How long has the Co-op been operating?
The Co-op was established in 1973 and has been successfully providing an alternative, child centred, play based, community led education to children for nearly 50 years. A number of children have returned as adults, bringing their own children to Co-op for their education. The Co-op is one of the oldest progressive schools in Australia.
What are the benefits of the Co-op over a mainstream school?
The Co-op provides a small, extended family experience. It embodies the concept that 'it takes a village to raise a child' and provides a rare and genuine, close knit community experience that helps build a child's independence, self-worth, resilience, self-understanding and acceptance. There is a focus on developing life skills- social skills, health and well being and a holistic approach that ensures children are happy. Our children don't want to leave at the end of the day and are upset when it's the school holidays. Small, multi- age groups enable learning experiences to be individually tailored in a way that is often aspired to but impossible to practically achieve in larger mainstream schools. Children have freedom to take managed risks, learn at their own pace and play. They can follow their interests and are supported to take control of their learning. The 16 acres of bush and organic garden beds give them unsurpassed access to nature and the benefits of learning through nature. Music and the creative arts are central to their learning experience. We offer an incredible camp program where children build their skills in campcraft culminating in a 'Touring Camp' in Year 6 which is organised completely by the children, budget, food, and bush camping. Co-op gives children the chance to breathe, to learn who they are rather than to be told what they have to be, to have fun, to play and to be happy. Parents are given a unique opportunity to take a direct and relevant role in all aspects of their child's education.
Are you like a Steiner or Montesorri School?
The Co-op draws on philosophies from many influential educational thinkers including Rudolf Steiner, Mary Montesorri, and Jean Piaget and has some similarities with the Reggio Emilia approach. However, the Co-op does not follow a strict structure inspired by a single education theory. Our main priority is that our children are happy. We have found that children are happiest to learn in an environment that is child centred, play based, nature based, focusing on practical applications, real life experiences and flexible to individual children's needs. This is what we aim to provide them with at Co-op. Co-op is a member of the Australian Democratic Education Community (ADEC). Children are seen as active participants in the community, their own learning and the environment. The Co-op is constantly evolving depending on the community and the children present, their priorities and interests.
What role do parents play in the school?
The Co-op is a parent run school, parents are involved in all aspects of running the school, attending regular school meetings, helping with activities with the children, cleaning and working bees. This gives parents the opportunity to bring their skills and passions to a vibrant, caring community and to be closely involved with their child's education and the education of other children. The community is very supportive and acts like an extended family.
What is 'time on' and what do parents do for their 'time on' activities?
'Time on' is what we call the parent commitment to coming into school and helping for either a half or whole day each week. All parents have a Working With Children Check. Activities depend on the parent, their confidence and their interest. It might involve reading with children, organising an art, music, sport or writing activity, playing board games, doing puzzles, making slime, cooking, woodwork, organising an excursion or anything the parent feels comfortable teaching. Another role is supervising unstructured free play outside and helping children to solve any social conflicts that arise. Teachers and more experienced parents can help with ideas and with running the activity on the day.
How are classes arranged?
Many of the core literacy and numeracy skills are delivered in small groups of children of a similar age/level of understanding. Other activities are in multi-age interest groups so children have the opportunity to work with and learn from children of different ages. Most of the literacy and numeracy activities are completed in the morning and specialist activities in the afternoon. There are two structured learning times each day. The rest of the day children are free to play and explore their interests. We have children split into three groups littlies (prep-2), middlies (3-4) and biggies (5-6).
What Curriculum do you teach?
We teach the Victorian Curriculum. We use play based learning, activities based on individual interests and practical, real life applications where possible. We try and encourage 'kids teaching kids' and use multi age learning groups to enable children to interact with and learn from their peers. Because we allow children to develop at an individual pace, the curriculum is not covered at the same pace as a mainstream school, however, by the end of primary school we aim to ensure that they have the numeracy and literacy skills they need to confidently transition to high school.
How are children assessed at Co-op?
Most parents have asked that their child is not assessed against national standards, as children grow and develop at their own individual rate. Parents usually ask that their child does not take part in standardised testing. Assessment is through teacher observation and the regular collection of portfolio pieces in the 8 learning areas (literacy, numeracy, science, language, technology, health and well being, arts, humanities). Progress is regularly discussed with parents. Each child has a detailed individual learning plan that is drawn up in consultation with children and parents.
How do children transition to high school after attending Co-op?
Children from Co-op generally transition very well to high school, typically Eltham High or Templestowe College. High School teachers have reported that Co-op children are notable for their creative problem solving skills, social skills, independence and resilience. Children from Co-op often excel in the creative arts, music and engineering. One teacher from Eltham High recently commented how Co-op children were 'like social glue holding together others in the cohort'.
What is consensus decision making and how does it work at Co-op?
Decisions at Co-op are consensus decisions, meaning that everyone has to discuss and agree on actions before they are taken. People can also abstain if it's an area they don't feel strongly about. In practice, this means that at meetings everyone's viewpoint is sought and considered. We feel it helps ensure everyones voice is heard and enables everyone to valued and to feel ownership over Co-op and how it is run. Sometimes it can take a while to come to mutually agreed outcomes, but often people are in agreement. Discussions are carried out respectfully, all members of the community are valued equally and we have robust conflict resolution strategies in place for the rare occasions that there are more serious disagreements.
Would my child fit in at Co-op?
You are the best person to understand your child's needs, if you visit Co-op you will be able to see how it would work for your child. Most children thrive in the freedom of the Co-op environment, however, those that prefer a lot of structure may sometimes find it difficult to adjust.
How do I find out more?
Contact us and come to visit us. We are happy to answer any questions that you may have, if you come for a visit you will get a better understanding of how Co-op works on a day-to-day basis.