Aquatic Park School

Community Subscriber

Berkeley, CA

To see Department of Social Services records on this facility, click on its DSS Facility License # below.

Childcare Center, Preschool
DSS Facility License #: 
Susan Stevenson
(510) 843-2273
aquaticparkschool [at]
West Berkeley
Maximum Capacity: 
Language(s) Spoken: 
English, Spanish
Ages Served: 
5 months - 60 months
Monthly Cost: 
Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri
8:00am - 6:00pm
Additional Services & Features: 
Afternoon option, Part-time available, Pre-K program, Year-round, Sibling discount, Subsidized program, Snacks provided, Organic options, Potty training support, Special needs support
Editors' Notes: 
  • Capacity reflects both infant/toddlers (19) + preschool (58)
  • Infant/toddler license # 013417503

Parent Reviews

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My son went to Aquatic Park School - he is also Black and Asian. His class had two preschool teachers, one of whom was African American and one was Chinese American. He also had a number of mixed race friends there, mostly half Black and half White, as well as some half Asian and half White. He really enjoyed his time at APS, as there was a diverse group of teachers, lots of outside space to play, and an emphasis on learning through play and socio-emotional development. I highly recommend it.

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 many years past childcare, but had an excelllent experience with Aquatic Park School.  The same leadership is in place.  It meets your budget and time requirements.  It's on the way between Ashby BART and SF, on Heinz near 7th St.  (This also happens to be close to Berkeley Bowl, one of the best supermarkets around.)

APS is often full-up, but it's worth checking out, as openings do happen.

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.

Look into Aquatic Park School on Heinz near Berkeley Bowl West.  Our two boys (5 and 2.5) are there now and we love the school, the teachers, the community.  The kids spend much of the day outside in a wonderful outdoor area with lots of open-ended play structures, garden, sand box.  The teachers are creative, thoughtful, nurturing and well-supported by the administration and the parent community.  The day is structured but activities are open ended and child-driven.  If you have further questions I'd be happy to answer them offline.

I could not be more happy with our decision to enroll our son at APS.  Our 3 year old has been attending since he was 18 months, and he is thriving. The school's Reggio Emilia approach aligns so well with our parenting values/philosophy, and watching the teachers interact with the children provides me with constant examples for how to hone my own parenting skills.  The kids at APS get ample play and exploration time balanced with a healthy dose of instructor-led discussion and group activity.  What I love most about this school is that teaching empathy and social intelligence is the priority.  My son is learning about the concepts of checking in with his peers, problem-solving when conflict arises, and how his actions affects others.  He is learning how to be in the world with compassion and empathy, putting the group before the individual.  All of this, plus the wonderful community of families, made APS the right choice for us. 

My son Josh enrolled Aquatic Park School this Sept. He is now in the three years old group, giraffe class. We heard about this place last year from a close friend. We then attended their annual open-house tour and found out that we absolutely love this place and their philosophy. Anyway who don't like a preschool with a garden and play ground, especially in Berkeley? But we were told that the waiting pool was quite something (they don't have a waiting list, only waiting pool...) and our chances for getting in is next year! We were discouraged. But both my partner and me really love this place, so we still applied. And now we are in. So, anyone out there who wants their kids get in APS, i suggest you to get your child's name on their list as early as possible. And check with them now and then. They usually reply emails, but phone calls never work:<

My son's birthday is at the end of August and we are bilingual family, which means he will be the youngest kids in the class and his english is not good at all. Besides, he is the only new comer of giraffe team this year.  Teacher Cici and Clare made a lot of preparation to help him with the transition. They took the time to know his daily routine and habits.They introduced Josh to other kids before he got in. Anyway, Josh went through a quite smooth transition. Now is the second month Josh at APS. Every morning he asks me if it is school day. He just can't wait to go to school. His language develops a lot. Before went there, he only spoke single words. Now he uses simple sentences and tries to tell me what happens at school. 

As for the curriculum and kids' activities, I would say it is still pretty much the same as what Blythe's mom has posted on 2014. In summary, kids love this place and we feels lucky to get in. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Aquatic Park vs. BlueSkies

Jan 2016

I am wondering if anybody has compared the Aquatic Park School and BlueSkies for Children, specifically in the context of these schools' infant programs. We are fortunate enough to have been accepted to both for our 5 month old and need to make a decision fast. APS is much closer to our house, and less expensive. But I just want to be sure that I am making the best decision since our baby is so young. Thoughts on the schools' programs for older children are also welcome since we anticipate staying on through pre-K. Oakland New Mom

Both of these are great childcare centers and preschools - I've had friends at both, though have not used them myself. I don't think you can go wrong with either one. The deciding factor should be which one is more convenient as they are pretty far apart geographically. Remember you'll be driving there twice a day for years. You said Aquatic Park is much closer, so that would be my pick! mom of 3

I don't know anything about BlueSkies, but I do know a bit about APS. My daughter was at APS for 3 years (though not in the infant/toddler program), all the way until the last possible day, when we *had* to leave because kindergarten started the next day.

If you're lucky enough to have gotten a spot at APS, take it!! Their staff are wonderful - warm, interesting people who genuinely love children and who have chosen this job not as an in-between filler, but really as a career. I found them so knowledgeable about children's development and different issues like potty training, sibling rivalry, family dynamics, nutrition, art, gender identity, you name it. Whenever I was frustrated with parenting, I would think ''What would the APS teachers do?'' and it helped me be both more pragmatic and more loving. I learned so much from APS. wish my daughter could still go to APS

I don't know anything about BlueSkies, but I wanted to let you know that you will have no regrets about sending your baby to Aquatic Park School. We've had 3 kids attend APS (the oldest started at age 3; the middle at age 12 months; the youngest at 5 months). It is the most loving, wonderful community of teachers, parents, and kids. The head teacher in the baby program has been at APS for over 20 years. She is a gem! We call her ''the baby whisperer.'' APS is an incredible school, and I partly had a third kid just so we could go back there because I missed it so much. One of the nice things about APS is that it's one of the few mixed-age programs that has both babies and preschoolers, so siblings can be together and visit each other through the day. The oldest kids sometimes have assigned roles that allow them to be ''baby room helper'' -- it generates such lovely interaction across the ages. You'll love it! Alissa M

Duck's Nest Berkeley vs Aquatic Park School

Aug 2014

I am hoping to get updated information about Duck's Nest Berkeley and Aquatic Park School. I read some reviews about Duck's Nest, but I think they refer to the Piedmont campus. I really love both schools and they have similar philosophies, so I imagine other parents have compared the two and would love to hear which you picked and why. Thanks! Prospective Parent

I had only one visit to Duck's Nest so I cannot give you much information about them.

My daughter did attend Aquatic Park School (APS) a few years ago and it was just about the best decision I have made as a parent, here's why: APS has ''wheel days'' and ''barefoot days'' - On wheel days kids need to wear shoes, however on barefoot days kids can have the grass, sand, and dirt between their toes. They can hopscotch on the concrete barefoot. They can climb trees or the play structure. They swing in hammocks. Kids play basketball. Kids are outside a lot of the day playing. Anytime they are interested in having a book read, a teacher reads to them. There is a ''book pool'' - a blue plastic pool filled with books rather than water so kids can take a break. There's a garden. Okay, so many schools may be like that.

Here is the deal - there is an independent science station - this means that kids do experiments and track results. For example, do lemons turn yellow and ripen faster when on the table or in a paper bag. The kids look and fill in the graph on the wall for the number of days it takes to turn. This is where my incredible daughter learned to love science.

Kids learn through the rich atmosphere of the world around them including the teachers. However, teachers do not get in the way of learning as they did in the other programs I reviewed.

In summary - barefoot days, science and books ''on demand'' - it just doesn't get much better.

Oh, and have your child sent to school in stained clothes. They will get dirty, and stinky, from play. In the evening they're tired - good tired from a great play and learning day. Blythe's Mom

May 2012

Our daughter has been at Aquatic Park for three years now and we want to put out a strong recommendation. We love the school and the teachers and our daughter has thrived while there. We love it and are sad to go as she moves on to Kindergarten.

One thing to note, APS is also putting together a Bridge K program which looks to be awesome. The teacher who will be leading it has been our daughter's teacher for the last three years and is amazing. I would highly recommend you look into the Bridge K program. They may have some spaces in an otherwise very high demand preschool. Happy APS parent

Feb 2012

I'm interested in enrolling my son to Aquatic Park School. Does anyone have a more recent review about the school? The teachers in 3-4 year old class? Many thanks!

My two boys have been very happy to be @ Aquatic Park School for the last 6 years. My younger son is currently in the 3-4 yr group & we adore his teachers, Aisha & Ryan. They are loving, creative, & skilled teachers, very dedicated to our children's growth & development! APS is a special community & great for our whole family! E-mail me if you have additional questions! Ruth

I have only great things to say about Aquatic Park School! Our son (now 9) and our daughter (now 6.5) both went to APS, he starting at age 3 and she starting at age 1 (in the Infant-Toddler program). I give APS a lot of credit for helping them both become the inquisitive, sensitive, creative, well-rounded kids that they are. APS is a true community -- it takes very seriously the goal of being a second family to your kids, offering the most wonderful care to them while you have to be away during your working hours. It's a community of thoughtful, talented teachers and great parents and kids! There is great dialogue between parents and caregivers so that even when the school has had its ups and downs (as all preschools do) around issues like teachers departing, there is open, productive communication within the community so that everybody feels heard, respected, and a part of the conversation.

The school leadership is fantastic -- the owner/director Susan, the main on-site Director Anne, and the Infant Toddler program Director Rose. All 3 have been with APS for quite a long time. The teachers and staff are just terrific -- enthusiastic, smart, thoughtful, and always working to improve their craft. The kids move as a cohort through the program, their core teachers coming with them as they grow so that each group of kids, teachers, and parents becomes quite close through the years.

The school is very committed to professional development and nurturing teachers. They participate in the Innovative Teacher Project, which supports the development of teachers at a whole network of schools using Reggio-Emilia-inspired curricula. APS even periodically raises money to send teachers to Reggio Emilia in Italy to study those schools first-hand.

The program is essentially play-based, integrating academic topics along the way as they make sense within the context of whatever play or projects the kids are working on. So if you are interested in an explicit preschool program that focuses more on drilling pre-math and pre-literacy skills, APS is probably not the school for you. Also, the kids play a lot outside unless it is really raining, so you need to be comfortable with your kid getting a little messy and dirty and occasionally coming home in an outfit not his own from the wonderful closet of extra clothes that they keep. For us, this was the perfect place -- I wanted my kids to be playing in the sun and the water and dirt as much as possible (learning all sorts of things along the way, of course!) before they had to go to Kindergarten and sit at a desk.

When my daughter graduated a year and a half ago, I was only half joking when I told the school directors that I was so sad to be leaving, that we might just have to have a third kid so that we could come back to APS. Now we actually have a new baby and sure enough, she'll be starting at APS later this spring when she's about 6 months old. I can't wait to be back! Huge APS fan

We have been an APS family for 4 years now - our daughter started at 2 and our son is currently in the 2-3 yr old group. We are consistently impressed and amazed with APS, and it's been an incredible experience for both of our kids and for us as a family. Our kids have always been engaged, super happy, tired, grubby and totally sated from a full day of exploration when we come to pick them up. It's hard to know where to start as there are so many great elements to the school -- the teachers are endlessly loving, creative, dedicated, and skilled in their knowledge of Reggio Emilia and how they bring it to the program. The leadership has supported many of the teachers in going to Italy for intensive training in Reggio Emilia - this is much more than mere talk of a philosophy, it is a true passion for these teachers and it blows us away - the quality of engagement around building projects based on inquiry with the children, the documentation of these projects involving multi-media, the dialogue amongst the teachers as they constantly explore questions related to child development and Reggio curricula. The school has an anti-bias curriculum and focus on conflict resolution with many skills in building language for addressing conflict. The yard is fantastic, and kids are outside exploring with natural materials for much of the day. Kids have their morning core group and primary teachers who are with them and develop deep bonds over the years, and then have time with the broader community in the afternoon. The afternoon program has become really strong - one day you show up for pick up, and the kids have made paintbrushes out of dried grass and their own paint out of clay, and they're hanging up pictures they've made from them; the next day, they're hard at work on a special message-writing project. Collaboration, love, direct communication, down to earth-ness, respect, truly seeing the children, critical questioning with children - these are all words that come to mind. There is no snazzy ''production art'' made to impress parents, very little fanciness and frills, but all true substance when you look around the classrooms. The parent community is fantastic and we are currently engaging in a parent-teacher collaboration on social justice and anti-bias in a preschool curriculum. We are a two mom family and have appreciated the diversity of many forms in the school and the ways in which the school doesn't do ''the talk'' around diversity but truly honors, celebrates and reflects families of all forms and is intentional in how they go about this in the curriculum. If you want rigid structure and fanciness, this may not be the school for you. If you want the gentle structure that comes from support of kids' self sufficiency, confidence, and deep bonds of love and trust, this will be a good fit. If you want your child to get to truly be a child, to explore the world and grow and be nourished in all ways, head straight for APS! You won't be sorry. Check out other recent reviews from an inquiry from Feb 11th newsletter too. And - bonus! - APS is also expanding its space and starting a pre-K program. aps rocks!

This isn't a recent review, but after reading the one response to the question, and hearing that those fabulous APS qualities are still there, I thought I would offer the long-view: Our almost 11 year old STILL talks about her years at APS (when she was 1 through 5) and our family STILL benefits from her (and our!) excellent experience there. Her emotional intelligence, creativity, kindness to others, intellectual curiosity, love of the world etc I completely attribute to her years at APS.

And, at the time she was at APS, because of the staff's loving consistency, creativity, love for and respect of children, and I don't know what, our parenting for those APS years was absolutely care free. I never worried about my daughter's care and I feel APS actually taught me how to parent well. Happy APS mom, years later

Jan 2012

Re: Midyear preschool change/relocation
Aquatic Park School in Berkeley fits the bill! Its program is Reggio-Emilia inspired and play-based, and offers Spanish once a week. My girls have thrived there, and are excited to go to school. They attend half-days, 3 days/week (but most kids are there for the entire day). My favorite thing about APS is how they encourage and teach the kids to work out conflicts on their own, and how accepting they are of kids' differences. It's also starting a Bridge K program in the fall, in case that's of interest to you. Another mom with two girls

May 2010

Re: I'm thinking Montessori may not be right for my son
I have only one child, a daughter, who sounds similar to your son. She began talking early and often was speaking in complete sentences by the time she was 11 months old.

We looked at Montessori schools - one very, very popular school in Oakland. When my daughter went for her ''interview'' she went to a tray to get a job. She borrowed a cloth from one tray to wash the table containing the ''tea.'' The teacher politely explained that each tray is a ''job'' and that you keep all of the items together. My daughter responded, ''I'm improvising.'' To which the teacher explained that she still needed to use the items from one tray, put the tray away and then she could use the items from another tray for the job. To which my daughter asked the teacher, ''Do the kids at your school EVER improvise?'' The teacher repeated the mantra about the jobs. My daughter turned to us and said, ''It's a very pretty school, but not MY school.''

We then went to Aquatic Park School in Berkeley even though we lived and worked in Oakland. It was worth the drive, the time and the energy. The teachers have actually visited Italy and understand the Reggio Emilia philosophy and have seen it in action. Children have barefoot days and ''wheel'' days. Children improvise daily.

I tell this story because we have a confident, bright, curious, creative daughter who is now 10. I believe she is this way in part because of the support she received in 3 years of preschool. Aquatic Park School trusts children to know their bodies- when they are and are not cold or hot, they are not afraid of dirt and mud, and reading is done ''at the request of the child.''

Another thing is that she was very, very prepared for school. Not only in the ''learn it'' academics but in the ability to transition to eating in the cafeteria, sharing tables/desks and transitions. Reggio Emilia is the way to go

Feb 2008

Does anyone have any current reviews of Aquatic Park School in Emeryville? We're looking for a place for both an infant and a very lively 3 yr old and it seems a great match. Any concerns or reservations? Thanks! Sarah

My son is now in Kindergarten after being at Aquatic Park School for three years. The greatest things in the world happen at APS: Kids play outside, even when its drizzling outside. Kids play in the mud, dirt mountain my heaven for my son. Bearfoot days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (Tuesday and Thursday is wheel day with bikes, roller skates and scooters) - imagine, no shoes - science experiements - while having fun - guess how long it takes for tomatoes to ripen if left on the table or in a bag and graph the results. Music and Movement - a giant room with a slide, tunnels, scarves and instruments of all shapes and size - making paper balls and throwing them in the air, at the window and at each other - if things get too overwhelming, there's the book corner with pillows and TONS of books.

As a Mom - I loved the ability for every child to be read to ''on demand'' not just at storytime. My son had no fewer than 5 books a day read to him.

Two down sides: you MUST have two sets of clothes for your kids because ''school'' clothes become too stained with mud, paint, dirt, etc. to be used in ''public'' and two, your kid will be exhausted, in a good way, and sleep early.

One thing that did drive some parents CRAZY - Your kid gets to decide whether to wear shoes on bearfoot day and your kid gets to decide whether to wear a coat or jacket. Not you, not the teachers, but your kid. Some parents had a really hard time trusting their kids to know what was best for their own bodies. Found Heaven at APS

I have had one very active child at Aquatic Park School. The school is great at guiding young children through social interactions and help them learn to make good choices. The children spend a lot of time outside in the play yard, where they get dirty, climb, build structures, make art and play music with an inspired team of teachers. The inside space is divided into age- specific areas and can feel a bit cramped on rainy days, but the children are comfortable in it, and I think they are attempting to expand the facilities. What APS does not do is much in terms of academics - but the guided play activities seem to prepare kids well for their eventual transition to kindergarten. If you are considering this school be sure to visit both at indoor circle time and after nap time when the play yard is in full swing. Satisfied APS Parent

I don't have a review of Aquatic Park but I do have a comment regarding their enrollment process. We were interested in enrolling our daughter there and called to ask some questions. After repeated phone calls, we finally received a call over a month later. Once they did call, they indicated that there really wasn't any formal enrollment process and they do not do open houses. You just send them an application form and check and wait to see if there is an opening and if there is one, they will contact you and then you have to decide right then and there if you wish to enroll, at which time you are then able to visit the school. Despite this, the women I spoke with indicated that there were going to be spaces available and advised us to send in an application. We took a chance and sent in an enrollment application and a enrollment fee. It has been about 3 months now and we have yet to hear anything from them. If they called me tomorrow to say there was a spot open, I would have to decline. Disappointed Parent

We looked at many excellent pre-schools in the area and did our homework, deciding to apply to seven of them including APS. We thought APS was our top choice for many reasons mentioned already. The outdoor play was attractive along with the movement, art and Spanish exposure. The application process works like this: (1) fill out the application when your child is born, (2) provide the application fee, (3) come to open houses (you have to call and maybe there will be a message telling you when the open houses occur 2-4 weeks before). The next part is where I question the procedure at APS. I was told to call once every month and I would get a checkmark next to my name indicating that I was still interested. I was told this was THE WAY to get in to APS because it indicated my level of dedication. If there were several people on the waiting list with the correct gender and age desired, but only one spot available, the person on the list who called more would get in. Being a conscientious and motivated person, I actually called once a month from October 2005 through February 2007, left a message telling the admissions director of the toddler program APS was still our first choice. My husband and I went on multiple tours. One day the toddler program director answered the phone as I was going to leave my monthly message and told me she thought she had a spot for me because someone might be leaving and she knew I had been calling consistently. She said to keep on calling every month and she would get back to me. She never called me back. In the end we were accepted to another excellent school (Montessori Family School) which turned out to be a great match for our child, and I happily took the reminder out of my Palm to call APS on the first of the month. I would have preferred a more honest approach from APS in retrospect. Now you know one of the reasons it takes so long for a call back from APS if you have a real question. They are so busy putting checkmarks next to names on the waiting list. Sick of calling APS

I'd like to second the sentiments regarding Aquatic Park School posted by ''disappointed parent'' last time. I have had the same experience with the school and have been on their waiting list for nearly one year. I too am disappointed as I have heard great things from parents with children in the program. I understand that there is a lengthy waiting list, but its a good business practice to return the phone calls or emails from prospective parents. I hope that the Aquatic Park administrators reading this newsletter take the recommendation to step up the effort to return inquires regarding the wait list. ''Radio silence'' is a red flag indicating a level of disorganization by the office. Disapponted Parent #2

Nov 2007

Re: Preschools with Male Teachers
Welcome to the area! (APS) has several male teachers. Men are in the minority on the staff, but that is true of every preschool I've seen. All the teachers, male and female, are excellent - caring and professional. There is a waiting list, but sometimes there are unexpected openings. Also, I think there used to be, or is still, a scholarship fund for children of single parents. Best of luck with your decision. Happy APS parent

Try (APS) in West Berkeley. It has traditionally had a number of terrific men on staff and is a great place. (My daughter is now in first grade, but was there age 1-5, and goes back occasionally even still when OUSD has a day off). APS typically has long wait lists, so I'd check it out ASAP. Also, the school has lots of outdoor time and is a good place for spirited kids. Former APS mom

April 2006

We are considering sending our 2.5 year old to Aquatic Park Pre-School in Berkeley. I would greatly appreciate feedback from other parents about the school. I have visited the school a few times and I liked it very much. I like the fact that kids spend quality time outdoors because my son loves the outdoors. I also noticed that parent-teacher interaction is encouraged by the school. If you could talk about your and your kid's experience there, it would be great. I would appreciate your input on their curriculum and the classes they offer (on saturdays for example). Thanks -Paula

Aquatic Park School has been a wonderful place for both of my children.

The school and its director are loved by the staff. They are paid relatively well and most of the staff have been there for years. I think this is one of the most important indicators of a great school.

I am constantly amazed by the thought and pedagogy behind every transition and activity. The school is play based and child directed, but it operates within the structure of a daily schedule that really makes the kids feel comfortable and secure. My kids have amazed me with their independence at school.

They do spend a lot of time outdoors in the 'yard'. Like the indoor 'stations', hte kids have a variety of outdoor spaces to accomodate whatever activities they dream up; APS has big plans for improvements to the yard in the coming year. They also go on many walking field trips, especially as the kids get older. The school is definately designed for working parents. The rates are pretty average or even good if you use a lot of the hours, but you don't get much of a break for going part time. There is usually a wait list, but if you have the right aged kid at the right time, you might get lucky.

Lastly, we are having a gala fundraiser on May 20. It will be an adults-only affair with small plates, cocktails and dancing. It would be a great way to meet the families of APS. E-mail me if you'd like to purchase tickets. Good Luck! Katie

I would save the money for an application for Aquatic Park School. It might be a great pre-school, but it's virtually impossible to get in. One of my co-workers strongly recommended it to me - her son is going there. I applied when I was only two months pregnant with the goal of starting daycare 6 months after birth. They lost our application twice. We were told multiple times that we had to wait a few more months as teachers' babies and siblings of existent students have priority. This is fully understandable, but why collect application fees when there is no chance for an opening in 2 years. Disappointed in APS

My daughter attended Aquatic Park School (APS) from age 2 years 9 months to 5 years 7 months. She thrived in the school. Here are the things you should know.

You need to feel comfortable with dirt, mud and grime. You need to be ok with stained school clothes and other clothes for the weekend. You will have a kid who is thoroughly exhausted on most days, in a good way. My daughter is a taller than average kid who is physically active. She is a climber and dirt mountain was among her favorite places to be. Music and Movement were also great for her.

There are a number of extra curricular classes that my daughter took - some she loved: Spanish with Candida, dance, music. There were classes she didn't care for: martial arts, capoeira, yoga, music with Jon and dance with a different instructor. But the great thing is you had a choice and your child had a choice. Station time was the best. My daughter liked all of the stations and although APS is a play-based school, children learn a lot about art, science, math and writing. My daughter entered Kindergarten knowing how to set up a science expperiment and how to graph results. In addition she was reading by her 4th month of Kindergarten. I believe this is due to the great number of books available at APS, as well as the number of teachers who are willing to read to kids ''on demand.''

There is a ''walk day'' once per week with kids about 3 years and older. These walks were great for identifying signs, learning how BMWs were polished, sculptures made and plants grown. Most off all the children were accepted for the valuable person each child is. Some children were more strong-willed, some more talkative, some more creative - - - all were loved and care for in a way that was appropriate to each individual child. Do not worry about the 12 hours per school year (or whatever it is now). APS makes it pretty easy and your child will value the buy-in. The hours do not need to be done at school, they can be done at home, repairing books, sewing curtains, washing dress-up clothes, etc.

Observe the school several times before you enroll, each visit brings a beautiful new facet to your experience. Grateful Parent of a former APS kid

Jan 2005

we are considering sending our son to Aquatic Park School's infant/toddler program and would love feedback from other parents about the school in general and about experiences in the infant/toddler program. We have been to the school several times and always had great interactions with staff and parents, philosophy fits with our parenting style and they seem to offer and emphasize creative arts, which is great! I have been a litle concerned about the size of the school and the space, although it seems like a wonderful, sunfilled space, i wonder about noise level and if it would be overwhelming for younger ones?? I appreciate the info, as there are not many recent postings, and none that address infant / toddler program issues. Thanks!!! Ruth

We started our son at Aqautic Park in the infant toddler program. We were apprehensive at first, because he had been home with us and had individual nanny care. We thought he would be scared to be in such a busy place. Well, our son ran off, at 18 months when we went to the open house. He was so busy exploring the place that he didn't even think to look for us. We felt this was a good sign and we made the best decision we have made so far: we sent him to APS.

The toddler program is something special. 4 toddlers to one teacher and they are loved and taught how to express themselves in a way that I could never reproduce at home. He is now 4, still at APS and transitioned into the preschool. Like all of the children at APS, he communicates with words, doesn't strike or hit other kids and defends himself with the words and phrases he was taught way back in the toddler room. As babies and toddlers, the teachers begin to instill the notion that these kids are powerful. They empower each one by teaching them to communicate their feelings. They empower each one by respecting their feelings too.

I could go on and on about their philosophy and the unique and staff (with a long retention period). But the most fascinating thing to me about this place is the wonderful sense of community and belonging that everyone attached to it feels. The teachers and the parents and most of all the kids. Those kids feel so comfortable with their extended family that I never worry if my son is safe. I am sure this is in large part due to the fantastic owner and director: Susan Stevenson. She runs that place with such love and confidence and kindness that it is contagious. It can be difficult to get a hold of people when you are trying to enroll. This is because they are so engaged with their kids. Unlike many schools, the director is also a teacher. She is with kids and on the phone with parents a good deal.

While they don't have tours (because if they did, there would be people there every single day), they do have open houses. One is coming up in February and I suggest you attend, even if you have seen the place. Bring your child and see how s/he reacts. Are they comfortable? Are you?

We fell in love with APS and are still so happy and lucky to be a part of their community. Don't be put off by the lack of response by phone right now, come to the open house and speak with Susan in person. She has a great memory and will remember who you are. And when you become an APS family, you will be welcome to come and spend time with your kid any time you want. There are no particular visiting days, parents are always welcome. I am there all the time, learning more and more each day. Good luck with your decision! Molly

Not only are you fortunate to get into Aquatic Park School, but also to have the infant/toddler teachers currently there. Kathy, Serian and others in that program are so loving and wonderful. My daughter had a special bond with Kathy and loved her dearly. I think most kids felt that way about her (and it was reciprocated). You have no idea how great it was to drop my children off with people who I knew would care for them and understand them as well as (and sometimes better than) me.

My kids (now 5 & 7) have now moved on to Berkeley Schools but we had been with APS for 4 years. To address your questions - the infant toddler group is a much smaller population of kids (10 max I think). They have a separate area for the little ones and they take them to play in the yard when the older kids are not around. So no- I don't think you child will be overwhelmed. Mine weren't even in the older kids groups.

Pros of this program - Real focus on conflict resolution. They empower the kids to stand up for themselves and work things out. They are so good at it, I found myself using their language at work!

Teachers are professionals - an invaluable resource for my husband and I on how kids at various stages of development typically act. Most of them have put in lots of continuing education hours on childhood development and have tons of experience. The teachers have chosen the profession of caring for children.

Director/ Owner Susan is a wonderful person - several of her staff told me she is one of the best people they have ever worked for. So she has loyal staff and low turnover.

Exercise and imaginative play - the playground is right there so they spend a majority of their time outside - doing all of the playing which makes them develop imagination, curiosity and learning.

Cons - if you are a neat clothes kind of person this is not a good place for you - this is a mudpie/ finger painting type of school. The kids are outside a lot and they thrive there. But if your kid doesn't like to be outside, they might not be as happy here as elsewhere.

At the graduating ceremony for our 5 year old, all of the parents were commenting on how the entire grad class were ''good kids'' - you liked all of them, not just your own, because they were good citizens, even though all very different.

APS was a special community for our family and I don't think you will be disappointed. Anonymous

July 2004

Our son is nearly three and we are looking at East Bay preschools, including Aquatic Park. Does anyone have positive or negative experiences to share about this school? mom of energetic boy

I am writing to recommend Aquatic Park Pre-School. I have noticed that many of the recommendations say the same things so will skip the basics - ie I assume that the baseline is wonderful, committed teachers, low turnover, loving care, play based school, etc.

Why APS might be a fit for your child (as it was for both of our children for past 4 yrs)...
a) majority of time is spent outside - great playground and they are working to make it even better
b) no tv - instead there are areas for: blocks/puzzles, books, playhouse, music & movement, science & art. The kids can choose where they want to go.
c) teachers are professionals, ie they can explain your child's developmental stages and make sense of what your child is doing. For example, it was such a relief to hear that yes - 4 yrs old typically talk about & are interested in death. 
d) Susan, the director, now has purchased the school. Her staff are fanatically loyal to her and she/they want to make it a superlative school in every way. 
e) there is a huge commitment to empowering the kids - this extends to teaching them negotiating and conflict resolution skills. It also extends to letting the kids follow their own interests. 
f) The childcare itself is located in a wonderful, open sunlit space - I fell in love with it the minute I stepped into it.

It is open from 7:30 - 6 pm. It is not the cheapest daycare you will find. But it sure does turn out respectful, polite, active bright eyed kids! Best of luck with your decision.

Re: How to Find a Good Preschool (April 2003)
I can recommend two. My son goes to Aquatic Park School, which is near 7th and Ashby. He is outgoing and active. Meanwhile, the girl he was in sharecare with when they were babies goes to Via Nova, on MLK and Ashby. She is more like your son--sensitive. APS, though it's a bigger environment (40+ children and infants), has truly exceptional teachers and a very sweet way of providing age-appropriate supports. Even sensitive children don't get lost at APS, and there are quite a few there. Though I can't speak for Via Nova, at APS there is an active parent group and a yearly parent commitment of 12 hours of volunteer time, which helps to build community. Good luck! Jodi

Sept. 2002

Our son attends Aquatic Park School in Berkeley and we think it is a most wonderful place. There are 50 some odd families there who I know will agree. We feel so fortunate to have found a place that is so thoughtful, caring and creative. They take the Reggio Emilia approach, for what it's worth. I think it's a sensible and respectful way to help young ones discover and learn. The staff is terrific and talented and they are paid a real salary so the turnover rate is quite low. Worth every penny! And I know there are some openings right now. Give them a call: 843-2273, you'll find them very responsive. And if you would like to talk to me about the place in greater detail, please feel free to email and we can exchange phone numbers. (I know Oakland was your first choice, but hey, maybe this will work for your family after all.) Best of luck in your search, Molly

I don't know what the current openings are at our kids'preschool, Aquatic Park School- but I would talk to them (843-2273). I don't think that they have waitlists, except for the infant program. We have had our 2 kids in there for ~3 years. The school is just off Ashby on Heinz Street and in a place designed to be a childcare center. It is full of light and air. I love the staff - they are all professionals with a loads of experience and caring. They work a lot with the kids on talking things out between themselves. It is a great program and the kids spend at least half of their time outdoors. My two daughters (3 & 5) loved being in the same program and the eldest looked out for the youngest. They are open from 7:30-6 which is pretty convenient. I know they have some part-timers but their preference is to have full time kids because the kids adjust better. Good luck in your search. Lynn

May 2002

We just looked at Aqautic Park School during their recent Open House and were very impressed. Then my husband and I read the postings on the Parent Web site and now we don't know what to think! The postings are all about a year old or more, but some of them were more than a little disturbing. We were so excited by the possibility of sending our child there, but now we are hoping to hear from some other parents about APS. What were your recent experiences? Were they positive or negative? What do you think of the postings on the web site (is the school still leaving 2 year olds outside in 50 degree weather in wet shorts and tee shirts?Is the staff turnover still a problem?) We would so appreciate any information you have to offer. Of course we plan to spend a good chunk of time there in the near future, to see how the place runs with lots of kids. We have an appointment to do this in a few weeks, but in the meantime, we are anxious to hear the advice and stories from experienced parents. Thanks to all. concerned parent

My son attends APS, and we love it. The space is wonderful, the program is great, and most importantly, staff is very responsive to parent's concerns (such as those mentioned on the web site).

For example, they heartily believe that children should be outdoors as much as possible, and so ask parents to bring rainclothes when it's drizzling, and let the children play outside when it's winter. There is a layer box in the yard and, ideally, children would choose to have a layer on when they feel cold. Of course, they don't always get to the layer box when something more interesting is going on. After finding my son shivering one day, I asked about the policy (I'm sure a number of parents did), and, although there wasn't any formal change made, he usually had his jacket on when I picked him up after that.

As to staff turnover, there was quite a bit last summer and fall, right when we started. There wasn't one cause of this: each person that chose to leave had very different, personal reasons. However, the school's directors are actively pursing staff retention plans with the help of a very involved parents' group. Most of the core staff have been at APS for three+ years, now.

I also hesitated before bringing my son to APS -- I had a bad case of that everything-must-be-perfect-for-my-child mommy craziness; now I'm glad my much calmer partner talked me into it. My son just loves it there, and I know he's getting really respectful, stimulating, and fun care. Jodi

We have two children, ages 2 and 4, in Aquatic Park School in Berkeley. They have both been there since they were about 5 months old. It is a great program. The teachers are nurturing, well trained people who really care about the children. We have made lots of great friends there, and would recommend the school highly. Happy Parents at APS

Nov 2001

In reply to your request for Preschools with food allergy friendly policies. Our program at Aquatic Park School is very responsive to the specific food needs of our children. We also are currently 'peanut butter free' since we have enrolled a child with a severe peanut allergy. It means we also have to be determined label readers, since so many products have hidden allergens.

We serve families whose children are vegetarian or vegan and this presents a challenge too. We must be sure we are monitoring the children's food choices.

On party day, the one day a month when we allow sugar snacks, we encourage families who have children on restricted diets to bring in a 'special snack' for them that is in their permissible food program. This helps because we do not always know what ingredients may have been used in a homemade item.

Good luck. Hope you find a good match for your child. NPhilpot

Oct 2001

I am going to visit Aquatic Park 'School in West Berkeley. Your preschool recomendation page has 3 varying recomdations. Can anyone give me info. I have an infant and a 4 year old. Thank you Edujoyce

I was also confused by the conflicting reviews about this preschool. I visited a number of times before deciding to send my son there this year. He's 2.5 and both my husband and I are very pleased with the school so far. My son transitioned easily, loves his teachers and enjoys school. Which is more than we expected of a 2.5 year old who had been spoilt silly at his home daycare! I think you should visit them and decide for yourself if this is what you want for your children. Like I said, every visit only strengthened our resolve and we found pretty much nothing that was lacking in the school. I do believe their teacher-attrition is high, but with the way they are structured, the kids do have a lot of interaction with all the teachers, not just one, so I'd guess their re-adjustment isn't too difficult either. Gita.

Our 2.5 years old son started with APS a few weeks ago and we all truly love it (kids included)! (We have 2 older kids and a lot of experience with daycares in different countries)About a year ago, I visited several preschools in Berkeley "shopping" for a free space for him to start right away. I loved APS instantly (lots of space, of light, private outdoor park) but they had no space available for him. I decided to put him on the waiting list and WAIT until they would have a spot for him. Throughout the year I came back several times and everytime I came back I was more sure that was THE place for us : I was thrilled with the way they structured the day, taught kids to be responsible, taught them to to speak-up about how they felt about others... I have hardly heard a kid screaming there, neither have I seen any left alone, lonely (and I have in other places !).Since my son started with APS, I realize everyday that there is even more than what I expected and I am SO happy that we decided for APS... All the teachers are extremely nice and loving and I have found everything I wanted for my children ! So, just go and spend time there to see and learn how they run the day! Good luck Laure

My Daughter will be 4 this December and has been going to Aquatic Park School (APS) since she was 3 months old. WE LOVE THE PLACE! APS teaches Reggio Emilia approach, see the attached web site for more info on this type of teaching. The teachers are always their for you with advise. (you can schedule time to talk with them uninterrupted) There are monthly meetings to discuss topics that either the parents or teacher would like to discuss. They have potluck gatherings for parents and teachers. I can't say enough good things about the school! Yvonne

My 15 month old son has been there for about 7 months. We absolutely love it...most importantly he loves it. The teachers are so warm and truly loving with him. I visited many schools in the area before deciding on APS. We were on a waiting list for 8 months before he finally got in, they only take 4 infants under 1 year, so space is at a premium. The teachers are all top notch and the director is great. The facility itself is clean and bright. They have many areas for the kids to play; music and movement, blocks, books, art, etc and a large private playground for the kids to run and play. They value the kids as the little people and individuals they are. Someone gave me this advice on choosing a daycare and think it's a pretty good indicator. They suggested observing in the afternoon as opposed to the morning. To see how the kids react when they are picked up as opposed to when they are dropped off. Do they run screaming to their parents desperate to go home? Or are they content and happy to continue playing when their parents arrive? Good luck. Rebecca

Our child attended APS beginning at age 4 months; we pulled her out a few months after she turned 2 (they transition from the infant/toddler group to the 'bigger' group at about age 2). We LOVED the I/T program -- our daughter absolutely thrived. There was some turnover, but not much, and for the most part the full-time caregivers remained 'stable'. While I would highly recommend the I/T program, I cannot give the same praise to the preschool program. YMMV, but the transition from I/T to preschool was VERY BAD for us. Our daughter acted out because of the transition and we felt like the director and her colleagues behaved as though her acting out had to do with her home life rather than the transition and they were very confrontational with us about it. We also felt as though conflict between my child and an older, more aggressive child was handled poorly. Very few of the kids who were in the I/T program w/ our child were still at APS 4 months later). Since your other child is 4 years old, s/he may do just fine in the preschool program. Good luck; it's a hard call. But, evaluate very carefully the transition from I/T to preschool, as this may be a big stumbling point for your little one. As a final problem, On 'my child's last day, which was in late December, I arrived at APS to pick her up in the late afternoon, only to find her BAREFOOT, and in shorts and a t-shirt (NOT the clothes she'd gone to school in), playing outside. She was like an icicle. Unfortunately, this was a fairly common occurrence; when I called them on this, their comment was that "they let the child decide". Um... these are 2-4 year olds we're talking about!!! And, of course, when the kids got sick, it was NEVER their 'fault'....


My son has attended APS for a year, and my whole extended family has visited the school at various points to see just why we are so wildly enthusiastic about it. I have just interviewed each staff member for a parent handbook, and I am amazed at the depth of their collective early childhood education, their incredible commitment to the children, and the wonderful environment they create for learning and development. APS has a successful recipe of love, structure, choice, creativity, fun and education which draws children and parents into a really rewarding community. I literally have to catch my son to go home in the evenings sometimes. We find it one of the best things about life in the East Bay, and only hope that our kids can have as positive an educational experience beyond kindergarten elsewhere. Our second son, age 2 months, will join the baby program (only 4 slots), where the TLC is better than you can find anywhere except home. Eve 2000

I have responded to several people on a personal level, but felt that this information should also go out to the group. Over the past year or so, people have requested information on the Aquatic Park Preschool program. I had a child in this program until fairly recently, so I think I have a fair amount of experience with this school. After trying to resolve issues with the school directly over a several month period of time, we took our child out of this school. We are happy with the decision we made. Here are the concerns I would have as a parent considering this program.

1. Very high staff turnover in the past several years. Several key caregivers were "here today, gone tomorrow." This made it very difficult for my child to adjust.

2. Poor supervision in the playground, with a mixed age group of 2 - 5 year olds. My child was bullied, bit, or otherwise hurt on numerous occasions. I understand isolated incidents of this happening, but it did seem excessive to me.

3. Push to potty train at an early age in order to get "with the program." This was not beneficial for my child and has resulted in problems for us now.

4. Expectation of self-help skills beyond what I feel is reasonable for a two-year-old. I regularly (almost every day) picked up my child in wet and/or muddy clothes, barefoot, with just a T-shirt on in 50 degree weather. It was explained to me that it is up to the child to change clothes, get a jacket, put on shoes if he/she is wet and or muddy. I considered this outrageous and still do.

5. Annual price hikes of $100 without any corresponding benefits in terms of materials or student/teacher ratio.

6. Stated student/teacher ratio is not adhered to. This relates back to item #2. I witnessed many incidents of bullying which I personally intervened in, even if my child was not directly involved, because no one else was around to take care of this.

These are the most important points I wanted to get across. I also wanted to state that we were happy with the program initially and loved a couple of the caregivers in the infant/toddler program (neither of whom is still with the program), but started having problems when some staffing changes occurred and our child was being transistioned to the preschool program. Things can change, but I would very carefully look at all these things before I would put my child in this program. I hope this information helps someone else to not have to go through what we went through.

Oct 1996

My son Aaron has been at APP since he was 3 months old and we've been very pleased with the whole school. The one bad note (that is often a point of discussion at parents' meetings) is the apparent high turn over rate of teachers--but we've found that a very basic core of teachers has remained, as well as the constant routine and surroundings, to allow a continuity that the kids need/appreciate. I like the wide range of age groups, too, so that now my 4 year old comes home with great pride about being the day's babyroom helper. Also have optional Computertots program.