The Pros and Cons of Joining A Cooperative Preschool

My son Oscar on his first day of nursery school.
My son Oscar on his first day of nursery school.

It’s that time of year–the season when parents all over the Portland area are eagerly visiting preschools, adding their names to waiting lists and hoping beyond hope that their child gets into the best nursery school this coming fall. It can be a very stressful experience! Some of the schools around town have lists three years long and cost the same as the first year of college tuition! And I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t wait until my little guy was seven to start nursery school, nor was my bank account ready for a monthly bill that rivaled my mortgage. The good news is that it isn’t too late to find a great school. One option that is often less expensive, but no less enriching, is a cooperative preschool. We were lucky to find a cooperative nursery school that met both our “academic” desires for our little guy (i.e. it had to be all about playing), as well as our budget requirements as well. A co-op is definitely not for everyone though. Listed below are the pros and cons of the cooperative school experience:


  • They help build your “tribe”. Co-ops are a great way to build a community for your family. Many of the other families at our school have become some of our best friends.
  • Co-ops are a perfect “gateway” to the more immersive school experience. All co-ops involve parental participation, making the transition to the classroom easier on your child and ensuring that you are actively involved in what they are learning and experiencing.
  • They have helped both my husband and I be better parents. We call my son’s teachers the “toddler whisperers” and really credit them with helping us navigate the toddler years with a lot more grace and a lot fewer tantrums (by either my little guy or us!) than we ever anticipated. I am amazed every day by not only what my son is learning, but what we are learning as well.
  • They are low cost.Because parents are responsible for much of the work required to operate the school, they cost a fraction of what other preschools cost. Scholarships are often available as well.


  • They take up a lot of time. We spend one day a week at our son’s co-op working as a parent helper in the classroom. We also have a co-op job that we are responsible for outside of school hours. Not going to lie–this can be exhausting and quite time consuming. When looking at a cooperative preschool, make sure you understand what you’re getting into. Some are much more flexible than others.
  • Everyone has an opinion and in a co-op environment that matters. Because parental involvement is critical to the success of a cooperative school, you are required to work with people who may not always see eye to eye with you.
  • For me this isn’t a con, but some parents are concerned about the academic “rigor” of cooperative preschools. Like any school, you’ll want to make sure that it is a good fit for your child and that it meets the goals you have for them.

If you are interested in finding a cooperative preschool in your neighborhood the Parent Child Preschools Organization has  a great website that lists many of the cooperative preschools in Oregon and Washington. Good luck with your search!


  1. Did co-op preschool with all 3 kids starting in 1986 or 87. BEST SCHOOL EVER for all the reasons you said. The support of teachers and other parents. I still think the most important things for kids to learn before starting kindergarten are not academic….how to play share communicate with others. That’s what preschool does!

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