Changing Child Care

Critical Need, Critical Thinker, Practical Idea
Tom Kertscher

To hear Arrel Gray ’00 talk about the need for identifying and supporting quality child care, it’s no wonder that his business has been so successful. He recalls how difficult it was when he and his wife, who also works full time, first searched for care for their now 4-year-old son.

“That search was just excruciating, like it is for most parents in any urban area,” says Gray, co-founder of Wonderschool, a San Francisco-based company that works with educators and child care providers to help them start their own child cares or preschools out of their homes. 

“One, it’s just hard to find out what’s even out there; it’s kind of fragmented and confusing. And then when you go visit it, you don’t know what to look for. And it seems like all the top-tier places are ridiculously expensive and have too long a waiting list, anyway.” 

Wonderschool, which works with 100 programs mostly in the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City areas, gives people tools to launch their own home-based child care programs. In exchange for a 10% cut of each enrolled child’s tuition, the startup, which was founded in 2016, helps new caregivers design their teaching philosophies, get licensed, build a website, and market their services. It has attracted more than $2 million in seed funding. And Inc. magazine says Wonderschool is creating a platform that will remake child care in big cities.

In a nutshell, Gray — a math major at Grinnell — says his business helps teachers and child care providers focus on children.

“Running a child care is actually two jobs — one is being a preschool teacher and the other is being a small-business owner and entrepreneur,” Gray says. “And [on] the Venn diagram of people who are good at both of those things, there is very little overlap. Teachers often tend to be so focused on human interactions and nurturing kids, and they’re really not interested in, or good at, marketing, finances, recruiting, and hiring teachers, and so we want to help with all of that. 

“And not only is it two separate skill sets, but it’s two exhausting jobs. Eight hours a day, you’re taking care of chasing after 3-year-olds, which is exhausting. Then you finish your day, and now you have a bunch of paperwork to do and emails to respond to and QuickBooks to manage and taxes to pay, and all these other things you have to do outside of the classroom. So, doing all of that takes a superhuman effort — and we want to make it just a human effort.”

Gray and his Wonderschool co-founder, Chris Bennett, previously launched Soldsie, an e-commerce company that enables businesses to sell products through their social media profiles. Gray says Grinnell was pivotal in taking him to where he is now.

“Grinnell just teaches you the basic critical thinking,” he says, “and because it’s so small and the classes are so small, you really learn about collaboration. That’s been incredibly valuable.” 

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