How to Find & Choose a Preschool

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi my child is currently 18 months. We are starting to look for preschools and get onto waiting lists. There are so many options in the bay, I’m not sure where to start. I visited some Montessori’s, Bright Horizon-Bay Farm, language immersion in Berkeley and closer low-cost local preschools closer to my home. I’m in San Leandro. And I’m not sure how to decide. I’m mainly looking for a nurturing environment, low student to teacher ratio, low teacher turnover, age-appropriate curriculum and affordable/reasonably priced. I did not realize how some schools have very exclusive waiting list and specific enrollment priorities so I’m worried she won’t be able to get into anything by the time she is able to start or if we pick the wrong school. Can anyone provide some recommendations of the pre-schools they have been and loved dearly? 

    We sent our oldest to Woodroe Woods (750 Fargo Ave, San Leandro, CA 94579) and we absolutely loved it. I wish we could send our youngest there but a recent move makes the commute time impossible. I strongly recommend checking them out. They have a very large outdoor play area and they have great teachers.

    Since you're in SL, check out Woodroe Woods.  It's great.  Long waiting list but put your kiddo on it now.  Our son recently started there and his two teachers have been at the school for 30 years between the two of them. Very warm, nurturing, play-based, lovely, pretty affordable. The other places I would recommend in SL would be the new La Plazita location at San Leandro BART and Children's Montessori Adventure.  Both are excellent in their own way too. 

    I highly recommend the preschool our daughter attends, Vivan Los Ninos. I think it ticks all your boxes. Hilda has been running the school for a long time and the other 2 teachers have been with her a while I think. They are all very loving and creative a wonderful community with the kids and parents too. Lots of outside free play time, and different inside activities too. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks are provided, the hours are pretty good, and so is cost. Give her a call!

    If you are okay with part-time programs for 2 or 3 days per week, then Broadway Children's School of Oakland has everything you're looking for. Our son just finished up the PACT program (Parents and Children Together), and he's eager for summer to be over so he can go to preschool in the Sunshine Room in the fall. They currently have openings in the PACT program for 2-year-olds (if your child has a December birthday like mine does, she could start in August even before turning 2). It's been a great transition to preschool, especially for our pandemic baby who hadn't been around many other adults or kids before starting. We love this preschool and can't recommend it strongly enough! 

    Hi Ann,

    My daughter attends Cedar Creek in Berkeley and we couldn’t be happier. We are graduating this August and are sad about leaving, it’s been such a great environment for her. Here are some of the things that made Cedar Creek stand out to me.

    • Dedicated teachers 
    • Location
    • Cost (under $2000/mo)
    • Diversity in teachers/students (This was huge for me)
    • Timely Communication
    • Covid safety and protocols 

    Let me know if you want an intro to the PreK owner, Prima. She is a lovely person.


    I would recommend checking out the wonderful St. James Christian Schools in San Leandro.

    I served as the pastor of the St. James congregation for several years and led chapel with the children on Wednesdays and interacted with the kiddos and parents on a daily basis. St. James offers a safe setting, loving teachers, long-term teachers, high teacher to student ratio, affordable as preschools go, and they really emphasize building community among the families. I know groups of families who have stayed friends for years. Good luck!

    Thank you everyone for the thoughtful replies. I never imagined how daunting a task looking for a preschool is and the waitlist can become overwhelming. 

  • I'm currently in the midst of the grueling search for a preschool for my 2 yr old daughter. I went on my first tour last week at the LePort Preschool in Emeryville, and, although I was impressed by many aspects of the campus, being such a new facility, it has its drawbacks (no rooftop garden as advertised, small/lacking outdoor play yard with plans to build new one in near future, and being only on their 2nd year a fairly new program). The positives include the level of education the teachers all have, diverse community, Clean and safe environment, extracurricular's, the parents social network community used to share students individual daily activities, and the overall facility. I was advised that they were currently full but expecting a couple open spots once their academic year program ended. There were a few family's already on the waitlist when I added my daughter, but the admissions director said we had a good chance of being offered a spot come fall. 

    I had scheduled tours at other schools throughout the month, leaving enough time to really process the pros and cons each program offered and to hopefully avoid being overwhelmed by the whole experience. I'm sure you can understand my surprise when I received a call/email from LePort yesterday offering us a spot in both their full year or academic year program. They gave me a deadline to have a decision by this Friday  to accept or decline the offer, which is not what I had expected, especially with my 2nd tour scheduled for the end of the week. 

    So now I'm beyond flustered. Although I did like LePort, it was my first school, i haven't had the chance to look at even one other preschool yet, and there are a few I was eager to explore. Problem is, I know I'm limited when it comes to programs that still have spots available that she meets the age requirement needed to enroll. I want her in preschool by this fall because waiting until next year means she be well into her third year, limiting her time in preschool to just a yr and a half. Plus, she's more then ready to be in school and I know she will flourish much more in an environment amongst her peers than with her mom. 

    So in short, do I accept or decline? Accept the offer, securing my daughter a spot in a program for the fall, which will be a relief all in itself, however, also causing the constant "what if's?" As to whether I should've waited, or if our "perfect fit" preschool is still out there. Decline, voiding pretty much any chance of being offered another spot at LePort again, risking guaranteed enrollment for the fall, taking a chance I will find a better fit  somewhere else, with a spot available, that they will offer to our family, all in the next few months. Any advice is welcome and encouraged. Any experience with LePort will also be greatly appreciated. Help!

    Unless there are no financial obligations to enrolling now I would hold off until you've had a chance to tour other schools. This is definitely a major decision that is definitely not cheap so you don't want to jump on the first offer unless you're sure you want it.

    1. Ask for an extension. Could the offer be a marketing ploy by the school to make you make a quick decision?

    2. On the other hand, when I was looking for a toddler preschool for my daughter, I narrowed down the search by price and geography (had to be walking distance to our apartment because I didn't have a working car at the time). I signed her up for the first one I found, as I had ruled out most others for being too expensive. It was not a "name" preschool; it did not have a waiting list, it did not have a "school year," it rarely came up for reviews on BPN, it was basically very basic with a month-to-month commitment. Anyway it did turn out to be a perfect fit and she stayed from the age of 20 months until 5.5 years old.

    3. If you sign her up and it is not a good fit, you can look for alternatives later.

    Ask for a second tour before Friday, and ask yourself:

    • is this a place where my child will have fun and flourish?
    • Are their basic values concurrent with mine? 
    • Are their expectations appropriate for her age?
    • Will you feel comfortable dropping her off there every day?
    • Are the location and price good for you? 
    • And is this a good learning environment? Kids at her age learn by having fun, playing with others, new activities and appropriate adult interactions.

    To my mind, the lack of outdoor areas is the biggest negative, the parents social network the biggest positive. Can you provide the outdoor time on your own?

    My guess is that your gut is your best guide. Whatever you decide, please don't agonize over your choice and indulge in "what ifs"; your anxiety isn't good for you or your child. And please, please let go of "perfect." She doesn't need "perfect" to learn and grow. She needs somewhere nice to go for preschool and a mommy who isn't too stressed out.

    Do you think your child will be happy and well-cared for in this preschool?  If so, say yes and be happy!

    My kids went to two different pre-schools.  Each one had pros and cons, but each one did an excellent job helping my kids learn, grow, make friends, and love school!  There are many lovely pre-schools.  It doesn't have to be a perfect fit in every possible way, but it does need to be a place where you trust the staff completely and your child will thrive.

    If the school doesn't fit your budget or have hours that work for your family, those are other good reasons to keep looking, but it seems like those worked for you.

    Good luck!


    If you are really deadset on it and def want your child to be in SOME program next fall, you could always accept, look at other places, then drop and go elsewhere (though there will be costs involved, but at least you could get the best of both worlds that way).  I'd highly recommend the White Pony/Meher School in Lafayette.  My kids are there, we've been there for about 4 years and we love it!  It's a very empathetic apporach to learning and child care. 2 yr olds are welcomed and assisted with potty training and all.  They are a very gentle and loving group.  Diversity, the arts, love for nature and care for others are some of their tennents.  Ask for a tour and ask to be put on their wait list if emeollment is full for this year.  They always have last minute openings with others' chnage of plans/moves/chngng jobs, etc.  All the best!!

    Decline. Don't believe the hard sell. There are lots of excellent preschools around, you WILL find a space, so take your time and tour the schools to find something you like. From your email it sounds like you are not loving LePort, so move on. If you tour all the schools and you realize LePort was the one, and the spot is gone, then add yourself to their wait list. Spots do open up mid-year because children move around and switch schools. BTW, there is no "perfect" preschool because children are all so different, and sometimes you won't find out whether it is a good fit until your child is actually enrolled. My son entered what seemed like a "perfect" preschool when he was 2, but neither he nor I ended up loving it. I switched him when he was 3, and it was a much better fit. Sometimes you just don't know till you've tried.

  • i was wondering if anyone had any suggestions of a good preschool in the Oakland/San Leandro area. Willing to travel for a good preschool.

    Thank you!



    some factors to make your search more manageable include number of hours you are looking for, number of days and how much you are willing to be involved (if you can donate some time, co-op preschool may be an option) in late January, the group East Bay Mom's holds a preschool fair at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland. That might be a great starting point for you.

    good luck!

    As the parent of twins (now 4), I would strongly encourage you to preference geography.  They will get sick a lot and not always at the same time.  The closer to where you live or need to be, the easier to differentiate when in need.  

    In terms of the best, I'd trust the recs on this website. Not sure it matters that it is twins, unless it is ideal to you to separate them. To that, you'd just want to make sure there is more than one room for your age.

    We've found Montessori to be really wonderful for developing their identities.

    Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Help finding the right preschool

Feb 2012


Please help me with updated and recent information about preschools. I am looking for a school that offers part time (3 full days), that's not too far away (I just moved to N. Oakland) and that can accomodate both my children 2 & 4 years old. I went to the preschool fair offered by East Bay Moms, have looked through the archives, but wanted to hear some recent posts. Thank you for any suggestions!!! Erica

As the mother of a 3 year old in his first year of preschool, I want to let you know that nothing substitutes for a visit to a school when it's in session (open houses on the weekend aren't useful). You can see the teachers, staff, and kids in action and it's much easier to visualize where you and your kid will fit. It will also be surprising what the school adults will say or do around the kids - how they interact. Or don't interact. Other people's experiences and advice might be interesting, but be aware that someone else loooving a school does NOT mean you will. Been There


Finding a preschool in January?

August 2011


Our Nanny is in a graduate program that ends in December. She is a long-time family friend and has been watching our 20 month old daughter for over a year. We'd like to keep working with her as long as we can and then find a preschool in the new calendar year. It seems like most programs enroll new kids in the Fall. Has anyone had luck finding openings mid-year or is that difficult to do? Thanks. LR

In general it seems like schools have more spaces since the economic downturn, based on looking a couple years ago. Our school, which lets people leave with 1 month notice, has let kids in at mid-year, as people sometimes move, or else find another school. But I would call various schools in September or October, after enrollment stabilizes, and ask about starting in January. They might say call back, or they might let you reserve a spot if they have spaces. anon


Missed the December deadline - how to find a preschool?

Jan 2010


Hi- Even though I panicked a year ago about getting my (just turned) 2 year old boy-girl twins into a preschool for fall 2010, I was so preoccupied with day-to-day survival that I completely missed the fall tours and December application deadlines that is seems almost all preschools have. Has anyone else gone through this? Any suggestions? I've been researching, calling and emailing like crazy, but it's tough getting any responses due to the holidays. I'm trying not to get crazed and am having a hard time not continuing to kick myself. My criteria are affordability and the ability to have at least 3 full days, at least 8:30-5:30. Full time and Spanish language a plus, but not necessary. Suggestions and any encouragement welcome. anonymous

I suggest you attend the East Bay Mom's Preschool fair on January 23rd. You'll be able to talk to a variety of schools in one place. It was my experience when looking at preschools that the smaller home based schools do not have strict application processes and deadlines and you are likely to find a spot in one of those. Check the BPN archives for a list of home based preschools. martha


Can someone clue me in on this preschool thing?

Nov 2009


Ok, so I've heard that I need to find a preschool for my daughter (who will be 3 next October) NOW. I'd love something on the Rockridge/Temescal/South Berkeley area. Interested in various schools but they want you to pay a $40 application fee, THEN tour. Well, how do I know if I want to apply until I tour? Am put off by some of their websites that give no real specifics on how to apply, etc. Is there an easier way? It seems like most places just rely on word of mouth...what do people who haven't lived here for ages do? How do you find these places and decide? Is there a secret I haven't been let in on? Out of the Loop

The pre-school thing is big here because so many folks need pre-schools in order to work. They are wildly different in their approach and educational structure. First you need to research the most common: play based, montessori and the lesser emilio reggio (or vice versa) the later being Hearts Leap. Then decide what might fit your kid. structure, not structure, sharing, not sharing. I had some preconceived ideas of schools and their settings. Only when my son was in the actual school during the ''interview'' could I determine what would work for him. My son got into a private school through 8th grade and Hearts Leap. We chose the private (even though I loved HL) for the long term placement through 8th grade It was lousy ''fit'' for my son and I begged a HL placement for the following year, our youngest had been accepted to the 2yo program.

My youngest son did three years and for two different years had male teachers which was great and my oldest did one before kindergarten. My kids were very ready for their public elementary schools due in part to the time spent at HL. Most pre-schools that are popular stop accepting applications anywhere from January 1st to March 1st and send out acceptances in early May. You need to apply to a few schools if you need regular care or possibly look at a co-op or Piedmont play school if you simply want a few hours ''off'' while your child socializes. mom of HL alums

Here's what I did last year: Researched preschools to find ones that were geographically desireable, had schedules that met our family's needs (both daily and over the course of the year), and that got good reviews either on BPN, SavvySource, or word- of-mouth. Cost was also a factor, but most I looked at were pretty comparable. I narrowed it down to about five or six schools and called to request applications/information. I payed the application fee sight-unseen for a couple of places because I figured they weren't getting good reviews for nothing. The process IS annoying, but generally these are good schools (like the ones you mentioned) led by good people who are just trying to cope with all of the interest, dispense information, and enroll a decent group of kids. Happy Preschool Parent

I would encourage you to contact schools that you are interested in and follow their application procedures. Since September is a transition time, most schools will have most of their openings then. If you are friendly and your child meets the schools selection criteria (minimum age, able to participate in a group setting, etc) it is very likely that you will find space in even the most popular school.

I am the director of Rockridge Little School. Parents who submit applications to us by January, February or even March have a very good chance of being accepted into the school for September. If parents call in later months we may have to put them on a wait list, but there are always unanticipated changes and wait list families are often offered a spot. This is very typical of East Bay schools.

If you talk to parents of three and four year olds you will find that they generally find a space in the school of their choice, so submit your applications and relax. Enjoy the opportunity to learn about the great Bay Area preschools. When you find one you love, make sure you let your enthusiasm shine through. Holly


Moving to the area mid-year - how to find a preschool?

Dec 2008


hi, We are a family of 5 (children 5,3,0.5), and planning to move to the area from Israel in few months. We are coming for a visit next week- and I have wondered how can I use my time the best- I need to look and choose preschool and school. Do I have a chance finding a place in the middle of the year? Do I need to set an appointment or I can just show- up in the place and look around? thank you for any help, Sharon

Hi Sharon - Welcome to California. It's good you are visiting now. Lots of preschools have folks visit in the early Fall and figure out who to invite to the school in January or February, and then the kids begin the following September, or so. Some schools have long waiting lists that begin years earlier (we chose not to deal with those). Some are on other schedules.

There are a ton of preschools in the area. Check out some of the reviews on the website attached to this list serve.

And, yes, you need to call ahead for an appointment. Or email ahead. It would actually be really good if you can email or call now, to find out what school would even be open when you are in town. Some may be on holiday break.

If you explain your situation and they are open, some may be willing to accommodate you. Just remember, the weeks leading up to the winter holiday are a very busy & hectic time here for schools. Don't know if you are interested, but there are some preschool that have a Jewish focus. The JCC in Berkeley has a preschool. East Bay Mom

Hi, Most preschools require you to make an appointment before they will let you in the door, so I would consider doing that. Since you are in Israel, that might make it a bit more difficult, though. Here is a website that will give you a complete list of preschools in Contra Costa County: Several of these schools have websites or at least an e-mail address, so you could contact them via the internet and schedule something that way. Best of luck! jj

Hi Sharon, I am the admissons director for Tehiyah Day School and we have a sizable Israeli population here. I am also familiar with many of the nearby preschools. There are certainly schools which still have room at this point in the year and you will want to make appointments to visit them. Please feel free to call me anytime. Amy


Need a preschool in Rockridge in September

June 2008


We are planning to relocate to Rockridge with our now 2 year old daughter. Can somone direct me to a comprehensive listing of preschools in the area for next September? Are there typically waiting lists? What are the fees like typically? And regarding public school Kindergarten (and beyond) do I need to begin investigating now? Are there waiting lists there too? I've recently moved to the bay area from New York and am not familiar with the process here.

Buy a comprehensive guide of the local preschools including Rockridge/Berkeley/Piedmont areas created by ''Neighborhood Parents Network'' at Rockridge Kids on College Ave. It is the most comprehensive and complete guide to local preschools and I believe it's updated each year. You need to get on waiting lists in the Rockridge area preschools as soon as possible. For the most popular schools parents usually get on the waiting list when they are pregnant to ensure a spot. There are not that many preschools in the ''rockridge'' neighborhood to choose from, though there are many preschools in other parts of Oakland and in Berkeley. Goodluck

Check out Debbie

I too am looking for preschools for my child. I found that was useful in providing information about schools in the bay area. They give an overview of the schools, pricing, styles, etc... I would check there. Beryl

My experience is that there are waitlists for many of the preschools already in Rockridge. Go to to find listings. Berkeley Parents Network also has listings in its archives. If you dont' find any openings, you can also contact Bananas on Claremont. You might find a nice daycare for your two year old. Mine are in daycare and it works out great. Also we drive 10 minutes (outside of Rockridge) to get there - you might have to expand your reach. For schools, you didn't say if you wanted private or public. For public, go to the Oakland Unified School District site. For private, I can't say. is a good source for info on both. For public in Rockridge there should not be a waitlist. future OUSD mom


When to start getting on preschool lists?

March 2008


Hi, I looked in the archives for advice about when to get on preschool waiting lists and while the consensus there was that you didn't need to pre-enroll in utero or anything, it also seemed to indicate getting into preschools wasn't a problem around here. BUT, the advice is from 2000 and 2002, and I just had dinner with a mom with 3 kids (her youngest is now 2 years old) and she said the waiting list thing could be a hassle and she wished she were more on the ball getting her eldest on the lists when preschool was an issue for him because he didn't get into ANY when he was three. So my questions are:
**I have a 3 month old. Is it too early to worry about the preschool thing if I'm looking at starting a program at age 3 for my son? (Please tell me it is too early!!!)
**When DO you start getting your kid on lists? A year in advance? Two years? More?
**Is 3 years old the average age most people enroll their kids in preschool?
--Unschooled in preschool issues

I just went through this process with my daughter who will be a little over 3 this fall when preschool begins so I definitely understand your anxiety. I also was very confused about the process and when to begin but luckily had a friend who had just gone through the process and gave me great advice.

There were a few schools that asked for applications with baby in utero but I basically ruled them out for obvious reasons. However, most preschools that I researched (in general) had a 2.9 year requirement - i.e., your child had to be at least 2.9 years old to start preschool. Some schools offered younger classes and some required older children but on average, I would say it was 2.9 years.

Most of the preschools I encountered did their enrollment process the fall or winter before enrollment - i.e., most preschools start in the fall (around September) so most of the preschools did their enrollment process the fall or winter the year before. Most schools won't even take applications unless your child will be of age the following Fall so you couldn't apply early even if you wanted to.

I would recommend going to the preschool fair held by East Bay Moms ( usually in January or order their preschool directory. They provide a general resource of local preschools q not all of them but a good sampling. From there, you can start to look at schools by location or by philosophy. I think October, November and December were the months most of the schools did open houses and visits. Usually after that, you can decide to submit an application and then they notify you sometime in January - March if your child was accepted.

Also, most of the schools will give priority to siblings first and then if spots are available are looking for the right sex balance, age grouping, diversity, etc. So it doesn't matter if you apply first or last, they are looking for a good fit for the school.

So as far as you questions are concerned:
* Yes, 3 months is too early to be looking at preschools. Try around 2 years old.
* There is not a waiting list per se and most schools don't allow early applications.
* 3 years seems like the average age for most preschoolers.

We applied to several schools and got accepted to all except one and were lucky enough to get into our top choice so don't be anxious about the process. You will find a preschool you like and it isn't as difficult as it may seem. -Lived through preschool process


How to decide among three great preschools

March 2008


We are looking at 3 great preschools for my 3y.o. son who will start in Sept: Ducks Nest, Hearts Leap North (new site) & Claremont Day Kensington. I am feeling overwhelmed with making this decision; they all seem like fabulous schools with great teachers/philosophies/reviews. They also each have various +/- related to logisitics (e.g.,location, hours, lunches provided). Any advice about these 3 schools in particular or making such a decision in general? And what really matters in the end logisitically, assuming that all else is equal? Will it be that big of a deal if my son attends one school close to home for a year (Hearts Leap N), but then has to switch to their other location (Julia Morgan Ctr) for Bridge-K, which though beautiful, is not convenient to where we live (N Berk) or work (Richmond)? Is it a great benefit to have hot meals made for him so we don't have to pack a daily lunch (Claremont Day)? Or, all else being equal, if one school offers an amazing play-yard and beautiful community garden (Ducks Nest), does this outway another program with slightly longer hours (CD) or that is closer to home (HLN)? We have spent a lot of thoughtful hours comparing the schools based on traditional merits, but I also want to honestly hear how much the logistics matter in day-to- day family life. We both work FT and have a 2nd child in daycare, so mornings and evenings are very busy and time can be precious. Thanks for any insight! holly

My advice is to not worry!! Just wait and see where you get accepted. You may only get in one school, or none at all, and then your choice is easy! The competition is stiff for those 3 schools! watch and wait

For our family, we found the strategic stuff is important. Our preschool was 20 minutes away and we had to bring lunch. Our kindergarten is 3 minutes away and we can send lunch money each day. It is so much better! Another benefit is getting to know the neighborhood children / playdates. But depends on your stamina and organization how valuable the lunch & short commute are. Good luck! anonymous

As much as we love Duck's Nest, I have to say I think you'll be happiest if you choose a school close to home (or on your way to/from work), given that you have 3 strong options. Having done the preschool thing for 2 years now, I have to say that the driving and ''commute'' time add up, especially if you're working full-time. I only looked at schools within a 2-mile radius of our house, and sometimes even that seems like too much. Drivin' the Mom-mobile

Our son attends Claremont Day Nursery in Kensington and we absolutely love it. We both work full time (he's there 50 hours a week!), and I must say that having lunch provided is a HUGE benefit. It seems petty, but not having to even think about lunches for him during the week (shopping for, preparing, worrying about whether he will eat what I put in there, etc.) is a major advantage in our busy life. The long hours are also a huge benefit - 7am to 6pm - if you're running late from work or need to drop off earlier than usual, etc. The school is great, very loving and committed teachers, great program where he learns a ton. I also love that the vast majority of kids are full-time, so they're all in it together with full-time working parents. Don't know anything about the other schools. Good luck. Amy


Finding a preschool ASAP!

Feb 2008


ack! very unexpectedly I have found a job after not working (outside the home anyway) since my son was born. He is now nearly three and a half. While it is exciting for me and I had been kind of thinking about preschool it now feels quite urgent- -and terrifying. Help! It seems like everyone is full or has an endless waitlist. Is it possible to find a good school midyear? It feels very overwhelming at the moment. Thanks for any insight parents. -julie

There is a new preschool website which has a comprehensive list of all preschools in Contra Costa County. I'm not sure where you are located, but start with something like that. This site's web address is

I was in the same boat in November and was able to find a great preschool for our son. Just start calling schools on the list and visiting. I guaranteee you that there are openings - even at the good schools. joj

This happened to us last year and I must have called every school in the region! Families do move at odd times and create openings, so there was a handful of schools to tour and we did find one amazing place.

It may be hard to find a spot but remember, ONE good spot is all you need. C


Help! Feeling overwhelmed by all of the choices!

Feb 2008


Our daughter will be attending preschool in about a year, and I've begun to do the research on the schools, scheduling tours, etc. My issue is that I really feel overwhelmed by all the choices and philosophies out there. I could see her doing well in a structured Montessori program, but I could also see her thriving in a play-based program. My question is, how do I figure out which school philosophy and system is best for her? Really, I could see her at any of these places, they all sound pretty wonderful! confused mama

I can totally relate to your feeling overwhelmed! We live in Oakland and there were over 60 preschools in the directory I had picked up two years ago. Basically it comes down to your criteria, which is somewhat personal to each family. Once I narrowed it down to reasonable driving distance, schedule we wanted, and what we could afford, the list was quickly down to 12. After a few phone calls it got shorter as some were no longer in our budget, or were full for the fall. Some things to look for, before you even get to the school philosophy - what is the schedule? are there hidden fees (annual materials cost can be anywhere from zero to $500)? How many hours if any are parents expected to contribute?

Play based, Montessori... kids are adaptable and if your child doesn't have any special needs they might indeed all be great. So get a reasonable list together and make some appointments. What looks good on paper might not ''feel'' right in person. (I recommend visiting without your child). Definitely read the reviews here at BPN too. I also found to be very helpful, especially the ebook which might be overkill but was very useful in determining what criteria to use. Good luck! (We ended up getting appointments at three, visiting two, and picking one, which we're on the wait list for but feel like it's worth the wait). just been through it

Well, you might start by thinking about what *you* want, since you say that you can see your daughter thriving in a variety of preschool structures. Have you been feeling a little bit isolated, as a parent? If so, you might really enjoy it if your daughter attends a co-op preschool. Are you, on the other hand, really yearning to have someone else just take over for a few hours every day? In which case, you probably don't want co-op. Do you want to be able to walk to school, or are you willing to drive? If drive, how far? Would a morning or afternoon program work better with the rest of your life? This is basically how we made our choice. We assumed, just as a starting point, that all the schools we had heard of were equally good, and then asked ourselves what would make the difference to us adults. We ended up deciding that we wanted a 1/2 day play-based co-op where almost all the families actually participated (rather than buying out of their participation) within walking distance of our house, and we went to exactly ONE tour and are really really happy with our choice. If we hadn't liked what we'd seen at that one pre-school, we'd have kept on looking, gradually increasing the distance from our house, until we found the one we liked. There are lots of good pre-schools in this area, so don't be afraid to put your own, adult, priorities into the process. You can reduce a bewildering number of choices down to a manageable handful of perfectly good schools by doing so. Putting our desire to reduce our daily driving at the top of our pre-school list has meant that our daughter has playdates all over our neighborhood now (who knew that there were so many nice toddlers living within three blocks of our house?), we see her friends at the grocery store and library and bank, we get exercise walking to and fro (don't laugh! 5 minutes four times a day is better than nothing!), and our daughter is building a sense of community that extends beyond our family and her school. And having figured out what we grown-ups wanted was useful for knowing what to look for, and what questions to ask, when we did go on that one tour. Good luck! Cory

Oh boy, was I in your shoes three years ago! We looked at every kind of preschool -- co-ops, Montessori, play-based, etc. And we saw so many great places, we were torn. Play? Academic? Some combination? (There weren't many of these.)

Our ultimate decision hinged upon the temperament of our child (VERY curious, loves to learn, had spent her previous time with mommy and would benefit from a robust and intentional social curriculum) and upon the tour and admissions process of the schools we looked at. It's all about what is the best fit for your family and, most of all, your child.

We found our place at Berkeley Montessori School. And as she enters the second half of her Kindergarten year, we couldn't be more pleased with our choice. We looked at a LOT of schools to find the one that fit our child and our family.

Pay attention to the admissions process -- how does it feel to you as a family? How does your parent visit feel in relation to your parenting philosophy? Is it echoed by or in conflict with your approach? Or are you not sure?

How is the child visit structured? Is it set up to learn about your child or around adult schedules and needs? I was astounded at the number of ''popular'' schools where the child visit seemed to be very hard on children.

What do you ultimately want for your child at the end of this trajectory? It's VERY hard to determine the ''right fit'' for a kid that's 2 years old. That being said, you can find the right fit for your goals as a parent and hope you're right. :- )

What do you want your child to have experienced at the end? Do you want him/her to be a kid, with the empowermemt that goes along with that and no other responsibilities? Do you want the fast track to Harvard? Some schools will intimate that they can do that. Do you want some combination, and/or a place where s/he can be herself and learn and grow from both angles?

We ultimately chose Berkeley Montessori because we wanted our very curious child to have the exposure and access to the learning that takes place, *if* she wanted to take advantage of it.

We weren't expecting the amazing explosion that took place -- reading long before K ; math; geography; sciences like astronomy, meteorology, geology, botany and zoology; sensory development, and a social curriculum that's enabled our child to really blossom in a safe environment. She has eaten up every minute of learning she's been exposed to, and without pressure.

We didn't expect the decision process to be as hard as it was, but at the end it was very easy. Listen to your instincts, do your homework, and know that if you decided wrong, you can fix it for next year.

Much luck, Lisa


Starting the preschool process

Feb 2008


I've just started the process of looking for a preschool for my son. Many of the BPN archives refer to a booklet produced by NPN as the best way to start the process but NPN apparently stopped producing the booklet a few years ago. I'm wondering if there are any other similar resources or suggestions on how to start this process now that the booklet isn't available. Sharie

East Bay Moms publishes a Preschool & Childhood Resource Directory, which was just updated in January, 2008. The Directory features comparative information on 44 preschools and childcare programs as well as information on another 44 non-school resources for parents of young children. The Directory is available by mail order only. To order a copy, send a $15 ($10 for members of East Bay Moms) check (no credit cards) to East Bay Moms, 6000 Contra Costa Road, Oakland, CA 94618. Lee Eisman eastbaymom [at]


How to find and select a pre-school

Nov 2007


My daughter is just 2-months old, yet I have heard that I need to get her on pre-school waiting lists now. How do I find what are all the possible pre-schools in our area and surrounding? How do I learn about different types of pre-schools eg waldorff inspired v. montessori v. other? We live in Alameda and I am absolutely commited to enrolling her in a Spanish immersion pre- school (not just bi-lingual, and preferrably with Spanish speaking families) and hope to have the option throughout her academic life even if that means some travel (without giving up all the other top quality attributes in a school that one looks for). (Unfortunately we are neither afluent in order to independently afford private tuition nor low-income to qualify for scholarships--but it is a priority so we will find a way). I am aware of Centro Vida and Escuela Bilingue Internacional, but I hear there are others out there, I just don't where to begin inquiring and comparing. Thank you. international studied mami

Step one: RELAX

You're a long way off from needing a preschool! Not all schools even have waiting lists, not all waiting lists are guarantees (openings can depend on whether or not siblings get priority, or the number of children leaving vs. number waiting to get in).

And even if you do put your child on a waiting list, who's to say you'll even still like the place when the time comes? Staff, policies, conditions change, not to mention just figuring out your child's needs and personality.

So, knowing that ANYTHING can happen in the next 2-3 years, take your time. Simply call places up and start visiting, start asking other parents at the park, playgroups, etc.

Many parent publications have done articles on finding a preschool and give you lists of what to look for and questions to ask. Look for back copies online or in libraries, or just keep an eye out for the next time a magazine publishes the revamped article. But number one: RELAX! It'll be fine. Take it one step at a time. Mom of Two

I read all of the great info here, visited 8 preschools nearby, picked one. Then realized I had made a mistake, visited 9 more preschools, and my daughter started over at Step One this fall. Step One is an amazing place, I would call Step One, take a tour and get on their list. Step One is worth the drive


Beginning the process of finding a preschool

Sept 2007


We are beginning the daunting(?) process of looking for a preschool for our now 2 year old son. We are in Berkeley. Diversity (we are interracial), languages, art, creativity and gardening are all important to us. We are interested in co-op schools and non. We are currently paying $650/month for a home daycare and are eager for our son to be in a more stimulating environment. What do preschools cost? How do we narrow down the choices?

We are currently in the process of looking at preschools as well and have found this site to be extremely helpful: They also sell a PDF for $19.99 that can walk you through the selection process and crystalize some of your thinking. The purchase was worth it for us. In Your Shoes

First step: check out the Bananas handout ''choosing preschool care.'' You can download it and lots of other helpful publications at

Bananas may also be able to give you a range for current preschool rates. It's worth a call.

That said, the New School, on Bonita at Cedar, 548-9165, is a play-based preschool that has all the elements you mentioned. Like any school, you'll need to visit to see if it fits with your and your child's style--but we absolutely loved it. Good luck!


Missed preschool enrollment for Fall- what to do?

July 2007


We're relocating from out of state to Oakland in October. Unexpected, so we missed all the deadlines for private preschool this Fall. Does anyone have any advice or suggestions for other group options for young 3 yr old? Are their part-time daycares that may be an option? Any suggestions would be wonderful!

You haven't missed out yet! There are some great listings here at BPN, but where you end up in Oakland may determine where you want to send your child. Also what size preschool you are looking for. Oakland Montessori (no waiting list), Chatham Preschool, Bernice and Joe's, and Claremont Day Nursery all might be options. oakland parent

Berkeley Montessori School still has some preschool openings for the fall. Their Early Childhood program is a wonderful environment that engages a young child's inherent desire to learn about the world. The teachers at BMS are particularly good at supporting children's social and emotional well-being and fostering a sense of community in the classrooms. Both of my children started there when they were 3 years old, had a great experience, and have continued at BMS into their elementary school years. Also, the school community is very welcoming and would be a great place for a relocating family. Dan


Book of East Bay/Berkeley Preschools?

Dec 2005


Does anyone know of a book that lists and describes many of the preschools/daycare centers in the East Bay (I live in No. Berkeley)? I'm the mother of 2.5 year old twins + a 9 month old and am overwhelmed by the number of schools! Since I'm just a bit busy, I can't seem to keep track of the many programs that are either mentioned to me or that I read about on this network. I also don't have a network of other friends in our area to draw upon. I recall someone showing me a book that was available at one point but I don't know if it is still published. Thanks~ Overwhelmed

East Bay Moms publishes a directory of preschools and child care programs throughout the East Bay. It can be purchased by sending $10 (East Bay Moms members) or $15 (non-members)to East Bay Moms, 6000 Contra Costa Rd., Oakland 94618. The 8th annual EBM Preschool & Childhood Resource Fair takes place at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland on January 21st. Complete details can be found at
Lee Eisman


How to navigate the sea of choices?

Sept 2005


My child is just about to turn 2 at the end of the month and my husband and I have decided it's time to think about sending her to pre-school. My problem is that I don't really know how best to navigate through the sea of choices available in the Berkeley area; ie: Montessori, Waldorf, co-op, etc... Our daughter is VERY verbal, socializes well and generally seems like a well rounded toddler. So how do I know what situation will be best for her? It seems like a shot in the dark? Any advice from those who have 'been there' will be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you all. New Mom

I just did the whole preschool search last winter/spring and my son started school this fall. I actually had no idea what I was getting into, so I wasn't stressed about it at all (at first!). I just thought that preschool was going to be stepped up daycare. Little did I know. Don't let the fact that you know there are all these philosophies out there stress you out.

I was very happy with the way I went about looking for schools. I did not begin with deciding on a particular educational philosophy, I began simply by looking at schools nearby. I looked on the BPN archives for places that would be convenient and had good recommendations, asked friends, etc. Then I called the places and made appointments to see them. I asked very few questions on the phone (only total basics like what hours they were open and how much they cost) and instead waited till I saw a place to judge it. I made several appointments over a month and half time span. Then I started visiting.

From the visits, I quickly began to realize what was important to me about a school and what wasn't. I started to see what I liked and what I didn't, so that in subsequent visits to other places I could seek out the qualities I had identified as important to me. What I found was that I was drawn to a particular educational philosophy, but I never would have figured that out by reading about the philosophy first. I had to see it in action. After I figured out this was what I wanted, I then sought out schools that practice this philosophy. After that, it was simply a matter of what place felt right.

So, I really recommend just starting to make appointments at all different kinds of schools in order to identify what you like and what you don't. Don't read up on the philosophies until after you've seen a place and it appeals to you.

Good luck happy with how I did it


Preschool search: what's the first step??

June 2004


My husband and I are interested in starting to look for a preschool for our daughter. I know that the NPN has a guide with lots of information about lots of preschools, including things to ask and look for. We have already been contemplating issues of academic vs play-based, etc. My question is really about logistics of the search.

I would imagine the first step is to call the preschool. At that point though, I don't know what to expect. I can't imagine that every parent who calls with vague interest in a preschool gets to visit/tour/speak with teachers/interview the director, etc. that I would want to do when really interested in a school. So is there some kind of initial ''phone interview'' and with whom could I expect that to be, probably not the person who initially answers the phone? If we think we would really be interested in a school, what can we expect as far as a visit-just a time to drop in? Whom should we expect to be able to speak with? And what about wait lists? We are looking for next fall so do we do our touring/interviewing etc now or when we make our way through a wait list? Will those schools with waiting lists usually allow you to tour if there is a long one? What about deposits? How often is that required and when is it expected?

As you can tell, I'm feeling pretty awkward about getting started with this. Do people feel that they got considerably ''better'' as they went, like with job interviews? For example, should we start with a school we are less interested in? Any advice will be appreciated.

confused toddler mom

The preschool searching logistics is really pretty simple and straight foward. The part that makes it too complicated is one's own confusion and indecision about what they want in a preschool. The Bay Area is so diverse that your choices for schools are endless. The first thing you need to do is narrow down your choices. The NPN booklet if exremeley helpful, a great way to begin. So if you haven't gotten one, get one right away. Once you have an idea of what schools you might be interested in, call them up! Tell them you are interested in the preschool and would like more information and set up a time to come and visit. Each and every preschool has their own way of handling interested parents. The school will tell you exactly what you need to know. Some schools will send you a brochure first and then have you call them to schedule a tour if you are still interested. Some schools give individual tours, some only group tours. Some actually put you on a waiting list for a tour. And of course some schools will tell you that they are already full. Some schools have an annual ''Open House'' and use that day for interested parents to sign up for tours or be put on a waiting lists for possible enrollment. Definitely go to an Open House if the preschool you are interested in is planning on having one. Sometimes preschool waiting lists fill up on the day of their Open House! When you tour a school or go to an Open House, that is your best chance to talk to teachers, or the director if a school has one. Bring all your questions with you when you visit. Some schools may set up individual ''interviews'', but most don't. Again, it all depends on the school.

I think that many parents here in the Bay Area tend to make the preschool search too complicated and stressful, often treating it like they are competing to get their child into the right college. There seems to be this prevailing sense that there are ''good'' preschools and then there are ''great'' preschools, and that somehow we as educated parents must put our child in the very best preschool or else our child will be at a disatvantage somehow. This kind of perspective has spread through out the community and has created a sense of confusion and ''panic'' among so many parents who are new to the preschool searching process. Thus making it difficult for new parents to make decisions for fear they may make the ''wrong'' choice. My best advice is to try to keep it all in perspective, and keep it simple. Afterall, it is only preschool! Laurey

Hello, I'd recommend you start your search for preschools NOW, wait no longer! Many schools do fill and have waitlists by the winter or spring before their fall ''start'' dates. However, although there are ''waitlists'', you may still be able to enroll you child at that particular school, because by now, many parents have their children enrolled in alternative schools, so a waitlist may not be as long as it appears. Talk to friends and neighbors in the area with kids who were recently in preschool, see what schools they liked. Start investigating schools in your area to decide what type of program you are comfortable with for your child -- play based, montessori, co-op. It is very important that you have a connection with and respect for the program director and the teachers working with your child. Do they respect your child's needs? Are they responsive to your child? Do they take the time to get to know your child on a personal level so that your child feels important? How does the school deal with conflict between children (which preschoolers are learning how to do on a daily basis)? Is conflict intervention consistent and empowering for your child (harder to do in a co- op school where parents teacher). Do the children seem happy and involved in activities at school? Is the environment peaceful when you visit or are there unresolved outbursts occurring? Is the facility to your liking and safe? Will your child have the structure/freedom he/she requires based on her personality? What is the teacher/child ratio? And if your child has a fall birthday, you may want to inquire about the school's pre-k program.

Get on the phone and ask the director the questions you can. Arrange a visit, you will know which schools are definite matches for you and your child and others are not. I have personally found that the most important match point is the director's philosopy and respect for each individual child and family. You don't want your child to feel alone at school each day. This is the beginning of her schooling experience. If you cannot find a school in your neighborhood to your liking, be sure to look a few miles further out, for a good preschool match for your child is critical for future happiness, confidence and schooling success.

It's a fun process, and a very important process. When you find a school you like, you'll know. It's very instinctive.

Good Luck! Happy preschooler mom who did her research

I was in your position a couple of years ago. I got the NPN guide, and was able to rule out most of the preschools in it. I didn't want a coop, and many of the schools were too far away. I started calling the remaining schools to go on a tour. (Most of them offer these at regularly scheduled times.)

However, I ended up finding the preschool that my child attends by asking my neighbors, friends, and other moms I met at the park and Gymboree. I toured 3 schools and chose one that a neighbor was sending her child to. My second choice was one that a friend sent her kids to. I was really busy with work and pregnant with #2 while making this decision. I felt guilty about it, but reasoned that these other people had visited tons of schools before choosing the ones they did. In short, if you can find other people who seem ''like you'' in terms of how they are raising their kids, you can use their legwork! happy with our choice

My husband and I went through great pains when trying to find daycare for our first child (she's now 6). We started our search by getting a list of options from bananas. We were pretty sure we wanted a small family daycare environment so we started there. There was also a lot of talk at the time about the attributes of a 'high quality' daycare center. We went to a website which escapes me now, but you can get similar info from any number of sources. (Lots of different art on the walls, living things like plants and animals, stable staffing so the kids can bond with their teachers, etc) We created a matrix and then started calling and visiting. Some places were eliminated after the initial phone call, others after the visit. As we worked our way through the list of places, we constantly refined the criteria, realizing that some things just naturally worked themselves into every discussion we had after a visit. We tried to used a five point scale to force ourselves to be objective. Once we were done, we realized that there was a broad range within the family daycare environment so we decided to look at a traditional preschool too, just to understand the differences. We ended up going with a family daycare center and loving it. We were really pleased with the process and convinced that we had made a good choice based on a sound evaluation that included lots of 'gut instinct'. dl

When I was looking for preschools, being the anal person I can sometime be, I made up a list of ''interview'' questions on the computer and filled one out for each place I went. I starred those items that I needed to ask over the phone that may have ruled out the place altogether (can they accomodate a vegetarian child, what are the hours, how much does it cost, are a few that come to mind). So I pre-screened them. Then if it worked, I asked if I could come see the place. Then we would schedule a tour, I'd ask all the questions at that time and fill out my little list. Most places would give me their literature and an application at that time.

Now some places do tours on a regular schedule, others are less formal. One place (the Duck Pond) actually makes you pay them an application fee before you even get a tour when you fill out your application. I always thought that was weird myself; its not the norm. When I was looking it was almost always the director that took me around (these were not big preschools).

As far as getting in, some do first come first serve, others select you. Each place is different and you just have to ask!

Good luck. Hilary


Finding the right preschool

April 2003


Hello, I'm hoping for some help in finding the right preschool for my 3-1/2 yo son. For some reason, I'm having a difficult time learning about good preschool options in the East Bay Area, though I have used UC Berkeley Parent's Place and have continued to ask around. Does anyone know of any other resources for locating preschools (ideally with descriptions and/or webpage info)? Also, I'm looking for specific preschool recommendations. We live in Berkeley so would prefer something close-by, but would also consider Albany and Emeryville. I'm looking for a preschool that, above all else, feels warm and loving, safe and accepting, and that is compassionate to children's tender feelings since my son is sensitive and tends to thrive in such environments, yet wilt in ''colder'' less-sensitive ones. Of course, the typical preschool activities (art, dance, play, circle time, music,etc..) are important as well. I don't want him getting lost in the crowd. We visited McGee's Farm Co-op and both loved it but am not sure if I'm really up for that level of participation since I'm now pregnant with my 3rd baby. Ideally the school we're looking for would feel like a child-centered, diverse community of people who really care about and respect children and their families (kind of like a co-op without actually being a co-op, if that is possible!). I'd prefer something that offered 2 or 3 mornings/week and accepted 2 year olds since our second child will be 2 when our third is born. I'd very much appreciate hearing from people who have already found or know of such a place where they feel really good about leaving their child. Thank you so much for your help!

I think that the Neighborhood Parents Network publishes a comprehensive pre-school guide. I don't have their contact details, but you may want to ask around. Seems to me that Rockridge Kids may carry them at the front counter (at least they did the school directories). Anon

I too am in the process of searching for a preschool for my son and found a very helpful resource called ''Directory of East Bay Preschools 2001 - 2002.'' Neighborhood Parents Network put it together and it includes many preschools in the East Bay with information such as: teaching philosophy, age range, hours, price range, whether potty training is required, diversity, and description of facilities. It cost $15.00 and I bought it at Rockridge Kids Store in Oakland - they sold them at the front counter. It is helpful to have an overview of the preschools that are out there. (Of course, not every preschool is included.) Kim

I found my daughter's preschool by starting with the Yellow Pages. I listed my criteria that included location, price and operating hours. Then I started calling, visiting and looking up recommendations on this newsletter. It took only a couple of days for me to find her a great preschool (Montessori Community School in El Cerrito). liz

Bananas also has recommendations for preschools.

This is in response to the parent looking for a good resource to find preschools in the East Bay. Neighborhood Parents Network, formerly Neighborhood Mom's, publishes an East Bay Preschool Directory that is updated every other year. The current directory includes information on 112 East Bay Preschools. Neighborhood Parents Network (NPN) is a nonprofit, all volunteer organization of East Bay Parents. To find out more about the NPN organization and the school directories, go to Jena

Other recommendations:

  • Aquatic Park Preschool
  • JCC

    What Do You Dislike About Your Preschool?

    October 2002

    Hi - I am beginning to investigate preschools for my son and am having a hard time figuring out what I want from a school. I have received lots of recommendations from friends, but haven't found the information particularly useful -- everything sounds acceptable, but nothing stands out. However, I did learn a lot from reading past posts on the subject... particularly from people who expressed things they did not like about particular programs. So, I am hoping to hear from you about issues you have or had with your preschool -- not the name of a school, just the issue. I am particularly interested in hearing from people who chose a particular philosophy (Montessori, Waldorf, Art-based, Academic, ??) and then discovered that it was not right for your child or family. Thanks!

    I actually like my preschool, but I disliked many of the schools I visited. It didn't necessarily break down neatly by philosophy. I paid more attention to how the teachers interacted and responded to the kids. For me, the most informative activity to observe was recess/free-play time (if the school is structured so that this is distinct. In Reggio Emilia schools, the children can play outside all day if they choose.) At way too many schools I visited, this was the teachers' ''down time'' where they would chat with each other or where they would attend to the most clingy kids. The other kids were left relatively unsupervised. I saw kids pushing each other off of toys and not being redirected to share, having conversations that could use a little adult input, bossing littler ones around, etc. Unless there was some kind of noisy outburst, a lot of this went unnoticed.

    At (what I thought were) the better schools, the teachers were engaged with the kids during play time, at the very least monitoring their activities and conversations, making sure that they respected one another, helping them sort out sharing and turn-taking and not throwing sand, and all that stuff that is often challenging (yet so critical!) at this stage of development.

    Relatedly, I paid a lot of attention to discipline. My preferred approach is for a teacher to take the time to talk through an unacceptable incident with a child, providing a lot of reasons for not engaging in whatever behavior. I was definitely drawn to places where the teachers managed these interactions with respect, compassion, and firmness instead of anger or punishment.

    This is an overgeneralization, so please take it as such, but I found that kind of adult inattention to play time more frequently at ''academic'' pre-schools. I infer that this is because the teachers see their job as ''teachers of curriculum,'' so the socialization issues (which in my opinion are much more pressing at this age) do not take the same place in their work as for teachers of more play-based or kid-centered approaches. I am sure that there are academic preschools out there where teachers are more attentive to the kinds of socialization that needs to happen at playtime, but I didn't encounter any in my own search.

    Good luck. A Mom

    You realize that you have opened up a can of worms here, right? Anyway, although my son's preschool is very expensive and one of the best, here is what I do not like: I do not like that the teachers seem to have little respect from the administration. I wonder how much they are paid, because there are only a few of them who speak fluent, error-free English. I wonder if they are somewhat underpaid (for how expensive the preschool is) because they are foreign. They also seem unwilling to speak up to the administration if they have wants and needs (it is family-run preschool, and the ''family'' seems quite well taken care of). The school also seems to be run more like a money-making buisness, rather than a preschool. Finally, although there is a ''Parent Association,'' which has meetings and such, members of the administration COME TO THE MEETINGS! As a parent, I cannot say what I think or what I worry about, because the administration is present at the meetings. Thus, it is not a *Parent* association at all!

    I think a good preschool is one where the teachers are happy and their needs are met, so that they can better meet the needs of our children. When the teachers appear to be intimidated by the administration, I think that is a problem. Looking for the Perfect Preschool!

    The pre-school my child attends in the No. Berkeley Hills is ''technically'' a very good school--bright and sunny, immaculate, loving, and creative.

    I am rueing having chosen this school because the moms are, mostly, stay-at-home moms (somewhat snobby and self-involved), the physical set-up of the school is not conducive to any sense of community, the school has ZERO diversity, and I feel like I have landed in a pre-school in the middle of Piedmont or San Marino, Ca. This is not why I had chosen to live in Berkeley. My child is happy, so I am grinning and bearing it. But you might want to look closely at the physical set-up of the school, the ethnic make-up (although how could one know until the first day?), and location. We are hill dwellers, too, but I honestly think that the immediate neighborhood adjacent to the school, which largely ''feeds'' the school, is homogenous whereas our neighborhood is less so.

    Just think about what your priorities are. My other children are enrolled in a private elementary school which is diverse, comparatively, and so I am biding my time until my child is a kindergardner, there. And, to be fair, my child is happy at this school.

    I am aware, of course, that there is no perfect choice. Waiting it out

    I am disappointed that my child's school does not have a play-yard but an oversized wood deck. I worry about the safety and strength of the deck and mourn that there is no grass. L

    Tops on the list for us is poor communication among teachers and between teachers and parents. At the preschool we used to go to (we recently switched), we often had problems when we would tell something important to one teacher and ask him or her to communicate it to the rest of the staff, only to find out later that the teacher had said nothing to anyone else. It was also almost impossible to find out anything about our daughter's day when we picked her up. Even if she had had an accident or something else noteworthy had happened, the response to our question was usually, ''Oh, I wasn't the one who dealt with that -- I don't know about it.'' Not surprisingly, the staff told us very little about activities they were planning or had done, changes in staffing (which were many), or other information that would help us know about what was going on when we were not with our daughter. By the way, this school is in Palo Alto, not the East Bay, so you don't have to worry.... Lauren

    Regarding educational philosophies/schools that did not fit for particular families; we cannot speak to the preschool environment but primary education at a Waldorf school was not for our family. We enrolled our child at East Bay Waldorf School after learning about it on the Parents Network. We left the school due to ineffective teaching and a strange new-age spirituality called ''Anthroposophy'' that underlies the school community and curriculum. Many Waldorf schools are guided by this philosophy but claim, untruthfully, that it is not taught. Prospective parents who are considering this school would be wise to educate themselves about Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, and how this cult-like belief system educates your child in a Waldorf school. There is a movement of parents who have withdrawn their children from Waldorf schools, many asserting Waldorf schools mislead prospective parents about what the curriculum is truly about. Before enrolling your child please visit the PLANS website My previous comments about our experience at the school are on the Parents website at Former Waldorf Parent

    I love my son's preschool. But I didn't love all of the schools I visited, including one that others have rated very highly in past newsletters. Some things I observed which turned me off:

    * Facilities (or school policies) which restricted the kids' freedom to choose between indoor and outdoor play. I want my child to play wherever he wants to, assuming weather allows.

    * Rigid separation of age groups. I think kids benefit from multi-age groups in most cases (3's and 4's togehter, for example). Older kids get to be leaders, younger kids get older role models. Moreover, the kids stay with their caregivers for more than one year, which is preferable. One school I toured moved kids to the next class around their birthdays, which meant they left ALL of their classmates behind at once, instead of moving to a new class togehter in, say, September. That struck me unnecessarily traumatic.

    * Poor variety of toys. At the same school I noticed the toddlers had a huge selection of puzzles to play with, but no dolls or dress-up clothes! I was told toys were rotated to ''keep kids interested.'' I rotate toys at home, too, but to me that means substituting one puzzle for another, not math toys for dramatic play toys! At another school, teachers limited the number of toys on the shelves at any one time too much for my tastes. I got the feeling they were hoarding some great materials that were ''too messy'' for regular use.

    My concerns were based in my philosophy that preschool should be play-based. I believe young children need lots of opportunities to explore a variety of materials and make CHOICES! And finally, there should be tons of reading and writing materials around. Examine the books; if they look well-cared for, then the children don't get to handle them often enough. Loralee

    What a good question!! I am very happy with my child's preschool and don't intend to change it, but if I had it to do over again, I would look more carefully at socioeconomic diversity. I am one of the few fulltime working moms and feel a little alienated as a result. Also, one of the features I fell in love with -- a wooded yard - doesn't allow my child to run around as much he'd like to; I think he would actually prefer a big concrete playground. Finally, I think I chose the place because it fit my image of the mother I wanted to be, not the mother I am. The school doesn't want the kids to talk about TV or movies, or wear cartoons on their clothes, or bring sweetened snacks. All great, but unfortunately, not my life. anonymous

    My son just started preschool two months ago, so I haven't got anything to complain about yet. I really like the school I picked. Thank goodness.

    When picking I looked at four different schools. (I talked to more than that, and narrowed it down.) One of the schools I looked at is an academic preschool. It actually is the preschool I went to, so I already knew a lot. The pluses: it is clean, I knew my kid would be safe, hot lunches, good preparation for school. The minuses (IMO): preparation for school... that meant too much sit still and learn time and not enough run around and be a kid time. When I interviewed with the director she started to shake her head because I was ''starting [my son] so late''. She then gave me a list of skills he should master by the time he entered at age 3.5. They included: sequencing; summarizing; inferring; knowing his colors, letters and numbers; how to set a table; his left and right. Whoa!!! That was over the top for me.

    Another school I looked at was a Montessori school. It was in a home. The pluses: it was clean, the staff was small, friendly, and a close family friend is friends with them. The minuses: I am not personally too hot on the Montessori method. Lack of diversity. All the kids looked like they were wearing party clothes and stayed clean the whole time I was there... even while painting! It just was too weird. The hours weren't great, and for the price, I didnt' think it was worth it The third school I looked at was a play based school. The pluses: The kids could play with anything they were interested. The price was good. The minuses: They don't do formal instruction of any kind... to the point that it seemed like it was almost a free for all. While I was there observing I never saw any of the kids pick up their toys. At one point the director told me, ''We don't teach the children manners, they learn those at home.'' It was just too loose for me. I want my child to have some structure to his day. I also want him to be in a school that reinforces values that we have at home (and in society?) like picking up after yourself and saying please and thank you.

    I ended up choosing a school that has both a diverse student body and staff. (Including a male teacher... I think that is so great!) The kids have a schedule that includes PLENTY of play time each day, but does also include some school activities like music, circle time, projects, colors, etc. The kids are grouped in classes by age, but for lunch, nap and play time (which is most of the day) all the kids are together so they all know eachother, regardless of age, and they know all the teachers so there is less anxiety about switching groups.

    I don't know if that is the kind of info you are looking for. Certainly it is all JMO... YMMV. a mom


    How do you define what you're looking for?

    July 2002

    My husband and I are starting to think about preschools for our daughter. I have contacted NPN about its preschool directory and info session, but what I really need at this stage is some advice on the very first step in the process -- that ''mental conversation'' about what we're looking for. What questions did you ask yourself when trying to define what you were looking for in a preschool? What do you think are the most important considerations in selecting a preschool? (Maybe something you didn't give much thought to originally has turned out to be really important).

    Please note that I'm not asking for specific shool recommendations -- just asking HOW to think about this whole thing. Thank you very much! Sarah

    P.S. I notice some common terms (such as ''play-based'' and ''developmental'') in the newsletters, but the I don't understand their definitions/differences - so if some kind soul would give me the run-down on that, too, I'd really appreciate it. :)

    It has been a long time since my kids have been in preschool (they are now 13 and 16), but I spent many years as membership chair of a co-op preschool, and now teach first grade, so I have lots of opinions about what you might want to think about as you begin looking at your options.

    One of the first choices you may want to make is whether you want to get involved in a co-op preschool, and this will probably reflect your own personal situation (are you working; do you look at preschool primarily as childcare; do you want to be part of your child's education, or do you prefer to leave that to the ''experts''). I chose a co-op preschool because I had stopped working in order to be home with my daughter, and I wanted to be part of a community of parents who were involved in preschool education. I liked the fact that my daughter would be able to be with lots of her peer's parents, and that the preschool situation would be somewhat like the experience kids used to have in neighborhoods--a bunch of children playing with lots of parents around supervising. In fact, we are still connected to some of the families we went to preschool with, and they still feel like neighbors and family.

    In addition to looking for a co-op, I purposely looked for a ''play-based'' program. I wanted a situation in which my child could make choices about what interested her, and would not be required to follow any preset curriculum. If she chose to play outside in the sandbox all day, she could do that. If she wanted to be inside being read to, that would happen too. I looked for a school that provided lots of options for kids, a wide variety of equipment, a low adult/child ratio, and most importantly, respected each child's autonomy in decision-making.

    I don't think preschoolers need to be ''taught'' academics, and I would be very leery of schools that focus on pre-reading, pre-math, etc. Your child has the rest of his/her life to spend on academic, paper/pencil kinds of learning. The ''work'' of preschoolers is play; the play provides a foundation for the rest of their education.

    In this context, pre-reading skills might include being read to (a ''good'' preschool, in my opinion, should always have someone available to read to children), and imaginative play (dress-up, puppet theater, etc). Pre-math skills would include building with blocks, puzzles, water play, legos, cooking, measuring, etc. Pre-writing skills could include play-dough, crayons, rubber-stamps, puzzles, dictating stories, etc.

    Look for an environment that includes animals, cooking, musical instruments, singing, playground equipment, wheeled toys, etc. The ''stuff'' needn't be fancy, but it should be accessible and kids should be actively involved.

    The preschool my kids attended had a ''circle time'' every day which kids could join or not as they chose. A few parents worried that if their children didn't go to circle time in preschool they wouldn't be able to behave appropriately when the time came for them to attend kindergarten. In my experience, both with my own children and the many students I have taught over the years, this was never a problem. In fact, most of these kids were the most ready for kindergarten, and quickly adapted to new behavioral expectations.

    I feel very strongly that kids need the opportunity to be kids for as long as possible, and that frequently they are being pushed too quickly into formalized school situations for the convenience of adults. I could go on and on; I hope this gives you some ideas to help guide you on your explorations. Good luck! Judy

    The group that puts out that listing of pre-schools has also put on an annual event, I think in the fall, which would answer a lot of your questions. You will surely see a posting for the event on the announcements newsletter. Or ask them when you call about the book. They have people from various schools discuss monteressori vs. play-based, etc. The program helped me a lot. After that, I think it's a matter of visiting a few schools to see what these concepts look like in action. mary

    Tips for looking at preschools

    December 1998

    This is based solely on my observations. It seems that pre-schools start around 2 and a half, at the earliest. It's probably not too early to start looking, in case there's a waiting list or a specific time that they enroll new kids. There are lots of different kinds of preschools. Some are half day. Some are fullday. Some really are oriented toward parents who don't work, or work part time. Some are oriented toward parents who work full time, or nearly full time. Some are coops, some aren't, but most require some parent participation, although some more than others. Figure out what you need and want, and I'm sure you can find something that will suit you!

    Parents Press often has ads for schools; also if you ask people they are always happy to give advice on their favorite (or not favorite) pre-school. Chris

    Your timing is good to be thinking about pre-school. Although you can find good pre-schools anytime of the year the most openings and the easiest time to look is January and February for starting in the fall (as a first-time mom the obvious fact that all the five year olds leaving their pre-school for kindergarten in the Fall creates the openings was lost on me so for others in the dark that's why now is the time to look). Many pre-schools have open houses and several organizations have panels and fairs during these months. Last year I learned the most by attending a pre-school information night hosted by Neighborhood Moms. A woman from Bananas spoke last year and she shared an enormous amount of insight and practical advice given her 20 plus years of experience. Following are some of my key conclusions after doing a fairly extensive search last year for my daughter who was 2 in May of '97 and started a pre-school program in August.

    - Pre-school is a made up term. The State of California does not certify or set curriculum guidelines for schools until kindergarten/elementary. All programs that we commonly refer to as daycare or pre-schools are viewed by the State as either in-home daycare serving 6 to 12 kids (this got raised last year to 8/? but I'm not sure) or daycare centers that serve 12 or more kids. The State sets teacher/child ratios and minimum education requirements for 'teachers' in these daycare settings but they are not what you traditionally associate with being a 'teacher'. Again, I don't remember the exact requirements but it's something like 6 hours of early childhood development classes to be considered an 'assistant' and only like 15 hours to be considered a teacher. Bottom line to all of this is that as a parent you have to determine the type of program you're looking for and ask a lot of questions about the specific qualifications of the 'teachers'. There is no standard that can be assumed because of the terminology used.

    - I found the biggest philosophical issue for me to think through was the type of program I wanted. There are academic, Montessori and developmental programs. All of these have their own flavors which you'll have to form opinions about on your own. I visited some pre-schools where 2 year-olds were sitting at desks at scheduled times doing play tasks from a set of choices they were given. Other schools had open play with little interaction from adults. I was surprised at the number of different settings I observed (I visited 6 different schools). Your child's personality and development and your own views on academic structure prior to kindergarten all need to be thought through.

    - As far as age to start I think it really depends on what type of situation you currently have. I think the basic approach to use is to determine what year your child will start kindergarten. If you back track from that then you end up with how many years you want your child in a pre-school. I think the most traditional approach is that they spend 2 years in a pre-school program. Many pre-schools have programs for 2 year olds though which ends up putting your child in that setting for 3 years. In my situation I work full-time and had an in-home caregiver for the first 2 years. I'm part of a mom's group so my daughter did occasionally play with other kids (there are no older siblings). I felt that keeping her in that situation another full year was too limiting so I decided to transition to a pre-school. Her age when starting the program was 2 years and 3 months. She enjoys going and has several specific kids that she plays with most. Many of the 2 year olds do a lot of individual and parallel play which I still think is beneficial to them. I have observed that the 3 and 4 year olds are very social and do almost all of their play with one another. My own conclusion on this is that pre-school is very valuable for those 2 years prior to kindergarten and that a 3rd year (starting during the 2's) is questionable depending on how much interaction your child may already be getting in their individual situation.

    - How long are they going to be at pre-school. I work full-time so I needed a 5 day a week full time program because I didn't want to juggle finding new 'daycare' (my in home provider didn't want part time work) and a pre-school. You'll find that many pre-schools split along full-time and full-time/part-time schedules. About half the schools I visited only had full time programs and are obviously targeted to full time working parents, of course you could attend part time but you had to pay for the full month. Given the amount of time my daughter would be there I didn't want a program that had too many children or that would be over-stimulating. An example in my own observations was that I loved the program at Duck's Nest and thought it would be great if Caitlin was only going 2 or 3 days a week or some morning schedule. But with 80 kids and the amount of activity going on I felt it was way too overwhelming to attend 5 days a week full time. I chose a program that has only 12 kids and is located in a home environment.

    - There are a lot of detailed things about food and diapers that I wouldn't necessarily choose a school over but certain conditions are way more convenient than others. My pre-school provides breakfast (waffles, bagels, pancakes), a hot lunch (chicken, noodles everyday, hamburgers, fish sticks) and an afternoon snack (cheese, fruit). No toilet training is required (and no pressure put on the child to toilet train, I visited one school where I got a course in how to 'encourage' the kids into training quickly) and disposable diapers are provided. All of these things make the daily ritual of getting ready in the morning and dropping her off much less complicated.

    - When interviewing schools I found I got more relevant answers if I asked questions in terms of example situations. Instead of saying 'What method of discipline do you use' I asked 'Take an example of 1 child playing with a toy and another child grabbing the toy, the first child is extremely upset and hits the child that took the toy away, would you intervene and if so, how would you handle the situation.' Other questions, 'my child doesn't want to eat anything for lunch, what would you do', 'my child is having a rough day and can't seem to get along with anyone, how would that be handled', 'what would you do with a child that is overly aggressive and continues to hit my child on a regular basis'.

    - The cost for full time pre-school. When I looked last year I found the range to be $615 (the lowest priced school that had what I considered to be a good program, this was the Rainbow School in Rockridge but they were completely full for the Fall by the time I visited in March) to $795 on the high end.

    Some upcoming pre-school events: (1998)

    Tuesday, January 13, Neighborhood Mom's Preschool Panel from 7:00 to 9:30. The panel will feature 5 participants that will talk about different types of pre-school programs and answer questions from the audience. I think the woman from Bananas will be there again along with directors from some area schools that represent different program methods. After the panel 12 to 15 pre-schools will have information booths set up in the basement to field questions about their schools. I already recycled my newsletter so I don't have the exact details on cost for non-members (I think around $3 or $5). There is also a directory that you can purchase in the $10 range but that is optional. The location is a church located at 1953 Hopkins in Berkeley (corner of Hopkins & Napa).

    Saturday, January 31, 7th Annual Preschool Fair from 11 to 3. This fair will feature 27 pre-schools. It's being held at East Bay French-American School located at 1009 Heinz Avenue, Berkeley (cross street: Ninth Street). Admission is $1 with free childcare provided.

    The January issue of Parents Press contains a lot of ads for pre-school open houses. Many of these occur in January and early February.

    Bananas is the best resource for getting a list of in-home, smaller pre-school programs that cater to the 12 to 14 kid size. They also have larger schools in their resource directory but I was able to collect much of that information via Parent's Press and the pre-school fairs. It's the smaller programs that don't spend a lot of time advertising and often are full based on word of mouth alone that you have to seek out through a place like Bananas.