Published 23/12/20  2:16pmby Helen Long

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A cohousing taster

ChaCo Prospective Member Helen Long writes…

In preparation for Chaco, my family decided to join an established cohousing community and learn the ropes. Our adventure started three months ago. Here is a day in our life…

Before the school run, the big children gather at the bike shed to collect their scooters. Toddler, age 2, squashes their face and jammy hands onto the window to watch. When the big children acknowledge them, my toddler feels pretty cool. Mixing with children of different ages has been one of the best aspects of co-housing life, and something it’s harder to find elsewhere.

The bike shed is conveniently opposite our house. We are separated by a footpath, which we call The Street. There is no road, and no dangerous traffic. It is safe to let Toddler out to stare some more, with me standing by the door. After a squabble over putting coats on, Toddler rushes out, shouting the big children’s names. They are flattered Toddler learnt to pronounce these. Toddler trots up and down on their balance bike a bit, and comes inside when the others leave. There are other ride-on-toys lying around in the street, which anyone is welcome to share.

Seeing neighbours on a daily basis has given Toddler the opportunity to forge fewer, but stronger relationships than they had before we moved here. They didn’t learn their friend’s names before either. In our previous life, we saw people at the swings or library, but not often the same people. I’d supervise Toddler during weekly playgroups, then leave in a hurry for a wee/ meal/ nap, without the chance to chat.

When we first moved in, Toddler preferred to watch the big one’s rough play, and some of them weren’t so sure about letting little ones join in. In time, and with adult encouragement, Toddler has mostly become part of the gang. It has been great to have the time to see these friendships develop. We’ve learnt the value of being able to knock on parent’s doors, and get to know them, so as to share responsibilities as friends. We should make use of this opportunity which is enabled in cohousing.

Later in the day, we wander along to the sandpit and play house on the terrace which adjoins our shared garden. The community also has a playroom with: keyboards, a doll house, train set and cushions to be made into dens and jumping launch pads. There is a home corner in The Street, and another quiet home, reading, jigsaws and crafts area to the Common house.

We bump into a preschool play mate, and Toddler gets stuck in. In the past, I sometimes found it hard to arrange playdates, as the babies would sleep at unexpected times or get fed up on public transport. This took very little effort.
The other mother and I pull up chairs and hang around chatting while the children are occupied. It’s lovely for me too that we keep meeting the same people, and that they have been pleasant to us at least. I can ask the Mum to wait with the children while I pop to the laundry or shop; since these are both next-door it only takes a minute. I can easily bring Toddler to get a snack or go to the toilet without extensive planning or packing.

Toddler is covered in sand and water, so we make the very short journey home. We change into some of our many handed-down big child pants; another benefit of living here. We will spend a relaxed afternoon in the warmth of the passivhaus. Downstairs is one large room, so we can always see one another. There are windows on both sides, and always something to look at. Toddler enjoys the extra space compared to our old flat, and having toilets on both floors is handy in emergencies.

When darkness falls, the festive lights switch on. Toddler, Daddy and I go to view today’s daily advent calendar window. We bring our cups to sample whatever treats people have put outside their home. It’s exciting for Toddler to be out at night (about 5.30pm), and to see the stars and moon. They have become as comfortable with some of the adults as the children, and quickly put in a drink order. The events haven’t been to everyone’s taste, but it’s exciting for Daddy and me to have a (socially distanced) social life without the stress of getting home for bedtime.

Toddler is playing with a younger friend now, giving them motivation to show off their new walking skills. Then they teach the art of squeezing a grape so the seeds splatter up the wall. It is heartening and amusing to see Toddler being the bigger one, and a great opportunity for them to learn to live gently. We make an informal child care arrangement, before heading home. Toddler (complains until they eventually) falls fast asleep.

Read more about eco parenting and look out for forthcoming courses on Vegan Family Guide.


Children’s books with community living themes

Can you think of more? Suggest them in the comments…

  • I Live in a Hut – a day-in-the-life of a child in Sadhana Forest, Auroville
  • The Tales of Brambly Hedge – a mouse village beside a river with a store stump
  • Katie Morag series – life on an island where everyone knows each other
  • Anna Hibiscus series – child growing up with an extended family
  • King Otter – otter dresses up as a king and bosses hedgehogs and squirrels around, then realises it is better to be friends
  • Everybunny Dance – the unifying force of collective joy
  • Cyril and Pat – squirrel becomes friends with a rat, against the advice of other park animals
  • Errol’s Garden – child initiates a community roof garden

Comments

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Ali Phelps 3.1.21

Thanks Helen for adding the film and booklist as well to the blog, a great taste of Lancaster. We'll need to be so creative to find river and canoeing substitute attractions!

Helen Barclay 2.1.21

Thanks Helen, this was really lovely to read. And the website is wonderful, presented beautifully and so useful as well as interesting!

Katy Lovelace 1.1.21

Great blog!! :) Thanks for sharing these insights. Makes me look forward even more to enjoying the benefits of cohousing!