Meet Amber L’Estrange, a Wonderschool parent and mom of almost 3-year-old Valentine. We talked with her about her experience of finding the right child care for her son, staying attuned to her motherly intuition, and the transformation within herself.
Tell us a bit about your child care journey with Valentine.
When Valentine was born, I did attachment parenting. I don’t have any immediate family in America, my parents-in-law live in San Francisco, and my husband works 9-5, so it was basically just me and Valentine 24/7, breastfeeding on demand.
It was a really intense time, and by the time he was 1.5 years old, I was sleep-deprived and at the end of my tether. I just realized that I needed help, and it wasn’t serving me or him to be doing everything by myself.
He was too young for preschool so we found a nanny for him. For 3 days a week, he was with his nanny and I began to work again and pursue my own endeavors.
I noticed around the two-year mark, Valentine needed more stimulation and interaction than just the park, hanging out with friends, and going on adventures with the nanny. I knew the next step was to move him into preschool to satisfy his developmental level.
How did you find a group program?
I count myself as a lucky one. I was interested in an alternative schooling approach. I liked the concept of family child care programs and I’m also really committed to a mindful approach to education, organic food, and a focus on progressive learning approaches. I had him on the waitlist for some schools, but there was something intuitively I felt was missing.
I kept an open mind, and one day when I was at Highland Park, Joey from Little Nest Learning Space approached me. He let me know that they were opening up preschool and that I should come to the open house.
“I had him on the waitlist for some schools, but there was something intuitively I felt was missing.”
When I went, I INSTANTLY felt the heart. I thought, “Oh my gosh that was what was missing: that real care, heart, and warmth.”
I instantly trusted them as people, their intentions, and their philosophy. I loved that they were in a home and that they were sharing their home with the school. It was the ideal package so I signed up.
I feel really lucky because they hadn’t even opened to the public yet. There was no waiting list. No scurrying to get through the door. It can be really challenging to find the right school.
What advice do you have for parents trying to find the right care option or preschool?
My advice is to never compromise your intuition as a parent. My intuition is my driving force on all fronts. Of course, it’s a balance between the heart and head, but I really trust my motherly intuition. I apply it to the food I feed Valentine, our activities, and how I communicate with him.
I know in my gut when something will serve me and my family and what won’t. When it comes down to it, my gut always wins.
My advice to parents who are on waiting lists and not sure which direction to go in would be to always check in with yourself rather than what other people are doing and saying about what is best.
Forget all the outside stimuli, and tap into your inner, deep intuition. Ask yourself: What do I feel when I imagine my child at this school? The feeling in your body will guide you one way or the other.
How has Valentine grown since starting in family child care?
He has just flourished! It’s the greatest joy and relief for a parent that they are in safe, capable, and nurturing hands.
You know it’s a good thing when they are like, “Nooooo I want to stay at school!” I’ve also noticed his vocabulary has really developed, which is a combination of where he is as individual and his environment of having consistent, social relationships with same people.
At school, he is learning socially how to navigate his way through conflicts and whatever he comes across. He’s learning manners, learning how to express emotions, and he’s become far more confident all around.
Little Nest has also helped him explore his creative side. He comes home after painting all day and he’ll say “Momma can we paint,” and I say, “Of course,” and he’s confident in the way he paints.
I love seeing what works and applying it to our home life. Rituals like taking off shoes before coming into the classroom. We used to be lax about it, but now he’ll say, “Take your shoes off Momma,” so now we line up our shoes outside. Now we make sure that we’re sitting down while we’re eating, instead of running around and eating. Now we have specific places for specific tasks, like the table is for eating time.
We also focus on how to transition into a different phase of activity and how you can support that phase with the tone of voice, or music, or the energy of the room.
I’ve learned how Theresa transitions them from playtime to work, to naptime, so I’m trying to take on that transition of dimming the lights when the time is coming up, or putting on gentle music, or giving a pre-warning that nap time is coming up. I love watching how well he responds to the subtle cues that he’s become familiar with.
How did you learn these rituals and cues for transitions?
Theresa invited me in as a guest when Valentine first started and I got to observe the Montessori way.
I had strict instructions to sit in the corner on my chair and not interact with the children so they could stay focused on their task. Being invited as an observer was a critical way for me to see what goes on. The little circle time rituals, the songs they sing, when they all bring out their mats and do their jobs.
The incredible thing to see was how Valentine was when I wasn’t around. It’s really great to see him without me facilitating his space, and seeing how independent he was and how he listened and interacted with other kids. It was reassuring to get an insight into the Montessori way and what the daily routine looks like.
How has this process affected you as a parent?
The first thing that comes to mind is that I get to relax when he’s not with me. I KNOW that he’s in the best hands possible: Theresa and Joey’s. There’s no guilt, there’s no worry, there’s no anxiety.
I feel like I’m serving him and his independence by allowing him his own time in that setting. It’s allowed me to be present in my own life, maintain my independence within my family unit, and pursue my endeavors by having him in the right school.
“It’s allowed me to be present in my own life, maintain my independence within my family unit, and pursue my endeavors by having him in the right school.”
He’s my only child. I’m still learning along the way, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m really open to co-creating a parenting system that has proven to work and that is in alignment with my intuition and philosophy as a mother.
Having the Montessori structure to look to has been incredible in regards to tips and tricks and ways to parent. It has really helped our family because this is something that has been established for a long time, and Valentine is a testament to how well it works.
It’s been so helpful having Theresa there as a resource for parenting and life in general. If he’s going through a difficult phase, we’ll discuss together what it means and the best way to move through it.
It’s amazing to have the support and resources from a professional in that area. It’s made my journey much easier.
You can check out more of Amber on her website, The Mother Loving Future, where she has blogs and podcasts on mindful parenting. To get started on finding the right family child care for your family, explore options within our Wonderschool network here.