Learning Together: Co-op Preschools Make Education Fun for Kids and Parents

By Corrie Pelc

When Jeanette Krogstad of Sunnyvale goes to drop off her son at the Cupertino Co-op Nursery School, she drops him off at class, says goodbye . . . and then goes to work herself as one of eight work parents at the school that day. “As a parent coming into the co-op you work one preschool day a week and would have a job to do during the school time and your work day rotates between eight different jobs,” Krogstad adds. 

And it’s a similar situation at other co-op or parent participation preschools around the Silicon Valley area. “A parent participation preschool just means exactly that – the parents participate in the learning and working of the school,” explains Cathy Olson, publicity chairperson for the San Jose Parents Participation Nursery School in San Jose.

At San Jose Parents Participation Nursery School, parents with children attending the school are expected to work in a classroom one day a week, Olson says. Additionally, each parent is required to do a two to three hour fund-raising shift, work two Saturday facility maintenance workdays and hold a committee position. “It is a commitment of time and energy – you don’t get to just pay your tuition and have your time off from your child,” Olson adds.


However, becoming so involved in the preschool your child attends can be a preparation for later years, says Konne Ainsworth, director and teacher for Explorer Preschool in San Jose. “We’re proud of (the parents) because most go on to become real involved at the elementary school level and we feel like we’re training them to be responsible members of not only our school, but other educational institutions that they go to from here,” she says.

Krogstad found this to be true when her older son graduated from Cupertino Co-op to go on to elementary school. “The parent education is really an asset that sadly I think a lot of the parents in the public school system underestimate and even overlook because I’m finding at the elementary school that the parent education events are not very well-attended by the parents, but coming from the co-op it’s like developing an appreciation,” she explains.

And there’s plenty more for parents to learn at a co-op school as most schools also hold monthly parent education meetings, both for parents who work in the classroom and for general parenting issues. For Rachel Hobbs of San Jose whose son attends the San Jose Parents Participating Nursery School, she feels she learned a lot from the parent education meetings. “When an issue occurs, we all feel like we’re much more prepared to handle it and there’s also the support group there – you know from the other moms that you talk to all the time that your child isn’t the only one going through this,” she explains. “It’s a huge resource for us as parents.”

Finding Time


So with all the work that a parent is expected to do when their child joins a co-op school, how can they tell if this is something they would have the time for? According to Olson, this type of arrangement can be very hard for a family where both parents work full-time, mostly because of the one time in the classroom per week. “Most of the families one of the parents either works part time or is a stay-at-home or works from the home, something like that so they have some flexibility because it is a time commitment for sure,” she says. “But your big break is the tuition – it’s like pennies compared to drop-off preschools.”

At Morgan Hill Parent/Child Nursery, co-director and teacher Robin Gish says that when parents get to the school many times they are able to network and work together for families that may have younger children at home. “It is a lot on their part to juggle everything that they have to do, especially with younger children, but they’re able to find a sitter or family member or they come here and hook up with another parent and then they will watch each other’s children on their day off,” she explains. “So somehow they make it work.”

And while moms are traditionally the parent who’s the most involved in a co-op, it doesn’t mean that dads and even grandparents can’t lend a hand. “We had a lot of dads in our class last year that worked and we actually have grandparents now that work too, so it doesn’t always have to be the mom,” Hobbs says. “And I think that’s really good for the kids because it steers away from the usual traditional stereotype of the woman teacher.”     

So while a co-op school may not be for everyone because of the obvious time commitment, advantages such as having a part in shaping the school your child attends can make that commitment worthwhile for some parents, says Terri Goddard, president of the Cupertino Co-op Nursery School. “You get to have a hands-on experience in your child’s education and usually their first education and school experience and that’s a wonderful thing to be able to do,” she states. “And what’s fun about a co-op is it changes year to year depending on the different parents that come in, the different strengths and interests that they may have and you really get to see your ideas be put into motion, which makes it a lot of fun for a lot of people.”

Additionally Gish finds the experience of being there while your child is learning can be a good one, especially for new parents. “It’s really great for the parents because their child gets to experience things and they’re also learning and will go oh, what a great idea, I never thought of that as a learning process,” she explains. Plus getting to know all the parents you work with can also be an asset. “The friendships that are established here are really a neat thing because they are here and they are getting to know the other parents – they establish great friendships here,” Gish adds.

The School for You

Think you have the time to put into a co-op school? Great! But how do you find the right one for you and your child? According to Ainsworth, at the minimum parents should look for schools that are licensed and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). After that, go and see them in person. “They need to visit and see if it’s a comfortable environment for them and see if it meets what their interests are in terms of being involved,” she details.

Goddard agrees, “Visit when school is in session and spend the day. We have an open-door policy at our school so you can come in anytime and spend a day and see how your child does, see how you feel, talk to the parents that are working there that day because they are really the ones that can tell you the best what it’s like to be a part of it.”

But the most important reason for why a parent should choose a co-op school, explains Goddard, is because they want to be involved. “They want to have a hand in their child’s education – they don’t want to just drop them off and drive away and really not get to know intimately what goes on during the day in this place,” she says. “And it’s just a sense of community – our school is just not a school, it’s also a community.”


Almaden Parents Preschool San Jose, 408-225-7211, 


Bonny Doon Community Preschool – Santa Cruz, 831-459-7795,

Campbell Parents Participation Preschool – Campbell, 408-866-7223,

Cupertino Co-Op Nursery School – Cupertino, 408-739-8693,

Discovery Parent/Child Preschool – San Jose, 408-377-5390,

Explorer Parent Participating Preschool – San Jose, 408-879-0181,


Fremont Parents Nursery School – Fremont, 510-793-8531,


Growing Together Nursery School – San Jose, 408-926-1264.


Laurelwood Preschool Santa Clara, 408-241-8626.


Los Altos Parent Preschool – Los Altos, 650-947-9371.


Los Gatos Parent Nursery School – Los Gatos, 408-354-1433, 

Los Gatos-Saratoga Observation Nursery School – Los Gatos, 408-395-2892.


Milpitas Parents’ Preschool – Milpitas, 408-263-3950,


Morgan Hill Parent/Child Nursery SchoolMorgan Hill, 408-779-4515.  


Mulberry School – San Jose, 408-377-1595,

San Jose Parent Participating Nursery SchoolSan Jose, 408-265-3202,

Santa Clara Parents Nursery School – Santa Clara, 408-248-5131.

Saratoga Parent Nursery School – Saratoga, 408-867-9774,

Shannon Co-Op Nursery School – Los Gatos, 408-358-3936.

Simcha Preschool – Santa Cruz, 831-479-3449,

Sunnymont Parent Co-Op Nursery – Campbell, 408-871-7350.


Sunnyvale Parent Preschool – Sunnyvale, 408-736-8043,


Westside Preschool – San Jose, 408-249-5533,



National Association for the Education of Young Children – 800-424-2460,

Parent Cooperative Preschool International – 800-636-6222,