The Gay Austin School

Berkeley, CA

No longer in business
Facility Type[?]:
DSS Facility License #
010212172 [view license]
Bonnie Raetze
510 526-2815
pcosgrove [at]
N Berkeley on Hopkins
Maximum Capacity:
Language(s) Spoken:
Ages Served:
24 months - 60 months
8:30am - 5:30pm
Additional Services & Features:
Afternoon option,
Part-time available,
Snacks provided,
Special diet support,
Potty training support,
Special needs support
Editors' Notes:

As of 2019, Gay Austin School has closed. A new preschool, Berkeley Little School, is opening at the site.

About the Program:

Do you know someone looking for an intimate preschool program for their 2, 3, or 4 year old? We are the place for you! Our half-day programs are a perfect introduction to group experience and prepare your child for kindergarten like no other school. Just ask our parents. We’ve been around for 60 years and may be just the perfect place for your child. Extended care hours available. Check us out:

Parent Reviews

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Gay Austin school in Berkeley. Both my kids went there and loved it. Not year-round, not cheap but cheaper than many other schools we looked at, and was only a 7-minute drive from our house in El Cerrito.


Our son attended the Gay Austin Preschool for 3 years, started in the two's program and 'graduated' out of the 5's program. The entire experience was exceptional and we truly feel lucky to have been part of this little community. 

 Our son felt very comfortable and happy with Pat and Paula during his first visit itself -- he did not want to leave! It is a small preschool with great teachers and parent community. All the teachers are very capable (and compared to other preschools) have been at Gay Austin for a long time which gives the school stability and reflects in their philosophy and approach towards kids. The environment is very warm and welcoming and fun for the children, the philosophy is play-based, and our son and his peers learned a lot at the school. There was a great variety of activities and learning covering arts, music, science, outdoor play, writing preparation, reading letters, and basic math. The school also facilitates a community among parents, which was great for us since we had just moved into the neighborhood. We still connect with the families from the preschool and the kids love hanging out together. The teachers welcome help but I never felt pressured to 'volunteer' which is important for working parents.  We are writing this review six months after our son started elementary school and can confidently say that he was well prepared for kindergarten both socially and academically to engage with his peers and adults. 

If you're in or near Berkeley The Gay Austin School may be a good fit. It's a great program with just about 15 kids per age group (2-5) in separate classrooms. The teachers are top notch, children are nurtured and creativity is encouraged. It's play based for the most part but also Reggio-Emilia inspired.  My son went there for a year and we're sad to go when we moved.  Most of the toys are made of natural materials and the environment is very aesthetically pleasing. 


Archived Q&A and Reviews

June 2014

Re: Moving to N. Berkeley - looking for a preschool

Welcome to N. Berkeley. Our boys loved Gay Austin Preschool and I recommend it highly. Great, creative loving teachers, small groups of kids and lots of play play play. It's not necessarily ''nature based'' but there's lots of outside time in the yard and terrific outings to the local Hopkins park and the ''fairy grove.'' Best, Rachel Anderson

I'd suggest Gay Austin. It's a small, play-based preschool with the most amazing teachers. Both our boys attended and to this day we feel grateful that they started their social and academic lives there. LR

I would highly recommend the Gay Austin Preschool on Hopkins St. (near Monterey Market). We have sent two kids through there, and found that they finished the program confident and more than ready or kindergarten (both of our kids are now at Prospect Sierra. David

June 2014

RE: Preschool for 2.5 y.o with fall openings

I can recommend the Gay Austin School on Hopkins Street in North Berkeley. Both my kids have attended, and its a real treasure. It has a lovely indoor and outside space; a charming rabbit (!) and fish; and very experienced and loving teachers who provide a play-based learning environment that is sufficiently structured to provide wonderful learning opportunities and to prepare kids very well for kindergarten.

It's a half day program of three or more days a week, with the option of extended care. There is a music program and excursions to the park for the bigger kids. We've loved the community of parents. The classes are not mixed ages - there is a twos, threes and fours program, but the director is able to explain why they take this approach. It sounds like your child is the right age and given your post, it might be a good fit for you. Happy Gay Austin parent

Want a hidden gem? You should REALLY think about Gay Austin. We had 2 children go through... the staff are absolutely wonderful, brilliant and loving. The school has a great outdoor area with natural places for the kids to play, a rabbit hutch, and fish. They have a wider option of hours and PT days than when my kids were there, so I bet they'd fit your needs well. It's age specific classes... which I have to say, worked REALLY well for our kids. I know you said you wanted to have multiage, but I recommend this program because their 2's program is absolutely phenomenal. And once you're there... you'll see how awesome the whole school is. nostalgic for Gay Austin

May 2014

Re: PT Half Day Preschool Fall 2014 for 2.5 yo

It sounds like the Gay Austin School might fit well what you're looking for. It's a half-day preschool with separate classes for 2, 3, and 4-year old children. They may have space available in their 2's class for the fall. The teachers are very experienced and amazingly fluent at guiding the children through all kinds of creative and fun learning. My daughter is finishing up her third year at the school, and she's had a wonderful experience. We will miss the school very much! You can learn more about the school at Best of luck! Happy Gay Austin Parent

April 2013

I always thought I would send my child to a Montessori preschool, but then I toured the Gay Austin School. It seems like a wonderful fun place for kids. I would love to get other parents' opinions of the school, particularly the 3's class, which is where my son will begin. I'm sure your child had fun there, but did they seem to be prepared for kindergarten after being in the program? Did ending at 12 seem like too short of a day or did you opt for extended care? Was it odd starting at 1 for the 4's program? Was it enough academics? Any and all opinions would be appreciated. Trying to decide

Even though my children are in 3rd grade I can't resist telling you how grateful we are that our twin sons went to Gay Austin. The teachers, the curricula, the play-based creative learning -- my kids were completely prepared for kindergarten in BUSD and our friends whose kids went to Prospect Sierra had the same experience. And while every class of parents is different, some of our favorite fellow-parents to this day are the people we met at Gay Austin. My kids were just recollecting some of their favorite GA memories the other day -- it was a wonderful place for them to move out into the world. I recommend it. Rachel

Both of my kids went to The Gay Austin School, one went from GAS to private school and the other from GAS to public school. Both were well prepared for kindergarten. GAS is an amazing school. The experienced educators get to know your child and your child develops socially, academically and emotionally under their loving care. Both of my kids did some of the extended care, which had routines and activities they enjoyed and gave them more time to develop friendships with a smaller group of kids in a relaxed atmosphere.

Their philosophy, based on Piaget's work, is ''play is the work of the child.'' Through engaging, well-planned activities kids have great fun and learn. Much care is given to the classroom setting to spark exploration. Kids learn to be part of a nurturing, fun classroom community. The age appropriate curriculum includes science, music, art, storytelling, and builds the foundation for reading and math. It also includes a wonderful bunny that kids can help care for and an awesome play barn, multi-passenger train, sandbox & dirt box (my son LIVED there), play structure, sand trays, water trays, and marble runs. We should all be so lucky as to have a preschool experience like this. -Happy GAS alum parent

Feb 2013

Re: Looking for a Kensington preschool
Before we moved to Kensington, my daughter attended a Reggio Emilia preschool in San Diego. I found that The Gay Austin Preschool (in North Berkeley, on Hopkins Street) was a seamless transfer in terms of philosophy, practice and a loving environment. I feel that the very experienced teachers and director do not draw exclusively from one educational philosophy, but take the best from a number of approaches. As a Reggio Emilia family there was a LOT that was very familiar, and some welcome additions.

We've been even happier there than we were with our previous school. Both my kids are thriving there, the school has a wonderful community, and I feel very lucky that we found it! It's a short drive from Kensington, and there are a number of Kensington based families at the school. The director is Pat Cosgrove. Her number is 510 526 2815. -Happy Gay Austin Family

Sept 2012

Re: Spaces left in a nursery school that accepts 24 mo
Our 2-year-old daughter is starting Gay Austin next week and I know there are still openings. She isn't potty trained - and none of the 2-year-olds are. It's a little bit of a drive from the Elmwood (Gay Austin is over near Monterey Market) We've heard great things about the school and can't wait for her to start. Contact Pat Cosgrove at pcosgrove [at] John B.

May 2012

Re: Berkeley preschool with openings for Fall 2012
I believe that The Gay Austin School on Hopkins Street, in North Berkeley, still has some openings for fall. My oldest daughter goes there, our youngest will start this fall. We love it and I highly recommend you arrange a visit to see for yourself - Contact Pat Cosgrove, the site director at 510 - 526-2815 or at pcosgrove [at] Happy Gay Austin Family

Hi - I am 90% sure there are still openings in the 3's class at Gay Austin for the fall. I have 2 children there, and we LOVE it. Both my daughter and my son have been very happy there. It's a lovely community with really high quality teachers. Please give Pat a call: 510-526-2815 to ask about the avaiability. mrs.r

Dec 2010

Re: Preschool with lots of part-time students?
We send my son to Gay Austin Preschool, located near Monterey Market, and the majority of the kids attend less than 5 days per week. The program is wonderful, but short (9-12 for 3yos) which sounds like a plus for you. Probably full for the current year, but call soon about getting info on the 4yo program for next year! Gay Austin Mom

Oct 2010

Re: Preschool nap recommendations
Gay Austin in Berkeley would be worth looking into. Their nap period begins at 1:45. They refer to it as ''quiet time'' and are flexible about the fact that some children don't actually sleep at this time. I'm not sure of the details, but I believe they require children to lie or sit quietly for 30 minutes (by state law), and then children are free to go into the yard to play, leaving the sleepers to sleep. Good luck!

Feb 2009

Re: Looking at Gay Austin
Both our children were fortunate enough to attend Gay Austin, which I have to say is an absolutely exceptional school. It is far more than a pleasant place for your children to play and learn social skills with other children -- as a developmental (not academic) preschool with highly trained and experienced teachers, they really understand what children of this age need, and they teach it to them in an appropriate manner. There are all sorts of little details which make the school special. For example, each child is personally greeted at the door by each teacher. ''Good morning, Mary. I'm glad to see you!''

It can be hard for 2-year-olds to separate from their parents. But Gay Austin handles it so well that my slow-to-warm daughter never cried once. On the first day, they have just half the class show up, and parents are encouraged to stay the whole session. This way, the first impression the kids have of the school is not ''that place where I'm left without my mother,'' but ''a fun place I can explore while my mom watches.'' After the second day, parents are allowed to stay as long as they like, but are encouraged to ask their children, ''is it OK if I go now?'' So they completely sidestep separation anxiety. I haven't heard of any other preschool that does this. Most push parents out the door even if their children are crying.

The children are closely supervised at play; the instant a conflict arises, a teacher is there with some pretty sophisticated conflict resolution techniques. Again, this is very different from most other preschools' playgrounds. As a result, the children are very compassionate to each other.

My older daughter, now 13, says this about Gay Austin: ''It's where I learned all sorts of things about being in the world, how to be a good person and get along with other people. Things I learned there are still helpful to me today, and I find it easy to make friends because of habits I formed at Gay Austin.'' Gay Austin parent

Feb 2008

We just got a call that our daughter could come in for an observation at Gay Austin preschool, and that it was likely but not certain that she'd have a place there next fall. Since the observation date is late March, I believe we'll have to accept/decline our other school options before we even get to visit Gay Austin! I've read some old posts that the school is great but really don't have much information to base rejecting our other school choices. I'm just wondering what other parents in this situation experienced, and would love to hear what the program is like, and any other reviews about the teachers, curriculum, or environment there. thanks so much for your help.

Our high energy son is in the 2's class at Gay Austin this year and we are VERY happy with the program. When we first visited for an observation, we were a little concerned that the program was too structured for our taste, but based on all the positive reviews from past and current parents, we selected it. We have been totally thrilled with our decision. Turns out, our son loves the structure (he has trouble with transitions, and knowing what comes next and what is expected of him helps), loves the smallness of it, loves the teachers, and can't wait to go to school. The teachers have so much experience with children and really know how to facilitate their growth. It is a very warm place -- the only downsides are the the hours for working parents, but figuring out how to work around that is worth it. Super Satisfied

Oct 2007

Re: Looking for a small preschool in N. Berkeley
Try ''The Gay Austin School'' on Hopkins in North Berkeley. It sounds like it has everything you are looking for. I have 2 children that went there and loved it! Andrea

August 2006

We're considering the Gay Austin school for our daughter as it's close to our house and has a good reputation. Any recent reviews or experiences? We are looking for a morning program a couple days a week. thanks

You could not find a more joyful school than Gay Austin. My son graduated from that school in June, and I cannot walk by it without crying because it was so great, every single day, and we miss it! The teachers are incredibly creative, smart, and kind. The director is fun-loving and warm. The 4-year olds' class with Mary and Paula was so imaginative I'd have to call it magical. My son has a 100% positive attitude about school after attending Gay Austin. Really, you should turn back the clock and go there yourself! Elisa

Gay Austin School is wonderful! I highly recommend it for its talented, caring teachers and its developmentally appropriate curriculum. Our son just graduated after spending 3 happy years there. Learning is hands-on, fun, thematic. Kids are taught to respect one another. The teachers really know your child. I got teary our last day there, knowing what a wonderful community we were leaving behind and realizing what an important part they had played in helping my son to be a happy, curious, imaginative, healthy child. constance

November 2003

If you are looking for a part time preschool, ie something that is truly a ''school'' program rather than all day child care, you can do no better than Gay Austin. And, as it was said by a previous writer, you CAN extend the day some using the extended day offering in the afternoon. But you can not beat the teachers, the program and its size --- SMALL. Your child will be KNOWN, as will you and your family. Tremendously happy parent. Just waiting for my second to be old enough! dh

March 2003

I am looking for comments on Gay Austin preschool in N. Berkeley. I have read the comments on the website, but they are 2-5 years old and I would like to know if anyone has anything new (either positive or negative) to add - or even if you just want to second what has been said before. We are going to visit the school next week, and it sounds like I will need to make a nearly instantaneous decision because they fill up so quickly, so I would like to get some feedback from other parents.

Our situation is this: my daughter will be 2 1/2 in September and I am looking for a part-time (2 mornings per week) program for her. Gay Austin sounds great from what I have read, but we live in Rockridge, so one of my concerns is that the travel time will be about 20 minutes each way - which does not leave me a lot of time during the short morning. I realize that during her schooltime I can go shopping at Monterey Market, go for a run, or even sit back and read at a cafe... but I fear that I will feel a little trapped on that side of town (and certainly the last thing I want from gaining two mornings to myself is to feel trapped!). Is the school worth it?

For what it's worth, I just learned that the other preschools I was considering will not have space next fall, so I think it will either be Gay Austin or waiting another year. I am not absolutely dead-set on her going to school this year (she will be only 2 1/2, after all) but I mention this in the event it makes a difference in your recommendation of the school and whether it's worth making the trek across town.

We've had two children go through Gay Austin and I highly recommend the school. The teachers are superb, highly trained and loving. Many parents bring their children from some distance away. The comments made on the website are all still true. The program is especially wonderful for 2 year olds, as the director used to specialize in the education of 2 year olds. Few other preschools can compare, especially to the 2's program.

Also, the neighborhood is great! You can take a yoga class, sit in a cafe, go to the park or library, get a massage (in the same block) or walk up to Solano Ave. with its myriad of businesses and activities. I can't see why you would feel ''stuck'' there. (Of course, I'm biased, I live in the area :-)

Finally, Gay Austin has an ''extended day'' program up till 3pm, so if you need extra time to yourself, you can sign up for this program. With a 2, you'll probably find that at first you're on the waiting list, but by the time summer rolls around, you'll have as many days as you want in extended day.

I would jump at the chance to have your kid there. happy parent


I sent my son to Gay Austin school for 2 years (3yr. and 4yr. program). It is a very warm, supportive program, with great teachers. However, you must have flexibility, as they have a very limited after school care program and don't cater much to working parents. I also found that they sometimes had trouble handling boys who are a bit rambunctious (I noticed this even though my own son is the opposite of rambunctious), perhaps, in part, because of their limited yard space and the fact that all of their teachers/admin. are women. They seemed better equiped to work with girls. I now have my son at Step One (not on your list) for their kindergarten program and am more than happy with it (as is my son). If you haven't heard of it, I would highly recommend checking it out too.


I would like to highly recommend Gay Austin Preschool on Hopkins St. in N. Berkeley. Our 2-year-old daughter has been going there for the past year and it's been an absolutely delightful experience.

It's a very small school, with one class of about 10 2-yr-olds, and slightly larger classes for 3-yr-olds and 4-yr-olds. All ages are separate.

Our daughter was very shy when she entered in the fall. However, we got her gradually used to the separation from us and she NEVER cried once when going to school. As a matter of fact if we ask her, she'll always say she wants to go to school. It seems like a different world from what we hear from our friends, whose young children cried for weeks when they started preschool. Over the school year, we've been able to watch our daughter really bloom and get much more comfortable in social situations.

The two teachers in the 2's program have something like 40 years combined experience teaching just 2-year-olds. They are wonderful! One thing I'm particularly impressed with is how much they actually have taught our daughter, in the context of "play". They have a different curriculum every week, everything is all planned out...yet it feels like the kids are just playing. And this includes academic subjects, art and music, and social skills. Our daughter has learned to read all 26 letters, knows a lot of vocabulary and counting, etc. Plus it's great to watch her (away from school) politely stand in line, ask for what she wants very clearly, or cover her mouth when she coughs. They've done a good job civilizing her as well as teaching her, and all this in a free environment where the children play whatever games they want to.

The only drawbacks are: they take long holidays (corresponding to the Berkeley school system vacations) and it's only part-time, offering no hours after 3pm daily. Makes it a little hard for working parents. We've really had to scramble to find a shared childcare situation to cover the remaining work hours at the end of the day and during their breaks. But we feel the quality of the school more than makes up for these drawbacks.

I think they're making their selections for next fall now, so if you're interested in enrolling, you might want to contact the school immediately. Gay Austin Preschool 526-2815. Cecilia

I'm another Gay Austin parent (my daughter is currently in the 3's). I would be happy to answer any questions about our experience for parents who are consider ing this gem of a preschool. Like the other G.A. parent, I am impressed by how much the children learn while having fun. Unlike the other parent, I am a stay at home mom. Still, the inflexible schedule has proved difficult for me as well (first being on bed rest during a pregnancy, now trying to ensure my son gets a nap). We are currently planning for the 4's program in the fall, which brings even worse scheduling problems. The reason st ems from the fact that the school has just two classrooms. In the mornings the 2's and 3's attend from approximately 9-12. There is an optional extended day, consisting of a smaller group of 2 and 3's, from 12-3 in the afternoon; but don' t expect a space in this program, at least not all five days of the week, if you have a two year old. Priority is given to the 3's. The extended day teacher i s wonderful. My daughter loves extended day, probably because of the small grou p and mixed ages. Anyway, because the two classrooms are filled in the mornings , the 4's group attends from 12:30 - 3. One of the two team teachers for this c lass offers an optional morning program at his home, in a cheery "playhouse" in his backyard. He has done a good job designing the playhouse to be familiar, by copying the classroom in many ways. He takes 6 or 7 kids per day, and drives t hem in a van to school. He also takes the children on short visits to neighborh ood parks, and to the Lawrence Hall of Science for weekly science classes (an ex tra fee). I mention all this because when I started my daughter at the school, I wasn't aware of these details, and particularly with the 4's program, I'm havi ng a hard time deciding on a schedule. I do feel its worth the hassle - the sch ool is THAT good. By the time your child is in the 3's, the parents have all co me together, and those veteran parents, the ones with older children who have al ready gone through the school, are extremely helpful. Car pooling, sharing chil d care, group music classes, and group discussions about parents concerns have b een great. I realize I have written a lengthy description of the most problematic aspect of this school. Fortunately for my daughter, as far as she's concerned its all go od and she is thriving at the school, with a great group of children. I highly recommend looking at this school. (and I understand there are few new spaces eac h year for 3 and 4 year olds as well as the 2's) Laura