We have all read about the loss of the traditional neighborhood where kids just went outside all afternoon with their friends and came back in time for dinner. In order to recreate some regular times for my kids to connect with their friends, I decided to create some kid “co-ops,” for lack of a better word.
The first kid co-op I started was when my oldest daughter was 2 years old. I organized a playgroup for her and her two good friends three days a week. We had a different theme every week, including a letter and number we would try and incorporate. It was great because the girls had a little bit of structure and a lot of unstructured play time, and we moms got two mornings to ourselves each week.
I have since organized a number of these types of groups for my children and for adults, and I wanted to share these ideas for others who may want to create similar groups in their communities, churches, or school groups.
The Toddler/Preschool Years
Outing Group: In addition to the playgroups I organized for my children, I planned an outing group for my son the year before he started kindergarten. I had heard of nature awareness preschools, and thought that I could easily replicate that on my own to add to his traditional preschool days.
I went online to research interesting kid-friendly destinations in the area, and made a schedule for the same day each month so that it was a predictable day for everyone. We did things ranging from going to a pumpkin patch, hiking in the hills, doing a service project at the local YMCA, and visiting a nearby farm. It was a great experience for kids and moms alike!
* Editor’s Note: Another great group to start for preschoolers is a Joy School group (Joy School is a do-it-yourself co-op preschool where a small group of moms take turns teaching in their homes using the detailed lesson plans provided).
Service Opportunities: One of my volunteer positions at my children’s elementary school has been to be the coordinator of community service opportunities for the kids. I feel very strongly about exposing our kids to people who are in different situations than our own, and helping them develop a sense of “giving back” to those who are less fortunate than we are. While this hasn’t been a traditional co-op, it has been a great way to organize service opportunities for moms and their kids.
My volunteer partner and I have coordinated an annual food drive in the fall, a toy drive in December, and in the spring we go read or play Bingo with seniors at the local senior center. These activities have been great ways to spend meaningful time with my children, and they have helped other families incorporate some service into their kids’ busy schedules.
Summer Camp: Another co-op I started for my kids in these early years was a summer camp co-op. Each of five mom and child teams chose a fun activity to do on their assigned day, and we rotated turns to host as well. Some of the fun activities the kids and moms have come up with have been a lemonade stand, a water day with water balloons and slip and slides, making tie-dye t-shirts, making soap, making homemade jam, making lavender wreaths, making a video together, doing a scavenger hunt, and doing a sewing project. As my girls have gotten older, they added outings like going to a water park and biking to frozen yogurt to the list. (This would work very well as part of the Do-it-Yourself Summer Camp that many moms in the Power of Moms community have enjoyed.)
My oldest daughter has also hosted summer camps for younger children with her friends, which has been a great way to earn money, to learn about budgeting and caring for children, and to spend time with friends.
Movie Night: I have also organized a group of my son’s friends to do a monthly movie night on Friday nights. Since my girls had been having sleepovers with friends for years, I thought this could be a way for my youngest child to have something fun and social without dealing with sleepovers yet. And again, by rotating the responsibility, the moms were willing to provide food and have their house get a little (or a lot!) messy knowing that they wouldn’t have to do it again for four more months!
Late Elementary/Middle School Years
Book Groups: As my children reached the later elementary years and middle school, I wanted them to have opportunities to do activities with their friends that would be social but that would also build on common interests. Mother-daughter book groups are popular ways to achieve this with children who love to read.
The most successful way we have chosen books has been to have each girl bring two or three books they have either loved or really want to read to the initial meeting. After describing the basic plot, the group votes on which of that girl’s books they would like to read. This way we could plan ahead for the next six to eight meetings without having to take time to do the selection process at each meeting, and we achieved a balance between each girl’s choice and something that appeals to the group as a whole.
Volunteer Groups: When my oldest daughter entered middle school, she was no longer able to participate in the same service activities that I had led in elementary school. I really wanted her to have these opportunities—especially during these pre-teen years when kids tend to be pretty self-absorbed!
I recruited five of her friends and their moms who were interested in volunteering, and I set up a rotation where each mom took a turn driving the girls to help at an after-school program at a low-income school every other Friday. This was a great way to enable the girls to spend time together in the car and to value serving in the community. I have learned through my years of volunteering in the community that it is always more fun to do it with a friend or two, and I think this is especially true for kids and teens!
Groups for Adults
After all the time and energy we spend planning things for the kids, we need to take time to plan fun activities for ourselves! Sometimes we get so busy with our families during the week that the weekend arrives and we have no plans for ourselves as couples to go out on a date, recharge, and reconnect!
Dinner Group: Depending on our stage of life, I have started certain couples groups in the different cities where we have lived. Before we had children, I started a dinner club where a bunch of couples from church signed up to participate and I made a monthly schedule grouping three couples together at a time. The host couple made dinner and the other couples brought a side and dessert.
When we started having children this became more complicated, so I have also organized a dessert night group, a game night group, a theater group, and a movie night out group—all with the same model of monthly gatherings where the hosting responsibility is rotated. These have been simpler to coordinate and have been fun, inexpensive ways to get to know other couples and have fun together.
Discussion Group: I have also formed groups just for other women and me. Most of us are or have been in a book group, and that can be extremely fulfilling. I also started a discussion group years ago with four of my closest friends. We alternate hosting and pick topics of interest to discuss in an open, confidential manner. We have discussed topics such as New Year’s resolutions, establishing family traditions, exchanging recipes, emergency preparedness, communication in marriage, and many others. This has been such a great time to connect with my good friends and get trusted advice and input on a wide range of topics. (For step-by-step instructions on setting up a great motherhood-focused discussion group, check out the Learning Circles program.)
These various co-ops for kids as well as adults have really been helpful in our different stages as a family. My children and I have made new friends, experienced local destinations, learned new skills, and had fun together. It’s easy to do—just think about what you and your kids are interested in, email a group of friends, and have fun!
QUESTION: What activities might you like to focus on in establishing a co-op?
CHALLENGE: Make a list of families or friends you could invite to help you set up a co-op.
Images provided by Heidi Mickelson.