Pre-school choice - foreign family is looking for your advice

We are about to move from Denmark to the Bay Area (most likely close to Berkeley) and I am looking for advice regarding the choice of preschool (& kindergarten).

I have started to look for accommodation, but I guess that we will make final decisions in May. So far we only know where I will work (at Haas Business School).

We have two kids (5yo daughter and 3yo son), so in principle, we need two places, but based on what I have been reading I should make sure to enroll in preschool already now (otherwise we may get into the risk of not getting a place at all). I would like my son to start between July and September. He has been 'institutionalized' since he was 7 months old and currently attends preschool in Denmark. He is fluent in Danish and Polish but does not know English.

I have noticed that in comparison to Denmark, where we have two local preschools (within the closest proximity to home) in Berkeley and surrounding the choice seems to be enormous and I have a hard time comparing different options. Could you recommend any webpages where one could read about preschools/ kindergarten rankings? 

So far it seems that we will need a full-time preschool, with some potential afterschool activities (if these things are available). I noticed that the average price is 1700 $ a month, which is very expensive, so if there would be any cheaper options I would gladly look into them. I have heard about some potential activities that kids can join while in preschool and obviously it would be lovely to continue with playing violin (or piano), swimming classes and be in touch with Danish/Norwegian or Polish, but I am afraid that it would be way too much to hope for. Montessori preschool would be nice too, but I have heard that these are even more expensive. I have no idea what the preschool in America is like and following Danish principles, I would like my son to like it and feel good there (despite not knowing English). However, so far he has been adapting very quickly to the new environment, so I guess that he will accept whatever gets offered to him. I am wondering what did you take into consideration while choosing a preschool for your kids?

I am also wondering about the way how kids get recruited to pre-school. I have heard about long waiting lists and the need to apply in January to make sure that one gets place during summer. Is this really the case around Berkeley? What is the typical enrolment strategy? Should I apply for a place in multiple places and hope to get one of them or it is enough to apply for just one where I know that I would like the kid to go?

I know that some of my questions may sound weird but in Denmark, we have a central system with an officer responsible for preschool allocation in every municipality. I can give him/her a call and get to know exactly where the municipality will offer places in my desired time span. In my current municipality newcomers had a priority to choose whatever place they liked and the municipality offers place guarantee if they get a notification at least 2 months before the earliest possible starting date. It is really simple and price is exactly the same everywhere (regardless of choosing public or private kindergarten) and on average it constitutes no more than 10% of one parents' gross income. There are no (financial) switching costs.

Thank you in advance for all the recommendations (all PMs are very welcome too)!

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Hi! 

With a 5 year old and a 3 year old, and the costs of preschool and living being what they are, it might be best to send the 5 year old to a public K or TK, depending on age. As you likely already know, in addition to Berkeley, there can be decent public elementary schools in the surrounding communities of Alameda and Albany and in some parts of Oakland. And of course a little further away, in Orina, Lafayette, and the like. I don't know in what capacity you will join Haas, but UC Berkeley offers some subsidized housing to faculty and students, so this might be a good way to reduce costs and meet new people, some of whom will also have just arrived.

For the 3 year old, there are long waitlists at many "institutional" preschools and daycares, and there are also home-based options. $1700 per month unfortunately is not a crazy estimate. It's probably a good idea to be on multiple lists, including perhaps the UC Berkeley ECEP list - which is not inexpensive or excellent - but is a decent option with many facilities and thus lots of openings - so it could work as a backup. 

Finally, on language - it is amazing how quickly 3 year olds pick up on a new language, especially 3 year olds that are already bilingual. Yes, the first couple of months will be hard and frustrating, but after that miracles seem to happen.  

I find that people who are from Europe (or elsewhere in the US even!) often underestimate how spread out the Bay Area is. People routinely commute over an hour to get to work, and even within Berkeley it takes forever to drive from one side of Berkeley to another. So I would actually recommend firming up where you are going to live before you start applying for schools. You don't want to have to drive an hour out of your way just to drop off a child to preschool. Also if your older child is in Kindergarten, the enrollment period for public and private Kindergarten has already passed, so I would actually work on that first. But again, you'd want to know where you are actually living. Just because you work at Berkeley doesn't mean you have to live in Berkeley, and if you want to go to public school, there are neighborhoods around Berkeley that have better (or worse!) public schools. Alas, there is no central place to get ratings, I think the best one is this one. I'm sure Haas has an office that can advise you better. good luck!