Seeking a Preschool with Reggio Emilia Approach

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi All,

    We recently moved to the Bay Area and are trying to find a nature pre-school for our child.  Are there any full-day programs where the children are outside all/most the day, weather permitting?  We are coming from a wonderful program on the East Coast where the kids were in a 340 acre park with partially outdoor and fully outdoor options-- indoor was Reggio inspired.  Looking for something similar.

    Also looking for experiences on successfully redshirting a 5 year old for kindergarten in OUSD.  Again, this wasn't an issue where we're coming from but I've heard from a couple people that it's difficult to do in the Bay Area?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    An easy way to redshirt your child is to enroll your kindergarten-eligible child in TK instead. That way you get an extra year of free schooling. You also are likely to have an easier shot at getting into the school of your choice if your child enters in TK, because there are fewer applicants for TK than K.

    A lot of parents, teachers, and even principals insist that OUSD does not allow this, but they do. My son enrolled in TK when he was eligible for K, and I know others at other OUSD schools who have done it. You might encounter pushback from teachers or principals, but the enrollment office has final say about what children are enrolled where. I would just make sure to get in touch with someone in the enrollment office so you feel certain.

    It seems that redshirting isn't that common here though. I know of more kids who skipped K or 1st grade (or were pushed to and refused) than kids who were redshirted in OUSD. 

    By the way, if you are confused why California's TK program exists, the answer is that there is no good reason at all. It was supposed to be a temporary thing to deal with a change in birthday cutoffs years ago. Now the state is arbitrarily giving children with fall birthdays and extra year of free schooling. They are the oldest children in their classes who are least likely to need extra help. But I guess you might as well take advantage of it!

    Welcome! First off, in OUSD there's not an issue with keeping your child back. BUSD is very strict but we had zero issues with OUSD.

    As for schools, this depends on exactly what you are looking for and how far you are willing to drive! East Bay Waldorf school is a trek from Oakland but they have a ton of space (I want to say 80 acres?). They do go indoors but the kids go outside rain or shine as well.

    I have to give a shout out for my son's current preschool, MCPC, as well. It's much smaller than what you're describing but the outdoor space is much larger than the indoor area, and since covid the kids are pretty much always outside. I liked my daughter's preschool but my son (and all his friends) are happier at MCPC than I have ever seen kids. It's a co-op so I know this firsthand. The social-emotional learning and conflict resolution are amazing. The anti-bias curriculum with an emphasis on social justice is incredibly well-implemented in just the way 3-5yos can take it in. And it's actually a truly inclusive school when it comes to non-neurotypical kids. My son thinks nothing of it if he has a playdate with a kid on the spectrum. He's unfazed when someone who he formerly knew as a 'he' decides they want to be a 'they' or a 'she.' And he already understands that it's very real for BIPOC to be treated differently from white people — and that it's not okay. Lastly, his social skills outshine those of lots of older kids we know because of the way the teachers patiently, from day one, model how to talk to other people whenever there is a conflict or someone gets hurt.

    The teachers and the community are incredible and we even have a part-time Spanish Immersion program. I can't say enough good things about this school. We'll be having a virtual info night sometime in January (date TBD) so if any of that sounds interesting look us up!

  • I'm looking for a RIE/Reggio Emilia-friendly toddler and early-start preschool program located in Berkeley for my child. I'm specifically looking for something that would allow kids to start sometime between 12-18 months, has a great outdoor environment and lets kids get messy, is truly play-based and child-led (rather than just giving lip service to these approaches), has an emphasis on social-emotional growth, and would take kids on a part-time basis (4-5 hours/day 3-4 days/week). I know that is a long list :) Location close Strawberry Creek Park is a plus but not necessary. Would love to hear any ideas people might have! 

    Aquatic Park School (APS) in Berkeley is a wonderful Reggio daycare/preschool.  My 4 year old has been going there since he was 18 months and he is thriving.  Check out the reviews on BPN (one is mine).  I believe the tuition rates are for full time only until you get to the 3-year old group, which you can then pare down to 3-5 days/week.  Not so much with the hourly thing, though. 
    Good luck!

    We are a RIE family that attends a weekly playgroup. Some families in our group with older children have graduated their children to Happy Baby Small School in Berkeley.

    Child Education Center is an excellent program. My two grandsons attended there and I have been very impressed.  There is lots of messy play - not sure about all of your requests it is an excellent play- based program. 

    Look up Happy Baby Small School in Berkeley! It incorporates almost every trait you describe. The only catch is that your child needs to be 18 months to start there. My daughter is there now and is having a great experience.

    I checked out St John's on College Ave not too far from the UCB campus, which seems to meet most of your criteria and is highly rated by parents.  From what I saw when I visited, they're definitely play-based and child-led, and the center director has attended RIE trainings.  We didn't end up switching to them because my daughter is pretty content where she is and I didn't want to pull her out in the middle of the year, but we're still on the interest list for later. Their fee schedule includes PT in terms of days, but not hours per day--check it out and see if any of the options might work for you.

    I was told good things about Happy Baby in Berkeley they fit alot of the things you are looking for. Hope you find the perfect place!

  • We are moving to Montclaire Oakland area from the east cost this summer, and we have been searching for a preschool for our 4 year old son.  He has been in a traditional preschool, and we are interested in switching to a Reggio Emilia inspired school going forward.  Wondering whether anyone has an opinion about a good Reggio inspired preschool, in particular Room To Grow vs the Aquatic Park school.  I have read fantastic reviews about both.  Thanks in advance!


    We are a current APS family and love it. The staff is impressive and committed, the kids spend lots of time outside getting filthy, and there's a strong commitment to taking kids seriously and giving them opportunities to develop projects, classroom themes, etc. That said, the school tends to have a long waitlist, and so (as with many preschools around here) there are no guarantees of space. I believe the 4-5 group may have a few spots for next year, but there may be kids lined up for them. Definitely inquire before expending too much mental energy on it.

    Have you considered Via Nova? Via Nova is a wonderful Reggio inspired school with a great play space directly across the street from Bart and has a very rare opening in its Dinosaur/pre-k classroom. My second child is entering the school now and love the highly experienced teachers and director and the space! 


Archived Q&A and Reviews

Play play play!! Is there a school?

Oct 2013

My daughter (2.5) is currently at a school which says they emphasize play and a child led program. However, I am findjg myself seeing the teachers showing her how to play and use the art project. I am very specific on what I want for my daughter: RIE principals would be great, but I haven't found that. Regio Emilia would be great too, but not Duck's Nest on Piemont. I know many parents love it there, but it is too large for us and there is too much teacher leading (for me). I want something where my daughter can basically play and do things the way she wants to. No circle time. Not even well meaning suggestions on how to roll play dough into balls. She is an amazing learner and loves to discover these things on her own. Does anyone know of a small, very play based program like I have described? Thanks! Play Based mom

A truly excellent play based preschool is Blue Skies in Oakland (formerly AOCS), a non-profit that offers infant care-preschool. It's based on Reggio Emiliano and our daughter had a great experience in the almost five years years she spent there. Our younger daughter went to the Child Study Center at Berkeley, also an excellent play based program, but of the two I preferred Blue Skies. A Blue Skies fan

Check out the Play Yard in Berkeley on Blake, where my younger son went. Denise is a genius who totally gets how preschool aged children learn -- play! She is nature's gift to children. Denise is somewhat Reggio-inspired, but not like other preschool programs that claim to be Reggio or play-based but really are all about sending home the kid's handprint with their name in glitter letters -- my older son attended one of those, so I know exactly what you're talking about. Denise walks the walk (or, should I say, plays the play!). Good luck, Jenn G.

If you want a true play based program without the direction you noted in your post, I highly recommend The New School . If you want academics, this is not the place. But if you want a place where kids get really messy, are only directed away from activities that are unsafe or unkind, then this is the place. There are so many fun things to do at New School--lots of water play, huge sand box, lots of dress-up, art galore. And if your kid just wants to play in the sand or play Legos for 3 hours because he/she is working out a problem, this is the place for you. Its not small, but in the 2s program they are kept separated from the bigger kids (3s/4s) for most of the day. For parents, it can seem like chaos, but for kids it is a safe and organized chaos that helps kids to play at their own pace. Love the Play at New School

the imaginarium near the Children's Hospital. My friend runs it and my daughter goes there. Huge backyard. The kids have many things to do. Organic, home-cooked lunch and snacks. Cool, sporadic field trips and a teacher who strongly believes in young children's inherent ability to learn by themselves and each other. chelsea h.

The Room to Grow preschool in upper Rockridge. I recommend it highly! The school uses the Reggio Emilia approach for the children to explore their world through play. While my son was there the children led many projects such as an elaborate water sculpture that evolved over many days, recreating scenes and characters from favorite books and stories and art work using natural materials. It's a small school with nurturing and fun teachers. anon

Reggio Emilia school in Albany, El Cerrito area?

Sept 2011

I've recently discovered that what I find lacking in Montessori (which my son currently attends) is available in a Reggio Emilia school. I've toured a wonderful school in Rockridge, but it seems too far from our home in Richmond to make it work. Our younger son is in a daycare in El Cerrito. I'm wondering if there are any Reggio Emilia schools in the 80 corridor, especially around El Cerrito, Albany, or Richmond. I'm aware of Duck's Nest and Aquatic Park School, but neither have full-time openings. We are looking to start immediately. If anyone is aware of another Reggio school with immediate full-time (8-6 M-F) openings, please let me know. Thanks!! Searching for the right school

I would like to recommend a school that is not in that geographic area but is a Reggio Emelia-inspired school that I find totally worth the drive for my daughter. I live farther than Richmond and drive to Oakland Garden School because outdoor play and the Reggio experience are both very important to me. I visited in the spring and my daughter and I both fell in LOVE with the expansive outdoor grounds, the nature-based curriculum, and the beautiful and magical classrooms. You will not find a school with a larger, more stunning outdoor space, which includes egg-laying chickens and goats! It is worth a look if you are truly interested in a Reggio curriculum. My daughter, a gentle and somewhat shy soul, begs to go to school on the weekends and comes home dirty and covered in paint. It is worth it for me to make the drive for the one year she is in preschool before she starts kindergarten. In full disclosure, since enrolling her, I have become a parent volunteer and serve as the school's office coordinator. Driving for the Reggio Experience

Sept 2010

My daughter is 18 months old and I am looking into preschools for her. I would like to start part time (maybe mornings several days a week) then maybe increase her hours the older she gets. Specifically, I am looking for a Preschool with the philosophy of Reggio-Emilia or Play with Structure. It could be either in Berkeley or Oakland. Your insights, advice, personal recommendations and thoughts welcome. Cheers, Raquel

Ducks Nest is a fantastic Reggio Emilia school. We've sent 3 happy kids there and the program is amazing. christine

If you are looking for a co-op, the only co-op for kids 18 months old in CA is Skytown in Kensington. I started my daughter there at 20 months and loved it (we are still there for her final year before kindergarten. We lived in Oakland when she started, but it was worth the drive! It incorporates elements from Reggio and Montesourri and other play-based methods. We are filling up spaces quickly, though, so if you are interested, check it out!

Nov 2007

Duck's Nest PreSchool in the East Bay Area is an Emmergent/Project Approach school, inspired by the Reggio Emillo Philosophy in Italy. Duck's Nest is also very fortunate to has several male teachers at all locations.

June 2002

Hi, I was wondering if anyone knows of a preschool that uses the Reggio Emilia approach. I have been reading about it and am quite intrigued. Thanks Kelsie

The Old Firehouse School on Moraga Road in downtown Lafayette follows the Reggio Emiglia approach. They take kids from infancy through preschool age, and have both part-time and full- time programs. You can reach them at 925-284-4321. The director is Dorothy Stewart. Sharon

I think Via Nova uses Reggio Emilia, at least in part.

I heard Aquatic Park Preschool billed themselves as Reggio Emilia inspired.

Other recommendations:

April 2002

I've been checking out preschools and reading the archives but still can't find what I'm looking for. Can anyone recommend a school that has a lot of free play and creative activities, but accompanied by very serious teacher facilatation? (a la Reggio Emilia). I also want only three full days, and I'm a graduate student so price is an issue. My child is three and I'm looking for the Fall. Thanks for any ideas you might have. Ilona