Oct 292014

Part of OCP’s strategic plan stresses engagement and cooperation with the wider community, and one of our favorite ways to get involved is to participate in the many local festivals in our area. Decatur hosts a number of family-friendly festivals throughout the year, from the nationally recognized AJC Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day weekend to smaller, neighborhood-sponsored events like the Oakhurst Arts & Music Festival, held in October in Harmony Park. OCP volunteers at the children’s sections at both festivals, as well as at the Decatur Earth Day Festival, at the Wylde Center, and the Decatur Beach Party, in downtown Decatur.

These four festivals give us a chance to meet our neighbors, share our story, and be a part of the community building that happens when organizations come together to celebrate—whether it’s celebrating books, art, music, or the environment. For the past two years, our booth at the Decatur Book Festival has featured a selection from our carefully curated library and a collaborative “progressive story,” where kids (and adults) can each contribute a sentence or two to create a whimsical—and often hilarious—tale. Because literacy is an important part of our days at OCP (from reading aloud to kids to finger plays to sharing stories), we are always excited and honored to play a role at our local book festival.

For the other festivals we participate in, we brainstorm creative crafts that use recycled and compostable materials to highlight our emphasis on green, environmentally friendly practices at OCP. At this fall’s Oakhurst Arts & Music Festival, we were at the Kid Zone making toilet paper roll maracas with all the kids who stopped by. This neighborhood fall festival is always a great event, with food, music, art, kids’ activities, a parade, and other performances. We often get to see not only current OCP families but also alums of our school, and of course meet lots of families from the surrounding community. In the past, we’ve also created pinecone birdfeeders, toilet paper roll binoculars, and vegetable-stamped fans with children who come to our festival booths.

We value our partnerships with local organizations and try to get involved in a variety of ways. To celebrate fall, we recently installed a caterpillar “scarecrow” at the Wylde Center garden in Oakhurst. The caterpillar, made up of pumpkins decorated by all of our classes with recycled materials, will be on display for the Wylde Center’s member event on November 2. Please stop by and enjoy it with your kids while you can! You can see more photos of our insect friend on our Facebook page.

Sep 202014
By John ChescavageAutumn… a time for harvesting, changing colors, cool evenings, brisk air, and celebrations!  Each morning I can feel the cool of fall approaching, and it gets me excited for some of the best OCP celebrations of the year.  When Anna and I joined OCP a few years ago, we had motivations beyond the education of our children.  We were attracted to the community nature of the school and the prospect of meeting and befriending other young parents in our neighborhood.  As our daughter has moved from Chickadee to Lark, we can look back on all the great people we’ve met through OCP and know that many more friendships are in store!Two of my favorite celebrations are around the corner, and it has been at these gatherings that I’ve gotten to know many of the OCP parents beyond the daily drop-offs and quick passes in the hallway.  As you’ve already seen, the OCP Fall Bonfire (previously referred to as the Bonfire and Hootenanny) is just a couple weeks away (October 4).  Nestled in among the giant trees of the Wylde Center, this celebration serves as an opportunity to eat, drink, and dance with all of our members into the cool evening.  The kids love the s’mores, and I love seeing them all run around together exploring the friendly confines of what my daughter calls her “garden school.”

And before we know it December will come knocking, and with it Festivus.  I love this celebration for its community pot-luck dinner, the tables of handmade donations for the auction, and seeing what the kids have created in the classroom. This is really a pinnacle event for OCP with the focus on contributions into the community that everyone gets to enjoy.  It was impossible to try every bit of available home-cooking last year, but that won’t prevent me from trying again this year!

In between, of course, are other opportunities to get to know and enjoy the familial aspects of our OCP community, including facility work days (although hard, they are great bonding exercises) and Green Family Field Trips.  In fact, there’s a Green Family Field Trip scheduled for October 18, right about the time the weather in Atlanta is perfect for a good hike in the wilderness.

So make sure you mark your calendars for all the great celebrations that OCP has in store for the community, and make the effort to get to know fellow OCP parents!  After all, OCP is more than just a preschool!

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)

Dec 142013

by John Chescavage

What does a “cooperative” mean to me?

Two years ago, my wife and I were looking for a preschool for our daughter Addie. We didn’t have the first clue about how to find the right fit, the right curriculum, the right schedule, or the right philosophy. In January 2012, I attended an OCP orientation for prospective new members and learned about the cooperative nature of the school. Needless to say we’ve been cooperating ever since.

I’d be lying, however, if I told you I really understood what it meant to be part of a cooperative in 2012. My understanding of co-ops was highly influenced by George Costanza’s bout with an Andrea Doria survivor for a prime apartment in New York City. But by the fall of 2012 I understood residential co-ops and was learning more about my family’s new cooperative pre-school (with greater depth than most Seinfeld episodes offer). My first “facilities day” was a back-breaker, and after a few PT days I thought I fully appreciated what it meant to be part of a co-op. In retrospect, I still didn’t know much. It wasn’t until this year that I started to really see the work and dedication it takes to make OCP what it is.

Recently I thought about co-ops in general and figured there had to be a foundation for all cooperatives, not just schools and apartment buildings. I stumbled across the story of what some consider the first successful cooperative and the legacy it built.

In 1844, tradesfolk in Rochdale, England were losing the battle against modernization. The almighty machine was forcing many of these skilled laborers (weavers in this case) into poverty, unable to purchase daily necessities. Economic cooperatives had been around in England for almost a century by then, but none had survived long enough to make an impact. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers banded together to create a cooperative store to sell their own food items that were otherwise too expensive on the open market. They pooled what little money they had and in December 1844 opened their store to sell small necessities like butter, sugar, and flour. The store was a quick success, paid members a dividend, and began a consumer cooperative boom in England that would see more than 1,000 created by 1854.

While that story is a feel-good for a bunch of weavers in 19th Century England, it doesn’t say much about cooperatives today… except that these pioneers did something no other cooperative had done. They based their cooperative on a set of principles that, although amended, still form the basis for modern-day cooperatives of every sort. Commonly known as “The Rochdale Principles,” these ideals are clearly evident in the cooperative environment of OCP, even if you didn’t know it!

So what are these principles, you ask? They are published by the International Co-operative Alliance, and serve as “guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice.” The 7 principles are:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership – Proper focus is on a person’s willingness to provide services and accept responsibilities of membership without discrimination.
  2. Democratic Member Control – The membership must actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The membership controls everything about the co-op, and democratic decision making by all members is necessary.
  3. Member Economic Participation – Generally, members contribute equitably to the capital of the cooperative. Funds are used to benefit the cooperative generally, and can be returned to members in a dividend or used to further support activities approved by the membership.
  4. Autonomy and Independence – Co-ops are independent entities acting on their own behalf. Agreements, transactions, and activities are undertaken or entered into for the benefit of the co-op, and with the assent of membership.
  5. Education, Training, and Information – Members are trained and educated by the co-op so they can contribute effectively to the development of the co-op itself. Co-ops also serve the general public in many ways, and share the nature and benefits of cooperation with others in the community.
  6. Cooperation among Co-ops – Co-ops serve members most effectively by working with other local, national, regional, and international structures.
  7. Concern for Community – Work for the sustainable development of their own communities, based on the best interest of the community determined by members.

I can’t say from my perspective that we practice every one of the 7 principles, but there are clearly several that OCP emphasizes. For example, we spend a lot of energy contributing our time as parent-teachers, improving the school’s interior and exterior, and caring for our environment. Our Board and Committees act democratically in the best interests of our children by hiring new teachers, assigning students, organizing gatherings, raising funds, engaging with nature, establishing curricula, and many other functions. One of the greatest benefits I’ve personally received from OCP is the exposure to “Unconditional Parenting” and the curriculum we emphasize. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first, but I have embraced the concept and practice it as much as I can. Without the education of OCP, I don’t know that I would have ever known of it. I think a couple of the Rochdale Principles lend themselves more to an economic or consumer-based cooperative than our preschool cooperative (where’s my dividend?!?!?!), but OCP adheres to almost every tenet of the Rochdale Principles even if we never realized it.

It is only now in Addie’s second year at OCP that I realize how much work goes into keeping OCP going every day. Anna’s work on the Membership Committee opened my eyes to everything that must be accounted for just to make the school open on-time. A lot of the administrative work that we do at OCP is clumsy because many (if not the vast majority) of us have never run a school before, and a lot of us are running the school while working full time jobs and raising our small children. We’ve put a lot on our plates to play such an active role in our children’s education, and sometimes things don’t go as smoothly as might otherwise be expected… but the benefits are worth it.

So what does the OCP “cooperative” mean to me? It boils down to one basic principle – Addie’s education at OCP is directly proportional to what Anna and I contribute. We made a decision to take an active role in Addie’s education at an early age, and we own every aspect of that. Addie will only get as much out of OCP as we put into it as members. We also rely on every member of OCP to dedicate themselves to the cooperative school as well. If something is clumsy or broken, it’s probably not because people aren’t dedicated… it’s probably because some of us have never done this before. But if I adhere to some of those Rochdale Principles, put forth the best effort possible, and understand that we’ve all got the best interests of our children and the school in mind… the dividend will be very sweet when my daughter graduates and moves on to big girl school.