When to Start Looking for Preschool

General Guidelines

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 enroll children for the two years prior to kindergarten, so 3 and 4 year olds. Some also have 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

  • Looking for Preschool or Montessori Schools in Alameda

    (0 replies)

    My daughter is 15 months old and I just started searching for a Preschool or Montessori in Alameda with hopes to get her enrolled by the time she is 2. I have experienced that I started looking way too late where I cannot even get some of the schools to respond and others that do are fully enrolled and their waitlist doesn't even open until 2021. Has anyone else experienced this? What do you do if a school isn't even responding, is it appropriate to just stop by and see if you can talk to someone? Any recommendations on schools where they are responsive and the waitlist isn't years out? 

    Thanks in advance.  

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions See Also

When do we start applying to preschools?

Sept 2014

Our daughter has an end-of-year birthday and will be turning 2 at the end of this year. I'm beginning to do research into preschools for her, and I'm quite overwhelmed and finding that information can be very scattered. We've spent a lot of time doing research, reading reviews, and gathering info from various sources (including the archives here at BPN), but still feeling overwhelmed. Since her birthday is at the end / beginning of the year, when do we start applying? What is the average age that most kids here attend preschool? Do most kids go 2-3 days, or do most go 4-5? I come from a state where preschool is automatically offered as part of public school at age 4, so all of these baffling degrees of choices are really overwhelming.

Hi, My daughter has a mid December birthday and we were also looking in Berkeley/Oakland. In my experience, most preschools accept kids that are 2 years and 9 months old in September of the year they start. So you likely want to start looking at preschools this fall. How to start? Get recommendations from people, then go to the preschool open houses which are generally scheduled in the fall. Most preschools require you to apply almost a year in advance for the following fall with applications being due generally between December and March. I really enjoyed the process of looking at different schools and exploring the different teaching philosophies. To try to ensure your child gets into one you like, I would apply to 3 to 5 schools because you won't necessarily get into all of them.

I found that most preschools require full time or nearly full time attendance (4 to 5 full days per week). There are a few schools with part time options out there.

But don't worry! There are a lot of great preschools out there. If you put the time in visiting schools, you are bound to get into a program you are happy with. As you will find, prices vary widely. If the co-op schedule works for you, start there! Oakland Mamma

Many preschools accept children ages 2.9 and older, so next fall would be an ideal time for your child to start. Having said that, my two younger kids started at age 4 and had only one year of preschool each, while my eldest child started at age 2.5 and had a total of three years of preschool. No regrets about any of those choices. As far as number of days, whatever works for your family is fine. My kids never went for 5 days, but sometimes it was 2, sometimes 3 and sometimes 4. Then, you say you are a single car family, but I think you include a too-large geographic area in your search. My criterion for preschool was that we could walk there. So you could certainly narrow your search geographically. We live in a preschool-dense area. But, affordability is a big deal and this will narrow your search quite a bit. So that leads me to my recommendation for preschool: The Model School in south Berkeley. We spent one lovely year there. It's cheaper than many of schools in the area and the hours/days are more flexible than any of the other schools we looked at. They enroll infants as young as 3 months and go all the way through Pre-K. They also enroll year-round, so your child wouldn't have to wait until next fall to begin. They are Montessori-influenced but not dogmatic about it. The teachers are loving and the families kind. Give them a call! Model School fan

Preschool waiting lists & when to start looking

July 2014

My son is 16 months old and happy in his daycare; I've been planning to move him to a preschool in the fall of 2016, when he will be 3.5 years. Recently, I was chatting with a neighborhood mom who said her son has been on a wait list for preschool since he was born. That sounded insane, but I called a few nearby schools and the only one that called me back told me that they are full for the next 2-3 years and discouraged me from putting my son on their wait list. The other schools have not returned my calls. I called about 5 or 6, a mix of home-based and more school-like settings. What is going on? Am I calling too late or too soon? When did you start looking at preschools for your child? Joanna

I would start looking now so you have an idea of what you want in a preschool and get on some waitlists as soon as you can. I am also planning on starting my kids at 3 1/2 in Fall 2015, but we have been on several waitlists for over a year now with no guarantee we'll get spots for Fall 2015(I have twins, so I need two spots). One school pretty much told me there wouldn't be space for us in Fall 2015 even though at that point we'll have been on the waitlist since before my kids turned 1! One factor is that I am really interested in a diverse student population and that often means that up to half the spots are reserved for subsidized kids, so if you don't qualify, then there are less spots that you're eligible for. Many waitlists aren't straightforward - if you're number 10 now, you might be number 20 months from now because the schools are weighing multiple factors other than when you got on the waitlist (age, gender, SES, race/ethnicity, etc).

There are more frequent openings at some preschools that I didn't like as much and if we don't get in to one of our top two choices, then I would send my kids to a less competitive/popular one, but I would definitely start looking now to figure out what your top choices are. It took me visits to a handful of preschools to really figure out what I wanted and what combination of things I felt most comfortable with (teaching philosophy, hours/vacations, location, discipline policy, food issues, volunteer requirements, financial aid, capital campaigns, dress code, % of kids that go to public/private kindergarten, the list of considerations is endless!) Good luck! - Been there


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.

How Many Preschools to Apply To?

Nov 2013

My son will be 3 next fall and we have begun looking at preschools for next year. How many schools do you really have to apply to, to be sure you get in to at least one of your choice? I am interested in a play-based school with free-flow access so the kids can be outside (or inside) if they want to. I am also looking for a schedule that's 5 days a week from 8-9 to 1-3. I am open to co-ops.

So far, I'm interested in CCC, Monte Verde, and Dandelion, but I've heard stories from so many parents that they've applied to up to 6 schools and only got into one!? I do not want to send my son to a school that I am not enthusiastic about. Do I really have to apply to more schools than those 3? I'm also planning to look at El Cerrito Co-op. What can I do to ensure that my son gets in to at least one of the schools that we like? Our family structure is mom and dad, and we are white, so we don't have any diversity to speak of (except that we're creative types). Thank you for any insight, fellow parents who have already traveled this road. Jane

We applied to three preschools for my almost 3 year old and got into all of them --- I too was really worried about not getting a spot but it turns out it wasn't an issue. But I think it is key that we started our search early and went to lots of open house and info sessions (winter 2012 with plans to start my son fall 2013) as some of his daycare friends who didn't start looking until Spring had a more challenging time. We also ended up enrolling him in the school of our choice during the summer instead, to take advantage of an opening at that time, rather than waiting for September when more kids may have been starting. We were looking at Montessori programs in El Cerrito/Albany/Berkeley ---- it may be more competitive in other neighborhoods or for other program types. So my advice is start early and be flexible about your transition time-frame. Good luck! I survived the preschool application process

I have experience with 3 different preschools in Berkeley. We applied and got into all 3, easily. Two of the three were excellent preschools, the third has since closed (but my boy was mostly happy there). We have three kids, with a large age spread, and lived in different parts of Berkeley for each of their preschool years, hence the not sticking with the first excellent preschool we attended. So, first, don't buy into the hype and don't assume that a preschool with a long waiting list, or lower acceptance rate is superior. Ask each of the three schools you are interested in what their acceptance rate is. If they are all close to 80 or 90 percent, then I'm sure you would be fine applying to just those three. I actually don't know anyone who applied to more than that. By the way, my youngest just started kindy, so my experience is not outdated! Preschool x3

Hi Jane, It's a great question ... we applied to 5 and got into 1, so the numbers can be daunting. I would invite you to check out Montclair Community Play Center's Toddler Playtime program (for kids 18 months to 3 years) as it would give you a chance to spend some time at that school and see how it feels to you. They accept students to the preschool purely by lottery and it can be tough to get in if there are a lot of returning siblings but people who take the Toddler class get an extra pull in the lottery, so that can be of help. My son attends MCPC now. The days are a little shorter than you're looking for (9-noon), but they have an extended program on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 3pm. When you're looking at schools, I recommend asking what your chances are of getting in and trying to have a frank discussion ... there are so many variables I think the answers change from year to year (and then sometimes in Sept people find their choice is not a good match and then an opening occurs ...) Here's the website for MCPC: mcpckids.org. Best of luck! There's no ONE right school, but I understand and empathize with your concerns about getting in somewhere! Julie

You seem to be missing a school that meets the criteria you have described - Skytown (http://www.skytown.org/) We also have a toddler program that is open to kids from 18 months+, which is a nice way to introduce kids to the community. As for applications, we only applied to a few that we felt very comfortable with. Admittedly biased 5yr+ Skytown parent Mike

Child will be 3 this spring - when should I apply?

June 2009

Our son is going to be 3 years old in 2010 during the Spring, when should I start applying to preschools? Thanks. -anon

I'm assuming you're talking about Berkeley? I know this is crazy: From our experience and what we've been told by many Berkeley parents, you should start now. Like, today. Put your name on as many pre-school waiting lists as you can. There definitely will be a pre-school for your son, though it's possible you may have to go out of Berkeley to find one. There may be (?) less of a wait list for all day schools: we needed one that is open for 10 or 11 hours a day. Good Luck! Carey

Now. Seriously as soon as you're thinking about it, start researching. I used Savvysource.com for basic info - but be aware not all schools keep their data up to date. However you should at least be able to determine which schools are within a reasonal drive for you, have the schedule you want, and are in your budget. Then you need to call and confirm the tuition, and make appointments. Confirming the tuition will save you a lot of time as I wasted two tours only to find out the rates were higher than posted on Savvy Source - in one case, significantly higher.

You didn't say when you want your child to start preschool - in the new year, or next fall? Either way I would start looking now, as you will have a lot more choices that way. We ended up with just one that fit our criteria (not because I'm so picky but because we couldn't afford most of them) and were on the wait list for over half a year before being admitted, just due to demand, not any competitive process.

For fall I think most schools will start taking applications in January. Some schools may allow your child to start in January if that's what you want. Start asap.

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!


Should I have signed up for preschool in utero?

Aug 2002


Dear Parents - need some advice here. Help, a Mom here being tripped up by self-doubts!

My question is - what pre-schools are signed up for pre-birth? I'm new to East Bay and a new Mom of a 1 yr old gal. She's a happy gal and goes to a home daycare p/t.

But recently met a Mom with older kids (nice kids!) who remarked how pleased she was that she had ''done the right thing'' by signing up her kids at XXX school while they were either in the tummy or right at birth. THEN I met another Mom, in Marin, who remarked the same thing about how her kids got into this place that she had signed up for right at birth. What's going on?

I'm a product of public schools and did well, 7-sisters undergrad...but when it comes to private schools for tots I admit to being a novice. Moreover, I don't know the N. Cal area that well so have no clue what schools she could possibly mean? I'm not pushing private over public, but i'd be curious to at least see what the big deal is all about. Can you share the answer to this? Thanks! Cassindy

I did not find a problem with preschool waiting lists. I found my daughter's preschool when she was about 18 months old by looking in the Yellow Pages and calling around to check if schools fit my basic criteria: location, cost, operating hours. Then I scheduled a school visit. I was prepared to wait 6-12 months for her to start, but I found one that took her right away. There are many good preschools that do not have waiting lists. Figure out your criteria and work from there. Liz

I think the deal here is that N.California is now a hyper- affluent place where lots of parents feel they need to pay for fancy pre-schools to get their tots on the right track to Yale. You'll pay twice as much for half the time you'd get in a good, loving family daycare. My daughter is ahead of the kindergarten curve thanks to her wonderful daycare provider, Sandra. I sometimes wonder if I'm in the minority of parents here because I think academics are wasted on the under-five set, and that kids really do thrive under a regular, play-based schedule. If you want to keep up with the people in the million dollar (three-bedroom) houses, then go ahead and sign up for that expensive, elite pre-school. And get yourself a Land Rover while you'e at it. Your child would be just as fine in a good daycare, but then you don't get bragging rights. A regular local mom

Some preschools have a long waiting list--years long--but these are few. For example, there is a Spanish Speaking preschool, El Centro Vida (I think) that has a waiting list that is years long. But others, like Duck's Nest on 4th street, or Children's Community Center, on Walnut, start taking applications at the beginning of the year, for September. You HAVE to sign up early to get in. At the Duck's Nest, the toddler room fills up right away, so if you wait until the summer or fall, there are no openings. Many preschools have open houses, and you can enroll then. Call the schools to be sent the information. The Parent's Press has a preschool list every year. You can also call around and visit various schools. Been there, done that

When I first moved here and was early in my pregancy, a friend suggested that I plunk down $20 to ensure a spot on the list at Step One school. I did so. When it came time to look at schools I decided Step One wasn't for us, but I was glad I had put in the application ''early'' so it would be there for us if we decided to pursue it. I believe most preschools don't have this policy of letting people apply ''in utero.'' The Neighborhood Parents Association publishes a preschool directory that gives an overview of policies and fees. In the fall they hold a Preschool Fair where you can buy the directory and visit with representatives from area preschools. My main piece of advice, having just been through the preschool admission process, is apply early and often--and be patient. I fixated on one school, thought I applied early, then found out they only had one opening for next year. I then spent two months rushing around looking at schools and applying, only to be put on endless waiting lists. After almost accepting an offer at a school that really didn't meet our needs, I got a call from the school I had wanted in the first place. A few people had decided to leave the area unexpectantly, and we got in. Maria

I read the reply from the person who recommended a good family based daycare over the expensive elite preschool, unless you feel the need for the status. I did the elite route and far from taking offense, I agree with what this person said 95% (the part I don't agree with is the Landrover :). Save your money and do the family daycare thing. And put the money you save in the college fund for Yale.

I went the co-op route with my kids and was very happy. Most co-op preschools seem not to have years-long waiting lists. Often you can enroll your child just before school starts, or even in the middle of the year. The preschool I have heard the in utero comment about is Step One. Although my kids did not go there, I know a couple of people whose kids have, and they were extremely happy with the school. In fact, it has a large number of glowing recommendations on the Parents web site. So, it is probably a very good preschool. On the other hand, there are so many other options in Berkeley and the surrounding area that you almost can't go wrong. Like a friend of mine said, it's hard to pick a bad preschool in Berkeley, so pick one that's convenient for the parents!

Even with expensive, prestige schools, you'll be fine if you start looking and putting in your applications 18 months in advance. And I have heard many stories of children being admitted at the last minute because families moved or needepd to change their schedules. You may also want to keep in mind that these preschools tend to have crazy rules related to age, physical coordination, and potty training. (Can anyone predict when their unborn child will stop needing a diaper?) On the other hand, there are plenty of high-quality schools to choose from. Just give yourself about a year to research and submit an application. I think that when you are about to give birth there are more important things to worry about than getting your child into ''the right school.''