Friday, August 5, 2016

Get Going! But Give Yourself Some Grace!

Congratulations, momma! You’ve made it to the last lesson in the Starting Your Own Preschool Co-op Series! 

If you missed some of the other lessons, you can jump back to the beginning HERE.

But if you have made it this far, you’re ready to start! You’ve put in a ton of work and now it’s time for all of your efforts to pay off. 

The last lesson is really pretty simple – just start! You’ve laid the groundwork and now it’s time to test out the waters. So, pull out that schedule, take a look at your start date, and get ready to enjoy the ride!

I’ve included this as a separate lesson because I think it’s something we need to remind ourselves. We can spend hours pouring over the details, making sure the schedule is absolutely perfect, and meticulously attempting to plan every moment of our lesson. But the truth is, it will never be perfect. And the longer we stress about all of the details, the less time we spend actually enjoying the group and the purpose behind it.

So, go for it! Get your group rolling and soak up these precious moments with your kiddos.

However, I cannot tell you enough – you must show yourself GRACE! There will be days when lessons totally flop, your kids have an absolute melt-down in the middle of your lesson, your group spills their snack ALL OVER your floor, and your lessons plans that were supposed to last until 11am are completely finished by 10:30am. How do I know? They have happened to me – every single one of them – but I still would not change this preschool experience for the world. 

So, this lesson is a simple one – get going, show yourself (and your kiddos) some grace, and I’m sure that in no time, you will be overflowing with gratitude for this experience. 

I sincerely hope this series has been a blessing to you and has given you the courage to start your own preschool co-op. And seriously, I would LOVE to hear about it. So, please leave a comment below and let me know when your group will be starting. Tell me how many kids you have in your group and what you are most nervous about. I’d love to help you out and send you some encouragement along the way!

And if this post or series has been helpful for you, I'd love for you to share it with your friends. Just click one of the icons on the left to share.

Enjoy the journey!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Round Up Your Supplies

Look at you go, girl! You've completed lessons 1-5, and now it's time for a shopping spree!! And while I wish I could tell you that you get to go spend money on a new outfit for yourself, it's actually time to shop for all of the supplies you will need for your preschool group. Don't worry - it's just as fun (well, almost)!

By the way,  if you missed some of the other lessons, you can jump back to the beginning HERE.

But back to shopping.......I highly recommend purchasing supplies as a group. That way, you always have your essentials taken care of - and you each aren't purchasing a class supply of glue sticks and crayons for when it's your turn to teach. So, let's get ready to hit those Back to School sales!

First, you will need to decide as a group what supplies you will need. Make a list - because you definitely won't remember once you start looking down the aisles of all that Back to School goodness!

You will also need to decide whether you want to have a group supply bin or if each student will have their own smaller bin for their own supplies. However, I highly recommend a common supply bin. With preschoolers, something is always getting lost or broken, and it's just so much easier to have a bin of supplies to pull from than to try to manage the group and comfort Jenny who cannot find her blue crayon. Of course, it's up to you, but that's just what we decided to go with.

To get you started, here's a list of items we always stock up on:
  • 1 large clear bin (I like the ones with a locking lid). This is for you to store all of the supplies week to week. 
  • Crayons
  • Scissors
  • Construction Paper
  • Glue sticks
  • White glue -you really need this is you plan on doing any crafts that include materials other than paper
  • Markers
  • Dot Markers
  • Highlighters - I love these for tracing!
  • Paints & brushes
  • Watercolors
  • Stickers
  • Baby wipes
  • Zip-top plastic bags - great for sorting materials ahead of time!
  • Any cleaning supplies you think you'll need
  • Hand sanitizer
Remember, you don't need to get all of the items listed above. And maybe there's something you'd love to have in your supply box that I don't have listed. Go for it! You need to do what works for you!

Once you've got your list, you'll need to decide upon how the items will be purchased. You could have each mom pick an item or two and purchase that item for the entire class. Or, you could assign 1-2 people the job of purchasing all of the supplies. Then, just take the total and divide it by the number of people in the group. We always add a little "fluff" to the total and set that aside so that it when it comes time to replace the glue sticks - which always seem to run out around March - we already have money set aside for that purchase. So, if you spent $70 on supplies, I'd add about $10 for extra supply expenses during the year, making it $80. Then, if you've got 8 kiddos in the group, it would be $10 per child - and your supplies for the year are covered. 

Of course, this covers all of your basic supplies. If you are planning an art project and you really want those cute googly eyes, you'll need to go out and purchase that for the week. But let me tell you, having this bin of supplies has been such a blessing! It has saved me numerous trips to the store and quite a bit of money. The other great thing about putting everything in a bin is that it makes it super easy to rotate. After each preschool group, whoever is next on the schedule to teach can just take the bin with them and have the whole week to prepare and prep supplies. It was ah-mazing!!

So, time to get shopping! Leave a comment below and tell me about you best back to school score! You know there are some amazing deals out there! What are you back to school essentials for your preschool co-op? I'd love to hear.

And if this post or series has been helpful for you, I'd love for you to share it with your friends. Just click one of the icons on the left to share.

Then, check back with me next week and we hit the final lesson! See you soon!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Create Your Schedule

We are so close to getting this preschool co-op up and running! Can you feel the excitement?

Found your tribe? Check!
Structure defined? Check!
Curriculum chosen? Check!
Norms agreed upon? Check!

Next up.....creating your schedule! While you will want everyone's input on what components will go on the schedule, most likely, this job will be assigned to 1-2 people. Yes, all you administrative, organization-oriented people, I am talking to you! This is your forte! So, jump on this opportunity!

First up, you will need to decide as a group what you want to have on your schedule. This will depend on the individual needs of your group, but some ideas that you might include are:
  • Who is teaching each week? 
  • Do you want to have an assigned helper?
  • Who is responsible for snack?
  • What is being taught?
  • Do you want to incorporate some time at the beginning of the year to practice rules and routines?
  • Is someone assigned clean-up duty?
  • If you have little ones, who will be with them?
  • Are there any field trips we want to include on the schedule?
  • Are there any memory skills or Bible verses you want to assign for each month?
  • If there are more moms than assigned positions, where do we want them to go? Roving and helping as needed? Or free to leave? (GASP!!! - possible time without kids???)  
Once you've decided upon what info you want on your schedule, it's time for the 1-2 people who have so graciously offered to put it all together to get started - and the rest of you can kindly pick them up their favorite Starbucks or treat - because it is a task!

I begin the schedule-making process by making a table, with all of my assigned positions at the top. You can do this in Word, PowerPoint, or any other word processing program. Here's a snapshot of our schedule from last fall:

As you can see, we had a verse assigned for each month, which is noted at the top. Then, we had all of our meeting dates on the left. Along the top of the table I have the jobs/components that we agreed to include. 

Our group had 9 preschoolers and 6 little guys, so we had an assigned preschool teacher with a helper (that's the box right next to the date). The first person listed was the teacher, and the second was the helper, who was also in charge of snack. Then, since we had 6 little guys (although some littles stayed with momma), 2 moms were assigned there. 

We also had an assigned rover each week who basically filled in wherever was needed. If the preschoolers needed extra help, she'd go there. If babies were struggling, she'd go there. And if the teacher's baby was absolutely melting, the rover sometimes even took him on a little walk in the stroller.

And yes, we even had the option of leaving a few times each semester - perfect time for Target runs! In our group, we agreed that mommas that were leaving would take their little one(s), and of course, if someone was sick, or needed extra help they'd stay. But when it worked, it was great!

We also included our curriculum on the schedule. As I mentioned in lesson 3, we started with a letter of the week and two additional skills, which are noted on the schedule. We had a list of about 8 skills that we simply rotated throughout the year. 

So once the formatting is done, you just start plugging in the names of the mommas in your group. Easier said than done, right? It's okay, you can do this! I start my scheduling by assigning the teachers first. That way, I know that everyone has a chance to teach. 

Then, I go back and tackle one week at a time - assigning moms to the different jobs and trying to make sure everyone gets the opportunity to fill the various roles. One trick that has helped me is that wonderful "Find" button, found in the toolbar at the top, I click "Find," and enter each mom's name one at a time. Then, the program will highlight each time that name appears in the document. This has been a huge help in 1) making sure everyone is on the schedule each week (once, not twice) and 2) ensuring that each mom is getting to serve in a variety of ways - and they are each getting a week "off".

Once you've got it made - pat yourself on the back! It's a tough job! You've done the grunt work - now just send it out to your group (either via email or Google Docs) and have them double check everything. Don't be discouraged if you have to make a few adjustments - it inevitably happens, but you are well on your way to getting this preschool ball rolling!

I know this can be a challenging task, but I'd love to help you! Leave a comment below and tell me how your schedule-making is going. Where do you need help? Do you have your roles assigned? Are you running into any challenges that I could help you with? Just comment below and I'll get back to you!

And if this post or series has been helpful for you, I'd love for you to share it with your friends. Just click one of the icons on the left to share, 

You are almost there. Join me next week as we dig into the materials with Lesson 6: Round Up Your Supplies!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Agree Upon Your Norms

Okay, you've done a lot of work. You've found your group, defined your structure, and chosen your curriculum. Now, it's time to agree upon your norms for the group.

I know what you're thinking? Norms? Really? Seems a little much for a preschool co-op. I know - I thought the same thing.

But then.......

Our group got together to talk about what we expected as a group and it was sooooo helpful! I was so thankful that we had agreed upon these before the group got started.

Figuring out your norms probably won't take a ton of time, so if you want to combine it with Lesson 3, go for it! On the other hand, if you're just looking for a little time to get away and bond with your new buddies, plan it separately and enjoy the extra time to visit!

So, what exactly are norms? Well, the dictionary defines norms as "standards of proper or acceptable behavior" My own Ashley-version of it for preschool purposes is "how we expect the group to run and the people to behave while we are working as a group."

Basically, you just want everyone to be on the same page as far as group expectations. Some of the things you may want to discuss include:

  • What is our "sick policy"? Can kids still come if they have a runny nose? Fevers?
  • What time are we expected to arrive? 
  • When will the lessons begin?
  • Will there be a playtime after the structured time ends? Or are we expected to leave right away?
  • By what time should everyone be gone? This is different than the end time for preschool. This is the time everyone should be out of the house or facility.
  • What is the plan for other siblings?
  • Are all moms in the same room as the kids? Or is it just the teacher and a helper?
  • If moms are in the room, what is the expectation for them? Helping with activities or just helping kids to stay focused?
  • Will we be having a snack? Who provides it?
  • Are there any allergies we need to be aware of?
  • How will we handle birthdays?
  • What is our "behavior policy"? Who addresses misbehavior - the teacher or the parent?
  • Are you open to inviting other families or have you reached your "max"?
  • What is the preferred method of communication?
These are just a few suggestions. And yes, for some of them, you may already be on the same page (like not coming when your kiddo is running a fever), but formally agreeing upon it and putting it into writing solidifies it!

Once you've agreed upon your norms, you'll be ready to begin working on your schedule, which we will look at next week. Are you excited? We are almost there!

Okay, your turn! Leave a comment below letting me know how you're doing. Are your norms in place? Were there any that you added that I didn't list above? 

And if this post or series has been helpful for you, I'd love for you to share it with your friends. Just click on one of the icons to the left to share. 

And next week, be sure to have your pencils ready - we'll begin to tackle making the schedule. See ya soon!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Choose Your Curriculum

So, you've found your tribe, you've defined your structure, and now it's time to have some fun! It's time to choose your curriculum!

I know what you're thinking, curriculum? That sounds way too formal for me! But don't freak out -  it's really just deciding what you are going to teach. And in most cases, simple is better. You've got this momma, let's just take it one step at a time.

While I was getting my degree and teaching credential, one of the concepts that constantly resurfaced was the idea of backwards mapping. Basically, it's just thinking about what goals you'd like your kiddos to achieve by the end of the year, and planning backwards from there.

Now, depending on the ages of the kiddos in your group, the skills and concepts you may want them to learn will vary. For example, your goals for a group of 2 and half or 3 years olds, will probably be different that your goals for a group of 4 year olds - which is actually perfect if you're planning on continuing your co-op for more than one year.

So, this is where you get to chat and decide, what do I really want them to learn at this point? Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

Suggested Activities for 2 years old and older
  • Learning the Letters of the Alphabet
  • Counting 1-10
  • Basic Shapes
  • Colors
  • Gross Motor Activities (exercise type activities are great for this)
  • Animal Names and Sounds
  • Bible Stories and Activities
  • Memorization Skills/Bible verses
  • Read Alouds

Suggested Activities for 3 years old and older

  • Recognizing the letters of the alphabet
  • Capital and lowercase letters
  • Beginning to learn letter sounds
  • Counting 1-20
  • Number cardinality (basically being able to count a group of objects accurately, naming the first object as 1, the second as 2, and so on) 
  • Shapes
  • Colors
  • Pre-Writing Skills
  • Tracing Letters
  • Simple patterns
  • Sorting objects into categories
  • Simple cutting and gluing
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Simple Science Activities
  • Bible Stories and Activities
  • Memorization Skills/Bible Verses
  • Read Alouds
Suggested Activities for 4 year old and older
  • Recognize capital and lowercase letters of the alphabet
  • Associate letters with their sounds
  • Identify beginning and ending sounds in words
  • Possibly starting to read CVC words
  • Basic sight words
  • Counting numbers 1-30
  • Number cardinality
  • Comparing Numbers
  • Review shapes and colors
  • Tracing letters and words
  • Beginning to write letters independently
  • Cutting and Gluing
  • Patterns - various types of patterns
  • Comparing and contrasting
  • Sorting objecting into categories
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Simple Science Activities
  • Bible Stories and Activities
  • Memorization Skills/Bible Verses
  • Read Alouds
Remember, these are only suggestions! Don't worry if you're starting this with a 4 year old  - you are not behind. Just start with what they know, and move on from there.  You need to do what it appropriate for your child, but this is to give you an idea of what you could cover. As a side note, if you're struggling with exactly where to start, don't hesitate to send me an email. I'd love to help you out.

Now, don't be overwhelmed with this list. You DO NOT need to do it all - and you definitely don't need to do it all every week. In fact, that would be quite impossible! Just think about what you want them to learn and we'll get into the nitty gritty stuff when we make the schedule (which is coming in Lesson 5).

But to give you an idea of how this might look, I'll share what we have done in the past. For simplicity sake, we started with the alphabet.

Each week was assigned a different letter as our focus. The teacher could be as creative as she wanted with teaching the letter, but the letter was assigned.

Then, each week we assigned two additional skills - science, numbers, sorting, cutting and gluing, etc. The teacher could do activities that tied in the with letter or just a great activity to teach the skills. Again - total creative license,

Each month we practiced and memorized a Bible verse, and at the end of the month, the kids would each get up and say the verse - usually with some help - and always for a little treat!

That's it - a letter, two skills, practice the verse, and snack. See, I told you you've got this!

We actually repeated this cycle for two years - focusing just on letter recognition when they were little and moving on as they grew. Don't get me wrong, when they were little, we taught the letter Bb and that Bb says "buh," but our focus was on teaching them to recognize the various letters.Then, as they grew we worked more on connecting the letters with their sounds and even some beginning blending.

However, you could also go a totally different route and have a different theme every month - farm, ocean, construction, etc, and incorporate various activities related to the theme over the course of the month.

Again, this is where you get to decide. Choose what is going to work best for your kiddos - without causing you to want to rip your hair out! Remember, you want to enjoy this process too.

So, there you go! Get together with the other moms, and dig in. What do we want them to learn and how do we want to structure it? I guarantee, once you start jotting ideas down, it will be so much easier than it seems!

So, now it's your turn. Leave a comment below and tell me where you are in the process. Do you need help deciding exactly what to teach? Are you using an overarching letter theme, are you going to plan thematically, or do you have another idea? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

And if this post or this series has been helpful for you, I'd love for you to share it with your friends - either via Facebook, email, or even word of mouth.

Be sure to check back next week for Lesson 4: Agreeing Upon Your Norms. See ya soon!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Define Your Structure

Okay momma, so now that you’ve found your tribe, it’s time to start planning! 

Now, this is the fun part. You’re going to need some time to chat with the other mommas sans kiddos. So figure out a time that works for everyone, order a pizza (so you don’t come home to a pile of dinner clean-up), have your hubby watch the kids (or hire a babysitter), and go out! Enjoy this time you need it!

Grab coffee, frozen yogurt, or even have dinner together. We always go to our local favorite a tea bar with the best salads, wraps, and beverages ever! In fact, I am sipping on one of their amazing Pomegranate Lemonades now (oh yeah, I even Instagramed it that’s how good it is!)    

But I’m getting off track..the point is you’ll need some time to talk without the constant interruption of your littles. So, GO OUT!

Once you’re all rounded up, introduce yourselves! What’s your name? How many kiddos and how old? Something fun? There may be people who don’t know each other so remember to smile! This can be totally intimidating for some people, and the last thing you want to do is make them feel out of place.

Then, you actually have to get down to business. I know, you’re a mom, you never get out alone with your friends but we do have to make progress.

First on the agenda is formally defining the structure of your group. How many days a week do you want to meet? For how long? Which day(s)? Where will you meet?

I know this isn’t exactly the fun stuff, but you have to cover it first because the actual logistics will determine who can and wants to commit to the group. For some, meeting every week would just be too much. For others, Wednesdays just won’t work because of dance class. It’s important to get these details figured out before you jump into the meat of the preschool.

Once you’ve got the structure in place, you get to dive into the fun stuff what you’re going to teach! We’ll talk about that more in Lesson 3.

As a side note, you’ll definitely need to have another mom’s night to plan the teaching. So, if getting out again in the near future seems overwhelming, you can plan on covering this lesson and lesson 3 in one meeting - but avoid trying to cover all 6 lessons at once - #informationoverload!

If you’re hitting lesson 2 and 3 in one mom’s night head to Lesson 3 now. If not, give yourself a pat on the back for getting out of the house and getting this preschool ball rolling. Savor the ice-cold lemonade and enjoy the rest of the time with your future best buddies!

If you have any questions or you feel a little nervous about getting started, please let me know. What are you wondering about? What are you struggling the most with? I'd love to help! Tell me what you're thinking in the comments below or email me at

Friday, June 24, 2016

Find Your Tribe

So now that you've decided, "Yes, I really can start my own preschool co-op," it's time to get started with lesson 1: Find Your Tribe. 

If you're anything like me (major introvert), step one may just be the hardest part of getting your own preschool co-op up and running. Why? Because you really have to put yourself out there!

But, you can't really have a co-op without anyone to cooperate with, right? So, this step is crucial! And as hard as it may be - it is sooooo worth it! I have a little story I'll share with you at the end, but for now, let's stay focused.

So, first step, keep your eyes open for people that just may be prime candidates for your group. The neighbor that has a toddler running around yard. The mom you see at church with a baby in one arm, and using the other arm to corral her other kids to their classes. The family that you always seem to run into at the park. Look around - you might just be pleasantly surprised by how many other moms are craving the connection that a preschool co-op would provide.

If you're already doing an activity with similarly aged kids - dance classes, sports teams, Sunday school classes - this is your "jackpot zone!" Then, all you have to do is ask.

Easier said than done, right?

Don't worry - you don't have to have it all together (I certainly didn't) - but just be honest. You can say something like, "Hey, I'd really like (insert your kiddo's name here) to have some more structured social time - and I just need to get out of the house every once in a while - so I was thinking of putting together a little preschool co-op. Nothing super formal, but I was wondering if you'd be interested. It seems like (insert your kiddo's name) already really enjoys playing with (insert their kiddo's name)."

There - done. And really, what's the worst that could happen? She says she's not interested. Oh well. But if you think about the best that could happen from those few sentences - ah, the possibilities are endless!

So, start asking, but my one caution is this - be mindful of just how large your group is getting. Remember, most likely, you will be hosting this in a home or other single-room location - so bigger isn't always better. 

We have found that a group of about 8 students (not including parents or siblings) is ideal. If you have less than 4, the kiddos don't seem to take the "preschool" aspect of it as seriously. If you get much bigger than 9, well, let's just say things can get a little crazy. 

So, now it's your turn. Think of 2 or 3 other moms that you'd love to have as a part of your co-op. Don't worry about starting small, because they may have 2 or 3 other moms in mind as well. Then, to borrow Nike's famous slogan, "Just Do It!" Meet them at the park, give them a call, you can even share this blog post and say, "Hey, I'm interested in doing this - you in?"

So, go for it ladies, Find Your Tribe! I know it will be so worth it! Then, check back next Friday, July 1st, for Lesson 2: Define Your Structure.

So..... I did promise you a story.

Almost exactly 4 years ago I went to a park playdate with a mom that I kinda knew from church. We had a few mutual friends, but had never really hung out. To be honest, I was a little intimidated by her - she seemed to have it all together. But we both had boys that were the exactly the same age and were both pregnant with our second boy. So, I sent what felt like a super random text, and we set up a playdate at the park.

The boys loved playing together and she and I pieced together a conversation, mostly revolving around our boys. Was it a perfect playdate? No. But she was really sweet, and I wanted to get to know her more. We got together a couple more times, Then, I invited her to the preschool co-op that was getting started. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward to today. My boys are absolutely best friends with hers. They adore playing together and treat each other more like brothers than friends. She is truly one of my best friends, and now we get up early one day a week to run together. So we can just have time to chat, without the constant interruption of kiddos. Honestly, she has blessed my life tremendously, and looking back, I am so thankful for that initially awkward park date. It has blossomed into a "better than I could ever ask" for friendship.   

That's a little bit of my story. What will yours be? So, go for it! You never know what friendships may grow from a simple question. 

See you next week!