Category Archives: Early Learning / Preschool

Great Classes for Kids AND Parents: Parent Education & Coop Preschools

Classrooms in the Bellevue College Program

Classrooms in the Bellevue College Program – click for larger view

Are you a parent of a baby, toddler, or preschool age child? Are you looking for:

  • A place where your child can explore toys, do art, hear stories, sing songs, and make friends? (And use up some energy on a cold winter day?)
  • A fun activity to do with your child where s/he learns new skills and you get new ideas?
  • Opportunities to meet other families and build community?
  • Expert advice and research-based information about parenting and child development?
  • Support from professionals and other parents for the challenges of life with a little one?

You can find all these great opportunities in one place!

In the Seattle area, our community colleges sponsor parent education programs, including parent-child programs and cooperative preschools, which are a fabulous resource for families. For children, classes offer hands-on learning, discovery and play. For adults, they offer on-going education on all topics related to parenting, plus connections to other parents.

What is the children’s experience like?

The programs are play-based, because research shows children learn best through hands-on exploration in places where they feel safe and free to explore. Each classroom has several stations around the room, with developmentally appropriate activities to help kids build the skills they need. Children are encouraged to move around and explore at their own pace. In parent-child programs (aka “mommy and me classes”) for babies and toddlers, parents play along with their children. In coop preschools, working parents are assigned to a station. Activities vary by age, but might include:

  • Art activities: play-dough to roll, easels to paint at, markers for learning to write
  • Sensory activities: tubs of water or rice or beans to scoop, pour, stir, and run fingers through
  • Large motor: mats for tumbling, tunnels to crawl through, climbers and slides, balls to throw, dancing and movement games
  • Small motor: blocks to stack, puzzles to assemble, shape sorters to solve, beads to thread, and building toys for construction
  • Imaginary play: dress up zone for trying on new roles, dolls to care for, kitchen for “cooking”
  • Science and nature experiences: seeds to plant, tadpoles to watch, items from nature to explore
  • Snack time: a place to practice social skills and table manners and to discover new foods

click for larger view

Classes also include “circle time” or “music class” where the teacher leads the class in singing songs, dancing, playing musical instruments, and reading stories. This is a chance for children to practice sitting still, listening to a teacher, and participating in a group activity, all essential skills for kindergarten readiness. Academic skill-building (reading, writing, pre-math skills) is integrated into all types of activities.

What makes these children’s programs different from other programs?

Diverse Experiences in One Familiar Setting: Most children’s programs focus on one domain of learning: dance class, art class, story time, music class, or tumbling. These programs do it all. And they do it in a known space where the child feels safe and comfortable. Some of the same toys activities reappear from week to week to provide reassurance and routine, and some new toys and activities rotate in to encourage children to explore and try new things.

Long-Term Relationships: Lots of programs run in short sessions of 4 – 6 classes. Parent ed programs run for the full school year. Seeing the same children week after week allows kids to build friendships.

Close parental involvement: Parents are always welcome in the classroom.

What are they like from the parent perspective: how do they work?

Each program works a bit differently, so check to be sure of the details, but here is the general idea:

Parent-infant Classes and Parent-Toddler Classes: Meet weekly for two hours. Every other week, the parents attend a one hour parent education session. In infant classes (for babies birth to one year old), the baby remains with the parent for parent ed. In toddler classes (for one-year-old and two-year-old toddlers), children are encouraged to play in one room with the children’s teachers and other parents while their parent attends parent ed.

Staffing and Parents’ Role: Each class is staffed by a parent educator and one or two children’s teachers. Parents provide snacks for the class on a rotating basis. Each family may bring snacks 1 – 3 times a year. Parents may also be asked to help tidy up the toys at the end of the class.

Cooperative Preschools:Three-year-olds may attend 2 or 3 days a week, four-year-olds attend 3 or 4 days a week. Typically, the parent stays with the child and works in the classroom one day per week, and the other days are “drop-off” preschool for that family. Classes may be 2 – 3 hours long.

Staffing: There is a preschool teacher, trained in early childhood education, who is responsible for planning and coordinating the children’s activities, and leading group times. A parent educator observes / consults during some class sessions, and offers a monthly parent education session plus one-on-one expert parenting advice.

Parents contribute by working in the classroom once a week. They also help with the running of the school by: providing snacks, fundraising support, helping with end-of-year cleanings, serving on the board (chair, treasurer, secretary, etc.), or as class photographer, play-dough maker, etc.

Length of program: Most classes (parent-child and coops) meet for the full school year – September through May. [Note: you may be able to enroll mid-year, if there are spaces available. Check with the programs to find out.] Some have summer programs.

What do Programs Cost?

For some programs, you pay by the month, some by the quarter, some by the year. If you look at the cost for a quarter (11 weeks) or year (33 weeks), it may look like a lot compared to other children’s activities in the community. So, to compare apples to apples, it’s best to look at it as cost-per-hour. Infant and toddler groups at our local community colleges range from $7.50 – 11.50 per hour. For comparison’s sake, here’s what a sample of other programs cost on an hourly basis:

  • Big motor activities: Gymboree $30, Gymnastics East $20, Northwest Aerials $13
  • Parent education and support: Mommy Matters $22 plus child care costs. Baby Peppers $10.
  • Art programs: Kidsquest $17 per hour. Kirkland Parks $13. Kirkland Arts Center $10.
  • Music programs: Kindermusik $22, Kirkland Parks $11. Bellevue Parks $21.

Cooperative preschools in these programs range from $7.50 – 10.00 an hour. For comparison sake:

  • Bellevue public schools, $10 per hour. Bellevue Boys & Girls Club $10. Bellevue Christian School $11. Bellevue Montessori $18. Jewish Day School $19. Villa Academy $18. Seattle Waldorf $22. Cedar Crest $24.
  • Note: most preschools have an adult/child ratio ranging from 1:6 – 1:9. At a coop, the ratio may be 1:3 or 1:4.

All the parent education programs and cooperative preschools offer scholarships to lower income families which can further reduce the cost.

What makes these programs different from other programs?

College credit and student privileges: Parent education programs are college classes, and parents receive college credit for attending. They can also receive student ID cards, which depending on the school may give access to services such as fitness center or gym access. They may also allow you to get student discounts at a wide variety of local and online businesses.

Parent Education: Experienced professional educators offer information that is current and research-based but also relevant to the day-to-day reality of parenting little ones. Topics are tailored to the age and needs of the families, but may include: daily routines, discipline, child development, early learning, nutrition, potty training, emotional intelligence, kindergarten readiness, and self-care for parents.

Individualized Advice: Parent educators and children’s teachers have the opportunity to get to know each child as an individual, and also get to know parents well. This allows them to answer questions in a highly personalized way. They can also refer on for additional services when needed.

Parent Involvement: Participating in your child’s classroom from day one encourages you to think of yourself as an active participant in your child’s learning and an advocate for them in future classrooms. You’ll know the other children and can help your child learn about them. You’ll know what happened in class, so you can later reinforce the learning. Seeing classroom activities may give you new ideas for what you can do at home to enhance your child’s development. Having the opportunity to observe other children each week helps give you a deeper understanding of child development, and seeing parents respond to their children shows you options for parenting style.

Peer Support and Long-Term Relationships: Parents meet with other parents over the course of many months, which allows for long-term connections. Working together on projects strengthens those bonds, as does the peer support gained when parents discuss and share the joys and challenges of caring for kids.

Programs offer classes for families with children from birth through age 5, so instead of having to search for new classes every month or every year, you always know where you can find a fun and educational class for you and your child.

Learn More about Programs Near You and Register Now!

Note: Classes for each school year start in September but it is best to register in spring or summer, because they do fill up!

Program Name / Website Locations * Ages Served / Programs
Bellevue College
Bellevue, Carnation, Issaquah, Mercer Island, Renton, Sammamish, Snoqualmie Birth to 7: Parent-Child (day & eve), Coops, Inventors’ Lab (formerly Dad & Me), Art & Science Enrichment. Summer
Edmonds Community College
Edmonds, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mill Creek, Snohomish Birth to 5: Parent-Child, Coop Preschool, Summer
Green River CC. Limited info available on their website: Auburn area, birth to age 6. Learn more by searching for: Benson Hill Coop in Kent, Tahoma Coop in Maple Valley, Covington Coop, and Darcy Read in Des Moines.
Lake WA Institute of Bothell, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool
North Seattle Community College 12 sites in Seattle, from north of ship canal to NE 145th. Vashon. Birth to 5: Parent-Child (day and evening), Coop Preschool
Seattle Central Community College.
Links to coop websites:
7 sites in Seattle: Capitol Hill, Mt. Baker, Madison Pk, Rainier Val, Queen Anne One to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool; Dad’s, Summer
Shoreline Community Shoreline, Bothell, Inglemoor (Kirkland), Woodinville Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool, summer, evening
South Seattle Community College or SCCC campus, Admiral, Alki, Arbor Heights, Lincoln Park Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool, Spanish

*Not all ages served at all sites. For example, most programs only have infant classes at one site.

Would you like to print this information for your reference or to share with a friend? Get the PDF here.

If you want more information right now about parenting, look in the “categories” section on the right hand column and click through to any topic that interests you (for example, you can read my posts about tantrums or potty training or choosing a preschool or find lyrics to songs your child will love.) To receive updates as I publish new articles, go to the right hand column and click on “like on Facebook.”

Note: this is an update of a post from 2014

A book about balancing screen time and outdoor time

I wanted to write about the book Dot. by Zuckerberg and Berger. It’s an intriguing book that reviewers on Amazon either love or hate, and it inspires debate about the place of screen time in children’s lives.

First, an overview of the book. This is a picture book for 3 – 6 year olds, with appealing illustrations, a charming main character (6 or 7 years old?), and an engaging story line.

It begins with Dot using her laptop and tablet – “She knows how to tap… to touch… to tweet… and to tag.” We also see her using a cell phone and Skype / FaceTime to talk and talk and talk. She is bright, happy, and enjoying her time with her tech. (Though her dog is looking pretty disappointed in this sedentary, indoor lifestyle.)

But then Dot succumbs to a moment of exhausted ennui.

Mom says “Go outside… time to recharge!” Dot sleepwalks out the door.

But then, outside, she smiles. She remembers… “to tap… to touch…. to tweet… to tag… to talk and talk and talk.” (This time the illustrations show her tap dancing, touching a sunflower, tweeting like the birds in the tree, tagging friends in a game, and talking while walking in the fields, always smiling and always accompanied by friends.)

She is bright, happy, and enjoying her time outside with friends.

But she hasn’t completely abandoned technology – on the last page, she uses her phone to snap a photo of a friend, and another friend is using a tablet, as they swing, and paint, and play outside with their dogs.

The negative reviews

Some reviewers are dumb-founded that a child would even use technology in this way (leaving me to wonder whether they’re parents themselves and if so, if their kids are now middle aged adults… My 22 year old was using a mouse and a desktop computer to play games at the age of three – definitely a digital native. My 5 year old learned how to swipe to the next photo on my phone when he was 8 or 9 months old. Not just a digital native – totally immersed in the mobile technology world, like most children his age. (Read here about how much screen time children have in the U.S.)

Multiple negative reviews talk about the unlimited screen time and the lack of parental supervision in the book. “I don’t know any 6 year old who has such free reign with so many tech devices and, even worse, goes unsupervised. Is this really what our world has come to? I think not, and the idea of suggesting something so absurd is upsetting to me.” It is true that we don’t SEE a parent in the book. But this is OFTEN the case with children’s books: as one commenter said “Where are Harold’s parents, for that matter, and why does the poor child have only a purple crayon? How could those Seuss children’s mother have left them home alone for the whole day, and didn’t she teach them NOT to open the door to strangers?” But it is the mother who intervenes and sends the child outdoors to play. So, clearly there is supervision and there are screen time limits.

And of course, other reviewers were appalled that the child was allowed any screen time, citing concerns about the harms of radiation from cell phones, obesity, online stalking, adult websites, and more. (You can read my summary about benefits and risks of screen time here.)  “As parents, our job is to shield young children from information technology in the early years of life, not encourage it. Just where does Dot get her tech devices? She cannot afford them on her own, so her parent must be purchasing them for her. This sets the wrong precedent about our role as parents of young children: Parents as addiction enablers, not protectors.”

Other reviewers note that the character tweets and shares (presumably on Facebook) which are not typically activities that a 6 year old girl (like our protagonist) would do, and certainly not what a 3 – 5 year old (like our audience) would do. I was willing to let this slide, because of how they play with the words “tweet” and “share” later on in a different context.

There’s others who feel like it’s an advertisement for technology – the author, Randi Zuckerberg is the sister of Facebook founder Mark Z.

Positive Reviews:

My 3 year-old is enjoying this book. Tonight she says “Go outside Dot!” and that’s the message that she’s getting. Technology is fun but after a while you need to go outside.

“The “Dot.” character is extremely loveable and its easy to relate to her journey as she struggles with the differing forces in today’s society — the pull of technology versus being outside in nature and developing a sense of community.”

“I ordered this book to read as the technology facilitator for a k-5 school. Kids love it…Opens the floor for good conversation.”

I bought this book for my three-year-old son and he absolutely loves it. He knew how to ‘swipe’ on an iPad shortly after turning one. I love the overall message of the story, as technology is a big part of our culture and it is not going away. This book reminds us while technology is exciting and beneficial to our daily lives, so is enjoying friends, family and the outdoors. As we move into the future I want my son to always remember the importance of this balance, and I think this story represents that message well.

“I am a pediatrician in practice for 20yrs and really like that it brings up the importance of getting outside & playing. Since it is a reality that children are on electronics starting from a young age, the idea that what they learn on the computer can be made fun & relate to the outside world is a great concept. Its an easy way for parents & kids to have a simple conversation about the importance of balance in their life starting from a young age.”

My thoughts

This is a cute little book. I’m not saying “wow, one of the best books I’ve ever read.” But it is a nice read, and a good basic summary of the need to find a balance between technology and outdoor / active / social play. It’s a good discussion starter.

Some parents choose to strictly limit their children’s exposure to screens. If you’re a screen-free family (or very limited screen use), this is not the book for you.

But if you are a family who uses a lot of technology, and tries to balance it with other opportunities, this could be a good book to share with your children about the joys of other types of play.

You can check out my collection of Tips for Making Screen Time Work for Your Family.

Slowing Down to Toddler Speed


Today at the end of year picnic for my toddler class, I had a chance to spend some lovely moments hanging out with some little ones (1.8 – 2.5 year olds) that I’ve known for five months now.

It’s such a delight to slow down to toddler speed and sit down and BE with children. I saw one crouched down on her knees and peering closely at something, so I sat next to her, and we watched one tiny little bug until it hopped away. Then we peered around till we found an itty bitty ant, and watched it, then another bug and another bug. We just watched. I talked a little, she didn’t talk at all, but we were clearly both engaged in the moment.

Another child had something clasped tightly in his hands. He’d occasionally open them a bit, peek in, and clasp them tight again. I asked him to show me what he had, and he let me take a quick peek at the pebbles he’d collected before holding them close again. But then he and I shared a secret, so from time to time, he’d bring them by to show to me, and he let me know when he’d decided to set them down.

Then I was at the sandbox. I found a star-shaped sand mold I started to fill with sand. Which of course caught one of the children’s attention, so he took the star out of my hand. There was no need to scold him for “taking something”. I just said “oh, that star is interesting. While you play with that, I’ll use this castle mold.” I packed it with sand. Then I caught his attention and flipped it upside down to make a sand castle. When I lifted off the mold, he was delighted by the sand castle. So delighted that he patted it gently till it was destroyed.  Then he wanted to make his own. But the part of my actions that had made an impression on him was not packing the castle mold with sand… he’d been ignoring that part. He remembered when the castle was already flipped onto the sand, and I was carefully lifting the mold up to revel the castle. So, he took the castle mold, set it on the sand, and lifted it up to reveal… nothing but the sand that was there before… and an outline of the castle mold. He tested it over and over again before giving it back to me to do the magic again. As I demonstrated it again, he still just didn’t get it… that will come in time. But in the moment, he just enjoyed the exploration.

Then one child had a whiffle ball, and figured out he could put rocks in through the holes. A simple spontaneous shape sorter. Two other children started playing too, all working on putting rocks in through the holes. The inventor soon wandered away, but I sat with the other two for several minutes as we all put rocks in holes. Although 99% of the rocks around us were small enough to fit, one of the children had a magic talent for finding the rocks that were too big to fit. So I would offer smaller rocks in trade. Then we figured out that if you gently shook the ball, all the rocks would fall out. It was just a simple, quiet little game, as we all settled in and explored together. Simple but sweet.

Having all these quiet moments with children who used to be hesitant to interact with me and who have now welcomed me it was a lovely way to finish my year of teaching all these little people.

Specialty Preschools

Some preschools have a special focus, such as: religion, language learning, sports, arts, or science. Sometimes this is a special focus that is very important to the family, and they’re willing to drive long distances to get their child exposure to this special focus. But they also want to be sure that their child isn’t missing out on anything while getting this focus.

Sometimes parents choose a preschool due to its proximity to their home or work, and that preschool happens to have a specialty focus… For example, And I know a family who sends their child to a German immersion preschool – they don’t speak German themselves, but it’s a great preschool that’s a very short walk from their house and they’re happy to have their child exposed to another language. It’s a good match for them… But, I also know other families who say “There’s this preschool across the street from my house, but they’re Christian, and we’re not really religious – will it be a good match?”

The questions to ask are:

  • How much of the day is spent on that special focus?
  • Does that schedule also allow for all the other activities we typically expect in a preschool – do they have art time, circle time, outdoor play, and so on? (In a language immersion school, they get all this just as they would elsewhere, because the language learning is just woven into it all.)
  • If there is a limited set of activities offered at the preschool, how do you make sure your child gets a well-rounded set of the essential skills of the preschool years? (We can often “supplement” a limited preschool experience with other classes, or with the things that we do with our child at home, in non-school hours.
  • Who are the other children your child will meet there? Will there be good options for playmates? (For example, if you don’t speak the language taught, but most of the parents do, will you feel comfortable spending time with these families at birthday parties and playdates. Or, if you’re driving a long ways for class, other parents may be too, so you might not be meeting any “neighbor kids.”)
  • What are your goals for having your child experience that special focus? And will the way that preschool teaches that topic meet your goals?

For more information, see:

My experience with specialty preschool:

I offer my experience here not as “here’s how YOU should do things” advice, but more to illustrate one parent’s decision-making process for one particular family.

My oldest child attended coop preschool two days a week. She was up to having lots more structured learning in her week’s schedule, and I also wanted some hours where I could just focus on my second child. So, we were open to finding a drop-off preschool option for a couple days a week. Then we discovered there was a theatre preschool! This was the perfect match for this child, who LOVED stories, and loved watching plays and movies, and loved pretend play. (Note: the preschool was run by Studio East in Kirkland – they are not currently offering a preschool option, but they do offer fabulous weekly enrichment classes for ages 4 – 6.)

In this preschool, they managed to roll in most of they typical preschool activities under the theatre theme. For example, when they were talking about Midsummer Night’s Dream, the art projects were making donkey ears and fairy wings. They had pre-academic practice with reading words written on the board with names of characters. They had big motor play of learning different walks, learning prat-falls, learning some basics of stage combat. They had small motor practice with puzzles and such. Plus, they also had the additional challenges of learning a story, memorizing lines, practicing entrances and exits, and learning a whole lot of impulse control in having to wait to enter, wait to deliver their lines, and so on. I thought it was a fabulous program.

They did not have outside time, so I made sure my child got outside time before or after class. They didn’t have a lot of free play and exploration time, but my child got plenty of that in non-class hours and at her coop preschool, so I really felt like all of her preschool learning needs were met through this combination of coop and specialty school.

Coop Preschools


Let’s talk about cooperative preschools (usually called co-ops).

How does a coop work?

It varies a little between schools, but typically, if you have a three year old, they would attend two days a week (for a 2 – 3 hour session). You would work in the classroom twice a month, and drop off on the other days. If you have a four year old, they would attend three days a week, and you would work in the classroom 2 – 3 times a month. Classroom assistants supervise kids at play, help with craft activities, read to kids, or assist with snack time. You would also occasionally be asked to provide snack for the kids.

Coops are run by a volunteer board, and you would attend a monthly coop meeting. You would also be asked to take on an additional job, such as board member, registrar, field trip coordinator, play-dough maker, and so on. Parents also help with occasional clean-ups and with fund-raising. These other responsibilities might take up 2 – 8 hours of time per month in addition to working in the classroom.

What is a child’s experience at like at a coop?

Coops are typically play-based preschools. The majority of time is spent in free choice time – there are a number of typical “stations” in the room, such as: a dress-up corner, pretend kitchen, block play area, sensory table, drawing table, trains, and a book area. Plus, each day, the teacher prepares special activities for the day (invitations to play), such as art projects or nature explorations. The children choose which of these things to explore and for how long. There is typically also a group play time – often outdoors. There is also usually a group time where kids practice essential school readiness skills such as: sitting still, paying attention, and following directions. The mix of activities is chosen to help children learn all the essential kindergarten readiness skills.

Although they may introduce developmentally appropriate pre-academic skills (such as the alphabet, counting, days of the week, using scissors, pencils and so on) they are not academic preschools. (Read here about why preschools don’t need to be academic…)

What are the advantages to coop preschools?

  • Low cost: typically one of the lowest cost options available for a middle income family. (Low income families may have access to other free or steeply-subsidized options.)
  • High adult-to-child ratios. A typical preschool might have anywhere from 6 to 10 children per adult. A coop preschool is typically 3 to 5 children per adult.
  • Play-based. The best way for young children to learn!
  • Children see their parent participating in their school, which reinforces how important the child’s education is to the family.
  • Parents are more involved in the child’s education, and can reinforce at home what was talked about in class. Parents also know the teacher well, and get to know all the other children in the class, so they can help nurture their child’s growing friendships.
  • Parents also make friends! Working side by side with other parents gives you the chance to make social connections and get parenting support from peers.
  • Most include a monthly parent education session where you get expert advice on things like discipline, early literacy, teaching social/emotional skills, and how to support your child’s development.

What are the disadvantages to coops?

  • Limited hours: Coops are held for only a few hours a day a few days a week. If you need more than 10 – 12 hours of child care a week while you work, then a coop is not a good match.
  • Child care logistics: If you have two children under 5, it can be trickier to work out a schedule that works for all of you. For example: on the days you work in the coop classroom, who will care for your other child? Some coops have a child care option, where coop members who are not in the preschool classroom take shifts caring for kids of the coop members who are working that day. But it is extra logistics compared to a drop-off preschool.
  • Parental involvement: Coops do require a high degree of involvement, between working in the classroom, attending parent ed / coop meetings, and additional volunteer jobs. If you’re not interested in this, or unable to meet those commitments, you may prefer a preschool that only requires you to drop-off and pick-up.

My experience with coop preschool:

I offer my experience here not as “here’s how YOU should do things” advice, but more to illustrate one parent’s decision-making process for one particular family.

My oldest child attended coop preschool two days a week. At the time, I also had a baby, who stayed with her grandparents while I was at coop. My son also attended a drop-off theatre preschool two days a week. The time he spent at that preschool gave me time for focused one-on-one time with his little sister. Two years later, I returned to the same coop with child #2. (Crossroads Coop, sponsored by Bellevue College Parent Education.) She attended two days a week, and on the other days, participated in other activities.

I definitely experienced all the benefits I listed above. I met several friends myself, and I saw who they were friends with at class, and was able to set up play-dates with those families to cement those relationships. And I loved parent ed, which helped to inform how I parented all my kids through those early years.

With child #3, I’ve done drop-off preschools, because I work while he’s at preschool. And although I LOVE both of his outdoor preschools, I definitely find that drop-off is a very different experience than coop. Although I have met all the parents at his preschool, and I know the name of all the kids, I don’t know any of them as well as I knew the parents and kids at coop. Although I observe as much as I can when I drop off and pick up, and although I read his class newsletters religiously, I just don’t have anywhere near as deep of a connection to what’s happening in his classroom as I did with his siblings.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent, or work part-time, I’d absolutely recommend coop preschool as a great enrichment program for your child, and a fun learning experience for you as well!

How to find your local coops?

In the Seattle / Puget Sound area, most coops are run through parent education programs at local community colleges. I list all their contact info at the bottom of this post:

The Bellevue College coops are hosting open houses over the next few weeks. Learn more at

If you live elsewhere, try internet searches to learn your options. Sometimes coops are sponsored by churches, county extension departments, or other groups.

Learn more about preschool choice

Also check out these posts:

photo credit: Emma and Alice via photopin (license)