Rebuilding the Childcare System from the Ground Up

Posted by Alice Light on

Interview with Michael Lia, founder of Tinycare

Tinycare is a 2021 Lead Sponsor of “It Takes A Village” Fundraising Campaign to support Natural Resources. 

Today we’re excited to feature our It Takes A Village Lead Sponsor, Tinycare. We are truly grateful for Tinycare’s leadership in supporting our mission to help uplift families and ensure that our essential services are always available. 

With such dedication to serving children and families, it’s easy to see how Tinycare and Natural Resources’ missions align. There’s a natural respect for one another, a desire to see each other thrive. So how is Tinycare working to serve families? 

Tinycare is on a mission to help every child reach their full potential. 

The problem is that many parents are working during a child’s most formative early years. Children spend their days in daycare... But America's childcare system is failing children and their families — it's expensive, undersupplied, low quality, and pays teachers poverty wages. And things didn’t improve during COVID (16% of daycares permanently shut down). 

But Tinycare is working to change the futures of the next generation by improving early childhood development. They’re working to rebuild the childcare system from the ground up with a network of micro-centers that empowers teachers, partners with families, and ultimately help children thrive. 

This new model for daycare sets up children with a strong and loving foundation for the rest of their lives while valuing care work more fairly for how critical it is. 

Let's hear from the founder and CEO of Tinycare, Michael Lia, as he shares more about Tinycare’s vision and his passion for early childhood education. 

“My life mission is to ensure every child, regardless of background, has the opportunity to become the next Michelle Obama or Warren Buffett.” — Michael Lai, Founder & CEO of Tinycare

In this post we’ll cover:

  • Why Michael started Tinycare + how Tinycare came to be.
  • What Michael would like to tell every parent.
  • Michael’s favorite thing about Tinycare’s “village.”
  • 3 things parents can do to nurture their children’s love for learning.
  • How microcenters benefit families and communities.
  • Advice for parents navigating childcare during the pandemic.
  • Why Tinycare supports Natural Resources.
  • How to connect with Tinycare.

Why did you start Tinycare? Was there an “ah-ha” moment where you realized what was needed, or was the genesis more of an evolution? Tell us the origin story…

In college, I spent over three years volunteering with K-8 students before shifting my focus to a younger age group. Five years ago, I learned that 90% of a child's brain volume develops before kindergarten, and that’s when I zeroed in on early education. 

That was this a-ha moment for me. I became a volunteer preschool teacher in centers in San Francisco to learn more and both loved it and became deeply concerned about the state of the childcare system. 

Science says that children are sponges. Everything in their environment affects them at those ages. Meanwhile, childcare — especially early childhood — is broken in the US. Waitlists can sometimes be 1-2 years long, teachers don’t get paid living wages, and as a result, children suffer. I wanted to solve the issue on all 3 sides. 

What is something you would like to tell every new parent? 

It can be very scary to raise a child, especially during COVID in these uncertain times. Every parent wants their child to be safe, healthy, and given the best opportunities. It can be hard to know what’s actually safe — from food, to plastics in toys, to who takes care of your child. There are still so many pressures on mothers to bear the burden of childcare. 

At Tinycare, we take that burden off of parents by doing all the research for them. We provide organic healthy meals, non-toxic materials, the best trained and vetted teachers, and our bilingual, Montessori & Reggio-Emilia inspired curriculum nurtures a love for learning. 

Inspired by the Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf philosophies, our bilingual curriculum focuses on developing the whole child — mind, body, heart, and spirit. We incorporate positive discipline and leading research, including from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.

What is one of your favorite things about the village you have created with Tinycare? 

Teacher loneliness was something we were concerned about — it can be isolating, especially during COVID, to not interact with any other adults all day. 

We created villages to give teachers a sense of community and a neighborhood feel. Villages are clusters of Tinycares located nearby each other, and during non-COVID times, teachers could bring each of their kids to play together outdoors. 

Nowadays they get together over zoom, but we’re looking forward to the post-COVID future.

Your curriculum nurtures a love for learning. What are 3 things new parents can do to help their kids to learn in this way?

Allowing children to be independent (within safe limits) naturally nurtures their curiosity. Make your home just a bit more accessible for your child to be independent — like investing in child safe stools in the kitchen and bathroom that allow them to use the sink themselves, for example. 

Second, give your child opportunities to explore the world through their senses, and third, allow them long, uninterrupted cycles in which they can spend as long as they want on a particular activity, and then move on to a new choice once they’ve finished, inspired by Montessori “work” time. 

TinyCare is on a mission to rebuild the childcare system from the ground up with a network of micro-centers. Can you tell us why microcenters are the answer and how these benefit young children and families?

Our microcenters allow for higher quality childcare for two reasons: lower ratios and teachers who are well-compensated, and consequently, less stressed and therefore more able to provide quality care. 

Our microcenters are more than centers—they’re the homes of our teachers. We give teachers subsidized housing in the Bay Area, while turning part of their home into a microcenter. With this in-home care model, from a regulations standpoint, ratios are also much smaller. 

The result is that you get a teacher that doesn’t have to worry about making rent payments, and smaller ratios so that your child gets more quality attention, while also benefiting from socialization with other kids. 

Finally, this allows us to place centers much closer to home and work for busy working parents.

Even as a start up, TinyCare has grown locations 7.5x while tragically 34% of Bay Area daycares permanently shut down. How have you overcome obstacles that have come your way during COVID? And what advice do you have for new parents as they continue to navigate the childcare challenges of the pandemic?

We were resolved to not lay off any employees because of the pandemic, even though we had to shut down for a while. We all came together quickly to form policies, and all employees became vaccinated as soon as possible. The mission, the health of our children, and the health of our employees is important to all of us, and so it was easy to know what to do.

For new parents, I’d like you to know that we know how scary it is right now to put your child in daycare during COVID, and would love to invite you to talk to our team and our teachers any time. 

We have the most rigorous level of precautions around COVID safety as possible: smart thermometer daily temperature checks for parents, children, and teachers, biweekly staff testing, masks and/or face shields for staff, maximum 6 children per class, 1.5 hrs of daily cleaning & sanitation, HEPA grade air filters, HVAC UV lights, windows open to increase air flow, staggered pick up & drop off times, and family agreement to adhere to strict lifestyle and share risk factors.

Why do you care about Natural Resources’ mission?

Tinycare’s mission is deeply aligned with the mission of Natural Resources, on many levels. Empowering new parents and families with the resources and community that they need to become loving parents is one of the most important jobs there is. 

Every child will grow up and become a contributing member of this world, and so by shaping each individual child, we shape our future leaders and therefore our collective future as a society. 

We are also deeply aligned with anti-racist work, and value Natural Resources’ commitment to anti-racism and supporting BIPOC families. We have many anti-racist books in our Tinycare centers for children to interact with and gain exposure to, since the research shows stereotypes begin early, but so does compassion and understanding.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Natural Resources community?

If you’re looking for childcare for children ages 3 months–6 years old—whether that’s 1 day per week or 5 days per week—we’ve got you covered with 27 locations in the Bay Area. 

Email and our enrollment team will help you find the best schedule for you and your child.

For more information about Tinycare, please visit their website at

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the staff and management of Natural Resources.
Content provided here is for informational purposes and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical, health, or safety advice for you or your children. If you have medical questions, reach out to your health care provider.

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