This week’s Meet a Mom feature is Crystal Free, founder of Piper Preschool. Piper Preschool recently opened their campus in Manhattan Beach, adding to their other four campuses throughout LA and Orange County. Crystal is a South Bay mom of one and former School Psychologist/Learning Specialist. She used the unique insight of assessing preschoolers for Kindergarten acceptance to start a preschool of her own.
Read more about this the special mom’s motivation behind Piper Preschool, her daily routine, and her favorite local South Bay spots!
How many kids do you have and what are their ages?
Just one, Nico. And as I looked at him in disbelief on his sixth birthday, he casually shrugged and said, “Everybody’s six once.” That’s him in a nutshell.
What are your favorite local things to do with your kids?
At just six years old, Nico is well aware that I’m a total sucker for holidays, street fairs, and window shopping. There is such a small town feel to this area – which is both nostalgic to me and anchoring for childhood – so I love taking advantage of the events that are embedded, and just the feeling you get when going for a walk.
What do you like about the South Bay and why did you decide to open a business here?
The sense of community in the South Bay is exactly what I’m trying to curate at Piper. The beach cities have a small town feel within the larger city of LA, and that feeling extends to the people here as well. Neighbors become fast friends and even the people you only see once or twice a week, like your mail carrier or grocery store clerk, know everyone by name and would extend themselves to help. Piper, particularly because we have such like-minded values, is the perfect setting to support what is already here.
Tell us about your preschool, Piper.
Beginning with a play-based setting and gradually introducing traditional school-readiness, inquiry over instruction serves as the through line of our approach. We see children as competent, value curiosity, and empower confidence. With that, we also view our faculty as professionals – not caregivers – and equip ourselves not only with the education to offer a resource to parents, but also with a platform for professional growth.
We have been creating schools since 2009, with each one feeling like home. Our environment is designed as a bridge between school and the comfort of your child’s home, and lends itself as a space for parents to build community. We know how big of a decision it is to share these years with us, and and just really love welcoming families.
What is your inspiration behind this school?
Before starting preschools, I was working at Brentwood School as the School Psychologist/Learning Specialist – predominately assessing preschoolers for Kindergarten acceptance. In that, I was privy to what preschools historically offered and how they were characterized – which was largely childcare. Many preschools were adopting very thoughtful methods, but I had the unique insight as to how the preschool experience impacts the transition to elementary. Everything from the process of separation to building of self-esteem, to an intentional curriculum, I knew what we could offer. The goal was to not only build a school, but to create a community where parents felt like they had a partner in raising their child, knowledge about how their child learns, and friends they could lean on. In the transient world of LA, I wanted them to have a sense of belonging with like-minded people. On top of that, I wanted to create a workplace where teachers woke up and wanted to be there… for people to not only love what they do, but really have the opportunity to love doing it.
How do you juggle work and motherhood?
What I am best at, is knowing when I’m not best at it. Delegating is key and when mistakes are made, even better. We all learn from one another, and sharing that balance sets a great example for our kids. And my industry, being a mom has been my greatest gift and connection to my community. I’m fortunate to recognize the power in that symmetry with my career.
What does a typical weekday look like for you?
For starters, there is no typical day. I’m in a perpetual start-up mode… and kinda like it that way. While Piper is a business, it is very different from a traditional venture. The focus is children, families, and faculty. Growing needs to be a thoughtful decision, so spending time on each of our campuses with each of our teams allows me to avoid complacency and keep the people as our focus.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from another mom?
To trust my gut. When I was pregnant, I remember feeling like I was the only one in the world ever to have had this experience. At the end of the day, we’ve been doing this for quite some time. A mother’s intuition is a very real thing.
Let’s Talk Local! What is your favorite:
Family Restaurant: Tacolicious
Date Night Restaurant: Esperanza
Brunch Spot: Martha’s Hermosa Beach
Shop: Right Tribe
Workout: Yoga Loft