Sitting on the floor, Mike Brown seems immersed as he enjoys a board game with his competitors.
While he's playing now, he plans later to sweep up as the teacher leads the children in circle time.
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Playing games, reading books or cleaning up, parents are a usual presence at the Mundelein Cooperative Preschool, where officials say the mission is to increase parental involvement as children play and learn and let parents take an active role in their child's early education.
"What being this involved in the school does is it builds crucial connection between the parent, teacher and the child," said director Laura Davenport. "We know as early educators that connection is optimal for child development."
The school was organized as a nonprofit organization in 1949 by parents. Situated at various locations through Mundelein, it has stayed on Route 176 west of Route 60/83 since 2001.
The one-room school offers classes for children ages 3 to 5 Monday through Friday. Each class features about 15 students and draws children from across Lake County, including Lake Zurich, Wauconda, Hawthorn Woods, Round Lake, Mundelein, Grayslake and Vernon Hills.
Davenport said one way parents get involved with the school is volunteering as classroom aides. She added volunteering is optional, understanding some parents cannot. Most often, parents play with the children, who are used to having parents at school.
Brown first volunteered when Skylar, 7, was enrolled, and has continued as Autumn, 5, attends. He recalls when he was able to amaze the children by sticking homemade slime to the ceiling. Everyone smiled as they watched it slowly dangle lower from the ceiling.
"I have a lot of fun playing with them, getting messy with them," said Brown of Mundelein.
Davenport said the focus is learning through play, where the children engage their mind and body as they develop communication skills, motor skills, emotionally and socially.
She added, "Play does not mean chaos. What they are doing is initiating their interest and it is helping them to be a good thinker."
Brown added being in the classroom also is a chance to know what Autumn is learning and who she interacts with.
"It's important for a parent to be involved in all aspects in a child's life," he said. "It's nice that I get to know their friends and see how they interact with everybody."
While parents get to see their child in school, Davenport added what she likes best is staff can fulfill their mission to "help parents navigate being a parent." That comes with 30 years experience in the education field, as well as constantly seeking articles and blogs regarding child development, which she shares with parents.
"For many parents, they have their first child here. They don't have extended family nearby like it used to be. If you had a problem, you called mom or grandma. It's not like that anymore," she said. "We can answer those questions about why is your child doing this? For most things, there is a developmental reason why."
A public schoolteacher, Beth Hoferitza enrolled her son Keith at Mundelein Cooperative Preschool because she wanted to be involved in his education. Now a teacher there, she sees parents and children enjoy interacting and can do so much more herself because of the help.
"It could not be as exciting and elaborate. We couldn't do as much because we didn't have all those adults in the classroom all the time," she said.
Being a nonprofit organization, the school is required to organize a board of directors. This, Davenport said, is what gives parents another opportunity to provide input. The board, which meets monthly, includes parents whose children are enrolled and the general public. Davenport said one parent stayed on the board 10 years while all her children attended the preschool.
"The parents can let us know what they'd like to see their children doing too. We are working together," she said.
Parents also help run the school by serving on committees, such as organizing fundraisers, maintaining the building and marketing the preschool. This not only keeps parents connected, but also helps the school keep costs lower.
Lisa Goldfayn, whose 3½-year-old twins, Bella and Noah, attend preschool, assists on the housekeeping committee to clean the building and do laundry, and she serves as the registrar.
"The school doesn't have to pay an external company to do these things and that helps keep costs down for us parents," she said.
By being present in her children's school, Goldfayn said, she shows them at a young age that education matters.
"It's important to the children that they see that we care," said Goldfayn of Lake Zurich. "I hope to continue this through their education."
Davenport said Mundelein Cooperative Preschool can be a model for other preschools. Having parental involvement can elevate the quality of the program and give parents support.
"Wouldn't knowing you could have experienced, educated teachers who genuinely care for the families in their program be a comfort? Knowing you can ask questions or seek advice at anytime?" she asked. "I think it is the heart of Mundelein Cooperative Preschool."