“They really do keep the school moving and going,” said head teacher Mary Mathieson. Recently the board changed the curriculum and the programs being offered. “Everyone really has a say,” she said. The co-op started in January of 1968, with a group of parents who wanted quality education for their children and wanted to be involved in their learning. The program has evolved over the years, but the core of quality education and involved parents hasn’t changed.
“We have some great families,” said Mathieson. “People make lifelong friends here, not just the kiddos, the parents, too.”
The curriculum is a developmental play-based program with each part of the day broken into segments where the students have time to explore different areas of the classroom like dramatic play, art, fine motor skills and the sensory table. There is also small group time where volunteers and teachers do specific activities based around themes.
“It’s very hands on,” said Mathieson. Each class has circle time, where they work on pre-learning skills like sitting in a circle, learning letters, numbers and raising hands. They also have story time, snack time and play outside in the fenced in yard.
The students enjoy the sensory table filled with a rotating material like sand, rice and beans. “They love building in the block area, the art center where there are no guidelines, or playdough. The dramatic play area changes with the theme from a pet hospital, kitchen area, space station. They also love our playground,” Mathieson said. She also mentioned that volcanos are always a hit.
The center is unique because each parent helps in the classroom. They get involved with the kids and the activities. New this year, Gorham Cooperative Preschool is offering an opt-out program. For a fee, parents who have to work or can’t volunteer can choose this option. “It’s not that they don’t want to help. They have to work. We want to be inclusive and open up to all types of families,” said Mathieson.
“We spend a lot of time getting to know our students and getting to know them as individuals. We focus on the whole child,” she said.
For 10 years, Gorham Cooperative Preschool has been at its present location at 28 Ball Park Road in Gorham. There are programs for children ages three to five. The program for 3-year-olds takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the second session is from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Four-year-olds have preschool on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. There is also a full day program for 4-year-olds getting ready for all day kindergarten, where the children attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays.
The final program is a combined 3- and 4-year-old class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. To enroll, the child must be 3 years old by October 15. The teachers prefer the children are potty trained, but will work with them. Children with disabilities or who work with CDS are welcome and occupational or speech therapies are available during class time for those children who need it.
“We foster children socially, academically and emotionally,” said Mathieson. “We want them to feel good about themselves, learn how to ask for help and have good self-esteem.”
Children come from Gorham and all surrounding towns including Windham.