How I Started A Montessori-Inspired Preschool Co-op

(Please note: All images courtesy of and copyright Julie Rings Photography. Also, this post contains some affiliate links. Thanks for your support!)

Something keeping me quite busy this summer is the preschool co-op I started with a few other moms. One of the moms so graciously offered to host the school at her home, and it has worked out wonderfully. She has a nice, spacious living room with hardwood floors and a lovely garden with a big trampoline for outdoor playtime after lunch. We have child-sized tables and chairs from IKEA where the children work as well as these rugs for floor work. 

Purpose: I wanted to start the co-op for a few reasons. First, I finished my AMI Primary training in May, but with a new baby coming in October, it didn't make sense for our family to look for a full-time teaching job to start in September... I will save that for next fall. I did, however, want to start putting my training into practice ASAP, so this co-op has been a way to accomplish that goal. Next, Hunter's regular school is on summer vacation, and although they offer summer camp, I wanted to spend some time with him before the new baby arrives but not necessarily at home -- know what I mean? I give school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we do "field-trip" outings just the two of us or with family and friends (or relax at home) the other days of the week. (We've gone to the zoo, a trolley ride to the splash park downtown, a butterfly pavilion, the beach, resort and hotel pools, open gym at a gymnastics studio, a nature trail and center, and next week we will visit a sculpture garden.) Finally, Hunter has grown leaps and bounds and has learned so much this past year at his regular school that I didn't want to lose that momentum. Although our current school schedule is not as firm as it is when he goes to regular school, it's still something he looks forward to and enjoys very much.

Participants: Next, I had to find some friends who were looking for a preschool experience but who would also let me put my new training into practice, using their children as guinea pigs! Luckily, this was very easy to find. I met a couple of great women during a breastfeeding support group I joined when Hunter was 3 weeks old, and we've stayed in touch ever since. With the high cost of living in San Diego, and the sacrifice to stay home with their children (or work part-time out of the home), private Montessori preschool just doesn't fit into everyone's budget. (Yes, there are free or low-cost preschools in the area, but the advantage of our co-op is the alternative Montessori curriculum plus some hands-on experience in the classroom.) These women then in turn introduced me to a couple more, and our group was complete. We are five mothers with five 2-to-2.5-year-olds (and a 4-year-old on Tuesdays).

Program: As I said before, we run the school two days per week. The hours are from 9 am until noon. From 9-10, the children are engaged in individual lessons and independent work. We have a group snack around 10**, usually followed by music and more indoor or outdoor work. At 11, we set up for lunch by bringing the work tables together. The children set out cloth placemats (homemade by one of the mothers), cloth napkins, ceramic plates, and small drinking glasses. Parents send silverware if the meal requires it. The children serve themselves water from a small pitcher, and share their meal together. Lunch gets wrapped up around 11:30, after which the children take their dish to the kitchen to wash it. On the counter top we have a basin with soapy water and a dish brush plus a second basin with rinse water. The children reach the counter by climbing up on a "Kitchen Helper", wash and rinse their dish, and hand it over to an adult to place on the drying rack.  (They also follow the same procedure for washing their snack dish after snack.) 

Our ratio is 1 adult to 2.5 or 3 children. I am the Montessori guide (teacher), so I am present each school day, and I work with one assistant. Each mother (though dads are welcome, too) takes a turn being the assistant for a week and that week she also provides the snack foods (one veggie and one fruit). It works out great for them because they get (if all goes well) 3 toddler-free hours two days a week for 3 weeks each cycle. Since this is only a summer co-op, we have only two cycles: one in July and one in August. Although I purchased or created most of the materials we use in the classroom, the other mothers have pitched in with supplies, more materials, and snack. At the end, you keep what you have contributed to the group. Except for the additional materials and 6 volunteer hours each cycle, there is no cost to participate the co-op.

Not all co-ops need to be free of cost, though. If I were to lead a preschool co-op during the regular school year, I would run it Monday through Friday and I would charge a reasonable fee, in addition to the volunteer hours and contribution to the supplies. I am doing no-cost this summer for my own needs (i.e. getting Hunter out of the house), professional experience, and because it's so short term.

The First Days and Materials: Hunter was the only child in the co-op with previous experience in a Montessori classroom, so there was definitely a major adjustment period in the beginning. Also, since a Montessori "Children's House" teacher does not give traditional large group lessons or set up "stations" (or "centers" or "rotations") like traditional preschools but instead offers a variety of materials that the children choose freely to work with independently, I had to be very deliberate about the first materials I offered in the classroom. Lessons are given individually, and the children are not permitted to work with a material until they have received a lesson. I, therefore, started out with materials (i.e. toys) that the children were already familiar with and gradually swapped out those materials for the more traditional Montessori materials. To give you an idea, we just completed our fifth week and finally now have more Montessori materials out than toys.

I had asked the mothers to bring puzzles and toys from home to offer the children mixed in with a few Montessori lessons. Here's what it looked like the first week:

Outdoors we had...
-Painting at an easel*
-Finger painting (at a table -- I like this paper and this paint)*
-Sidewalk chalk

Indoors we had...
-Basket of wooden beads for threading (we used this button and spool set; also available here)*
-Animal "texture" cards (seen in the first photo)
-Switchback car track (seen in the second photo; this one is nice)
-5 wooden knob puzzles of various shapes and sizes (*now we only have two -- the ones with small knobs)
-12-piece medium jigsaw puzzle in pouch*
-Melissa & Doug Stack and Sort Board
-Hape Color and Shape Sorter
-Melissa & Doug Animals Mini Puzzle-Pack*
-Basket with newsprint and crayons*
-Plan Toys Nuts and Bolts
-Basket of board books inside the reading tepee*
-Melissa & Doug Water Wow cards

Montessori lessons*
-Opening and Closing Boxes
-Opening and Closing Bottles and Jars
-Tearing Paper
-Snack Prep

*These are the materials we still have available to the children, now in our 5th week.
**A note about group snack: In my training and during my observations and student teaching practice, snack was offered to the children two at a time. Working children should never be interrupted to take a snack as a large group. Ideally, when a child finishes a work cycle and feels like taking a break to have a snack, he or she serves himself or herself a snack, and takes a seat at the designated snack table often with one other child. I like the way that works, but for the 2-year-olds I am currently working with, it just does not work. They all want snack at the same time, and it's just not a battle worth fighting. 

In future posts, I will show you what other Montessori materials I have been introducing to the children. Stay tuned!

P.S. If you are interested in starting a Montessori co-op, click here for a great resource. Also, a word about doing things legally: here in California, when you provide childcare in a co-op setting such as ours, we are exempt from licensing. Check out this link for details.


  1. so awesome!!!! wish we lived closer! :)

    1. Aww, thanks! And I wish I had the resources to open my own school and have more classrooms and teachers!! ;)


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