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In The Beginning:    A New Folk Movement in the United States


Katharine Whiteside Taylor was a pioneer and nationally known consultant for the parent education cooperative movement in the United States.  Ms. Taylor was contracted by the Seattle Public Schools in 1941 to develop parent cooperative playgroups in Washington State.   Following are quotes about the development of cooperative groups for parents and children in the United States from her book PARENT COOPERATIVE NURSERY SCHOOLS, published by the Teacher College, Columbia University, 1954 (pp.3-4).


The first cooperative nursery school in the United States was started in 1916 by a group of twelve faculty wives at the University of Chicago who wanted to secure social education for their children, parent education for themselves and a little free time to volunteer for the Red Cross.


During the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s cooperative nursery schools expanded to other states.   Many coops were affiliated with higher education institutions and public schools such as Smith College in New York, University of California in Lost Angeles, Berkeley Public Schools in California and Seattle Public Schools.


It is significant that cooperatives are not limited to any one socio-economic level.  True, in most localities the first groups started with college educated women (parents) of comfortable economic status.  But once a good example was established, it was usually followed by parent groups of varying backgrounds and earning capacity.


Further evidence of the value of cooperatives in meeting the needs of both children and parents is the way they carried on and grew with changing leadership, both lay and professional.  Their success has depended on the continual development of new leaders.


In her book Ms. Taylor estimated 500 parent cooperatives were operating in the United States in 1954.  Katharine Whiteside Taylor (1897-1989) was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 1996.  She devoted her life to cooperation, education, children and peace.


The Parent Education Cooperative Model


The Parent Education Cooperative Model in Washington State is based on the format describe in Katharine Whiteside Taylor’s books.   The enrolling parents operate and financially support a child development laboratory for their children. Since parents are responsible for the business and financial arrangements, they learn how to apply concepts of group development, group decision-making, and resource management.


The children’s program provides the experiential core for adult learning about early childhood education and child development.  The parents also attend adult education classes to supplement the laboratory experience as teacher assistants and to explore a range of issues related to family relations and home management. 


In the 1980’s and 1990’s this original model was adapted to include other parent child programs such as campus child care, and grant funded programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start and school district early childhood programs. These program variations still follow the cooperative model that include parent-child interactions and parent decision-making.


Organization of Parent Education Programs (OPEP)


OPEP is a professional organization of program coordinators employed in Washington state community and technical colleges. The leadership group has changed titles over the years: Consumer and Homemaking Education Coordinators in 1976; Organization of Parent Education Coordinators (OPEC) in 1983; Organization of Parent Education Programs (OPEP) in Washington Technical and Community Colleges in 1994.


The Coordinator’s group meets three times per year to share information, curriculum development and content, personnel training and interagency collaboration. 

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