When to Start Looking for a Preschool

See also: Applying to Preschool 

General Guidelines for Preschools

In general, the January before your child will be three, start researching preschools in your target area, and find out when you can tour the schools from their websites and/or from the BPN Announcements and Events.

  • Ages: Most preschools that are not in someone's home enroll children for the two years prior to kindergarten, so 3 and 4 year olds. Some also offer a bridge program for 5 years olds, which adds a third year. There are a few preschools that also have programs for toddlers and two-year-olds but this is rare because of licensing requirements for younger age groups. There are many home-based preschools that are flexible about ages.
  • Start Date: Most preschools form a new class of 3-year-olds each Fall. Openings for 4 year olds, or mid-year openings, may be rare, depending on the school.
  • Researching: Preschools hold open houses and tours from December through March. Check BPN for announcements, or check the school's website.
  • Applying: Applications are usually accepted beginning in January for the following Fall, for children who will be 3 by then. Very few preschools accept applications earlier than this.

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • Hi everyone,

    First time mom here of a 10 month old boy. I've heard we should start to think about preschools already when he turns 2 next summer. What are the best ones in the area? I have heard of KSS, TRIS, and Growing Light already. Anybody who's already done some research on these able to compare the 3? Have also heard great things about Duck Pond but heard their enrollment is super small so hard to get in.

    How far in advance should I already be applying? 


    I'm not in Oakland, but in Berkeley. I would suggest contacting the schools directly. Every parent has different priorities when it comes to picking the right school for their child. You are mentioning some more facility type preschools but smaller home base preschools are also great options. Most preschools I have spoken to do not accept children at age 2, typically they look for closer to age 3. Usually 2 years 9 months is the starting age for preschool. Some larger facilities offer a toddler daycare program and you can transition to their preschool when the child is older. My daughter is a July birthday and will be 2 this year. We won't send her to preschool until the fall of 2023 and have been told by most schools that touring or waiting until the fall of 2022 to tour gives ample time. Preschools tend to have more openings in the late summer/fall and many I speak with do not determine enrollment based solely on your position on a waitlist; they often select based on balancing age, gender, schedule (full time versus part time), etc students. 

    Hi there! 10 months old isn't too early to be thinking about it but you can't really think of preschools as "the best in the area" when really it is the best for your and your child. You'll want to visit and see what the environment feels like, talk to the directors, learn about their programs, and understand their teaching methodology. Your kid might not be a great fit for, say Montessori, for example, but you won't know that just by going off of "the best preschools" in Oakland. Different schools have different enrollment age requirements, so you might also find that the school you think is the best fit might not be accepting kids your son's age until later or sooner than you're thinking. Good luck! 

    There are a lot of fantastic schools in this area that would probably be a good fit. Application deadlines vary by school. For the independent preschools it can be year-round rolling or with a set time (often Jan-March for the following fall) and the preschools associated with private elementary schools are more likely to have set admission times but will take rolling apps if they have space. Checking websites or calling schools will be best. The more affordable schools and those without application fees will be harder to get into. For my family, the "best" school (in order of priority) is

    1) one we got into (limited availability, apply to a bunch. Our first time applying we applying to 4 schools and got offered a spot at 1)

    2) one whose schedule fit our needs ( do you want half day? whole day? 3 days a week? Before 8 or after 5? What is the vacation schedule?)

    3) a convenient location (how far are you willing to walk/drive to drop off?)

    4) clear communication from the administration ( I applied to one of the schools you listed, including submitting an application fee and they never got back to me even when I enquired about waitlist and my status. When I got an automated email to apply this year I wrote them that I would not as their previous lack of communication was unacceptable. Maybe they've fixed that, but if a school is not responsive to your inquiries in the admission process, I would suggest taking that seriously.)

    5) has bonuses I care about: nice outdoor space, language immersion, warm teachers, whatever is important to your family

    So considering all that, I have friends with kids at lots of schools having great experiences and we are actually switching from one school we've had a great experience with to another school that has a more convenient schedule and will reduce our commute time. Do not undervalue that in your search! Especially if you're driving somewhere every day, make it easy on yourself. 

    You can call schools and ask when they start accepting applications. Some don’t even take an application till your child reaches a certain age, and some open the waitlist when your child is born. As for “best”, I agree with the other poster that it’s not what’s best in city, but best for your child. When my son was 2 I enrolled him in what I thought was the “best” preschool in town. I sent my husband to stand in line at 7am to turn in his application when enrollment opened! In the end none of it was best for us. The school was too far and the drive was killing me. The hours were inconvenient. The structure was too rigid for my son. It was Montessori and he just wasn’t ready for the activities they wanted him to do. I switched him the next year to a much closer school with better hours and more outdoor play time, and he was so happy there. So definitely explore your options and keep an open mind. 

  • New Parent/Preschool 101

    (7 replies)

    Hello, I'm a new mom and new to the world of baby education.

    My kiddo is 8.5 months right now and we live in Temescal and folks told me already I'm late to the game of getting him enrolled for Preschool when he becomes 2.5/3 years old...(sort of freaking out). He was born in November which people say could be challenging too!???  Would anyone be able to give me the run-down on how the whole preschool research should ideally go? When should I start looking? Are there questions I should be considering (i.e. their hours for drop off, nutrition, etc)? How do I go about being added to waitlists? Do I just go online and email someone? Do they require to be potty trained by that time? What does the waitlist do if everyone's doing it... I'd love any insight because I'm so confused and there isn't really a one-stop shop of how to do this.

    Don't freak out! Just google "preschools near me" and start looking a websites to get an idea of what is out there and what the ages/requirements/costs/hours are. You have plenty of time. When my daughter started preschool at age 20 months, I did not have a car so where ever she ended up had to be a reasonable walking distance to our apartment. This was actually great because it narrowed down my search to about four preschools. I choose the one that was full day and that I could afford, did not have a waiting list, and it was so great she stayed until she started kindergarten.

    I put my kid on a prominent preschool's waiting list at age 1, and she never got accepted, up to age 4.  That said, there is always space in plenty of good, local preschools!  Pick a few that are near you, schedule a visit, and see how they feel to you.  It's an instinct thing, I think--watch the employees interacting with the kids.  Does everyone look happy?  Or at least being tended to if not?  Does the space seem inclusive and safe?  Are the caregivers involved, or sitting on their cell phones?  Does the space seem warm, clean, and well-equipped?  All three of my kids ended up going to different preschools, for different reasons.  They were all fine, and they all gave my kids school experience before Kindergarten.  Don't worry about the hype.  Just trust your gut.  

    First of all, you're not too late. Many families I know started looking the year before desired start date. So you'd start touring schools this fall if you wanted your child enrolled next fall (2020). Even if you start later, it'll be ok. I started looking for schools in March 2018 with a somewhat flexible start date (Sept/Oct/Nov 2018), toured only three schools and got offered a space in each. So it's totally doable, though more stressful if you start later. 

    And yes, it's overwhelming! I'd start by defining some must haves and would be nice criteria. Do you want a year around program or do camps for the summer? Immersion? Mixed age classrooms? Do want to walk to school or drive? I used Winnie.com to find preschools that matched most of my criteria and then called/emailed only those schools for more infos and toured very few. Many preschools require your child to be potty trained, but there are a few that don't - I literally started with potty learning the day I got the call from our preschool; don't fret, you'll be fine. Feel free to send me a PM if you have more questions. 

    I don't think you're late. Here is a recent thread on the subject: https://www.berkeleyparentsnetwork.org/questions/when-should-we-start-lo...

    I'd start looking around 1 year prior to the school year you're trying to start. For example, if your preschool starts in August, start getting in touch w/ your preferred schools in September or October of the year prior. They typically do tours in November, and enrollment is often complete by the end of the year. Of course, if there is anywhere you're really set on, call them now and get their advice as to when to get back in touch! I'm sure each school knows exactly when to enroll or join their wait-list, etc. 

    Our preschool (Ducks Nest) takes kids starting at 2 years old, and the school year starts in August, so that's what people might have meant by a November birthday being tricky - depending on the strictness of the school, perhaps some places wouldn't take your son until he was 2yrs + 9 mos old... I seem to remember there being at least one young child that first year of school for us, who was admitted when they were "almost 2", so it must depend on the preschool. Also, Ducks Nest does not require them to be potty trained - some schools do. Just start reading reviews and making some preliminary calls. Hang in there! It will all work out!

    As a mother of a preschooler, I would advise you to take a deep breath, and not freak out. Even if you call preschools now, they'd most likely ask you to check in later, when your child is older. Also, what preschool is right for your child depends a whole lot on his temperament, which you're not going to know at 8.5 months. Would he benefit from more structure, or less? Mixed-age class, or a school where different ages are in different rooms? No way you can know that now. We applied the fall before our son would start (in Rockridge), and it all went  smoothly. Don't stress. 

    Hi, it seems to be a Bay Area pastime—freaking out about preschool. Welcome! I will say that we were in your situation 2 years ago and had no problem getting accepted to several preschools for my nov birthday 2 year old. We also got waitlisted at some. I did 0 preparation leading up to application season January prior to start. Bananas should have a list of schools. They differ based on when they start (age 2, 2.9, 3), fall start versus rolling, whether they require potty training, and hours. I would say figure out what you need as far as age, hours, location, and that may narrow it down. Then tour some places and you’ll get a better feel for how they differ. You’ll find something. Even if you do no prep ahead of tile you’ll probably find a school that is newer, or starting a new classroom, or has a kid move aaay the month prior to school starting...

    I'd love to see other parents weigh in, too! My daycare (CEC) also has pre-school, so we are planning to use them unless something changes. I haven't seen any evidence-based data that academic preschools have superior outcomes when compared play-based preschools, so I'm going for the play-based enjoyment that my daughter will get from her current daycare/school. My daycare/school has a waitlist of about 1 year, but they sometimes get people in sooner if there is a spot that opens that needs to be filled at a specific age group. I have heard other parents say this about waitlists as well, so be sure to keep in touch with the list-keeper!  

  • Our son is only 3 months old, and we have daycare ironed out until 3-K begins, but we've heard all kinds of stories about the need to start looking for a pre-school VERY early.  Are these stories exaggerated? When should we dip our toes into the schooling pond? Thanks for your advice!

    Most preschools accept applications about a year in advance of your child’s start, and many preschools are on an academic schedule so usually the application process occurs in the fall for admission the following fall. I don’t think you have to worry about it this early but it can’t hurt to do some research now on which schools you might be interested in and confirm that this is their process. 

    I think that, at least in the East Bay, these accounts are exaggerated. When looking for preschools, you want to have an idea of your son's temperament, and what kind of preschool will suit him best. Would your son benefit from a mixed-age classroom common in a Montessori preschool, or would he benefit from a school with different rooms for each age group. Would he prefer more structure, or less? There's no way for you to know that with a 3 month-old, and you can't substitute your own preferences. I'm in North Oakland, and we started looking at preschools in North Oakland/Rockridge/south Berkeley area in the fall of 2017, for September 2018 start date (when our son was 3). We were offered spots at 3 great preschools, and are very happy. Take a breath. Don't let the hype stress you out! 

    I think it is worth looking the year before you plan to apply just to see what's out there and narrow your list. But the vast majority of preschools don't accept applications until the fall or winter before you plan to attend. The main thing you'll want to know is which schools you need to apply for when. Some might not start till age three, while others start at age two. Some might have fall application deadlines, while others might have rolling admissions or running waitlists. If you plan to keep your child where he is until age three (so intend to start preschool in Fall 2022) then I'd start your research in the summer of 2021. If you think you might reconsider and want to start him at age two, then just bump that back a year. Definitely don't worry about it now, or anytime soon--you'll want to know more about the person your child is growing into and what kind of a child care rhythm works for your family before getting your feet wet.

    I'd start looking around 1 year prior to the school year you're trying to start. For example, if your preschool starts in August, start getting in touch w/ your preferred schools in September or October of the year prior. They typically do tours in November, and enrollment is often complete by the end of the year. Of course, if there is anywhere you're really set on, call them now and get their advice as to when to get back in touch! I'm sure each school knows exactly when to enroll or join the wait-list, etc. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


When do you need to start looking for preschools?

Dec 2013

I'm a new parent and am just curious about how far in advance we need to start looking for a preschool. I've heard stories about needing to start a couple of years in advance but I'm not sure if the Bay Area is like that. Are there usually waitlists or is that only for certain preschools? We are interested in a Spanish bilingual preschool like La Plazita. Thanks! Anna

Here's what I wish I had known before Preschool. My child has a Feb Birthday, and I thought we would like to ideally start preschool somewhere close to his 3rd birthday. I assumed year round enrollment, but I was wrong. (though there are a very few that do enroll year round). As a result, I ended up paying for an extra year of infant child care which turned out fine, but was way expensive. Preschool enrollment follows the traditional academic year: Apply in about January for a spot that starts in September (this is due to the timing of the older ones moving on to Kindergarten). Many preschools have information available for prospective students in the Nov-Jan timeframe, so now is a good time to inquire and visit a few. Good preschools with low-to-moderate cost often have waiting lists. Some of the more expensive preschools seemed to have more openings and shorter wait lists. Granted my experience was in 2009 when employment was suffering, so an improving economy could change that dynamic somewhat. There are some very good preschools that you have not heard of because the spots are filled by great word of mouth, therefore they don't really need to advertise (for example in this BPN newsletter). Some good ways to learn about preschools near you are: On weekends, play at the park that is closest to your home, and talk to parents of kids that are preschool age and older. Talk to your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Look in BPN Marketplace newsletter and Announcements newsletter for preschool fundraisers such as fun fairs and yard sales. Patronize those events and learn a little about the school in the process. And, if you get on a waiting list for a preschool that you are excited about, check in regularly (every 1-2 months) to find out where you stand and let them know you are seriously interested.

When to start researching pre-schools?

Nov 2003

My first child just turned 1, and I'm wondering at what point do we begin researching pre-schools? Is it as crazy as everyone says it is - do we need to begin looking NOW if we want him to begin pre-school next year? His birthday is in October; how does that factor into it? Having never done this before, I'm welcome any advice as to how to initiate this daunting process! Thanks so much katie

I would start in January. However, you should know that most preschools require that your child be 2 years, 9 months to start. So, yours may not be ready until the following fall. In any case, I found it helpful to start making calls the January prior to the fall that my son began. Good Luck!

Some schools do have waiting lists, but we found that most local preschools enroll children in about December through March to begin attending in August/September. Larger schools, of course, will tend to have more openings than smaller ones, so it won't hurt you to start thinking early about where you'd like your child to go, but you won't be shut out of the process if you start later. Given your child's October birthday, you might want to wait another year (starting him when he is not-quite-3 rather than when he is not-quite-2) since most preschools will not enroll children younger than 2 (sometimes 2.5 or 3), or you could look for a spring opening instead of starting him in the fall. anon

Amazingly enough you really do have to start researching preschools now for next fall. Many schools will be full up by January. The Neighborhood Parent's Network does a preschool school fair that could help you get the lay of the land. They also publish a preschool guide you can purchase. Not all preschools in the area are listed. Check Parent's Press for info on Open Houses and school fair dates. Good luck!