I was recently talking to someone about my old babysitting co-op and they had never heard of one. Moms, if you have very young children at home, you need one of these in your life. Never heard of a babysitting co-op before? Here is some information about running a successful one with your buddies!
What is a Co-Op?
A babysitting co-op is a supervised play date. Basically you pick a time when all the kiddos get together and there are some moms who will supervise and some moms who will be “off.” Depending on the ages of the children, this play date may be short in duration and have more moms “on” or it may be longer in duration and have more moms “off.”
I actually convinced my buddies to do a co-op with me for a few reasons. The first reason was to get some free time without having to pay a babysitter (more on budgeting here). The second reason was to provide some social interaction for my kiddo, since she is my only (more on how awesome that is here). Finally, I also felt that it was a great way for my daughter to get some separation from me while being in a familiar and safe environment. Because so many SAHM’s I knew at the time didn’t have any family nearby, they were all so thankful for the little break. It was so awesome knowing that our children would be having fun and socializing with their friends.
So how does it really work? I started by asking some moms with whom I regularly socialized if they would be interested. Some moms were on board and others were not. That’s okay. Everyone has to feel comfortable with one another in order to make it work. Next, I figured out the number of children who will be involved. The ages of the children will typically determine the number of adults needed for supervision and the duration of the co-op. For example, when my kiddo was under two, our play dates only lasted two hours. When my kiddo was closer to five, our play dates lasted for three hours.
The Nitty Gritty
Once you determine the hours of the play date and the number of adults needed to supervise, you create a master list of the dates and times so that everyone has a chance to be off the same number of times. Typically, each person will host at their home in a “round” and each person will have the same number of days “off” and “on.” This keeps everything fair. When we started, we simply rotated the hosts and “supervisors” so that everybody got a turn to host, to work, and to be off. As the kiddos got older, we simply switched to a signup genius so that each person could just signup for the dates they were available to “work” and each date required a host and enough supervision to run. We began with six moms and six kids doing three on and three off. By the time we finished our last round we had eight adults and eighteen kids with only two moms supervising. Even though we had some hectic times, the co-op almost ran itself by the time we were in our last few rounds. We even chipped in and bought a huge box of snacks that traveled from home to home for all the kiddos to enjoy.
Because I was involved with two separate groups of friends during my co-op, I can tell you that there are definitely some considerations before starting a co-op. The first is whether or not you trust everyone in the group with the supervision of your child. This is a must. If there is anyone with whom you are not comfortable, it may not be a good fit. As a teacher, I felt comfortable supervising a large group, but many moms I spoke to could not fathom supervising 18 children at one time even with another mom or two. For one round, we had a child with severe peanut allergies, so that is something that all moms have to feel comfortable with as well.
Big Mess, Big Fun
Although there was always a huge mess to clean up, I feel as though the time spent having fun was always worth it. Because there were so many kiddos involved, it always seemed as though they played with so many different combinations of children each time. Their activities varied from week to week and they had the opportunity to enjoy different toys at different homes. The Co-op was also great for our mom friendships because we were always supervising with different combinations of moms each week. We had some time to get to know one another even more deeply as our children played.
A babysitting co-op is such a great way to get some much needed free time for mom and socialization for your young ones. If you don’t know of any, it’s a great time to reach out to your close group of friends and get one started!