Thursday, November 25, 2010

Raising our children as a village

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; published under the title Co-op nursery school a gem for parents.

My younger daughter is in her second year at Playtime Co-operative Nursery School, which her older sister attended before her.

Established in 1973, Playtime is operated and administered by parent volunteers, the first such non-profit co-op in Barrie. It features an integrated, community-based program with learning, singing, arts & crafts, structured and free playtimes.

Being part of a co-op is an interesting and rewarding experience. For our daughter, I suppose it’s much like any other nursery school, albeit with a few special frills. Once a month, a family member attends as the “duty parent”, assisting the teachers. And there are frequent field trips which include parental participation for rides and supervision.

But for the parents it’s a very special experience. Each family contributes to the supervision and cleaning of the centre and sits on one of the organizing committees. For us this has included preparing the yearbook or planning the year-end BBQ.

This involvement has two key effects. It keeps the fees much lower than with a standard program, which is what first attracted us. But on a deeper level, it constantly and deeply engages us in the life of the organization. We each do our part, and are each part of the decision-making. This is very different from the standard anonymous pay-for-service model which dominates modern society. Instead, it hearkens back to earlier times when schools and other public institutions were truly community endeavors, rather than the preserve of professional administrators whose main interaction with us is accepting payment.

My first experience as a member of a co-op, I see it as a very powerful model for community institutions. Although it requires more of our attention, it rewards us with greater belonging and input. Being similarly involved in more of our institutions would certainly require more time than most of us have available. Yet by saving money, we would need to spend less time working for wages and could “trade up” some of that drudgery for more meaningful activity.

Of course, like any other school, Playtime must fundraise. Coming on Tuesday, December 7 is our most popular event, our Christmas Party & Silent Auction. Running from 6 to 8:30 pm in Jay Hall at Central United Church, it is an exciting night for all. The event, open to the public, features a bake sale, a craft table for children, a clown and face painting and a special visit from Santa himself. Cost is only $3 per child and free to adults with a food bank donation, and the auction tables are open to all, with fantastic deals.

We are also still looking for local businesses to donate items or certificates for our charitable auction. For information about the event or to donate an auction item, contact 734-2147.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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