Sunday, September 13, 2009

Designing Your Own Co-op Preschool Curriculum

So now you have a group of willing moms ready to tackle your very own co-op preschool. What now? What will you teach? How can you make sure that everyone doesn't teach the same topic? How can you ensure that the curriculum is well-rounded and will prepare them for kindergarten?

Here are a few things that I've tried (in order from least to most effective):

1. Purchasing a pre-made curriculum, like Joy School or Mother Goose. I personally am not a fan of pre-made curricula. While the concept sounds great to have your whole lesson plan provided for you, I felt like it robbed me of spontaneity and creativity. While paltry in comparison to community preschool programs, I also have always balked at the dues that these programs charge. While I acknowledge that the dues are for the time and effort in creating the curricula, it's still us moms doing all the work going to the craft store and library, coloring flannel board figures, singing and dancing in front of the children, and cleaning up afterwards. It just doesn't seem right to pay just for the ideas when I find that the average mom interested in participating in a co-op preschool to be just as creative in their lesson planning than any professional curriculum designer.
Pros: No brain power required. You still have to do all the work of teaching, but you don't have to think about what to teach or how to teach it.
Cons: The biggest reason of all that I choose co-op preschools over community programs is for the greater part I get to play in my kids' education. They grow up and go off to the big school soon enough, I don't want some paid preschool designer telling me what I have to teach my own kids. The second thing is money. I love to think of all the money I've saved over the years by not sending my kids to a community preschool and I have no desire to pay someone just for their ideas while I still do all the work.

2. Random: My first few years after breaking out of a pre-purchased curriculum we tried the random approach where everyone just taught whatever they felt like teaching. At the beginning of the year you would just come with a list of ideas of things you might like to teach, then during the scheduling you would call out what week you wanted and what topics you were taking.
Pros: No fuss. No one has to put a lot of time and effort into preparing anything advance and because people were choosing their own topics the teachers tended to choose things that were meaningful to them or to their child.
Cons: No rhyme or reason or guarantee of well-roundedness. It was also discouraging when someone else would "steal" your topic ideas.

3. Letter-of-the-Week: This is a fun, straight-forward curriculum I prefer to use for 2-3 year olds. Each week has a letter assigned to it (in order A-Z, or in your own pre-determined order) and teachers find topics based on that letter. An apple lesson for A, a bird lesson for B, cars for C, etc.
Pros: It's easy to find ideas on the internet. It's easy to reinforce at home and you always know what's coming next.
Cons: Diversity--because each letter is so open-ended, it's quite likely that you will get a whole lot of science based lessons and not much else (since that's what people tend to choose on their own). While this isn't a problem per se, it is the reason why I recommend this approach for 2-3 year olds and not for a Pre-K curriculum.

4. Teacher Topics: Each teacher is assigned a topic (science/nature, heroes, character, music, art, geography, health) and they become the teaching "experts". Each of their lessons will be focused within their topic. For instance, I love to teach about heroes, so my lesson plans through the year were focused on different heroes (Helen Keller, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Christopher Columbus, etc.). It was fun for me looking ahead to different heroes I could teach about and the kids knew that at our house that's what they learned about.
Pros: I loved how the teachers were teaching to their passions and it showed in their creative, enthusiastic lessons. It's nice to know what your focus is and it's easy to get in a rhythm for teaching that topic. I also really like how it ensures a full diversity of topics being taught to the children.
Cons: I found that towards the end of the year it felt somewhat limiting to my creativity to only teach on that one topic.

5. Yearly Lesson Outline: This is when a specific topic is assigned to each day of preschool through the year. The planner who makes the outline (in our case, that would be me) makes sure that the topics are diverse, but with a semblance of continuity when possible. At the preschool planning meeting a calendar with topics is given to each teacher, then divided into 6-week segments (or however many students are in the group) and each person picks a week in each segment.
This is what we've been doing the last couple of years and I've been surprised at the positive response that it's received. I was worried that people would not want to be told what to teach about (after all that's why I didn't like the pre-purchased curricula mentioned earlier), but there are a couple of differences that make it a lot more palatable. The main difference being that instead of being told step-by-step exactly what they were supposed to through every minute of the lesson (like the pre-purchased curricula), the teachers still get to utilize their own ideas and creativity for teaching the topic without the stress of picking a topic (which is often the hardest part). I also think that people like that they're not getting assigned a topic straight up, but they still get to choose within each segment through the year.
Pros: People really, really like having the topic known in advance. Second, if designed such, it is ensured to be a well-rounded curriculum with a wide range of topics.
Cons: Someone has to do the work in advance of compiling the calendar and the topics. (You'd be welcome to use my own lesson plan outlines listed on the left, but you'd still have to go through and change the dates to accommodate your own group).

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