As of the writing of this post, I have been involved in 7 different preschool groups over seven years. I organized 6 of them. Over those years I learned a few things to help things flow more smoothly, and would love to pass those things on to you.
First, this is much easier than you think it will be, whether you are organizing the group, or just participating in one. I know many moms have told me they are not interested in a group, because they are looking forward to that time away from their children. A co-op group is not for everyone, some people feel their child will do better without their parent as a teacher, etc. But I did still get breaks while my children attended preschool at someone else's house, and sometimes having mom as their teacher caused problems, but overall I loved it, and so did my children.
I think a group runs the smoothest with 4-6 children. Any more than that and it gets difficult for one teacher to handle all the children. I know some groups have a teacher and a parent helper assigned each week, but that seemed like too much extra to coordinate and be involved in, so I kept our numbers smaller.
What ages to include?
Try to have children that are all going to be in the same school year. Emotionally, socially, and academically kids mature differently, so this rule will not always hold true. But there were times that I could tell that some kids were not as ready as others. But this was true for kids the same age, as well as kids that were younger. It's just a general observation I have made.
Find some moms that you know have children of preschool age and ask them. You will hear no. Put some feelers out on facebook or other social media. Ask at church, play groups, etc. Some years I have really struggled to find a large enough group to make it work, and other times we had an abundance of interest.
Short Parent Meeting
Once you have your group, have a short parents meeting, emphasize to those involved that it will be short. I have found 30 minutes to be enough, if you are organized ahead of time. This does not need to be hosted at your home, you can ask someone else to host. Ask them to bring their children, it makes it easier for parents to come, as well as allows the kids to get acquainted if they are not already. I include a list of possible preschool themes that each parent can view, and ask if they have any specific themes that they want to teach, and write those down. I let them know of any group supplies that need to be contributed, and let them know what I have contributed. We discuss routines, and trying to keep the same routines, to help the kids transition between homes. Discuss start dates, days of the week you want to meet, and the time you want preschool to run. Discuss class parties and field trips that you would like to take. Find out who has memberships to places when planning field trips to keep cost down, ask around about potential free field trips to take. Almost every year we have done this we only did free field trips. Field trips and class parties make it feel more like a "real" preschool experience.
Then you get to plug things in. This is the table I made when my twins did preschool in 2013/14. I only changed the names. This is a preschool group for kids that are 3. I will have other posts with more detail about each year.
For the 3 year olds, we met twice a week. We had a letter theme each week, we did the uppercase letter the first day, and the lowercase letter the second day. We met on Tues and Thursdays. Along with the letter theme we had a subject type theme. Most of our kids knew their colors, so rather than devoting time to that, we had a general color theme for each month, and let each parent decide how much to emphasize each color. As I plugged in the mom's names, they did not always go in order. I made sure that each parent got to host at least one class/holiday party, and also had each parent in charge of a field trip. Sometimes I specified where we should go, like the fire station when we learned about occupations, and other times I left it open and let them choose. (You should be able to copy and paste the link to download this schedule. You can then edit names and dates to fit your needs
Some parents will put more into it than others, and that is okay. My kids never complained that it was less fun at so and so's house than at whathisnames house. One reason I like to be the first teacher of the year is to show other parents what effort I will be putting in to it, I did not want it to be a play group. But even on days when it was more of just a play group, socialization is a huge part of learning. Of the seven years I have done this, I have had a few moms have things come up that didn't allow them to keep doing the group. But only one year did the group fall through entirely, and that was a group of just me and one other mom, and we just were not seeing eye to eye, so I quit more than she did. I was still able to find another mom to do a group with. We obviously had more turns than in a larger group, but we kept it low key and had lots of fun too!
I'll be honest with you, switching houses every week can be hard for some kids, but most do okay. It is made easier for students and teachers alike if the kids know the expected routine. I let the parents know this was not a strict schedule, if the letter project took 30 minutes and the snack only 10, that is okay. Just try to let things go in the same order every time. I also tried to set it up so there was variation so that the kids were not just sitting at a table for an hour straight. We gave 15 minutes in the beginning for just play time, or free time, I often tried to have some type of loosely structured activity, like puzzles or file folder games. I learned that it does need to be something that cleans up quickly, or it is difficult to get the attention back when you are ready to start. The reason we had play time is because people run late, and this gives time for everyone to arrive before you start. You decide if you need to include that. The second year of preschool we still met only twice a week, and still for two hours, but we also added math time in, so the other subjects had less time.
Organize a Preschool Box
This is a traveling box with supplies the teacher may need. I chose a flat-ish bin with a lid. Included in our box were our calendar, weather chart, old tshirts for messy projects, and our music book and CD. We did not always do a music book, but it was lots of fun when we did. The first few years I did not organize this, but the last few I did. I chose a song or poem for each month, and during music time we were supposed to work on the song or poem for that month, in the hopes that we could choose the best few for the kids to sing at our end of year program. I also included a cd with each song (whenever available, there was only one song I was unable to find) I needed a CD, because I am not musically inclined, and needed the help of that CD to carry the tune. The music book also had lyrics, and sometimes sheet music.
Supplies for Each Child
I let each parent know that they needed to have a pencil box for their child, in the box they should have a box of crayons, a pencil, glue stick (much less messy than elmer's glue), and scissors. This way everyone only keeps track of their child's supplies. There were often times that things got left at my house or someone else's, so label things, but they are pretty easy to return when you see each other weekly. Also, let them know their child should have a backpack, it makes it much easier when finished with projects to have them place them in their backpack.
Lesson Plans are Everywhere!
Let parents know places that they can find info on lesson plans. Pinterest has so many. I started making preschool lesson plans long before Pinterest was around, so I found a few favorite websites. I still refer to them because they are organized well and contain multiple themes, and are usually divided by themes, and subdivided by arts & crafts, music, snacks, books, etc.
These are my faves!
and my fave place for letter printables and coloring pages is:
This is fun!
Why have I done seven years of preschool groups, with hopefully 2 more in the future? Because it is fun. I love being such an integral part of my child's education. As a child I always wanted to be a teacher or a mom, and this way, I get to be both. Of course we are always teaching our children, but this gave me a unique opportunity to teach my children the basics. My children loved it too. They were almost always excited for preschool.
If you have any questions, I would love to help.