It was a Tuesday morning. We pulled our minivan into the circular driveway and I opened my toddler’s door and told her where we were. She grinned broadly and started clapping her hands.

“Ella! William!” she crooned, naming a few of her friends. “Zsariel!”she squealed, referring to the owner’s assistant.

We had just arrived at First Steps Learning Center, an in-home Montessori childcare for six children, ages 1-3. Sophie spends three full days here, Tuesdays-Thursdays from 8:30-4:30.

And she loves it.

PicMonkey TeresaCollage When I drop her off, she runs excitedly to find her friends and a “job” to do. She sometimes stands at the window and waves goodbye to me, blowing kisses, her smile stretching across her entire face. Other days, she is too busy playing to come to the window. When I watch her tiny form pressed against the window, waving contentedly at me, sometimes I want to cry.

But it’s not because I think I shouldn’t be leaving her at childcare. It’s because I know she is so securely attached to me, and so comfortable in her childcare environment that she has absolutely no objection to my departure. And that feels amazing.

Sure, the first few times I left Sophie at childcare for a few hours were rough. Generally after the first few minutes she had stopped crying, but it was still agonizing. It took significantly less time than I thought it would for her to begin to thrive in this new place. She began to genuinely adore the other children, and being the youngest, she began to learn from them.

One day I arrived a bit early to pick her up and the children were seated around low, circular tables having snack. They each had a plate and cup in front of them, and were serving themselves spoonfuls of fruit and crackers onto their plates without any assistance. When they were finished, they picked up their dishes, loaded them in the bottom of the dishwasher, took a wet washcloth out of a basket, wiped their faces in front of a low mirror, and deposited their washcloths into a small receptacle. Even Sophie. My 12 month old.

The children's snack and lunchtime routine: They serve themselves food, load their dishes in the dishwasher, wipe their faces in the mirror, and put their washcloths in the can.

The children’s snack and lunchtime routine.

I was astonished that she was able to participate so readily in this structured ritual. Not only did she tolerate it, she seemed to revel in these independent skills. She appeared to be delighted with herself. It made me realize how much more she was capable of at home than we were expecting of her.

My daughter, now nearly 18 months, has grown very attached to Teresa, her childcare provider, as well as her assistant, and she greets her friends so eagerly in the morning. It is honestly a joy to witness. What’s more- she never wants to leave when I come pick her up- after over eight hours.

I am well aware that not all daycare centers are created equal, and we are extremely fortunate to have such an ideal environment for our daughter. Her older sister attended this learning center as a toddler as well, and we realized then that First Steps is unique for many reasons. Here are a few of the things that make it so special.

  • It is a licensed facility
  • It is a Montessori-based philosophy, which promotes independence in young children.
  • There are never more than 6 children.
  • Teresa is the most patient, resourceful, and wise woman I have ever met. She is able to help me brainstorm solutions to the most confounding of parenting problems.
  • The families at this center really feel like a community.
The Montessori philosophy uses the term "jobs" or "work" to describe the children's choices for activities.

The Montessori philosophy uses the term “jobs” or “work” to describe the children’s choices for activities.

My daughters have attended childcare because I work part-time. Thanks to my fantastic schedule as an early childhood music teacher, I am generally finished teaching by noon or earlier. And yet, three days a week, I keep my toddler at childcare ALL day, while her sister is at school.

This gives me three afternoons a week when I am neither working nor parenting. I know. It feels decadent. But you know what? As a sensitive, overwhelmed, and intense person, these 12 hours a week are absolutely essential to me. It is during these hours that I find time to write. And run errands, have coffee or lunch with girlfriends, exercise, clean the house, or take a nap.

There was a time when I felt extremely guilty about these “unnecessary” hours that my toddler was in childcare. Then I reminded myself of two things: not only am I a better mother when I give myself the me-time that is virtually impossible when the rest of the family is around, my daughter is absolutely thriving in this environment. She has learned so much, she has blossomed developmentally, and she is always so excited to arrive at First Steps.

Now let’s get something straight: I am by no means condemning moms who stay home all day with their kids, or moms who choose to homeschool. I am not suggesting that kids who do not have early exposure to a “classroom/learning” environment will be delayed in any way or socially lag behind their peers.

Sophie puts her babies "night-night".

Sophie puts her babies “night-night”.

Here is what I am saying: This situation works for our family. It works for me, and it works for my daughter, with our unique needs and temperaments. And if there is anyone out there who would like to find a similar scenario for their family but feels too guilty to pursue it, I say this: follow your instincts and do what you need to do. For some of us, finding a nurturing environment for our children to spend time away from us is an absolutely beautiful thing. Thanks, Teresa, for making this possible for us. We do not take you for granted.


*If you’d like to see a fantastic video of lunch being served at First Steps, check this out!


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