Theresa Marino is the Director and Head Teacher of Little Nest Learning Space. She is a mom to a 33 month old. Her daughter is her inspiration of why she left her role as a head teacher at a local Montessori school to continue her teaching career by starting her own in-home school.
Theresa holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of La Salle, a Certificate in Early Childhood Education and Administration Units from the UCLA-Early Childhood Education Extension Program, and she is Montessori Teacher Certified. Theresa has been teaching children ages 2-6 for the last 12 years. She is also a member of the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
The thought of being my own boss and starting my own preschool has always been in the back of my mind but fear delayed me from taking action; fear of losing a steady income, fear of not having any knowledge about business and fear of leaving my comfort zone.
The turning point was when my daughter was born and I became a mom. For the first time in my life I had to closely examine how I spent my hours and money. All the years I was a teacher, the financial part never really played much of an importance. I was just happy and fulfilled with my chosen vocation that the hours spent working did not feel like work at all. When my daughter was born I began to think about how I would be able to save for her college fund (yes, I like planning ahead!) when I hardly had enough in my savings account.
When my daughter was almost ready to begin preschool, my boss offered me the opportunity of free education for her but as a policy, I could not be her teacher. This created a mini conflict within myself because I wanted to share with her my gift of teaching, something her own mama is good at! I wanted to see her blossom and grow in preschool as I have seen all of my beloved students do over the years.
So finally, my husband and I decided the best thing to do was to take a big plunge and trust that the dream of owning our own school will be successful.
Tell us about your business.
Little Nest is a child-centered learning space. It is a homeschool dedicated in fostering the physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and creative growth of young hearts and minds. It is also a Wonderschool.
We take time and pride for the thoughtful preparation of the environment because we believe that it is an essential element in laying the foundation for a solid, well-rounded learning experience, especially during the formative years. At Little Nest, learning is viewed as an organic experience and together, students and teachers enjoy the natural flow of its process.
We build an individualized curriculum that honors each child’s developmental needs, skill level and personal interests through keen observation, loving attention and record keeping. We strive to set an unhurried, calm and engaging atmosphere at our homeschool that gives the students time and space to learn at their own pace and in the best way suited for their own learning style.
Where is your business based?
Highland Park, (Los Angeles) California.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Before we had the opportunity of working with an incredible company called Wonderschool, there was so much time put into getting business paperwork approved and licensed. I wish I found them sooner because it would have saved us much time and energy. The years I spent as an educator and employee at an established Montessori school gave me the confidence in my knowledge about the teaching part, but I was not comfortable with the business side of it. Wonderschool helped me balance that out by guiding me through the entire process of setting up my business.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Aside from word of mouth and recommendations from past parents of the students I taught over the years, Wonderschool found different networks of parents fit for our homeschool’s philosophy. Wonderschool created a website for my school and made sure I added content that had all the necessary information that future clients would need. This is such a helpful tool because I became more of a presence online. When parents in our community searched for a school via the internet, they easily found our Wonderschool site!
Another way of raising awareness of the business is making sure the quality of work we do is felt by current families enrolled at our school. Their recommendation never fail to give us new clients on our waitlist because they have the direct experience of the excellent care we give.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
After years of just being an educator, I had to think of myself as a business person. That was a challenge at first. It’s hard to put a price on your art and passion, and as a teacher I didn’t know how to do that. So I let Wonderschool help figure out how much I should be charging based on my community rates, and I am now able to focus on what I know and love how to do, teaching! Sometimes it’s difficult for teachers or creatives to put a price on what they do. It has taken some time to fully value myself and know the worth of my time, effort, experience and expertise.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I am extremely blessed to have such supportive family and the right team like Wonderschool to help me through all of the difficult times and transitions. They are the wind beneath my wings! When you surround yourself with people who believe in what you can accomplish, you flourish!
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Personally, I do not really pay much attention to competition nor call them competitors.
The competition is in myself. How to better myself as an education professional (this is why I make it a point to stay up to date with current trainings and continuing education in my field), how to improve the business, and how to provide better standards and service to the families I serve.
I do not see this merely as a business. It is just a product of me pursuing my purpose in life. When you do things authentically, people notice.
What are your greatest accomplishments?
A personal accomplishment I have is when students from many years back ask their parents if they can volunteer at our school so they can go back in the classroom with me. What a testament that is to the joy they have being in my class again.
I also feel that the true and lasting friendships I have made with many families who were part of all the many batches I taught is success that cannot be measured. In fact, these same families – the moms especially – became my word of mouth advertisers, school materials donors, cheerleaders, character references and support group as I started my journey in business.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
“Know your worth” and “Actively pursue your purpose”.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Dare to believe that great things are waiting if you take the step and leap! You have put in the hours to perfect your craft so go out there and let your talent take you to great heights. Yes, there will be a lot of hard work and before sunrise wake up times, but there is also lots of strong coffee to get you through.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
Yelp is really great (Wonderschool helped me with that!), and Eventbrite for Open Houses and other events. I also use Instagram internally for families to view the fun times their kids have during their day at Little Nest.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
Inspirational articles, podcasts and empowerment speeches by powerful individuals who are making a difference in our world and have stayed true to their calling in life. Les Brown, Oprah, Joel Osteen inspire me.
I am currently reading “Five Love Languages of Children” and “The Tao of Montessori”.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve?
With the help of Wonderschool, we are starting a new child development screening and tracking tool that will help give both the educators and parents insight about the child’s social-emotional and overall development. We are in the course of completing some continuing ECE trainings for the staff.
As we are continuing to grow as a homeschool, we aim to maintain the scholarship grants we give to a charity that supports education of children. Right now it is not that big yet, but hopefully we will be able to expand so we can provide even more for the community and the rest of the world. What a dream come true that would be!
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.