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 In a Handwritten Note left on the Gate of First Step:

“Hey! Been 18 years and just wanted to stop by. Don’t know if you remember me, but this place rules!” – Adam W.

July 2019
“First Step is a truly unique place. We have moved around a lot in the last few years and this is our oldest daughter’s third preschool. They have ranged from the more modern facilities to the homier feel that First Step provides. Our now 4 year old felt right at home from day one. We went for a tour and I could barely get her out the door when it was time to go. I could tell she just felt so comfortable there, and after moving so much- that was very important to me. Ina and her wonderful teachers understand what young children need and they have all been there for years which I think says a lot. I have also met several parents who went to First Step as kids, and are now sending their own which I think is pretty cool. I have noticed a spark in my daughter’s curiosity, and I love how play, imagination and creativity are encouraged. And they get to spend much of the day outdoors beneath the shady trees. She has made many friends and is excited to go to school each day.

My youngest is almost 2 and has just begun the Bridge program ( Pt for 2-3yr olds). She attended the toddler group prior to this and grew more comfortable in the space, and I think she likes going to “school” like her big sister. We are currently in the separation process, and though it is not easy (especially with a child deep in the throes of separation anxiety) I feel grateful that they use a gentle, gradual method and really try to get to know and understand each child. I have already seen her opening up more and engaging with the teachers and kids.

I also feel I should mention another important aspect of First Step- community. To me it is a huge part of what makes First Step is special. It’s not just a place I drop off my kids. There is an open door policy so you’ll often see parents observing their kids or chatting with one another, and families whose kids have outgrown preschool often come back to visit. We have made such lovely friends in a short time, and met families from all over the world. It has really been a warm, welcoming place for us.”

Melinda P.

September 9, 2018

“First time we entered First Step’s wonderful community was when our son started preschool a couple of years ago. We had just arrived to U.S., from Sweden and everything was new for us. Our son was 3 1/2 and didn’t know a single word in English, and we were kind of worried about how he would manage in preschool. But basically the second we stepped through the gate our concerns were allayed. Ina, the director, and all the teachers took warmheartedly our son under their wings. We watched him grew in confidence, empathy and kindness, and he made so many new friends. Today our son is 9, and he still talks about First Step as the happiest place on earth! We couldn’t ask for a better start. Now our daughter is entering the same gate and it’s just heartwarming to watch her experience and discover the same exciting world and wonderful traditions as her brother did. First Step is like a big family. Ina and all the teachers are the warmest, most loving, solid and experienced team we’ve ever met.”

Nathalie T.

July 28, 2014

“First Step Toddler Group meets on Tuesday mornings. I really enjoyed the chance to meet other moms, and my son really felt comfortable there in way I didn’t see at the other toddler group I was going to. I loved that at the end of each session the teacher would play guitar and sing classic songs – put your finger in the air, in the air… It was fun for both of us, I wish I could go back : )”

Rachel D.

September 12, 2012

We Love First Step!

“First Step was a defining moment in both my children’s lives. I still recall the first day I met Ina (upon recommendation of a friend who was a First Step family). She was so easy to talk to. There was no formal tour or interview. We had a lovely chat and she could see that like many Moms looking at preschools for the first time, I was incessantly asking all manner of questions. The only thing she said was, let Griffin play and see how he does. He immediately jumped into the sandbox and started bonding with Gregorio, another student at First Step. They got lost molding sand together for the next half hour. After Griffin was admitted to the school, Ina took me aside one day and said “you know Griffin is the ‘mud king’ of the entire school. Without fail, after drop off, he is the first one to jump in the sandbox, get dirty and start making his numerous sculptures and creations. He likes to get dirty and gets into a zone. Please never put him in an art class ever. I never want to see his own originality altered.” To this day I will never forget what she said and she was right. Everyday my son would come home filthy with pockets full of sand but he was so happy to make friends and create and be with a group of kids that inspired him everyday. This in essence is what First Step embodies. They celebrate the originality of each child while guiding them to become life long thinkers and become independent.

“The same experience happened when my younger son Graham met Jan when we started Mommy and me. The minute she pulled out her guitar and started singing “Down on Grandpa’s farm” he was smitten! All he could talk about was Jan, the pig, the chicken, the horse and his new friend Finn. When Graham started his first year at the big house, all the kids had to paint smiley faces. Graham was the only one whose smiley faces were a straight line smile and no amount of coaxing to draw an upturned smile was working. His teacher Nancy saved all his drawings because she thought they were so endearing after multiple attempts at a “smile” that I actually have them framed and hanging as art in our living room.

“This is not the type of school that can be judged on looks. As one other parent reviewer stated, it appears like a small, slightly ramshackle house. What lies inside is so much more and the experiences and families our children met and shared this part of their lives with was such a special time. Who can forget Cinnamon, the resident rabbit? Or the outstanding teachers – Lorene, Nancy (etch-a-sketch champion extraordinaire), Cydney, Lisa Michele, Ron, Hillary, Abbey, Jan and of course Ina. Or those treasured legacy paintings of each graduate? Mine are proudly hung in our hallway and it’s amazing to see my kids that size in their interpretation of how they saw themselves. My boys are now in 5th and 7th grade respectively and First Step seems like a lifetime ago but the memories and experiences that shaped them there left an indelible mark that will make us forever grateful to this little gem of a school!”

Meg W., parent of two First Step graduates (in 2005 and 2007)

April 17, 2012

“As the saying goes, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ From the outside, the school seemed to me, at first impression, to be rather small and old, unlike the other freshly-painted, waiting-list-required private nursery schools in and around Santa Monica where my husband and I had visited. However, after having participated in the toddler’s program for just trial one day (the bridge program), my then 2.5-year-old daughter seemed really comfortable, so we decided to enroll her in the pre-school 3-year group in the summer of 2011. It turned out to be a GREAT decision. Today, my daughter is growing up beautifully, thanks in part to her attendance at First Step. She loves all the teachers and enjoys the company of the other children, and she loves to sing all the sweet songs she learned. The director, Ina, and all the teachers (Cydney, Abbey, Lorene, Hiillary, Lisa-Michelle) are wonderful souls, approachable and caring. Sometimes when I talk with new parents I meet on the streets of Santa Monica, I can’t help but praise and recommend First Step to them.”

Diana H.

June 14, 2011

“First Step has been an amazing place to watch my child grow. All of the children and teachers are so connected with each other. I remember when my son was only 3 yrs – within a week or two the 5 yr olds were greeting him on the street as we got out of our car in the morning. My son started off quite timid. At First Step he has gained the confidence to play and talk with children and adults of all ages. He joins in, expresses himself, takes initiative, and problem solves – all I could ask for as he heads off to Kindergarten in a few months. The teachers are experienced, respectful, nurturing, and kind. I am genuinely happy to go there each morning and thrilled my daughter will soon have a chance to be a part of this community!”

Rachel D.

May 21, 2011
Pre-K at First Step

“My daughter spent five years at First Step Nursery School. Desperate for someone other than me to entertain her, the two of us visited ‘Mommy and Me’ one Tuesday morning and nearly never left. Bridge group was the next stop. Two mornings a week, I would drop her off. I could never have imagined leaving a two year old at school, but then again I could never have imagined a safer, more nurturing place for Juliet than First Step. I yearned for her to beg me to stay but it never happened. She was having too much fun and enjoying her independence. The transition to five day a week preschool was seamless. By the time Juliet arrived in the Big House, she had a group of friends, knew her way around the playground and animals and even sometimes asked to spend the whole day at her home away from home. As the end of our fourth year arrived, I had a big decision to make. Would she stay or would she go? With an August birthday, Juliet was destined either to be the oldest or the youngest in her kindergarten class. Her three best friends (and their moms were my three best friends) would all be moving on to kindergarten. Juliet was as smart and confident and ready as they. Or, was she? Truth be told she not only needed another year to play and imagine and practice the important skills of sitting still and not talking out of turn, she wanted that year. She didn’t want to leave her teachers and turtles and bunny. She didn’t want to sit in a desk. She has a big brother and definitely didn’t want homework. I agonized about the sad fact that all of Juliet’s friends would be leaving. She never said a word. Juliet knew where they were headed and she had no interest in joining them. She also knew that if she stayed at First Step, she would finally get to be one of the big kids and better yet, she would finally get to be in Hillary’s group.

“The kids in Hillary’s group know that this is the year they will be graduating. The other children on the playground look to them for leadership and guidance, which is intoxicating if you are four to five years old. Hillary is as gentle and loving as all of the teachers at First Step, but she knows her job is to get the kids ready for kindergarten and she does it. It looks like just another day in the nursery, but the kids in Hillary’s group are learning an awful lot. They read, they write, they study topics and create projects about those topics. They go out for walks in the neighborhood and learn to identify the local flora and fauna. By the end of the year, they are ready to be learners in an academic classroom. They can sit still and pay attention and they like to do it.

“Juliet entered kindergarten totally prepared for academic rigor and new social experiences. We both cherish her years at First Step and visit often.”

Jackie Stansbury

May 21, 2011
“My son started going to First Step at 3 and it was the most loving, nurturing, fun based nursery school I found. The majority of his time was spent in the magical First Step outdoor space; digging in the dirt, discovering the wonders of nature, getting his hands dirty and his mind full. He painted every single day, learned to navigate a lunch table with his peers, share toys he would rather not share, wait his turn when he’d rather not, and sing, sing, sing! Living thousands of miles away from my family, Ina and her amazing teachers were my guides through the early childhood development years. My son and I made friendships in those early years we continue to cherish today and I still call Ina for advice 3 years after my son’s First Step graduation.”

Julie Allarie (AllarieLarsen@ca.rr.com)

May 21, 2011
“Our daughter started out in the toddler program and loved every minute of her time at First Step. As she moved into elementary school, she often goes back to visit and fondly calls it her ‘safe place.’ The teachers are all incredible and we love the loving and nurturing foundation First Step built for our growing girl.”

Tricia Stewart Shiu

May 20, 2011
“At First Step, my children took their first steps towards sharing, expressing themselves, and taking turns. They made their first friends and I made lasting relationships with other parents there as well. It was as much a second home for me as it was for my children. In those early years when there are so many questions about ‘what is the right thing to do’ – there is not a more comforting place than sitting in Ina’s office to hear her sage advice about parenting and issues beyond. It is a testament to Ina’s leadership that all the teachers have been at First Step for at least 10 years.”

Christine Lee


May 18, 2011

“My daughter literally took her first steps at First Step. With Ina and her amazingly loving and dedicated teachers, she also learned to share, to ponder, to be a friend, to figure out her world. When she left First Step, she walked into kindergarten without missing a beat. But she carries First Step with her — in the form of all she absorbed there, and in the wonderful friendships both she and I have maintained.”

Betsy Zeidman (betsyzeidman@gmail.com)


May 14, 2011

“I have had two kids go to First Step and it truly is a wonderful place for your kids’ formative years, preparing them for grade school and beyond.”

First Step Family

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2650 Second Street Santa Monica,
CA 90405 - See Map
310 399.8118

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