Cooperative schools were formed to provide mothers with work experience along with continued and diverse educational opportunities. All that was housed in a communal effort with childcare because women know instinctively that we are stronger together.
The parent partnership is so comfortable and so ingrained that it is difficult to describe the process in which it is shaped to a person outside of the cooperative model! Yet it is the very source of our school and every participatory model school's longterm success and exactly the reason we are able to hold to a play-based model. Parents, once they are involved, arrive naturally to the play-based model.
First in a series of guest posts from current and former parents of the Cooperative School. These were written as part of a fundraising campaign by our Development Committee. The posts are treasures, each one. This one was written by Shannon Earle. Shannon is currently serving on the Board of Directors as co-Vice President and Admissions co-chair. In this post, she builds a den!
One of the best parts of parenting for me is being given an excuse to play. On my co-op shift a few weeks ago, Lesley decided to release the huge pile of branches that had been resting in a kind of purgatory all winter (one child just HAD to keep them in that pile). I was in heaven. In 30 minutes, we had built a surprisingly sturdy den out of interwoven branches. Over the next few weeks, I watched as the children from all three classes moved in bricks, pots, ducks and then thatched and carpeted the whole thing with some pampas grass clippings I rescued from my neighbor’s yard waste pile. A patch of dirt on top of the berm was transformed like magic into multiple universes. My two-year-old could climb it (yes, to the top) and free the ducks who had been guarding the roof (apologies to the duck-roof child!). My five-year-old tells me that it is a cabin in the jungle, where cats and birds live when they are not out exploring the jungle, playing or foraging for food, toys and stream water.
There was an article in The Atlantic a few weeks ago called The Overprotected Kid that generated a huge amount of discussion on list-serves and on playgrounds. The article highlighted an adventure playground in Wales called The Land, that looks like a junkyard to adults and heaven to children. It is full of loose parts and it is a place where children of all ages can live for a while in a world of their own imagining.
On a smaller scale, this is what The Cooperative School artfully offers to our children. Outside is not just a place to run and climb and be loud - though it is that too - it is another place where children’s dramatic play is carefully cultivated. At the Big Clean this past August, parents painstakingly picked hickory nuts out of the old mulch, filling several large bins to be used later as food, money, and magic ingredients. This winter, my daughter and I used old bark to make a skirt for our snow fairy with icicle wings. It is a place where one child’s idea catches fire and draws others into the creation of a story that is all their own.
At home, we are urban farmers, growing a lot of our own food. We have been slowly converting our lawn to an edible landscape. It’s pretty much always under construction. This means that instead of meticulous landscaping, we have a giant pile of compost, bricks and stones that used to border flower beds, buckets of gravel, buckets of mulch, bamboo stakes, and other “loose parts.” My neighbors might cringe every time they walk past, but their kids know where to come play. They crave it. Compost & water = black paint. Add weeds to the hole where a tree was just dug up, add water & stir = stew. Stack up bricks and cover with old tire = spy house.
As we pursue the search for a new home for our school, I dream of having an outdoor play space that we could potentially open to the public after hours, for all those kids who don’t have mud pits and bricks in their yards, or yards at all. It would be full of boulders and bamboo, loose parts, kids of all ages, and stories, stories, stories. It would be a gift to our community for many years to come. For now I’m grateful that my own children and so many others have a play paradigm that follows them home and out into the world, leaving a trail of fairy houses and creativity behind.
It is so important for our education team, parents and teachers, to be on the same page regarding our stance on embracing diversity and commonalities. To this end, we were thrilled to have Howie Schaffer help us with a parent training. Howie is a respected speaker, trainer, and facilitator on cutting-edge topics in diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency, but the children know him as a guitar strumming, singing, and dancing parent alum of our little cooperative school. We expect and accept that young children will miscue as they work to understand and find their places in our great, big world. What is more difficult to see are the "invisible backpacks" that we, as adults, carry around. These backpacks are filled with our not-so-visible characteristics captured in moments in time, happy recollections, unhappy recollections, along with the misunderstandings, and the labels, both positive and negative that make each of us unique on one hand and the same on the other. To help the children explore their differences and commonalities, we must first embrace our own.
Through a series of three exercises, presented here in this slideshow, we gained insight and connections to each other, our pasts and our presents. We began in pairs in the first exercise, radiating out to groups of 6 and 7 for the second, and then returning to our large group for the group presentations of each group's diversity map. The maps the groups presented were a wonder -- filled with meaning, heartfelt sharing (and support), and creativity. One group danced, one presented poetry, while others presented drawings, a game, and finally a poignant "wrap-up" of one inspired by one of its member's degree in mortuary science. Full circle. If our goal is to open conversation, this evening certainly built a common language of understanding and caring.