Private K-8 Recommendations-Oakland/Berkeley, loving environment

Hello folks, I'm beginning to think about local K-8 private schools for my daughter and am looking for some recommendations. I'm hoping to find a loving and supportive environment with small class sizes in Oakland or Berkeley. I'd love to hear your experiences. Thanks in advance! 

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Hi anon! I highly recommend you explore Montessori Family School, just north of Berkeley in El Cerrito. It is everything you mentioned in your question -- loving, supportive, with small class sizes. It is a dynamic learning environment, a caring community, and honestly a gem of the East Bay that many still don't know about. Best! A Happy MFS Parent 

Hello there, 

We discovered The Academy ten years ago, when we moved our older son out of our local public school.  We sought an environment that was both academically rigorous and socially welcoming, a rarity amongst the schools we visited.  The Academy ticked off all of our boxes and we worked with the administration to get him enrolled mid-year.  It was the best school-related decision we ever made for him.  He grew into a hardworking, mature young man and was accepted into the College Preparatory School, where he was well prepared to deal with that school’s rigorous classes and expectations.  

Fast forward to last year.  Because of our older son’s great experience, we enrolled our little one into The Academy. The school has changed quite a bit since our older son began, but very much for the better.  The administration is responsive and professional, a fair number of teachers have been added on (primarily in the upper school), and the school is overseen by a board of dedicated parents who place intellectual and social development first.  And while these changes have been wonderful, a certain core has remained constant, one that is rooted in a strong sense of community and teaches the children to care and look out for each other both in the classroom and on the play yard.  Our older son, initially a shy and introverted boy, grew out of his shell and felt that The Academy was a second home. Our younger son, a vivacious and extroverted kid, feels as comfortable playing with his classmates as he does playing with kids in other grades and gets a total kick out of the fact that upper-schoolers (he is in the lower school) greet him in the mornings and check in with him during recess.  I highly recommend you check out The Academy for your daughter.

Here is a link for more information:

Best, Shirley

My daughter started kindergarten at The Academy in Elmwood this year, and we’ve been thrilled at the environment. The school is small - class sizes top out at 12 for the lower grades, and in all of K-8 there’s probably about 100 kids. We love the community. There’s a welcoming spirit among the students and teachers, and our daughter feels so much at home there. Because it’s small she gets to play and interact with the older kids as well as her class, which is a great mix of experiences.

The engagement of everyone - students, teachers, parents - has been so impressive. The school helps kids grow by learning and interacting. A few weeks ago our daughter sang us poems from a Maurice Sendak book, and she’ll happily tell me how to pronounce the French alphabet or ask me about subtraction problems. We’re always looking forward to what she’s learning next. 

We liked a few schools in the area, but ultimately what made us settle on The Academy was the feeling that the school spoke to us and the kind of experiences we wanted for our daughter. The head of school, John Lynch, is especially good and communicating the school’s goals and vision for its students.

You should definitely check out Montessori Family School (MFS) -- they have preschool-K in Berkeley and grades K-8 in El Cerrito.  It's a very loving environment that supports kids in whatever phase of development they are in, without pressure to be somebody they're not.  My kids have thrived there.  They have a number of very experienced teachers who are simply great with children.  They are excellent at helping kids develop strong social skills while still being free to express their own individual personality.  If you've heard any of the myths that a Montessori approach is less rigorous academically, don't believe them -- schools like MFS that do Montessori correctly will help your child become all that she's capable of, in academics, social understanding, music, self-awareness, art and more.  If one of your measures of success is the type of schools and career paths that MFS students move on towards, ask the school for that info, and you'll see just how strong their academics are.  My daughter was more prepared than most her peers when she moved on after Montessori, and continues to excel in a very challenging high school.  Children who have strengths beyond the traditional definition of academics thrive here too, as everyone's unique talents and contributions are honored.  The MFS environment fosters developing the whole package of a well-rounded individual who can succeed in the real world.

I recommend going on a tour at Aurora School in Oakland. I went on 13 school tours of public, private and charter schools but when I walked into Aurora I knew it was our school. My first impression was warmth and kindness. We are now in our second year at Aurora and feel grateful we found this school! It's a progressive school with small class size and the most wonderful teachers! The second week of school, my son was crying when I left. The head of school let him call me on the phone (he didn't feel like he got to say goodbye) and then she stayed with him, took him to the garden/forest area and let him pick sticks, find calmness, talk about his feelings. I've never heard of a principal doing this. She created a safe space for him to feel and talk. Learning can only happen when kids feel safe and nurtured and thats what we love about Aurora (among many other things). It's a K-5 though, so not sure you're open to that. But I was set on a K-8 school until I found Aurora:) Good luck in your search! 

Our children are in their 4th years at The Berkeley School. We have all loved our experience. The teachers and staff are warm, thoughtful, skilled and want to be there. Our kids, now 6 and 8, feel and are an important part of the community. The school is systematic and intentional in its approach to the curriculum, social and emotional growth, arts and science integration and inclusion. We are grateful to be a part of TBS!

Our son, Max, has been at The Berkeley School (TBS) for the last two years.  He attended their Early Childhood Campus (ECC) for preschool/TK, and he is currently in Kindergarten at their University Avenue Campus (UAC).  Max is thriving for several reasons.  

First, his teachers are truly caring, dedicated, competent, and collaborative with one another.  This makes for a dynamic curriculum that is transformative and fun for the students.  The pedagogy is influenced by a Montessori curriculum, an emphasis on learning through civic engagement, and the latest learning research. They also have classroom weekly blogs that keep parents abreast of the wonderful learning that is taking place.  Our son loves learning, and his hard-working teachers have a great deal to do with this gift.

Second, the facilities at both campuses are impressive.  When our son first toured the ECC, he fell in love with the school.  There’s a climbing wall, the garden space, the play areas all facilitate the power of play.  

Third, TBS facilitates community building within the classrooms and also across families.  The school year begins with a playdate the weekend before classes begin.  TBS also has school events like Math Night, Grandfriends Day, Fall/Spring Fest, and other socials so that families and other parents can get to know one another.  There is definitely a feeling of community that is welcoming and supportive.

While our son has been at TBS, we can see first hand his socio-emotional and academic development.  When we see him reading and adding in Kindergarten, we are amazed how much he loves learning and how he is so happy.  More than just his academic development, we are also excited that our son is learning about global issues that places him in context as a citizen (with the capability to be a change maker in various ways). Our family totally recommends this wonderful school.  That being said, we are fortunate to have incredible independent schools in the area. We toured several. The only way to really know what school is the best school is for your family (especially your child) to tour the school yourselves.  For our family, it was love at first sight after touring TBS. 

I was in the same place last year. Like you, a loving, supportive environment and small class size were at the top of my list. We have found all of that and more at Park Day School. Our daughter loves school and is thriving. Not only is her Kindergarten teacher welcoming and warm, one can tell that the entire school, K-8, values caring and community. It is connected and a part of all they do. The teachers take the time to create relationships with the children, but they help the children develop and think about themselves, their classmates, the larger school community, and the greater community outside of school. She regularly plays with kids of all ages on the playground and in the innovation workshop that is open at recess. The beautiful tree and garden filled campus and homemade meals only add to the good vibes of the school. She feels comfortable to take risks and try new things. Their mission mentions “dynamic and joyful learning” and I see this happening every day with my daughter. I encourage you to come visit for a tour or open house. Best wishes!

Hi there, my son started kindergarten at Park Day School (Temescal region of Oakland) this year and is thriving. This school is full of loving tenderness and is so focused on children growing and developing as humans. The focus on diversity and inclusion, social justice and leadership is just what we wanted. The education is well-rounded and he comes home super excited about the innovation workshop, music, Spanish and movement from the unbelievable staff of enrichment teachers. In terms of class size, he's one of 14 in a class with 1 teacher and 2 aides. We wanted a place where our son would feel safe and loved, and we found it at Park Day.

Hi there,

My son goes to East Bay Waldorf (there’s a waldorf in Berkeley). His current class size is very small with 7 and is very much a loving, supportive, nurturing environment. Not sure exactly what it is that you’re looking for but I ended up choosing this school based on personal philosophy and everything that they do here lines up with my personal values: from feeding them wholesome, preferably home-made nutritious meals, to using gentle, loving kind words (Janet Lansbury- No Bad Kids style), to allowing lots of outdoor play & imagination, and the thing that hit it home for me... a style of teaching that’s appropriate for a child’s developmental age/stage, is engaging, and really allows the child to embody what they are learning. My son does not learn from textbooks or workbooks. He CREATES his own textbook... which essentially is a paper storage of all he’s learned. Example: he’s learning math using little pebbles and the the teacher tells a lovely story about math concepts. example- “Multiplier” (mul-ti-plee-ehr) has two magic sticks / and \ that make magic when he uses them together (X). When multiplier clicks his magic sticks on top of the 2 rocks, 2 more rocks magically appear, making 4. They go off and explore with the pebbles and write 3X2 = 6, 1+3 = 4, etc in their books. It’s an amazing way to learn... the kids just don’t forget these basic principles. I wish I could go back to school here lol. In kindergarten, when painting, they introduce just 1 color at a time, gradually adding just 1 other primary color with the goal that the kids observe and internalize the making of colors, (yellow and blue make green), through experience. The philosophy places an emphasis on a “love for learning”, so I strongly feel that this is a wonderful place for education foundation. Unhurried yet bounded by discipline, structure, and rigorous academics, as well as beauty, creativity, and caring for others and our environment.