Monday, February 2, 2015

Mama Monday: Starting a Tot School Co-op

Today I am so excited to share with you something we just started doing with some of Em's little friends - a Tot School Co-op!
What is "Tot School"? It's the most basic of lessons for little ones just starting to learn. We are talking, too young for pre-school or anything. It's less about providing an education per se, and more about first exposure to certain concepts.
A felt board is a great tool!
We are heading into our third week, so we are definitely not experts on this and learning as we go. But I thought I'd do a post now to show how we got started and then a follow-up later to see how things have changed. Hopefully this will come in handy if you're thinking about starting a co-op of your own!

1. Set a defined age range. We wanted to be sure the kids were all about the same stage developmentally. And we also needed a way to keep the group from growing and growing. Setting specific age ranges helped us accomplish this. Our group was born between Sept. 12 and May 13. We spoke with about 10 moms, but ultimately ended up going forward with seven. So far we are really pleased with this number. I think we could maybe add one more, or have one less, but it's a very good size.

2. Decide how often to meet. This can be tricky, based on everyone's different schedules. We got lucky and found a time that works great for everyone. We decided to start meeting just one morning per week, for two hours. We may increase that later, but it's a manageable place to start.
3. Assign everyone dates. Part of the goal of this group is to give some of the mamas a break. Most of them just had their second and could use some quality one-on-one time with the new baby. Keeping that in mind, we decided that each week, two moms will be "assigned" to stay - one teacher, and one assistant. And the others have some free time! That's in theory, anyway. As we get started there have been more than two at every class. The first week had five and the second had three that stayed the whole time (one did homework in another room and I ducked out halfway through to go for a quick run).

There's a few different ways you could do this. I'm assuming for these examples that you have six mamas available, like we do. You could have moms work in teams - one teaches, the other assists, and then they switch. You can space it out a little - you teach one week, off for two, assist the next week, off for two. Ultimately, we decided to put assignments back-to-back to make it easier to remember and to consolidate time off. That means that you teach, then you assist, then you're off for four weeks. And instead of teams, we staggered it to give us the opportunity to work with more people. Since we have six mamas, we decided to plan for the next 18 weeks, giving each mama three lessons to plan. Then we can decide to switch up the schedule, pick a new time, take a summer break, etc.

4. Come up with a basic lesson plan. We don't have a set schedule for each class, but we did decide on what activities would happen for each class. That means we have story time, singing time, snack time, a letter of the day, a lesson, and free play every class. We haven't figured out the perfect balance or order yet, but we're working on it. We have established that we start and end with free play, to give the kiddos something to do during parent drop-off and pick-up time. The rest we're still working on.
Here's the basic planning sheet we used. Feel free to download for your own use!
5. Pick out topics. We had a planning meeting two weeks before the first class. All the mamas got together and brought ideas for topics. We decided on the rotation order, giving preference to the 38-week pregnant mama about to pop. Then we went around the circle and you picked a topic until they were all chosen. Here's what our 18-week schedule looks like.
Our favorite resource for topics ideas was this one.
6. Come with the essentials. After some discussion, we decided that whoever was in charge of teaching that week was in charge of bringing supplies necessary for her lesson (crayons, paper, craft supplies, etc) and the assistant is in charge of the snack. We do have one mama who works full time and can't take a turn in the teaching rotation, so she offered to take one snack assignment from each of the other moms. We also decided that each child would bring some sort of backpack or box with things they might need - diapers, wipes, a change of clothes (if your child has a proclivity for getting into water fountains, like mine does), a comfort object (H. ALWAYS has her bunny), and a sippy cup. One mom was gracious enough to make cute little labels to put on all the stuff. The other essential? Make sure you have an emergency contact list with each mom's phone number and an emergency contact (dad, grandma, uncle, etc). We also noted allergies for snack purposes (H. is allergic to all nuts and dairy).
7. Trial and Error. This is where we are at! We are learning all kinds of things as we go. So far some of the things we've learned:
  • Have defined spaces for different activities. We had everything in one room the first week and had some trouble transitioning from free play to lesson time. The following week, we had clean up time and closed the partition to keep the toys out of sight, out of mind. We bring a blanket to sit on for story/singing/lesson time, and we sit at the table for snacks.
  • Each activity should be SHORT. Like... two minutes or less. That's about the attention span.
  • Having the kids participate and take turns really helps. For example, one teacher had the kids each come get a Letter B picture and tape them to the door. They were all so excited to participate!
  • This week as we sat down for snack time, we realized ALL the kids were quiet and still for pretty much the first time in their two-year-old lives. We jumped on the opportunity to re-visit the lesson (shapes) while they were eating. 
It's my turn to teach this week, so wish me luck! I'll see how things go and then post my lesson plan and resource links next week. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!

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