Thursday, December 15, 2005

How to Start a Babysitting Co-op

How to Start a Babysitting Co-op
Sarah Banerjee

When we arrived in Arlington, Virginia, I was pregnant with a two-year-old and had no friends, the Arlington County Co-operative Playgroup system was a life-saver. Arlington County has a bunch of Community Centers, each of which houses different things - Playgroups, pre-schools, elder-care facilities etc. I joined the Madison Community Center Co-operative Playgroup at the Madison Community Center. The room/facility was provided by the county, but everything in the room (toys, cleaning supplies, furniture, etc.) was paid for by member dues. Members paid $25 for 3 or 4 months.

Each member joins one of the playgroup sessions (either Monday & Wednesday morning, Tuesday & Thursday morning, Monday & Wednesday afternoon, Tuesday &Thursday afternoon, or Friday morning). Then, for 3 out of every 12 sessions, the member is required to work. Members sign up the month before for dates that suit his/her schedule. Members are responsible for 1) an activity (i.e. art project using supplies provided by the playgroup), 2) a snack and water or juice for all of the kids, OR 3) cleaning on three different days. Each member does one of these each time s/he works, and then the other 9 out of 12 days, the member can drop his/her child/children off to be cared for by the 3 working moms (in this case—Dad’s can join too!). If a member has two kids then s/he would be required to work 6 out of 12 days).

Each member always sign his/her child in and out and leaves a contact number. All members have to do CPR/First Aid training class and have a security background check (to be sure you aren't leaving your kids with some shifty character) before starting. The Madison County Community Coop required kid's vaccinations to be up to date. Our playgroup was limited to twelve kids, so the ratio of adults to kids was 4 to 1. The ages were from one (walking) to three.

Since it’s always the same group of moms and kids, you get to know the other moms, and can strategically sign up to work with the ones you like and avoid the ones you don’t. Then you have some built-in social time during playgroup. The kids do all their parallel-playing and the moms sit around on tiny kid chairs chatting. We even set up moms-night out a few times and went crazy on the town at the local Cheesecake Factory.

If anyone lives in an area where you can get the county/city to provide the facility, I would highly recommend this co-operative playgroup set-up. It does take a little more time than just showing up with a snack once in awhile, but once it’s up and running, it basically runs itself. That’s actually when I joined – when the group was already chugging along smoothly – so I can’t speak to all the work that must go into setting it up, but I imagine that initially, you would have to set up a Board or Mom Committee with a President, Treasurer etc, and have regular meetings to make sure the place is running smoothly and safely. You would also have to get the place furnished with member donations or higher initial dues. As far as finding a space for the playgroup, look for places that are already used partially for other things – senior care houses, teen centers, churches or any place that is already funded/supported by the county.

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