Paying in Kindness: What Is a Co-op Preschool?

By now, you’ve probably heard that the cost of child care and preschool is exorbitant. So much so that according to the Economic Policy Institute’s latest report, “high quality care is out of reach for working families”.

The cost of preschool for a 4 year-old is over $17,000/year in DC (the most expensive in the US) and infant care in a center costs over $22,000/year!

So the question is: would you like to pay less for preschool?

Sure you do!

Then a co-op preschool might be a good fit for your family! What’s the catch? Well, while it’s true that cooperative preschools are indeed more affordable, you’ll have to pay in kindness (i.e., with your own time and energy.)

That’s how it works at a cooperative preschool (and a co-op daycare for that matter, if you have an infant or toddler).

It isn’t exactly a catch, though.

It’s an informed decision to contribute to the care and early education of your child, as well as those of the other parents in the co-op preschool.

We call it “paying in kindness” because kindness is one of the main “assets” that the child care and early childhood education industry revolves around.

What is a co-op preschool?

Cooperative preschools, a.k.a. co-ops, are preschools designed around parents’ contributing their kindness on a regular basis.

You may be responsible for participating in a 4-hour care shift one morning per week, for example. Other parents would take the remaining morning and afternoon shifts. Or you could be teaching an extra-curricular activity, or cooking lunch.

Naturally, this concept appeals to parents who wish to stay close to (or just keep an eye on) their children through the preschool years.

Specific organizational formats vary from co-op to co-op. Typically, there will be a decision-making board comprised of parents who hire child care providers and preschool teachers, make budgeting decisions, and generally run the show.

What to expect from a cooperative preschool?

Interested in investigating further? Here are a few things you can expect to encounter as a member of a co-op preschool or co-op daycare.

  1. You’ll save money. A co-op has some of the same costs as any daycare or preschool (rent, utilities, food, etc.), but overall fees will be lower than other preschools. As explained above, that is partly because you are contributing your own time so staff expenses are typically lower. Some cooperative daycares and preschools will also allow you to pay (with cash) for hours you weren’t able to contribute
  2. You’ll have to pull your weight. Taking on what is essentially a part-time job at the co-op can be tricky especially if you have a full-time job elsewhere. You will not be the first working parent with this problem, though, and the co-op you are interested in may have night or weekend arrangements to help you out. Also, some cooperative daycares and preschools have low commitments (like a few hours a month only.)
  3. You’ll know your role. Once you take the plunge and agree to pitch in at the co-op, your role is likely to have well-documented know-how attached to it. That’s because turnover is a natural part of any co-op (people’s children grow up, after all) and each round of parents usually adds something to the co-op’s set of “cheat sheets.”
  4. You’ll be part of a team. Being involved at a co-op preschool means working with other parents, teachers, and just about anyone else you can think of that is associated with it. Compare with the traditional preschool format where even if you’re welcome to get involved, you aren’t really required to. Co-op parents enjoy the team spirit and tend to have deeper relationships with professional teachers often because they are actually getting “down and dirty” with them in the classroom.

As a summary, cooperative preschools can be a great option for parents who are able to contribute some of their time. It’ll allow you to participate in your child’s early education, and it’s more affordable than other preschools!

And here’s a final tip about co-op preschools:

Just because you have a responsibility at a co-op preschool doesn’t always mean you always have to take care of it yourself.  Most co-ops are happy to have grandparents, friends, or nannies fill in for you. The one condition is that your designated caregiver has to be filthy rich in kindness!


CareLuLu is the easiest way to find safe and affordable child care that fits your family’s specific needs. No need to spend hours on Google or calling daycares, you can now find all the information in one place: CareLuLu lists over 200,000 licensed daycare and preschool programs with verified parent reviews, photos, daycare cost, etc. Best of all, it’s free!

Created by parents for parents.

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