Thursday, January 14, 2021

More on Starting a Montessori Co-op

[Edited to Add:  I started this post several years ago, long before 99% of us had ever heard the word "coronavirus."  Certainly our current crisis with health and education has changed our lives dramatically, especially when thinking about gathering a small group.  I'M NOT SUGGESTING STARTING A CO-OP NOW!  Still, one day we will be able to meet together again.  This post is for your planning and thinking about that lovely, free, future time.]

Lots of you dear readers are wanting to teach your children at home.  By now you've realized that the Montessori approach includes mixed-age classrooms and that the little people in your life learn more from the environment you create and from the other little people around them than they learn directly from you (curriculum-wise).

That is all fine if you have a gaggle of small people at home and have managed to organize things well enough that the toddler isn't wreaking havoc with the Golden Beads, the infants aren't trying to swallow the smallest Pink Tower cube, and the scissors, glue and pencils--all of which are easily accessible--aren't a continual source of trouble.  Well done!

But what about those of you with just one at home?  Or just an infant and a toddler?  Your older child really needs to be around children his age and a little older.  The social aspect of the Montessori Children's House experience is very important.  So how do you supply that?

A co-op.  A quick internet search yields lots of advice on how-to.  Lest it all sound intimidating, I wanted to add a few thoughts, especially if you've tried and failed.
  • Start simple
Some will say you need to add all sorts of extras and gimmicks to make your co-op "sexy."  They've been spending too much time on Pinterest.  Stick to what's essential.  Imagine hosting the co-op on one of your worst days--with a migraine or when you haven't slept--and let that set the bar, so to speak, on your expectations.  Because moms of young children have a LOT of days like that!  Par for the course.
  • Start with a story time
It doesn't matter how much you stress the starting time for co-op.  You will ALWAYS have latecomers, usually the same people are chronically late.  Assuming they don't have any more serious personality flaws, try to build a little tardiness into the schedule.  Start with story time and/or a song that incorporates a little bit of movement.  For some, having to sit or stay in one place with Mommy on the circle (even if there is no circle on the floor, just an imaginary one) will be SO HARD.  So consider this part of the co-op day educational, too, because it is.  Watch the clock so you know when to wrap things up and transition to work time.  Ten minutes or so is a decent grace period, fifteen if you are Mother Teresa.  After that, don't allow anyone to attend.  It's just too disruptive and it's hard, also, for small children to adjust to the group dynamics when they haven't had the introductory time together.
  • Weed out the flakes
If you can possibly accommodate the latecomers, do.  Even though I'm a punctual person, some of my best friends are not.  But know yourself enough to know if their tardiness is going to drive you crazy and send you into passive-aggressive mode.  Identify your non-negotiables and be clear about boundaries, both literal boundaries (if you are hosting in your house, don't allow visitors to wander and give themselves the grand tour alone) and the squishy ones (expect common sense regarding policies on sickness, absences, discretion surrounding personal observations, etc.).  
  • Make it convenient for you
If you are bending over backwards to accommodate others' schedules at the expense of your own or your family's needs, you will burn out and become resentful quickly.  Make sure it's working for you.  Your family comes first.
  • Make sure it accomplishes your goals for your family
Are you wanting a co-op so your child/children can socialize and learn to be part of a group?  Are you hoping to practice teaching on children other than your own?  Are you hoping to feel a little less trapped at home and think hosting a co-op will give you the social time you need?  Do you hope a co-op will provide structure and accountability for your teaching?  What exactly are your goals and how do you hope to assess your progress?
  • Be patient
It may take a long time to find families with whom you feel comfortable working.  Or, if you have the opposite problem and have WAY too many people interested but you know you have to weed some out, it may take time and discernment to know how to prune your list.  When you find the right chemistry with your group, someone may suddenly move away or have a major life change that prevents their attending.  Try to take the long view and pray for the right people to come your way.
  • Be always on the lookout
When I first became a mom I thought it wouldn't be hard to find other like-minded families.  Boy was I wrong!  Don't limit yourself to finding mothers the same age, of the same faith, from the same neighborhood, or with the same race or ethnicity.  Look for people who have a sense of humor, who are authentic and sincere, who are reliable and trustworthy.
  • Think outside the box
It's always easiest to reach out to strangers over social media.  But try to find families for your co-op in other, more creative ways, too:  meet people at the park, at the library story time, at a local art class.  Maybe in the check out line at Costco's or at the gym or the waiting room at the pediatrician's office.  I met one wonderful mom while in line for Confession! 

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