Last year, a group of parents and I founded Oak Leaf, a nature-based cooperative preschool in the Chicago area. We were gearing up to open this September, but the licensing process dragged on longer than anticipated. When we announced to prospective families that we would need more time to launch, we quickly pivoted to a new program for the fall: hour-long morning enrichment classes for children and caregivers, and after school clubs for older siblings.
Enrichment classes are a great tool for promoting preschool programs, both new and long-established. Parent-tot classes, after school activities, and weekend workshops help build a community of future enrollees and allow prospective families to sample what an early childhood program has to offer before committing to a full school year.
Oak Leaf’s focus is outdoor learning and environmental stewardship, so at our weekly classes, families will explore local wildlife habitats, paint with mud, and collect acorns to grind into flour for bread-baking - all activities our preschoolers will engage in when we formally launch.
To give parents a taste of the cooperative school model, consider creating an enrichment advisory board or even welcoming participants to join the school board, if they are particularly passionate about your school’s mission. Parents can also volunteer in some capacity during class or behind the scenes. At Oak Leaf, a mom with photography experience offered to help snap photos and update social media.
Largely exempt from state licensing, enrichment programs are quick to start up and easy to budget for. Operating costs are relatively low, especially for established schools that already rent classroom space and pay for liability insurance.
For startups, holding classes outdoors at a public park can reduce costs while connecting families with nature. (Pro tip: make sure to contact your local parks department for permission, and scout out whether a park has public bathrooms.) Liability insurance is often expensive for new schools, but the cost is manageable when spread out over multiple enrichment offerings.
Instructor fees make up the bulk of our budget. We are paying two former public school teachers $90 per class as independent contractors, but the cost of hiring seasoned professionals is well worth it. The teachers are developing high-quality, developmentally appropriate lessons incorporating literacy, art, science, and music. Established schools can tap into existing talent and pay classroom teaching staff to facilitate programs outside school hours.
We budgeted a few hundred dollars for materials, but plan to save money and live our mission of promoting environmental stewardship by finding most of what we need - art and music supplies, magnifying glasses, books, cooking equipment, a wagon for transporting materials outdoors- at garage sales, thrift stores, and used book sales at the local library; at a recent library sale, I purchased nearly 100 quality picture books for only $20!
As Oak Leaf’s board president, I’ll be handling administrative tasks for our enrichment program. To register families, I turned to Jovial. When we were on track to launch the school in September, I’d planned to use the software to enroll families in our first preschool class. Jovial was able to accommodate our change in plans.
I published two simple registration forms, one linked to after school clubs, another to child-caregiver classes, to Hello Portal, and embedded the URL on Oak Leaf’s website. To finalize registration, participants must make an e-payment for a 10-week semester. If parents prefer to drop in, rather than commit to a full semester, they can email me in advance to inquire if spots are available, and sign up through a separate Jovial form.
My fellow board members and I have also floated the idea of offering occasional, free weekend events for larger groups of families: a beach cleanup day, a monarch butterfly migration festival, or a workshop on native plant gardens.
Since Jovial is so versatile, we will use the software to register families for these one-time events. The more we can familiarize families with Jovial in advance, and the more parents that join the Family Portal before our preschool opens, the better.
Jovial offers high-quality preschool management software — at no charge — to all non-profits and smaller for-profits.About Jovial
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