First Time Parent Seeking a Preschool in Berkeley

Hi! I will be moving back to Berkeley, this time with a toddler in tow. She has a September birthday and will turn 3 this year. I am doing research for preschools and am finding it super overwhelming and much of the posts here on BPN are outdated. 

For those who enrolled their toddler in Berkeley Public Schools pre-school, how successful will I be or will I be on the waiting list forever? Will I need to qualify and is there a income restriction? i.e, if you make above a certain amount then you do not qualify?

Are there any recommendations in the Berkeley area? I work in San Ramon so it is important to me that it is accessible for my mom (grandma) to pick up my daughter after school. Since she is only turning 3, I am thinking part time would be ok. 

What other factors do I need to consider? Feeling lost and overwhelmed so guidance is appreciated!!!

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First, you need to decide what type of preschool. Do you want play based or academic based, in that more concentration is put on learning letters, numbers, etc?

My kids went to the New School in Berkeley. Absolutely a wonderful experience. They could play all day, go from inside to outside any time they wanted. My son spent all most all his time outside while my daughter spent more inside-drawing in particular. They boTh were read to each day, went on field trips every week, (the YMCA, King pool, Cal Campus, etc. Very flexible as to how long they stay each day, how many days, etc. Absolutely loved iT. Good luck.

Hi! Welcome back to Berkeley.

My son, who is now 7 and in BUSD elementary, attended one of the Berkeley Public Preschools (King CDC) for the two years prior to kindergarten. We had a good experience, and I often feel like I'm the BUSD preschool ambassador now. Here's some quick info, although calling the office at King CDC will give you a fuller picture.

Your child does have to be at least 3 yo and potty-trained. The program runs M-F 8:30-3:00, and there is before and after care available if needed. When my son first started there was a half-day program, but they may have eliminated it since then (worth checking). I am not sure that you can go fewer than 5 days a week. A bonus is that the program runs year-round, so if your work doesn't have two weeks off for winter break, no problem!

When I applied it was in the summer, and they had one spot open right then, but I delayed it until the start of the school year. We did qualify for full subsidy. My understanding is that some people of higher income qualified for partial-subsidy, and that you'd pay full price if you didn't income qualify at all. (It's worth calling to double-check that.) They start accepting applications in the summer for school-year start (when the ones going off to kindergarten leave), so I'd recommend calling now if you're interested. Your child does have to be 3, so they may have you submit your application once she has her birthday. You fill out an application and income form, and they let you know what kind of subsidy you qualify for. (They have a chart.)

The program is mixed-age, which I liked because my son got a chance to be a younger classmate and then an older kid, and he had continuity of classroom and teachers.

The BUSD preschool is definitely a public school and differs from small, private preschools. The advice I give to high-income people who can easily afford private preschool is to just go that route, because I find those parents have a certain aesthetic and expectations. One of the biggest strengths of my kid's preschool experience was the diversity of the student body as well as staff. He was friends with kids of many different backgrounds and had the opportunity to hear several different languages spoken by families. His teacher also taught ASL to all the kids.

Because the preschool is in the district, it was a pretty seamless transition to public elementary. During his second year at King CDC, they even had district admissions come to the school and help us work through the kindergarten application in person. When my son started kindergarten, getting him into aftercare was easy because he was considered a continuing student. Another bonus to being in the public system is that if a learning disability is discovered, there is in-class support, and the child can begin kindergarten with an IEP (or 504 etc) in place. I don't have direct experience with this, but I talked to parents who did.

Let me know if any other questions pop up!

Don't feel overwhelmed! Narrow down your options based on your most important factors, which seem to be 1. Location, and 2. Operating hours. In my experience, you don't need "the best" or any certain philosophy, you just need a good fit where your daughter feels safe and has fun. Just start calling a few preschools that are in the geographic area that you need and you will get an idea of other factors that may be important to you to narrow down the places you may end up visiting and applying.

We are also just moving to Berkeley this summer, and our older one will go to public K. Our younger one will be just 3 at the end of August, and the good news is that every place we looked at had an opening for a 3 yr old girl. 

Step One (up in the hills, but if it’s convenient to where you live or grandma lives, it really felt magical).

The Berkeley School Early Education Center (we went with this one bc of proximity to my son’s K and to Bart stations for our commute)

Children’s Community Center (co-op, much more play based and seemed super creative)

Heart’s Leap North (classrooms were nicely set up, but a more basic play yard than the others)

They all really were very similar in terms of philosophy, long time teacher tenure, and even pricing for a full day program (830/9-3).

I picked 4-5 based solely on how nearby they were, and how easily we could pick up and drop off both kids in the same 30 minute window. 

Questions we asked in each tour:

- teacher tenure (all the teachers were usually long term)

- approach to conflict/discipline (again, all were no timeouts, help children learn appropriate words and how to resolve peacefully)

- parent time requirements 

- potty training requirements (yes, she needed to be potty trained but they were all ok with regressions and accidents)

Berkeley preschools were much more expensive that we were used to, so I’d look at:

1. Convenience of pick up and drop off for you/grandma

2. Cost

3. Availability of a part-time schedule (sometimes these were all full so only full-time was available)

Some of the schools did have a much more diverse group of students than others, so that’s also something to consider if that’s important you.