Does the search for your kid’s perfect preschool seem more challenging than your own college hunt ever was? You’re not alone. But there’s an option for your little one’s first school experience that you may not have explored: the cooperative preschool (a.k.a. co-op), which gives parents and caregivers the opportunity to regularly volunteer in the classroom (and in some cases, the board room). Intrigued? Here’s the down-low on a few co-ops—and one “Montessori Share”—that parents are raving about. 

Photo: Rod Raglin via Flickr

Concord-St. Andrew’s Cooperative Nursery School
Founded in 1958, Concord-St. Andrew’s (CSACNS) has offered kids a nurturing place to learn for almost 60 years. But CSACNS’ approach to early childhood education is hardly old school. Recent additions at this play-based co-op include a STEM-focused “Discovery Room,” an indoor play gym, and a weekly music class. Have a baby or one on the way? Not to worry. CSACNS sponsors a “sibling sitting” program where younger children can have their own fun while mom or dad help out in their sibling’s classroom.

Ages: 2-4 years
Cost: $260-$390 month (2, 3, and 5-day/week classes are offered)
Why Parents Love It: “CSACNS offers a supportive and social parent community, a creative and thoughtful curriculum, and a thorough prep for kindergarten. My kids love their classroom’s activities and want to do them at home!”

5910 Goldsboro Rd. (Bethesda, Md.)

Intown Playgroup
One big preschool “do or don’t” is the drop-off. Both are options at Georgetown’s Intown Playgroup. The school year starts off as a family affair with students attending each session with their parents or caregivers. Once they are comfortable in the classroom, children can participate in the “On My Own” program and attend independently up to three times a week. Parents or caregivers also volunteer monthly in the classroom and serve on the school’s board of directors.

Ages: 1-3 years
Cost: $420-440/month (classes meet 5 days/week) Why Parents Love It: After relocating last year, Intown has been such a warm and welcoming place for our family. Our son has the opportunity to explore, learn, and engage in a fun and interactive setting. He has found great friends and is excited to go to school each morning. What more can you ask for!?”

1334 29th St., NW (Georgetown)

Photo: Amanda Nunes via Montesshare

Created by Joy Wilder, a mom-of-four and co-founder of the award winning TOTH Montessori preschool, Montesshare is a Montessori, Spanish bilingual preschool set in an intimate, home environment. Thanks to the share set-up, no building expenses and plenty of parent participation–i.e. families are charged with bringing in the students’ daily snacks–fees for this state licensed, high level educational program are kept competitive.

Ages: 3-6 years
Cost: $285-$565 (2-5 days/week)
Why Parents Love It: “I seriously didn’t think I could have such peace each morning as I wave goodbye to my daughter before heading to work. With our extended family overseas, we’ve found a second a home for our daughter and wouldn’t ever look back.”

5908 Bond Ct. (Alexandria, VA)

Petworth Co-op
Community is the name of the game at Petworth Coop, which local parents founded in 2012 to support new families moving to the neighborhood. The parents also hired facilitators for two classrooms – the Guppies (young two year olds) and the Goldfish (older two-and three-year-olds). Parents volunteer between four and six times a semester and also participate in community events to promote the school, like the St. Paul’s Strawberry Festival and the Petworth Jazz Project’s outdoor concerts.

Ages: 2-3 years
Cost: $110-$220/month (2 and 3-day/week classes are offered)
Why Parents Love It: “I love that the kids and parents are all from the Petworth area. It makes it really easy to get together outside of the co-op too.”

201 Allison St., NW (Petworth)

Photo: Children’s Weekday Program

Children’s Weekday Program
Arlington’s Children’s Weekday Program (CWP) offers two options for families seeking socialization and support. The Parent’s Day Out Program, which runs from 9:30 am-2:30 pm, two days a week, provides parents a much-needed break as babes as young as three months old enjoy songs, stories, and outdoor play. A more traditional preschool program is also offered at CWP, which features a play-based curriculum with fun elements like “walking field trips” to local parks and libraries and an annual visit from the Baltimore Aquarium. The fun at CWP doesn’t end when summer starts: there’s a June session with water play, sports, and more!

Ages: 3 months – 4 years
Cost: Parent’s Day Out – $140-$280/month; non-co-op $200-$400/month; Preschool – $300-$490/month (3 and 5-day/week classes are offered)
Why Parents Love It: The teachers are the true gems of this school. The care and love they show the kids, parents, and co-opers is genuine and special. Also, I love the art projects that the kids bring home — they are unique and different; a fresh escape from those go-to handprint turkeys and pom-pom pics. Think: photo art, 3-D sculptures, and live “beanstalks.”

716 S. Glebe Rd. (Arlington, Va.)

Beverley Hills Church Preschool
Creative types will love the arts-focused approach to learning at this Alexandria co-op. Two teachers, along with a parent volunteer, spend mornings encouraging children to learn through exploration, a key component of the Reggio Emilia curriculum. There’s also a designated teacher, known as an aterlierista, whose sole focus is managing a special studio space where children can build and strengthen then creativity. Another perk? A new “natural playground” (and a certified wildlife habitat) developed to inspire play and promote life lessons. Mud pie, anyone?

Ages: 2 ½ 5 years
Cost: $308-$554/month (2, 3, and 4-day/week classes are offered. Financial aid is also available.)
Why Parents Love It: This is one of the oldest co-ops in Virginia, and we love being part of it! They follow Reggio Emilia philosophy, and it’s truly amazing what the kids are doing. Also, the playground is huge for the area!”

3512 Old Dominion Blvd. (Alexandria, Va.)

–Sarah Vogel and Ayren Jackson-Cannady