Update for fall 2021: most programs are meeting indoors with strict coronavirus precautions. Some offer outdoor or online options. Check websites for the most current info.
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 they learn 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 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 co-op preschools, parents drop-off some days and on other days work in the classroom. 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
- Fine 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, play 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
Classes also include “circle time” which is like a music class combined with storytime where the teacher leads the class in singing songs, dancing, playing musical instruments, and reading children’s books. 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 gymnastics. These programs do it all. And they do it in a familiar space where the child feels safe and comfortable. Some of the same toys and 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 and teachers 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 ~3 times a year. Parents may also be asked to help tidy up the toys or wipe down a snack table at the end of the class.
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, the other days are “drop-off” preschool for that family. Classes may be 2 – 3 hours long. Co-op preschools are part-time programs so you’ll still have plenty of family time for other activities.
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.
Click here to learn more about cooperative preschools.
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. For example, infant and toddler groups at Bellevue College are ~$260 per quarter, but that’s for 20+ hours of class, so that’s about $12.00 per hour. Programs like Gymboree, Kindermusik, and classes sponsored by the parks departments range $12 – 30 per hour.
Cooperative preschools tend to be about $11 – 12.00 per hour, with incredible ratios of one adult per 3 or 4 children. The public schools and boys and girls clubs are in this price range (but without those staffing ratios. Private preschools can easily run ~$20 per hour, for one adult per 6 to 9 children.
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 others?
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.
Are there other perks?
College credit and student privileges: Parent education programs are college classes. Parents receive college credit for attending. They can receive student ID cards, which depending on the school may give access to services such as fitness center or gym access.
Student Discounts: As an enrolled college student, you can get student discounts at a wide variety of local and online businesses. (Examples: 10% off on Dell Computers, up to $200 off a new Mac, cash back at Best Buy, discounts on Amazon Prime membership, discounts on cell phone service, 10% off at Ben Franklin crafts and JoAnn, discounts on the NY Times and Wall St. Journal, 15% off at several clothing stores. Learn about these and other discounts at http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/…/100-stores-that-give-a…/ ) Some require student ID numbers, some require that you have a college email address, and some want to see your actual college ID. (If you’re a student at Bellevue College, learn how to get all those things at https://www.bellevuecollege.edu/parented/faq/)
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! Mid-year registration is possible if there is space available.
- Bellevue College: www.bellevuecollege.edu/parented/
- Infant and wobbler programs in Bellevue and Online, Toddler classes in Bellevue, Issaquah, Mercer Island, Renton, Sammamish, Snoqualmie.
- Art Enrichment for age 3 – 5. Science Enrichment for age 3 – 9 (after school and Saturdays.) In Bellevue and online.
- Alpine in Snoqualmie, Bellevue-Overlake, Eastgate in Bellevue, Issaquah, Mercer Island Learning Lab, Pine Lake in Sammamish, Sunrise in Renton.
- Edmonds Community College www.edmonds.edu/programs/pared/default.html
- Green River CC. Includes Benson Hill Coop in Kent, Tahoma Coop in Maple Valley, Covington Coop, and Darcy Read in Des Moines. Benson Hill serves 18 months to 5. The others serve age 2 – 5.
- Lake WA Institute of Technology www.lwtech.edu/academics/parent-education/
- North Seattle Community College http://northseattlecoops.org Sites marked * have infant groups, and # have toddlers. All serve 3 – 5 year olds.
- Broadview – merged with Meadowbrook, Capitol Hill* #, Crown Hill #; Lakewood Coop #, Madison Park #, Magnolia #, Meadowbrook; Queen Anne* #, Rainier Valley, Sandhurst#; Vashon Maury #; Victory Heights#; Wallingford; Wedgwood#; Woodland Park. Latona, Northeast Toddlers and U-Ravenna merged into Northleaf*# on the NSCC campus.
- Shoreline Community College www.shoreline.edu/parenting-education/
- South Seattle Community College http://westseattlepreschools.org
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.”