A group of parents in Nikiski are toying with the idea of starting a play-based parent cooperative community preschool.
The educational center will be a place for children younger than 5 years old to learn critical thinking and social skills structured so their guardians play a role in the process.
“The whole preschool thing doesn’t work without parent involvement,” said Katy Bethune, who taught in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District as a Title 1 and early intervention specialist teacher for 17 years and is organizing the venture. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Bethune said she has been exploring early education models and philosophies for nearly six months and hosted a first meeting to gauge interest Wednesday at the Lighthouse Community Church. While most other details are up in the air, the preschool’s lessons and activities will be play-based, she said.
Through her research, Bethune said she found that academic preschools actually cause children to lose enjoyment their schooling as they age. If kids can develop a critical and creative approach to problem solving, they are more likely to enjoy learning later on, she said.
Bethune’s daughter Kara Abel said she doesn’t want to push her children into structured lessons too early. Her son Jackson, 18 months, is too young for preschool now, but she wants to make sure he has somewhere to go next fall.
“He is just starting to work on not taking toys,” Abel said.
Abel said if her son had peers to base his behaviors on, he would be well adapted to successfully enter the more rigid structure in the public school system when he is old enough.
Bethune said parents can gain from being involved in their child’s preschool experience as well. They can make life-long friends and see how other parents handle parenting.
Julie Arness, mother of Oliver, 3, and Nora, 18 months, said living in the unincorporated area can feel isolating at times. She also said it would be nice to see other caretakers respond to their child’s behaviors.
“You are trying to do the right thing,” Arness said. “You think you are doing the right thing.”
She said would be on board to volunteer at the preschool regularly. At the new school, her kids would learn how to productively interact with new faces their age and their parent’s ages, she said.
“I am looking for some place for my kids to find confidence and independence away from me while still in a comfortable setting,” Arness said.
The three women agreed starting a trial play group this year would be a good idea. It would give plenty of time before next fall to develop effective daily routines, Bethune said.
For the next few months the core organizers will be focused on outreach, which will include a brochure and establishing a presence on social media, Bethune said. At the same time funding options will have to be explored, she said.
The next meeting will be on Jan. 23, 2016, at a location yet to be determined, Bethune said.
At that gathering, the discussion will include forming a steering committee to create bylaws and a constitution, and after those two formalities are established a board of directors will be chosen, she said.
The location of the actual school is still up for debate, Bethune said.
Parents could take turns hosting student groups or they could rent a space. It will likely be three age groups: those 2-3, 3-4 and 4-5 years old will meet twice or three times each week for two hours a day, she said.
“That’s the beauty of a parent-led co-op,” Bethune said. “It allows parents to have a say in what kind of education their kids are in.”