To continue the posts on my Montessori Journey, I'd like to share what I learned while hosting a Montessori Co-op in my home. If you have ever considered hosting one or being part of one my experience may be of some help!
Last year, 3 family's joined my family in the home 4 days a week for a Montessori Co-op. They were all interested in Montessori education, and after hosting a Montessori informational night led by my teacher friend, some of us decided to start meeting about how we could possibly start a school. Long story short, we had the immediate need of educating our children so we formed a co-op in the meantime. We had five children ages 3-5 in the primary classroom, two children in the lower elementary classroom, and finally three nursing babies and two toddlers in my living room! It was an amazing year and the children learned so much, however we could not continue because there was not going to be enough room in the primary classroom for the new toddlers that would be joining the other children. I'll cover some of the things I learned along the way that may hopefully help you along your own Montessori home school journey, especially if you are considering getting together with another family or two.
First, find out what your local laws say about having a co-op. There may be certain restrictions, and if you are doing preschool age co-op, you may fall under the category of being a home day care by law. In order to not be considered a day care by law and to make things legally simpler, the families all agreed to have a parent from each family always present. You may want to find out what works best for you. At times this could be difficult for the families because mom had to be out of the home 4 days a week for 1/2 a day, while lugging around kids, diaper bags, snacks, and baby toys to and from co-op. My friends came to my house, which was about a 20 minute drive each way.
Once were sure of all the details regarding where we were going to meet, how much materials would cost, etc. We all signed a handbook/agreement. This is a very important step in making sure that you and your friends are all on the same page. You would be surprised to find out that one person could describe something as being red, while another describes it as being maroon. The details are crucial, so make sure that you share the same vision, goals, and are in agreement on what to do in "what if" situations. Examples of "What if" situations would be, "What if the children are sick?, or "What if a family decides to quit the co-op?". There are a lot of considerations and questions that need to be asked before starting so that there are no hard feelings later on and that the children get the best out of the co-op.
As far as purchasing materials, we divided the cost between the four families equally. You could do this, or you could even buy all the materials yourself and charge the other families for using them. Do whatever works best for your group. Option two could help avoid any possible conflicts regarding who gets to keep what, etc., but it would of course also be a higher up front cost for you.
After we had signed our agreements, we went ahead and did a MASSIVE de-cluttering of our garage. This is where the primary class was going to be held. Luckily for us, the unfinished 1 car garage, had some built in storage so that we could store the Montessori materials next in sequence. There was a lot of painting and cleaning to be done, as well as making it seem welcoming to the children. The addition of a few plants and flowers, table lamps, and a pet fish did wonders for the place.
Along the way, we figured out that we had to make some changes here and there. Below are some of the things we had to re-think:
-At first, the families were eating lunch at my house after school was over when the weather was nice. When the weather got cooler, they would go home to eat lunch. That could be a little stressful for them, but my house was too small to house everyone comfortably inside during lunch time. The children would have snack during school hours as part of their Montessori practical life, and so that they wouldn't be too hungry when they finally got home to eat lunch.
-Originally the co-op was being held 5 days a week and in addition were having a weekly "teachers" planning meeting. We soon found out that having co-op 5 days a week and the planning meeting was straining on the families. The solution was that co-op would be shortened to 4 days a week and eventually planning meetings were only held every two weeks.
-One of the brilliant mothers had the great idea of creating some templates in Google documents for us to share the responsibilities for the planning meetings. This was meant to shave off a few hours when meeting in person. The way it worked was that each of us was assigned a section of the classroom like Practical Life, Math, Culture, etc. and we would fill in our part of the template as well as contributing to field trip ideas, etc. Since the document was online, we could each do our part when we had the time. We would write in what should be kept, what should be removed, and what should be introduced into each subject area based on the main teachers observations.
-There were a lot of things that had to be done to set the classroom up each week and to also close up at the end of the school day. We decided to rotate classroom set up and clean up weekly amongst each other so the burden wouldn't fall on just one person. We also decided that the mom's would take turns watching the kids of the person who's week it was to clean up. This way I wouldn't end up having to do it all the time by default just because it was my home.
Overall, hosting the co-op in my home could be stressful at times, but both my husband and I were willing to make the sacrifices necessary. We didn't charge rent for hosting the co-op in our home, but each family did contribute monthly to help pay for the utilities. I couldn't just leave the laundry on the sofa if I was too tired or busy to put it away because I always had the families coming over. On the other hand, because the families were coming over 4 days a week, it forced me to keep things more tidy and orderly. There were lot's of little pros and con's, but in the end it was so worth it for us and we are grateful to the families who helped make the whole experience possible!
If you are interested in taking a peek at what we were up to with the co-op, you can pop on over to St. Francis of Assisi Montessori Academy and take a look!