Berkeley/N. Oakland Preschool - Outdoorsy and Creative

I had hoped to just find a preschool close by and be done with it, but I've visited a few and none feel right. My son is 2 and we'll probably enroll him in the fall. He's very energetic and curious so I'd like to find a place that has a nice outdoor space where he can play, get a little dirty, and be creative since he gets less of that in our small home. We are less concerned about any specific educational philosophies, which is funny since I have a higher degree in educational philosophy and currently work in youth development. 

Just hoping to get some recommendations of places where the teachers seem happy, and their kids are happy, thriving, and seem like they've throughly explored each day. I'm looking for places in North Oakland/Berkeley ideally. Thank you!

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

Hello, it might be a little beyond your preferred area, but The Pine Crest School in Kensington sounds like a good match:

Highly recommended, excellent teachers, lots of exploring nature outdoors and being creative.  My children have thrived with them.

We loved My Own Montessori.  I felt exactly the way you did (i.e. less concerned with the philosophy, but wanted to get a good feel from the place) and the moment I walked in to visit M.O.M, I could tell that the children were happy and thriving.  It is right by Trader Joes off of College.  The children do wonderful art projects and do spend a fair amount of time in the outdoor space they have.  I can't recommend it enough.  

Look at The Berkeley School campus on Francisco near Shattuck.

We also have a curious, energetic boy and we Loved Claremont Day Nursery - they have a location on Claremont Ave (where we went) and on College Ave. They have huge outdoor play space and the kids get lots of time to play and explore!

Check out The New School on Bonita off Cedar. 

We love Duck's Nest on 41st in the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood. My son is in his 3rd year there. The outdoor area is not huge, but it's ample with a big sandbox, 3 separate climbing structures, a whole outdoor art studio, a bike deck area, outdoor chicken coop and bunny hutch, building blocks area and train table, lots of greenery and growing things and plants and room to dig and get muddy and dirty. If you want your son to get dirty every day, I can assure you that can happen at Ducks Nest! My son's poor clothes are evidence. The kids and teachers are all happy there. Low turnover, with lots of support for child-directed/child-driven curiosity. 

Have you looked into the Early Childhood Education Program at Berkeley? If you can get a spot I think it's what you're looking for. It's given priority for Berkeley affiliated parents but sometimes has community spots as well.

We were looking for similar features as you and we ended up sending our kids to Temple Sinai in Oakland. It’s not as outdoorsy as many of the places we visited but they do have a large outdoor space. What really attracted us to the school was that the teachers are experienced and happy and seem to really intuitively understand how to handle our rambunctious mischievous and creative bundle of energy who was getting into trouble at some daycare and toddler programs due to his behavior and aggression.  I have been absolutely thrilled with how well the teachers understand him and he has a really thrived And matured there. I am a little bit sad that he isn’t somewhere where he can play in the woods all day but he does not lack for anything and we will make up for that by sending him to an outdoor camp in the summer

It sounds like you're looking for Learning to Leap in Oakland.  It's a little out of your neighborhood, but it's worth it.  The kids are happy and thriving, they have a great outdoor space, have a holistic approach and the families really love all the teachers.  I've known the director for years, my daughter has been an intern at the center, and I've always been impressed with how happy and comfortable all the children are.  I highly recommend you check them out:, 510-318-4275.

I highly recommend Duck's Nest Preschool on 4th Street in Berkeley (just off Gilman), for all the reasons you list and then some. We knew as soon as we entered the gate that we had found 'the one.' Our son is currently enrolled and our older daughter attended for two years. We have been very, very happy there--kids and grown-ups both!

I would check into Berkerley Unified School District preschool.  There is a tour at Franklin elementary this Saturday. Unfortunately, I can’t make it.  I will be doing the March tours to Franklin Preschool, King CDC and Hopkins Child Development. Good luck!

Hearts Leap in the Elmwood! For my family, this has been the ideal preschool. They give the kids lots of outdoor time in their amazing yard and my son always happily came home with dirt-covered pants.

The outside space is a laboratory of discovery with a big sand pit, shovels, trucks, tires, ropes, balance beams, climbing structure, playhouse, all surrounded by redwood trees and planter boxes where the children garden. Sometimes the ballet school opens their big windows which border the play yard and the children can watch the dancers and listen to the accompanying piano.

Not only is the physical space of a Julia Morgan-designed building beautiful, the classrooms are thoughtfully laid out. Every day brings a new adventure at Hearts Leap where children can choose between an amazing variety of art, tactile, or building projects, play in the imaginary play area or create their own fun in another area. 

It feels so good to come through the doors – one instantly feels the warmth of community, the love for children, and an environment that nurtures exploration and creativity. The curriculum is child-led, with projects often continuing for weeks as interests evolve and take new directions.

The director has a gift of hiring teachers who all have advanced degrees in child education and are compassionate, engaged, and genuinely enjoy working with children. There is a real sense of teamwork between all the teachers, not just within each classroom, and despite the size of the school, every teacher seems to really know each child.

Adding to the qualities which make this preschool unique, there are many excellent enrichment extras including dance and soccer classes every week, visits to the Berkeley Playhouse, dramatic storytelling by Mr. Michael from the Berkeley Public Library, and visits from the Marine Mammal Center, as well as the Vivarium.

Sending both of our children to Hearts Leap over the past four years, we have always been filled with confidence knowing that their social, emotional, and developmental needs were being supported and that they were happily thriving in this special place. And they've just opened an infant program!

Check out The Room to Grow on Broadway in Rockridge. It is a small preschool that follows the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Kids get to make up their own projects from the abundant materials present in the classroom, the school agreements are democratically created, they can run in and out to the yard at their own convenience and yes, they do get dirty! Teachers are just wonderful, guiding the kids with so much respect, creativity and passion. My kid brings home tons of art work, they go on trips to the farmers market with BART, build a fort from cardboard, then wood and nails, do yoga and learn about how to recognize and express emotions through colors etc etc. Seriously, I wish I went to a school like this when I was a kid!! There are a lot of options to get involved as a parent, but no pressure if you don't want to. Family camping trip twice a year, potlucks, and you can hang out at school with your kid as long as you like to read books, help on projects etc. Not unimportant, hours are 7.30am - 6pm, very convenient for working parents. Good luck on finding the right school for your kid!