How to Determine If You Need a Family Child Care Business License or Zoning Permit

If you’ve been overwhelmed by the administrative and legal requirements of starting your own in-home preschool or childcare, you’re not alone. Many potential directors ask us about business licensing and zoning during the startup phase.

We hope to clear up some questions you might still have about whether you need a family child care business license or zoning permit and how to go about getting one if you do.

Just think: soon you’ll have your business up and running and you can enjoy the benefits of working for yourself, in your own home, doing what you love.

Starting a preschool or child care in your home? The business side of setup can get overwhelming very quickly. In this post, we go over how to determine if your city requires a business license or zoning permit for your new family child care.

What is a business license?

A business license is issued by the local government to legally allow you to conduct business. To get the license, you must meet local requirements and pay an annual fee. Business licenses usually cost from $80 up to a couple hundred dollars per year. Costs are set by local governments and can vary across your state.

Here’s the thing: you may not need a business license to operate a family child care. Whether you need one or not will depend on your city and county laws.

You will, however, need a family child care license, which is another entity entirely.

Business license v. family child care license

Family child care licenses are issued by the state to make sure all adults in the home have undergone a background check and the space is safe for children. They also ensure periodic inspections to guarantee the home is still operating within regulations and has proper paperwork on file.

Reading a book in in-home preschool
School Director Diep Vo reading with a student at Little Butterfly Small School in San Lorenzo, CA

The Community Care Licensing Division of the California Department of Social Services presides over this process. There are two types of licenses you can get for in-home child care: small for up to 8 children or large for up to 14 children.

These state-mandated child care licenses differ from business licenses: business licenses are controlled by the city or county your business is located in and are required for most businesses, not just in-home child cares.

What is a zoning permit?

A zoning permit allows you to use land for another purpose besides what it is zoned for. You may need a special zoning permit to operate an in-home preschool or child care in your area.

The state of California gives cities three options of how to treat zoning permits and family child cares:

  • No permit necessary – the city can choose not to require any special permit for family child care homes
  • Nondiscretionary permit – the city can choose to require a zoning permit and may make rules in any of the four following areas for large family child cares. If you apply for the permit and follow the rules, you must be granted the permit and your neighbors cannot argue.
    • Space and concentration
    • Traffic control
    • Parking
    • Noise level
  • Conditional use permit – the city can choose to require a zoning permit and may create rules around the same four areas as in the nondiscretionary permit. In addition, a zoning administrator will give notice to any property owners within 100 feet of the family child care property line and they have the opportunity to ask for a hearing and contest the child care.

Small family child care homes

California state law says you don’t need to worry about business licenses and zoning permits if you operate a small family child care. Small family child care homes are considered a residential use of property by law and “No local jurisdiction shall impose any business license, fee, or tax for the privilege of operating a small family day care home” according to the California Health and Safety Code section 1597.45.

Your city and/or county may say they require that you get a zoning permit and/or business license, but technically you are not legally obligated to do so according to California state law.

Children playing in-home preschool
Children playing at the American French Preschool

Large family child care homes

You will need to check with your city and county Planning Departments and Finance Departments to know what you will need in terms of zoning permits and business licenses, respectively, if you wish to open a large family child care.

  1. Start by checking your city and county Finance Department and Planning Department websites.
  2. If the information you find isn’t clear, call each department and ask what they require to start a family child care. Just make sure that they point to a legal document to support whatever requirements they say you’ll need, otherwise you might end up going in circles trying to get the correct legal information.

When should I apply?

You should look into the zoning permit first, especially if you are moving somewhere with the intention of opening or transitioning to a large family child care on your property. You will want to make sure you will be allowed to do so before you make any further commitments.

As for the business license, it depends. Some business license applications will require that you have already received your family child care license from the state. In this case, you will want to apply for the business license after the state family child care license. On the other hand, the family child care licensing application might require that you already have a business license so you can get stuck in a circle. It’s key to get in touch with the Finance office in the beginning stages of starting your in-home preschool or child care to find out more about what you will need to do and when.

San Francisco case study: Getting a large family child care business license & zoning permit

We spoke with officers from the San Francisco city government and asked them about the procedure involved in getting a business license and zoning permit for a large family child care. San Francisco is unique in that it’s both a city and a county, so you wouldn’t need to check with both. This is what we learned:

Zoning map of San Francisco
Source

Zoning permit

You’re not required to have a zoning permit to care for fewer than 14 children but it’s “a good idea” (says the Planning Department) to get one. San Francisco offers nondiscretionary zoning permits for small and large family child cares and you have to go to their office to get it. (Again, state law says you cannot be required to have any permit or business license as a small family child care.)

You need to contact them beforehand to check your zoning to make sure it’s even possible to proceed, but you only apply for the permit AFTER you have your family child care license from the state.

For more than 15 children (extremely unlikely as this breaks licensing rules), you would need a conditional permit.

If you will be making modifications to the residence, you may need a one-time building permit, also from the Planning Department.

Business license

To start a large family child care, the San Francisco Business Portal says you will need something called a business registration, not a license.

You should apply for your business registration after you have started the state’s family child care licensing process because you will need proof of your family child care license first.

Circle time in in-home daycare
Another Wonderschool Director, Pattie Martinez, and her students

The fee amount depends on your estimated annual gross receipts and if your business is categorized as Schedule A or B. Family child care is Schedule A, according to the San Francisco Business Portal. If you have between $0-$100,000 in annual gross receipts, the minimum annual fee for your large family child care business registration will be $91.

To register your business, go to the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector website or stop by their office in person. Make sure that if you are using a unique name for your business that you include it in your registration paperwork. This should be the same name you use to register for a Fictitious Business Name (see below). You will need to have already decided what type of business entity you will be to fill out the business registration information.

After you register your business, you need to file for a fictitious business name if you have created a special name for your business. This can be done in person at the Office of the County Clerk and will also incur a fee.


References:

Know the Law About Business Licenses and Zoning Permits for Family Child Care Homes in California from the Child Care Law Center

How to Start a Forest School

A forest school, also known as forest kindergarten, outdoor nursery, nature kindergarten, or nature preschool, is a type of early childhood education that takes place in forests or woodlands. The curriculum is fluid, focusing on learner-led outdoor play that encourages curiosity and exploration.

Forest schools have a small but growing presence in the States. Preschool teachers are looking for more information on how to start a forest school to meet the growing demand around the country for more nature-focused outdoor play-based early childhood education.

A video from the Surrey County Council in England demonstrating forest school in action

What are forest schools: The pedagogy

Learner-led: Instead of presenting investigative questions, instructors of forest schools observe and support children in their chosen activities and forms of play. This allows children to develop confidence and independence as well as internal motivation to learn.

Hands-on experiential learning: Forest schools are based on hands-on learning to foster a child’s holistic development. Students build interpersonal skills like teamwork, communication, cooperation, and problem-solving. They also build spatial and motor development. Unlike traditional indoor school, forest schools do not have tests and assignments, but students are praised for skill sharing. Forest schools focus on the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL).

Supported risk taking: Students are taught to take risks with the support of an instructor. For example, students may explore climbing trees, using metal tools, and lighting a fire. Instructors help students assess risks and benefits so their decisions are always informed. Forest schools have a higher instructor to learner ratio than other types of learning environments. Risk taking builds resilience and self-esteem in young children that will improve their judgment as they grow.

Environmental literacy: Students learn about nature and the world around them. They grow a better understanding and appreciation for wilderness and how we as humans can healthily interact and live within nature.

The UK Forest School Association has more information on criteria for forest school best practices.

What are forest schools: The physical entity

Cooking stick bread around a campfire in forest school
Children learning to cook “stick bread” around a campfire. Source

Many forest schools in Europe are based in woodlands around a central campfire, although this is not always a feature. Students attend forest school in all weather and climates (unless the weather is deemed too dangerous) to experience different sensations.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes” – Forest school mantra

Some schools offer variations in which students attend school in the forest only once a week for a certain number of weeks, but the more time they spend in the forest, the more they reap the benefits of forest school. Ideally, school is held outside 100% of the time. Either way, the key is consistent time spent learning in the forest over a longer period of time.

A brief history of forest schools

The Laona Forest School in Wisconsin was the first “school forest” that was also used as a forest school starting in the 1920’s.

However, Scandinavia popularized forest schools as we know them today starting in the 1950’s. Forest schools started popping up in Denmark as the country struggled with a lack of indoor space for young childhood education centers. The trend later spread to Sweden in the 1980’s. Today, forest schools can be found around the world in countries like Germany (“Waldkindergarten”), the UK, Australia (“bush kindy”), New Zealand, and beyond.

Tender Tracks in Fairfax, California was founded in 1996 and is the first known modern forest school in the States. According to Natural Start Alliance, an alliance of educators, parents, and organization that advocates for connecting children with the environment, there are an estimated 240 nature preschools in the States, although they are not operationally identical.

Children playing outside by river
Source

Forest schools are growing in popularity in the States as parents realize the focus on test-taking instead of social and emotional development is detrimental to children.

When kindergarten was created in Germany in the 1800’s, there was an integrated outdoor play element that has since been pushed aside in favor of preparing children academically for elementary school.

Parents are now returning to the roots of early childhood education and looking for a more holistic approach that considers not only more “academic” types of knowledge but social and emotional skills as well.

In a deeper sense, the idea of learning through play in nature is instinctive to human beings. It’s a type of learning as old as our species.

A breath of fresh air: Forest school benefits for students

The scientific literature supports that children can benefit from spending time outdoors. Forest school provides the following evidence-based benefits to children:

Forest School infographic

Starting your own forest school in California

Who should start a forest school?

Many directors choose to start a forest school as opposed to a regular family child care if they live in a high-income area where there is a demand for child care but the cost of renting in the area is prohibitive to starting an in-home preschool.

Teachers with a background in earth science or outdoor education are especially well-suited, but you can certainly start a forest school without this background. There is no official certifying body in the States yet, but you can access pedagogical information online and through the forest school community in California to build a strong program that aligns with the values of forest school.

The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers based in Santa Barbara offers specialized forest school teacher training. You can access more resources on environmental science/nature/outdoor education from the Natural Start Alliance’s resources page.

Where can I start a school?

If you own a large piece of forested private property, this is an ideal location for a forest school since you will not need to worry about asking permission from someone else, getting a van, or coordinating meetup points with parents.

The other option is to use public parks. Many existing forest schools rotate daily from park to park. Teachers arrange a pickup and drop-off point with parents, then drive students to a different location every day. If you use the same park every day, you should get permission from the park directors to operate there. And in this case, the parents can drop their children at the park directly and you do not need to drive them.

Vegetation-wise, nature areas with dense forest are ideal for forest schools, as they offer the most depth and variety of sensation experiences for children. Beaches, rivers, and lakes can be good locations if there is enough natural diversity for children to explore.

Do I need a license to operate?

Forest schools are still under the radar in the States. There is no formal licensing procedure as you would have if you were setting up a family child care in your home.

Do I need permission from Recreation and Parks or the city?

If you are using the same park every day, it’s good practice to alert the park you plan to use about your intentions for their and your own peace of mind. They may ask that you purchase a permit to operate school there.

Source

If you plan to use a park’s picnic tables, you are better off getting a picnic area permit ahead of time as opposed to trying your luck and hoping there is an empty picnic table when you arrive. It’s better to get a picnic area permit because permits get sent to the park staff so they know who’s going to be where and when. They might schedule maintenance of the areas if they don’t know you’ll be there.

Recreation and Parks offer one-time use permits for the picnic areas. They do not have a formal permit system in place for repeated use of the picnic areas.

We recommend spreading a blanket in the grass instead for any seated activities as you do not need a permit for this.

How do I get permission from the park I want to have school in?

You can do this by going to your city’s Recreation and Parks website and searching for the park you want to use. Then you can call them at their phone number or email them if there is an email address listed to explain your situation and ask permission.

If you are unable to contact the park directly by phone or email, call Recreation and Parks and ask for the contact information of the park of choice.

Otherwise, you can try stopping by the park in person and asking to speak with someone about getting permission for repeat group visits.

What about insurance?

While you don’t need a license, you will still want insurance for your school. The parks will not be liable for any injuries or accidents the children have while under your care. You will also want to bring your own first aid kit to the park.

When you partner with Wonderschool, we offer an insurance policy that covers up to $3 million in damages.

Other considerations for starting a forest school


Wonderschool partners with talented teachers to create high-quality preschools in local communities.

Email us today at hello@wonderschool.com and we’ll help you start your own child care program or preschool – forest-based or not.

Summer Programs for Preschoolers in the Bay Area & Los Angeles 2017

Summer camp is the perfect place for children to explore their interests, make new friends, and have tons of fun!

Enjoy watching your children become more confident, independent, and responsible while they develop important social and emotional skills.

No matter the age and interests of your little one, there is sure to be a program that meets your needs. Check out our roundup of summer camps in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas for this upcoming summer 2017.

Kids swimming in a pool with sunglasses
Source

San Francisco

Children’s Creativity Museum: Creativity Camps
221 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 820-3320

Creativity Camp: Art Lab
June 12-16, 2017
3-5 years
Nurture your child’s creativity through songs, stories, games, and sensory-based art, all while building creative confidence and encouraging exploration of new sensory experiences.

Creativity Camp: Dinosaurs
August 7-11, 2017
3-5 years
Stoke your child’s curiosity and imagination with fun stories, songs, and activities surrounding the prehistoric reptiles that once ruled the Earth.

San Francisco Recreation & Parks

Kindergarten Readiness
June 5-July 31, 2017
Cayuga Playground, 301 Naglee St., San Francisco, CA 94112
(415) 337-4714
4-5 years

Help ease your preschooler’s transition into kindergarten with exploration through games, songs, science, nature, and art, all while developing important social and academic skills.

Look What I Can Do!
June 5-July 31, 2017
Potrero Hill Rec Center, 801 Arkansas St., San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 695-5009
4-5 years

Your toddler will love building their physical skills as they hop, skip, and jump for joy during a variety of fun activities!

Look What I Explored
June 5-July 31, 2017
Julius Kahn Playground, West Pacific Ave & Spruce St, San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 292-2004
4-5 years

Children will get up and personal with nature as they explore the environment through science activities, crafts, hikes, and stories.

Look What I Made
June 5-July 31, 2017
Midtown Terrace Playground, Clarendon & Olympia Way, San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 753-7036
4-5 years

Engage children’s imagination and broaden their exposure to various art forms and projects through recycled materials, different art mediums, and the performing arts.

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco Preschool Summer Camps

June 5-August 4, 2017
Merced Park and Laurel Heights Locations
(415) 292-1200
2-5 years

Young campers will enjoy a summer of fun and exploration at one of two beautiful locations. Each two-week session is structured around a captivating theme to engage campers in new activities and unleash their imaginations.

JCCSF Brotherwood Way Preschool, 655 Brotherhood Way, San Francisco, CA 94132
June 5-16: Insect Explorations
June 19-30: Adventures in Outer Space
July 3-7 (no camp July 4): Celebrate America
July 10-21: Building San Francisco
July 24-August 4: Puppetry & Folklore

JCCSF Helen Diller Family Preschool, 3200 California St, San Francisco, CA 94118
June 12-23: Folklore from Around the World
June 26-July 7 (no camp July 4): Puppetry & Folklore
July 10-21: The Natural World
July 24-August 4: Little Chefs

Other camps

Girl playing tennis
Source

SF Topspin Tennis Camp
June 12-August 4, 2017
Lowell High School, 1101 Eucalyptus Drive, San Francisco, CA 94132
(415) 806-0695
4 years and up

SF Topspin Tennis Camp uses skilled instruction combined with mindful awareness to help students realize their full potential as tennis players while emphasizing teamwork, leadership, competitiveness, and sportsmanship.

Caring Creatives Art and Nature Camp
June 5-September 1, 2017
3450 Sacramento Street #502, San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 796-2336
3-13 years

Your child will cultivate a lifelong relationship with nature at this 100 percent outdoors (rain or shine!) summer camp. With an emergent and child-directed learning philosophy, this camp will inspire endless curiosity in young explorers.

Nature Nurture Summer Camp
June 12-August 18, 2017
93 Moraga Ave, San Francisco, CA 94129
(415) 751-4000
3-6 years

Nature walks, explorations, and adventures characterize this small-group camp that emphasizes learning and practicing the art of being kind to nature, others, and themselves through games, stories, and teamwork.

San Francisco Zoo Camp
June 5 – August 18, 2017
Sloat Boulevard at the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA 94132
(415) 753-7080
4-17 years

Summer Zoo Camp is the perfect place for your animal-loving child to enjoy summer adventures! It’s also one of the most educational and entertaining day camps in the Bay Area.

Moving Arts Studio Summer Dance and Movement Camps
June 19-August 11, 2017
915 Cayuga Ave., San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 408-5500
4-11 years

Get moving with full days of dance, acrobatics, choreography, and/or theater, plus crafts and a visit to nearby Balboa Park (weather permitting) for lunch and play time. Each week of camp will focus on a different theme, such as ballet, theater, or contemporary dance.

Los Angeles

Child at the beach
Source

Fitness By The Sea Day Camp
June 12-September 1
Four locations in the Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica
(310) 459-2425
4-14 years

These beachside camps offer more than 80 activities, including surfing, dance, team sports, gymnastics, and crafts! Located in Santa Monica and Palisades with transportation from LA and the San Fernando Valley.

Sandy Days Kids Camps
June 12-September 2
Tower 10 at Will Rogers State Beach, Just South of PCH & Temescal Canyon
(310) 569-1274
5-14 years

Kids will love swimming, boogie boarding, paddling, gymnastics, team and individual sports, dance, arts and crafts, cabana games, creative performances, and sand activities—all on the beach!

Camp Wildfolk
June 19-August 25, 2017
1265 N. Fairfax Avenue, West Hollywood, CA 90046
(424) 341-5522
4-12 years

A project-based learning camp that puts campers’ ideas and expression first. Camp activities are hands-on, camper-centered, and encourage camper voice and choice, whenever possible.

Child painting
Source

Aerial Warehouse Summer Camp
June 12-August 25, 2017
3961 Sepulveda Blvd. 100, Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 397-2200
5 years and up

Featuring aerial and action arts parkour, aerial silks, hoop, trapeze, trampoline, tumbling, dance games, and more!

Steve & Kate’s Camp
June 12-August 25
Altadena, LA- Hancock Park, LA-Westside, LA-Westwood/Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, Valley Village
Tarzana: (818) 345-3002 and Santa Clarita: (661) 257-0266
4-12 years

This summer camp trusts kids with the freedom to select whatever activity they want—choose from film, fashion, breadmaking, coding, music, sports, and more!

Leo Baeck Temple ECC Summer Camp: Camp Kayitz!
June 12-August 11, 2017
1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, CA, 90049
(310) 476-2274
2-5 years

With one-, three-, and nine-week options, camp offers weekly theme-based activities, including sports, art, music, Israeli dancing, water play, movement, drama, Shabbat celebrations, and more. Open to non members.

Sinai Temple Summer Camp
June 26-August 4, 2017
10400 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90024
(310) 859-1758
3-5 years

Preschoolers and rising kindergarteners will thrive in a safe, enriching environment with teachers who promote each child’s happiness, well-being, and self-esteem.

Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue: ECC Summer Camp!
June 26-August 3, 2017
24855 Pacific Coast Highway Malibu, CA
(310) 456-2296
2-5 years

Have fun this summer with water play, theater, bubbles, outdoor adventures, mad science, and more!

Children playing outside with a washcloth and bowl of water
Source

Westside JCC Presents: JCAMPjr Preschool Camp
June 27-August 19
5870 W. Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles, CA
(323) 556-5251
2-5 years

Activities at this arts and adventure summer camp program will focus on a different monthly theme, all under the umbrella of enriching Jewish early childhood education curriculum, including music and movement, stories and plays, light, art, science, cooking, group games, and play. For more information or to register, contact Deborah Kaplan at 323.556.5251 or dkaplan@westsidejcc.org

Temple Akiba ECC: Summer Camp
June 12-August 11, 2017
5249 Sepulveda Blvd. Culver City, CA, 90230
(310) 398-1637
2-5 years

Since 1967, Akiba Day Camp has provided fun-filled summers for children. Campers can choose from nine weeks of summer fun including swimming, sports, art, field trips, and much more. Camp is open to the public; no temple membership or preschool enrollment required.

Temple Isiah Preschool Summer Camp
June 26-August 18, 2017
10345 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 277-2772
3-5 years
Each week of camp will highlight an aspect of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) with activities including coding, robotics, physics, light and electricity, as well as tried-and-true favorites such as animal shows, magic, songs, snow, arts and crafts, and much more!

University Synagogue Early Childhood Learning Center: ECLC Mini Camp
June 26-August 18, 2017
11960 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA
2-5 years
(310) 472-0603

Join us for creative art, weekly themes, music, Shabbat, and water play; half- or full-day options are available. Camp is open to synagogue members and non-members.


Know of any other summer programs in your area? Share them in the comments!

7 Exciting Benefits of Starting an In-home Preschool

You’re an early childhood educator.

You love kids and can’t see yourself doing anything else. Maybe you are employed at a child care center, daycare, public or private school, or religious center, where you work during the traditional 10-month school year or perhaps a year-round schedule.

While there are certainly benefits to working under someone else’s roof, many educators are taking the leap into starting their own in-home preschools or daycares.

The dynamics of the workforce are also changing to support this phenomenon. As of May 2015, 15.5 million people in the United States were self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is an increase of roughly 1 million from May 2014.

In-home preschool in California
School Director Karen Hernandez with students at Open Minds Early School in Piedmont, CA.

A study by Intuit predicts that, by 2020, self-employment, personal, and micro business numbers will increase with more than 40% of the American workforce, or 60 million people, working independently.

You might think, Why would I want to give up a steady paycheck and take on starting my own family child care?

Running a home preschool gives you more autonomy

When you’re your own boss, you set the rules, create the vision of the school, make the business decisions, and keep your families happy–no one else.

You also set your own schedule and school hours, giving you more control over your time in general. Even on the longest, most challenging days, there is a sense of empowerment that comes with working for yourself.

Smaller class sizes prevent teacher burnout

Large classes, little contact with parents, limited control over the workings of the classroom–these are just a few of the reasons why educators choose to leave the stressful world of teaching in centers.

In order to meet state-mandated caregiver-to-child ratios, centers must enroll lots of children while paying their staff very little. This stress gets passed down to you–the teacher–who must manage larger classes.

It’s frustrating when you’re being stretched too thin and you feel like you can’t provide a great learning experience for all students, but such is often the case in a center.

However, the high overhead costs of maintaining a center means it’s simply not financially feasible to maintain the same low caregiver-to-child ratios found in family care at the same tuition rate.

You’ll be less likely to suffer burnout when running your own intimately-sized preschool or daycare.

It’s better for the children too.

Smaller class sizes not only positively impacts children’s ability to learn, but it reduces the risk of accidents caused by overstimulation with too many children in the same space. It is easier to connect one-on-one with smaller groups of children, get them into the rhythm of the day, and cater to their individual learning and social/emotional needs.

You can earn more money as a home-based preschool or daycare teacher (!)

Those who devote their careers to teaching often cannot afford the cost of childcare for their own children. Crazy, right?

Gardening at Angel Academy in-home preschool in California
Gardening fun at Angel Academy.

With the cost of child care often exceeding what someone would earn doing the same work at a center, it is extremely challenging for someone to work in this field if they have their own children under age five. Alas, many teachers opt to leave the field altogether.

“When you’re working as an assistant teacher or an aide in a center setting, your income is relatively limited and you don’t really have much opportunity for making more,” said Tom Copeland, the nation’s leading trainer, author, and advocate of business practices for family child care providers. “There’s not a lot of growth or opportunities for raises. You’re stuck with whatever wage you’re making.”

By opening your own preschool, you’ll generally earn more money than you would working in a center. This is especially true if you own your home.

You can charge the same tuition rate as centers in your area, but because there are far fewer overhead costs for a home, you’re able to pay yourself–as well as your assistants–a higher wage.

This money also goes back to improving your school and curriculum instead of overhead costs faced by centers like rent, property taxes, meals and supplies, insurance, maintenance, and marketing.

“Back [in the 1980s], people went into child care because they loved children, and they left the field because they were burned out and tired. Today, people go into child care because they love children and they need to make a living. They end up leaving because of the finances. With what they’re earning, they can’t make it. The ability to be successful as a business has become a more important factor in bringing people into the in-home care and keeping them around,” Copeland said.

That’s not to say that everyone who works in family child care is making more money than they would in a center, but there is certainly greater opportunity to increase your earnings, depending on how successful you are in your business, Copeland added.

Think of it this way: If you have children under five, even if you start out earning the same salary as you would be making at a center, the fact that you are not paying immense amounts out-of-pocket to pay for your own childcare means that you’re automatically earning more than you otherwise would have. You’re also providing an amazing opportunity for other children, while getting to spend more time with your own little ones.

You can spend more time with your own family when you work from home

Wake up before dawn, commute via train/car/bus/subway to work, come home well past dinner time–that is the daily routine for so many teachers.

By working at home, you can operate on a similar schedule, but not waste hours each day traveling to get to and from work. Also, if your kids participate in the program, you get the added advantage of spending time with them during the day.You have Greater Leadership Opportunities

You have more leadership opportunities

Many of the best early childhood educators reach the height of their careers very quickly, and there aren’t always leadership opportunities available at their current employer.

When you are your own boss, however, the sky’s the limit.

Playing with guitar in Little Lemon Tree Nursery School California
Music time at Little Lemon Tree Nursery School.

In addition to honing your business and marketing skills, running your own preschool means you can pick and choose where you would most like to grow as a leader.

Always wanted to break into parent education? Love the family engagement aspect of teaching? You can create these opportunities for yourself as an in-home educator.

Family child care allows more freedom to customize your curriculum

As you almost certainly know, students learn best when their interests and passions are captured in the lesson material.

As an in-home preschool teacher, you are afforded much more flexibility and creativity in your approach than those who must adhere to a strict curriculum. Emergent curriculum is a great option, as it allows you to change the activities based on what they notice children are interested in.

This approach requires careful observation, creativity, and flexibility on the part of the teacher; thus, it is not always feasible in a center setting, where there is a higher student-to-teacher ratio.

As the director of your own school, you have the flexibility to develop the day’s learning opportunities to align with the interests of the children in your program.

You can make the school your own

One of the best parts of working for yourself is that you have the final say over the curriculum, messaging, and mission of your school.

Always dreamed of leading a bilingual learning space? Love the Montessori approach? Want an outdoor-themed school that incorporates nature play? Now you can! It’s your school, so you set the learning philosophy, school values, and atmosphere.

Because the overall size of an in-home preschool is much smaller than a typical child care center, you also have a much more direct link to parents, enabling you to connect with them on a deeper level and provide more detailed information about their child.This is all not to say that starting your own preschool is always easy. Long hours, stress, and plenty of hard work can be a huge part of starting your own business.

This is all not to say that starting your own preschool is always easy. Long hours, stress, and plenty of hard work can be a huge part of starting your own business.

At Wonderschool, we empower early childhood educators to start high quality, in-home child cares and preschools. We assist with licensing, marketing, school setup, and everything in between. Our software allows teachers to easily manage their students, parents, and school all from one dashboard.


Interested in learning more about starting your own preschool? Drop us a line at hello@wonderschool.com to learn how we can help you get started.

How I Started My Own Home Preschool: Little Nest Learning Space Case Study

Meet Theresa Marino, Director of Little Nest Learning Space

Theresa Marino started Little Nest Learning Space with Wonderschool

Little Nest Learning Space, founded by Theresa Marino, is a Montessori-inspired early childhood program, located in Los Angeles, CA.

A veteran preschool teacher of 12 years and a trained Montessori teacher, Theresa has created a home-based preschool dedicated to fostering the physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and creative growth of young children.

Overcoming the challenges of starting my own school

I started going through the licensing process on my own, but I really wished I had Wonderschool from the start. It was hard to navigate all the different things I had to do. I even took a licensing training twice by mistake!

One of my biggest challenges was how I priced my program. I used to only charge $7-9/hour. I even almost cried at the thought of even raising it to $10/hour because I thought it was too expensive.

Planting outside at Little Nest family child care in LA

I based my pricing on schools with 200 parents. I didn’t realize I’d only have 12 students this time, and yet similar overhead costs as a school with more students.

I realized this pricing wasn’t sustainable for running an in-home preschool, especially if I wanted to attract the best teachers to teach at Little Nest and provide the environment I envisioned for my students.

Working with Wonderschool

I didn’t really understand the business side of things, and Wonderschool helped guide me through these decisions.

They brought in market research, guided me on what my expenses would be versus how I much charge, and showed me all the different pricing options.

Little Nest Learning Space preschool in Los Angeles

They gave me time to reflect on what price I thought was fair.

They helped me realize that if I want my business to be at a level of excellence—hire quality assistant teachers, have a great environment for the kids, and not be overworked and underpaid—that I could price my program in a financially sustainable way, and still stay true to being a valuable addition to the community.

I was also really idealistic and thought I would be able to fill my school just through word of mouth.

I wanted to attract the right families and thought if parents recommended my program to each other, everyone would feel safe and share the same values.

However, this led to very few people knowing about my program, and I only had one student enrolled.

Rebecca and Chris reassured me about Wonderschool’s marketing process, and they were right! All the parents who applied to my school were the ones who really appreciate my teaching philosophy and who like this type of home-based learning environment.

Students at Little Nest Learning Space

There’s an instant connection with the families who come in and how we feel about education.

The Wonderschool team really understood who I am as a teacher and were able to translate this to the marketing on my website. I feel like families trusted me more because of how I was presented. Parents know how selective Wonderschool is about the teachers they choose to work with and this contributes to a higher level of trust as well.

My home preschool success

Within just a month of working with Wonderschool, they had helped me prepare by guiding me through pricing, putting up my website, and helping me through the process of hosting an open house.

Now I have about 40 families on the wait list and new parents still showing interest. It blows my mind! My program could be completely full in the first two months if I wanted it to be, but I prefer to get to know the children deeper before expanding.

That’s the difference of a home-based program: you get to know each child individually and give them time to adjust to the new space and people.

Little hands in the grass at Little Nest in LA, a Wonderschool program

And that’s the difference of working with Wonderschool: I have the liberty of following a process that feels authentic to me, and they respect and support me in my process.

I wish I had Wonderschool to help me from the very beginning. When I see the Wonderschool app now, I see how new directors have it easy. It’s a guided process, and it would’ve saved me a month just for the licensing!

The future of Little Nest Learning Space

I had some fears about signing a contract with Wonderschool in the beginning. I spoke to friends who are lawyers to make sure I wasn’t signing onto something that I couldn’t get out of.

I realized I could trust Wonderschool and was always given the choice to stop the service if it wasn’t a good fit. But I’m so glad I took a chance because they have helped me so much.

Outdoor learning at Little Nest

The new pricing has helped me to continue to build my program. We moved into this home and built the space just for the children and the pricing allows us to actually maintain and expand it. This summer we’ll be able to build a new sunroom for the children.

I know that as I continue to expand my program in the future, I want Wonderschool to be my partner.

Your Wonderschool FAQs Answered

In the following video series, One Preschool (now Wonderschool‘s) Head of Operations, Rebecca Grubman, answers some Frequently Asked Questions about what we do and how we can help you start your own early childcare home.

Skip to:
Who are we?
What does Wonderschool provide to teachers?
How much does Wonderschool cost?
To what extent do we tell you what to do compared to supporting you?
How much can I make with Wonderschool?
What if you need to stop running your program?
Do you need to live in apartment, condo, or house to start a program in California?
What type of applicants work best with Wonderschool?
How do I get started with Wonderschool?

Who are we?

Wonderschool is a technology and services company based in San Francisco that empowers early childhood educators to start high quality, in-home child cares and preschools. Our mission is to increase access to early childcare education for all children. We believe that the best way to do this is to help teachers start great programs out of their homes.

There’s a shortage of quality options for children ages 0-5 throughout the country and the world. We believe centers will never be the solution to this problem due to high overhead costs.

By helping teachers start programs out of their homes, we ensure that educators can serve the communities in which they live and take home a larger paycheck because of decreased costs.

What does Wonderschool provide to teachers?

Wonderschool provides business, administrative, and marketing support and advice to help teachers as they start their preschool or daycare. Our services include:

  • Advice and support as you go through the licensing process;
  • Recommendations as you set up your child care environment;
  • Guidance in making key business decisions, such as what schedule you want to offer and what tuition rates you can charge given the rates in your area;
  • Support in marketing your program to families, including building your website;
  • A technology platform connected to your website that is a one-stop-shop to manage everything in your program. For example, you can handle sending enrollment offers, collecting payments, exchanging parent contracts, updating paperwork required by licensing, and storing children’s immunization records, amongst other capabilities;
  • A professional photo shoot of you, your students, and your space for your website;
  • Ongoing mentoring and support from our network of teachers and outside mentors so you can continue to build your business and serve your community;

How much does Wonderschool cost?

There is no fee or upfront cost for working with Wonderschool. We sign a two-year contract with each of our partners for revenue sharing.

Once we sign the contract, we start working with you immediately to get a license, build your website, and start the marketing process. On the first day that you have a student attending school and paying tuition, we start 2 years of revenue sharing.

We handle all the payment processing from parents and we share 10% of that revenue and pass the 90% on to you within a couple of days of receiving payment from families.

To what extent do we tell you what to do compared to supporting you?

Our goal is to empower our partners to have a successful program that meets the needs of their families, themselves, and whatever they want to achieve.

We don’t have any requirements for the hours, pricing, or curriculum that directors offer. We do ask that everyone is providing an enriching program that includes a mixture of play, projects, and exploration.

We want to meet our partners wherever they are. In this way, we support all types of child care homes – from those that offer half day programs to full day programs; from daycare to preschool to mixed-age programs.

We work with you to understand your income goals and what that means in terms of your offerings. Throughout the process, we give recommendations but it’s ultimately up to you to make decisions. Our goal is to give you better information and data so you’re always making informed decisions.

How much can I make with Wonderschool?

Your earning potential as you start your own school will depend on a few different factors:

  • Setting your tuition rate will depend on demand and competition in your area as well as your personal income goals.
  • Your program schedule will affect your potential earnings. For example, will you offer a full day or half day program? How many days a week? Will it be year-round or will you take off summers?

We will discuss these decisions at length with you and make recommendations based on your program and your income goals.

What if you need to stop running your program?

Anytime we enter into a partnership, we hope to begin a long term relationship where we can support you throughout the different stages of your career in owning and operating your own program.

But we also understand that life is dynamic and things happen. So we want to make sure that running a program works for you. If you have to move for a partner’s job or get started and then realize it’s not the best fit for you, we’ll work with you to help you close down or move your program.

Do you need to live in apartment, condo, or house to start a program in California?

Your home requirements will depend on which license you apply for. Anyone operating an in-home preschool or daycare must have a license and in California, you can either have a “small” or “large” license.

The small license means you can care for up to 6 children from ages 0-5 and potentially 2 more school-aged children. The large license allows you to care for 12 children ages 0-5 and potentially up to 14 if you take two school-aged children.

There are very few home requirements for the small license. You can be in an apartment, a condo, or a single family home. We ask that you have at least 35 square feet per child of space dedicated to your program as well as significant outdoor space. This could mean having a backyard or living near a park, ideally within four blocks.

For the large license, in addition to undergoing the inspection by Community Care Licensing, you will also need to pass an inspection from a fire marshal. They will ensure that your home has at least 2 exits to streets. One will likely be the front door and the other can’t go through a garage or kitchen.

For more information, check out our post on California Family Child Care Licensing: Qualifying for a Large License

What type of applicants work best with Wonderschool?

We are looking for amazing educators who are passionate about providing wonderful care and education to children, and who have previously worked in a similar setting.

We generally work with experienced teachers who want more ownership or flexibility in their life and are excited abut possibility of taking on a new director, owner, and lead teacher role. They usually have a sense of how to create their own curriculum and daily schedule but are worried about becoming an entrepreneur and tackling the business side.

Many teachers start their own schools because they are moms who have left the workforce at some point and now want to continue their career by educating their own child in their home along with other children from the community.

How do I get started with Wonderschool?

If you haven’t yet applied to partner with us, go to Wonderschool.com. In the top right corner, you’ll see a link to “Open a Classroom”. Click here and you will see a field to enter your email address. When you do so, you will be prompted to take a short survey so we can gather some information about you and your business goals.

If you’ve already been in touch, then a member of our team will reach out to schedule a call to learn more about you, tell you about our partnership model, and answer any questions you may have.

We’re excited about the programs we’ve helped thus far and are looking forward to bringing on even more great teachers.

One Preschool is now Wonderschool!

Dear Community,

We are very excited to announce that starting today, our company is now named Wonderschool.

WS_Logo_Lockup_RGB_blue-yellow

When we started One Preschool, our mission was to increase access to quality early childhood care and education for all children.  As we have continued to work towards that mission, we realized that our company name did not always reflect our mission and the ways in which we are working to achieve our goals.

Over the past year, the number of in-home programs we have helped start has grown and we are thrilled to be supporting amazing educators who are caring for and teaching children of all ages.  Some of you are focused on infants, some on toddlers, others on preschool-aged children, and many with mixed-aged programs.  We care fundamentally about helping to empower educators to serve all children aged 0 to 5.

We realized that our company’s name could sometimes be misleading or that some parents thought the programs we help start are only focused on children aged 3 to 5.  We want to ensure that our brand is clear and resonates with all of the Directors and parents that are part of our wonderful community.

Late last year we embarked on a re-branding process.  We spoke to friends, mentors, current Directors and parents, our own parents, our kids, and many more people to gather ideas and feedback about what our company and brand means to them. Thank you to those of you who provided ideas and feedback!  We chose Wonderschool as our new name because what we are building is one big community and network so we used a singular “Wonderschool,” but we leave more room in our brand to ensure that each of the individual programs we partner with are able to highlight their unique qualities, philosophies, and offerings.  We are very excited to continue our work with our new company name.

In terms of what this means for each of our programs, we will be announcing our new name to the community and then updating our website and each school website with the new logo.

We chose Wonderschool as our new name because what we are building is one big community and network so we used a singular “Wonderschool,” but we leave more room in our brand to ensure that each of the individual programs we partner with are able to highlight their unique qualities, philosophies, and offerings.

Thank you for your support of our company and mission as we continue to work towards achieving our goals to increase access to quality early childhood education. We are grateful to have each of you as a member of the Wonderschool network!

Warmly,

The Wonderschool team