When Arrel Gray went looking for a daycare program for his young child, he was met with endless waitlists.
He quickly realized just how intense the demand for childcare was: In California, 75% of kids are unable to find a spot in a child care program.
Gray’s experience sparked the idea for Wonderschool, a San Francisco startup that facilitates a network of high-quality in-home early childhood daycares and preschools. It essentially helps educators and childcare providers start their own schools out of their homes — even if they’re condos or apartments — and helps provide software for those teachers to manage their students.
Wonderschool currently has over 50 programs in cities throughout California, and recently raised $2 million in seed funding led by First Round Capital. The new funding will help Wonderschool expand across the country. Chris Bennett, co-founder of Wonderschool, said the company is focusing on recruiting teachers in places where there are shortages of child care.
In getting Wonderschool off the ground, Gray and Bennett’s first step was finding experienced educators to partner with. They decided to develop the technology and business backends themselves, and let the people who knew best about early childhood education to focus on those programs. Gray and Bennett partnered with two teachers who wanted to pursue their dreams of opening their own schools, rented two houses, and got down to the business of learning how to run a school.
After that, they found three teachers who wanted to run schools out of their own homes, and evolved from there.
Each program has between six and 12 children. A brief glance at the website tells you that the schools range in focus and practice. There are Reggio- and Montessori-inspired schools, plus ones that focus on providing a bilingual environment.
Bennett said word spreads through the education community: Teachers seek them out to start their own in-home programs. The educators bring their experience in the classroom and Wonderschool gives them the skills and programs they need to launch their own childcare center from their homes. Wonderschool provides each program director with a mentor to help coach and support them throughout the process.
On the backend, Bennett and his team help with licensing, program setup, and marketing. Program directors and teachers also have access to the Wonderschool marketplace where parents can find and learn about their program, schedule visits, and pay bills. Directors can also run their entire program and manage all their students and parents through a single dashboard thanks to Wonderschool’s software platform.
Teachers in California make around $38,000 a year. Wonderschool teachers are making double that, according to the company.
Wonderschool’s goal is to help ease the intense demand for childcare and give parents more options for quality places to put their child. “The first five years of a child’s life are a critical period of learning and development, when a child needs opportunities to explore and socialize,” Bennett said.