership in which families feel comfortable assuming initiatives and offering their ideas. See next point for an example...
4) We have a crepe making holiday fete coming up in early December, because a playschool parent had the inspiration and wanted to offer her talents. Please offer your own talents, ideas and suggestion for fundraisers and community events.
5) Attend events! Our Chipotle fundraiser is coming up in a week and a half. On top of it being an excellent opportunity to support playschool (50% of the money you spend will come back to playschool programs) it will be a very good evening with excellent company.
6) Have some vision. In 2018, Huron Playschool Cooperative will reach our half-century, thanks to the hard work of families and teachers over the years. And now we have a chance to make sure that legacy too is lasting with the work we're doing today.
7) Remember that in choosing a cooperative childcare centre, your family is modelling something important for your children about how we can all live together in the world. Everyone has a part to play, talents to lend, and disagreements and complications are opportunities to work out something better for everyone.
It gives us an opportunity to be the kind of people we hope our children can be in their own lives (and we even learn this from them)—people who work together, support each other, and believe in the possibilities of human connection.