Dec 012014

By Heidi Hill

Last week I sat at a children’s table, lovingly covered with a handmade tablecloth and laden with bread and homemade butter and soup, and was grateful once again to live in this very special community. I was taking part in the Harvest festival here at OCP, when the children prepare a soup from vegetables harvested from their school garden plots and share it with their families and friends. The children—ages two to five—helped take the vegetables they’d grown out of the ground, washed them, chopped them, and put them in the pot for the soup. They made the butter by hand (in a jar with marbles) and the decorations and place cards on the table. Their pride and enthusiasm over what they had done, even in my three-year-old’s class, speaks volumes about why it’s important to let kids create on their own terms. Their ability to work together and share in the rewards of that work speaks volumes about what it means to be a part of a strong community.

My experience growing up (in the suburbs of Atlanta) was very different from my kids’ experience. They learn in school about living sustainably and being good stewards of the earth. They get hands-on experience in growing their own food and preparing it. They talk about and have a chance to practice living in community—helping one another, doing your work, and taking care of your shared space. And they have a chance to learn from people who model good earth citizenship: gardening, recycling and composting and conserving, walking and biking to school and work.

OCP is a cooperative, so everyone pitches in—the children help determine what each day will hold, the teachers work together to present our curriculum, and the families are in the classrooms every day as parent-teachers. On Harvest, I was the parent-teacher, and I got to watch my son and his classmates prepare the soup that I would soon enjoy for lunch. I admired the table decorated with pumpkins and acorns and a tablecloth printed with vegetable stamps—all designed by little hands. When the other families joined us at noon, we all sat together (for a bit, at least) to eat, talk, and be thankful. For the food, the effort it took, and the community we all work so hard to create.

Reprinted from the Lake Claire Clarion, November 2013.


Aug 082014
August 1 marked the last day of summer camp at OCP, and what a summer it was! The third year of OCP Summer Camp was our most successful yet, with both classes—Bumblebees (ages 3-4) and Dragonflies (ages 4-6)—full nearly every week. Our fantastic staff, made up of a camp director, two lead teachers, two assistant teachers, and one general assistant, created one-of-a-kind experiences for their campers, built around nature-based themes like the rainforest, gardening & insects, and reusing & recycling. It was a time of exploring, playing, learning, making new friends—and finding creative ways to stay cool in the summer heat!

In keeping with our emphasis during the school year on being good citizens of the Earth, the summer camp teachers found innovative ways to explore nature and the environment. The Dragonflies teachers introduced their kids to “The Living Rainforest” by helping them create a mural depicting the forest floor, the understory, the canopy, and the emergent layers of the rainforest. They built a shoebox tree up to the ceiling and made butterflies and snakes to flutter and slither around it. During “Young Scientists” week, the Bumblebees’ classroom became a laboratory, where the kids rotated through a variety of scientific stations learning about electricity with balloons, sound waves with liquid in glass bottles, germs with a black light, and gravity and force with rulers and tops.

“Farm to Table” week was a hit with everyone—the Dragonflies created a grocery store and farmer’s market, and all the kids were invited to shop. They learned about where food comes from, how it’s grown, and how it gets to our homes and tables. The kids cashiered, shopped, and reshelved. Best of all, they got to milk a “cow”—created with a broomstick, latex gloves, and evaporated milk. They capped off the week by making food together—bread and butter in the Bumblebees’ class and muffins in the Dragonflies’.

We loved having OCP kids and alums and new friends from the community join us this summer! Stay tuned for news about upcoming summer camp plans!

Apr 232014

Here’s the second edition of our up-and-personal visits to OCP’s classrooms this year.  Let’s learn about a very special part of the Sparrows’ day…

What do you get when you cross a class full of three-year-olds and a deck of yoga pose cards?  You’ll have to visit OCP’s Sparrows class at the end of the day to find out!  Susan Diamond uses yoga in her closing circle at the end of each day to calm the energy of the class as they prepare to go home.  The benefits of yoga are well-known, and those benefits are not just limited to adults.  Many studies have shown children to derive the same benefits from yoga.  For children, yoga can improve body awareness, which helps in strength, flexibility and balance.  Yoga teaches children how to breathe and quiet the mind, which promotes peaceful energy for better listening and attention.  In addition to physical balance, yoga also teaches children balance between busy time and quiet time.

So the end of each Sparrow day plays out something like this:  The kids have played outside and come in for lunch.  The last few “careful” eaters are encouraged to pack their lunch boxes away.  The more efficient eaters are instructed to put away their post-lunch free play toys, and all are invited to the mat for closing circle.  Susan pulls out the yoga card for the day and explains the pose to the children.  Two or three children get into it right away and go through each step as she introduces it.  One child watches skeptically.  One child immediately becomes overly interested in her shoelace and another announces he does not want to participate.  “That’s okay,” says Susan, “we are happy to have you when you are ready”.  By the time she reaches the end of the instruction, all Sparrows have joined in and each is engaged in his/her own interpretation of the pose.  Each student has come to enjoy it in his or her own way.  It is the perfect end to their wonderful play-based learning, and we appreciate Susan for giving our kids that gift.

The yoga card of the day is…

Warrior II!

Mar 282014

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights and special moments from our OCP classrooms this year.  First, a visit with the Chickadees and Larks…

Chickadees – Birthday Branch

To honor each child on his or her birthday, our Chickadees’ teacher Kate has created a “birthday branch” that hangs prominently in the classroom. On a child’s birthday, all the classmates help decorate a piece of wax paper secured by an embroidery hoop. They use paint, feathers, glitter, and objects they’ve gathered in their nature boxes, like leaves, flowers, and grasses. Kate then hangs the hoop from a string attached to the child’s picture (labeled with a birthdate), which hangs from a branch. By the end of the year, all the children will have a decorated hoop on the branch–and the classroom will have a beautiful display of all their special days.













Larks – “Daisy”

This year the Larks welcomed a new member of their class – Daisy the Dinosaur, a “for real pretend” pet!  She arrived in a glacier that Ms. Shannon’s friend Professor Higgins found at the South Pole, with these instructions: “You will need to care for her with gentle hands and kind words.”  After she melted out of her icy enclosure, Shannon asked, “What do you think of our new class pet?”  Replies from the Larks:

“I love the pet!”

“We can make the box her home.”

“What will be the dinosaur’s food?”

“You have to be careful with her; she is shy.”

She quickly became a fun and beloved friend, as well as a great way for the Larks to talk about what living creatures need to stay healthy and how to care for ourselves and others.  To care for Daisy the Larks have four helpful tips to follow; she must: #1 eat veggies, #2 drink water, #3 potty at school daily, and #4 take a rest in a cozy habitat each day (which was lovingly decorated by the Larks!).

Each student had a chance to take Daisy home for the weekend and introduce her to their family.  They also took home a journal to record their adventures with Daisy.  Activities Daisy participated in while visiting the Larks’ homes included:

Cooking dinner, playing, meeting family pets, riding in the car, dancing, learning how to brush and floss her teeth, eating breakfast at the Waffle House, visiting Fernbank Museum (rock climbing and seeing other dinosaurs!), napping, reading books, eating fruits and veggies, singing, swinging and playing on the monkey bars, doing gymnastics, playing in a tree house, going trick-or-treating dressed as a DAISY on Halloween, watching a puppet show, going grocery shopping, playing soccer, visiting the library (where they checked out dinosaur books), taking a bath, enjoying movie night w/ hot cocoa, learning about ‘Face Time’, playing dress-up, going to Athens, GA, for a trapeze performance, attending a birthday party, taking a road trip to North Carolina, meeting lots of relatives, going on a pajama walk, going to a pageant rehearsal, attending Festivus, and visiting the Atlanta Zoo (where she saw tigers, pandas, a komodo dragon and lots more animals).  Whew!


Daisy’s arrival

Daisy at the Zoo with the Sumatran tiger

Feb 222014

by Betty Wood, OCP Director

Interwoven throughout the history of the evolution of cooperative preschools is a core belief system founded in the natural rights of the child and the responsibility of parents to ensure a proper education.  Cooperative preschools have traditionally followed a humanistic developmental model influenced by  the early education philosophies of  Comenius, Rousseau, and Pestalozzi.  As early as 1628 Jan Comenius emphasized teaching children under the age of six the basic foundations of learning through structured play.  Early childhood education was so critical to the child’s preparation for higher learning that Comenius strongly proposed that teachers of  preschool children should be better educated and earn higher salaries than teachers of older children.  The child’s education originated at birth according to Jean Jacques Rousseau  who wrote the well-known Emile in 1762. The adult’s role in the child’s life was to facilitate the learning process in response to the child’s own interest in the natural world.  Like Rousseau, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss schoolmaster in the early 1800s, viewed education as the gradual unfolding of the child’s innate ability.  Parents and teachers were instructed to encourage the child to discover his unique abilities through observation and investigation of nature.  Outdoor explorations were incorporated into the daily curriculum and brought indoors for further exploration.

Two of the earliest models for cooperative preschools in the United States emerged from Utopian communities which established play schools to care for children while parents worked.  Robert Owen’s Village of New Harmony, Indiana was founded in 1826.  New Harmony emphasized teaching the children to be socially cooperative in their play while becoming independent thinkers who were responsible for their own actions.  Brook Farm, founded in Boston, Massachusetts  in 1841, provided a cooperative preschool for its children in which both fathers and mothers rotated the responsibility of assisting the preschool teacher in the classroom.

Friedrich Froebel was instrumental in developing German kindergartens based on Pestalozzi’s theory during the 1840s and 1850s.  His influence on cooperatives in the United States was introduced by German immigrants in 1848 and further developed by William and Eudora Hailmann from the 1860s through the 1890s.  The Hailmann educational philosophy centered around the child’s natural ability to learn through play in the classroom, on the playground, and in the garden.  The teacher’s role was to facilitate learning through self-realization and self-control, preparing children for becoming well balanced adults.  Reading, writing, and ciphering were consciously excluded from the curriculum. Mothers and older sisters were expected to work in the classroom with the teachers.  Parent participation was valued in that the Hailmanns believed that just as children need a circle of friends in kindergarten so do the mothers as they learn to work with the teachers in the joint education of their children.

As the mother’s role in education became more recognized, mothers gained confidence in their ability to influence the course of their children’s education and organized to found the Congress of Mothers in 1897 which later became known as the Parent Teachers Association in 1924.  By the end of the nineteenth century the fields of education, psychology, pediatrics, and health were becoming more organized as associations with an emphasis on the welfare of the child. Increased numbers of middle class, educated families had come to recognize kindergarten as a socially accepted institution which provided mothers an opportunity to extend their domestic roles to the community by volunteering to assist teachers in the classroom in the education of their children and/or organizing and raising funds for the good of the children in schools.

The first schools in the United States to identify themselves as cooperative preschools were established in 1915.  Northside Cooperative Nursery School was founded by a neighborhood  community in Pasadena, California and The Chicago Cooperative Nursery School was founded by faculty wives at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.  In both schools parents maintained the buildings and grounds, elected a Board, participated in the classrooms one day each week, and met for parent education classes one afternoon each week.  As the Chicago cooperative developed, University education and home economics students worked as interns and the cooperative emerged into a laboratory school serving the University.  By 1943, twenty eight additional cooperative preschools were founded in the states of  Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

As the number of cooperative preschools grew in the 1950s and 1960s, independent cooperatives formed councils of cooperative preschools to share information and to provide professional support.  Montgomery County Council of Cooperative Nursery Schools was established in Maryland in 1943.  In 1948 the California Council of Cooperative Nursery Schools was established and by 1960, there were more than one thousand cooperative preschools in the United States. The American Council  for Parent Cooperatives was established in 1960 which later changed its name to Parent Cooperative Preschools International when Canada and New Zealand became part of the Council in 1964.

The years between World War I and World War II, 1915-1945, brought significant changes in families in the United States.  During both wars women joined the workforce or continued their education while learning to depend upon extend family or neighborhood women to assist in the care and education of their children.  Gender role expectations had begun to shift.  The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920.  By 1930, less than half of the United States population lived on farms with extended families.  The general public was becoming increasingly informed in the theories of  parenting and education as names such as Freud, Watson, Gesell, and Erickson were prominently featured in articles in Parents Magazine.

The post-war period, following World War II, in the United States held the promise of a bright future for families.  Veterans were attending college on the GI Bill and purchasing homes with low interest GI mortgages.  Birth rates increased and families migrated to the suburbs.  New and better appliances replaced routine household chores. Women who had worked outside of the home during the depression out of necessity and during wartime out of patriotic duty had lost their jobs within a few  months after the end of World War II.  Dr. Benjamin Spock, popular pediatrician, advocated permissive parenting practices based on the needs of the child.  With rapid changes in the family structure and in women’s roles, many mothers and wives felt displaced, inadequate, and incompetent.   Parent cooperative preschools provided a social support network which met familial, personal, and professional needs during this time.  Women who participated in cooperative preschools increased their parenting skills and acquired new skills as they chaired committees and organized fundraising events.  As fathers and mothers worked together for the benefit of their children in parent cooperative preschools, gender role expectations in parenting underwent significant changes.  Fathers learned to become nurturers and educators of their children under the guidance of the teachers and other parents in the community while mothers became organizers and policy makers in their committee responsibilities and service on the Board of Directors.

The tumultuous 1960s and social response to the Viet Nam War further influenced the social perception of gender role expectations and family structure in the United States.  Many families chose unconventional family structures that paved the way for the various demands placed on young families in the later part of the 20th Century.  Now in the 2000s, families enjoy the freedom of structuring their families to meet the financial and parenting needs of the family.  Cooperative preschools continue to meet the needs of families who want to actively participate in the nurturance and education of their children while pursuing their careers.  Today, flex time for both parents and the socially recognized role of either the father’s or mother’s choice to be a stay at home parent while the children are young, lends itself to parent participation in cooperatives where both parents and children develop social values and skills which contribute to a life-long commitment to community responsibility.


(Statistical information and historical facts are based on accounts from “It’s the Camaraderie” A History of Parent Cooperative Preschools. Dorothy W. Hines, Ph.D. 1998 Center for Cooperatives, University of California)