Griffin Nursery School

Berkeley, CA

No longer in business

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

DSS Facility License #: 
Elizabeth Nachman
(510) 845-2025
griffinschool [at]
South of campus on Prince St.
Maximum Capacity: 
Language(s) Spoken: 
Ages Served: 
36 months - 60 months
Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri
Additional Services & Features: 
Afternoon option
Editors' Notes: 
  • August 2020: Griffin Nursery School has closed its doors after 65 years.
About Our Program: 

Griffin Nursery School, a small, homey preschool in the Elmwood District of Berkeley, has been providing play-based education and care for hundreds of East Bay families since 1955. Please call or e-mail Director Betsy Nachman at (510) 845-2025 or griffinschool [at] We’ll arrange a visit!

Parent Reviews

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I've been hoping to see a local publication pay tribute to this very special Berkeley nursery school that quietly closed during the 2020 pandemic. (So many closed restaurants receive "obituaries," why not an historic nursery school?) Griffin Nursery School should be memorialized as an important and beloved part of Berkeley's family history. It opened in 1955 under Elinor Fitch Griffin, whose teachings and book ("Island of Childhood") should be required reading for anyone interested in early childhood education. My kid, now 10, thrived there when he was small, and even now knows how to manage his social and emotional life because of how he learned to play and engage at Griffin. Many of his classmates' parents themselves went to Griffin. We should thank and celebrate Betsy Nachman, who was a student of Dr. Griffin's and took over the school in 2002, as well as her staff over the years, for their care and unique understanding of young children. Thank you for decades of helping our youngest local residents to achieve a happy and emotionally healthy start to their school lives, and you will be missed in the community. 

We love Griffin! Our son, who is now in his second year, started in a different pre-school which was fine but not a great fit.  We are so grateful to have found Griffin. Betsy is a responsive and visionary leader and every teacher has been skilled, loving, and knowledgeable about child development and relationships. The environment is steeped in thoughtfulness and reflects their philosophy but in a gentle and non-rigid way. We wish we could keep him there forever, and attend ourselves! 

We ADORE Griffin. Our daughter is in her second year there. She would be eligible for TK in the fall, but are keeping her in Griffin for one more year because it's such a wonderful environment. The teachers are amazing, attentive and thoughtful. And they work TIRELESSLY. If we have a question or issue, Betsy will be on the phone with us that night to discuss how our daughter is doing and suggest strategies to help with whatever she's working through. 

Also, and very significantly: they are very laid back and flexible about drop-offs and pickups. I didn't realize how important this is before having a kid in preschool, but now know some places will charge you extra money for every ten minutes you're late. Griffin doesn't do this, and if there's ever a day where you need to bring your child early or have them stay later, they are almost always able to accommodate. 

Most importantly, our daughter LOVES it there. 

Griffin is a wonderful preschool where the director and teachers are so talented at their craft. It's hard to write a short recommendation about Griffin while also feeling it is comprehensive, so I'll summarize into the key reasons it's been such a wonderful experience for us: (1) Betsy the director really understands children and knew how to make our sensitive and shy son feel welcome and quickly confident about school, (2) the teachers are equally as wonderful with the children and have long tenures with Griffin, (3) the space is just right - free flowing indoor/outdoor and covered outdoor area so they can even been outside on rainy days, (4) they limit unnecessary "routines" so the focus is on the children and their social/emotional development, (5) the teachers come up with creative activities for the children to exercise different parts of their brain and bodies (e.g. obstacle courses, cooking/baking, free-form crafts), (6) the communication with the teachers is wonderful, Betsy sends weekly newsletters about what the children experienced during the week, pictures included; and during pick up it's obvious the teachers are all able to speak to my son's experience that day. It has been a great experience for us, and I'd recommend as a top choice. 

And also to clarify a prior post, the starting age is approximately 2 yr. 9 mo.

I would like to whole-heartedly recommend Griffin Nursery School for anyone looking for an extremely safe, caring and thoughtful environment for their child. When my husband and I first visited Griffin, we were both immediately aware of the peaceful atmosphere inside. The children were playing all around but it was not loud. Once we decided to enroll our son there, I realized this peaceful vibe was because Betsy and her team of teachers truly understand the inner world of childhood and listen and respond so genuinely to the children's needs. Our son has been going to Griffin for 2 years now, and it is such a comfort to know how well he has been treated at this school. But our satisfaction does not stop there. While he has been supported there in learning about everything from numbers and letters, to discussing important life questions to basic skills like cooking and sewing, perhaps most importantly, he has been encouraged and able to form an incredible number of friendships with the other children. Before he went to preschool, he was generally uncomfortable around other little kids and was quite leery of social situations in general. However, here again, Betsy's passion for understanding the social world of children at this age is instrumental in creating a supportive environment for positive social experiences. According to her the younger ones play more one-on-one and as they get older they begin to play in groups of three and so on until the children are participating in very constructive bigger group play. My son's experience has been following this pattern and it is really fun to enjoy that process of seeing his social world continue to expand in such a positive way.

I cannot say enough good things about Griffin and Betsy Nachman and her team and would especially recommend it to any parent of a sensitive or shy child.  

Our son has been at Griffin for over a year now and I cannot say enough good things about it.  The level of care and attention to detail at this school is truly unrivaled - Betsy and her team take an obvious joy in the children and clearly care deeply about their well-being.  This is a small school, with a lovely, dedicated team of teachers.  Although it is small, there are a plethora of activities and great care has been put into designing a space that is warm and welcoming, with many different spaces and activities, including a lovely covered outdoor space the children use year-round.  The teachers are very thoughtful about childhood development and nurturing the personal growth of the children and helping them navigate their developing social skills - although it sounds a bit odd, I truly feel that being at Griffin is going to make my son a better, kinder, more thoughtful person!  He loves to go to school, and speaks about missing his teachers and friends during the vacation breaks.  I feel so thankful that I know my son is so well cared for when he is at school, and I'd encourage anyone to consider Griffin, it's a wonderful place.

We're at Griffin Nursery School for my 4 year old in the Pre-K program, but we are loving it there! It is a play-based curriculum with compassionate and warm teachers. We couldn't be happier and plan to send our next one when she's older. The minimum age is 18 months or 2 years, I believe so it's a true preschool, not just a daycare.

I'm writing this review to tell you that only 3 people had ever watched my son before I took him to preschool.  I was extremely nervous to leave him in a group setting for the first time.  But when I met Betsy I knew I could trust her.  I knew from the way she talked to my son that not only did she know how to take care of children, but that it was her passion and life work.  She cares deeply about being there to guide your child from a toddler to a caring, inquisitive child that is ready for the emotional and intellectual challenges of kindergarten.  Words could not thank this woman enough!  

My son has attended Griffin for 2 years. First in the morning program,with the younger children, and then moving on to the afternoon with the older kids. He has loved being there from the first day. He enjoys his interactions with the teachers and has made great friends with the other kids. Each day he is excited to go see his friends and comes home with a big smile. And we can tell he has an active day playing outside and working on art projects inside because he comes home with a little dirt or paint on his fingers. It is the type of activities that helps them burn off some energy and learn to work on things with other kids. It is a very fun and safe environment for kids to learn and play. Our son is already sad knowing his time at Griffin is coming to an end as he will be moving to Kindergarten next school year.

As a parent, we've had a good relationship with Betsy and her staff. She is very responsive to our questions and easy to talk to. Her experience with children and child development is always insightful and helpful for us. 

We would highly recommend Griffin to other families looking for a place for child care.

I'm writing to give Griffin Nursery School -- one of the oldest and most respected preschools in the Bay Area -- the highest recommendation possible. My family and I are evangelical about the place, which is just exceptional.  The director, Betsy Nachmann, knows early childhood like no other, and the approach of the school is so caring and intelligent, while focused on nurturing the children's social and emotional development. 

My kids had been at another preschool that was not a good fit.  We knew we wanted a small school that would give them the attention, freedom of movement, and care that they needed, without the chaos of some of the larger play-based preschools that we visited.  We searched high and low for a place that nurtured the whole child and Griffin stood out above all others.  Our children have blossomed there, under the guidance of the staff and Betsy. The school is so well conceived.  It's located in a quaint arts and crafts bungalow in the Elmwood neighborhood of Berkeley.  Children can decide whether to be inside or outside.  The children have all sorts of objects to engage with and a very large sand area to dig.  The staff encourage the kids' natural curiosity with fantastic projects, taking their cues from the interests of the children.  The teachers are all highly experienced and very tuned into the worlds of the children around them.  The staff pay close attention to the dynamics going on between the students and where each child seems to be growing and developing (and how to help them along in the process).  Griffin stresses the individuality and development of each child and helps the child develop their own internal moral compass and foster their curiosity and engagement with other children and the wider world.

Betsy is a tremendous resource in her own right and very responsive to the needs of the families at the school.  Griffin also has a lovely community of parents.

The Griffin Nursery School website is full of information about the school's philosophy, which is outstanding.  You could do no better than send your kids there.

Happy Parent

Griffin is everything we could have hoped for in a preschool, and more. I found the preschool search process to be stressful and frustrating, until we started talking to Betsy and the team at Griffin. They are friendly, responsive, professional, direct, flexible, and fun. Since joining the community at Griffin, I’ve learned a lot about my 3-year-old and about myself. I appreciate the way the teachers put children first, focus on learning through play, help kids follow their individual strengths and encourage them to be independent and capable young people (like composting lunch scraps, communicating feelings and needs, learning to play with others, and toilet and handwashing practice). They welcome participation from parents and caregivers, and offer many chances for family bonding, as well as providing parenting support resources. My son has really come into his own lately, and I’m sure the nurturing support of his teachers and friends at Griffin are a big part of that. And, as other reviewers have mentioned, you can’t beat the indoor/outdoor play setup and the variety of activities available for the kids to explore in a cozy, comfortable space. I wish I could spend my mornings at Griffin school, too.

The top 5 reasons to send your child to Griffin:

5. Convenience. It is centrally-located to public transit. Parking is easy. Hours are flexible. 

4. Safety. The school is safe. Equipment is in good working order. The bathrooms are clean. The school has an amazing janitor who ensures everything is tidied and in its place when your child returns the next morning.

3. The covered, heated, outdoor play area. Consider this: when it is cold, and raining, all. winter. long, do you really want your child cooped up inside, with no place to burn of her extra energy? No, no you do not. Send your child to Griffin, and your child can run and jump and dig sand holes in the large, outside, covered play area all winter long.

2. Betsy, Sara, Harnaam, Chris. These teachers compliment each other so well. They are kind. They are observant. They are funny. They constantly have new, different, activities/experiments/ideas that keep your child active and engaged. They answer your child's 10,000 "why" questions.  They keep noses clean, and sand out of shoes (mostly).

1. The community. (What a hippy dippy Berkeley thing to say, right?) Did you hate mom-groups or dad-groups when your child was born, because you could never find "your people"? Do you eschew play dates because ugh, who wants to make small talk with random parents? Am I projecting here? Probably. But fear not: Griffin has great students, and those students have cool, low-maintenance parents. You might actually make new adult friends! (I KNOW). Your child will certainly find his or her people. 

Griffin Nursery School is the preschool that we sent both of our children to.  The Griffin community was, and remains a wonderful part of our family's early years.  The director, Betsy provided an engaging experience for the students and we felt very satisfied as parents. Our children were always well cared for, understood and supported as they navigated friendships and separation from home.  Betsy, is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to child development and consistently kept the school child centric and allowed them to slow down and PLAY. They dug in sand, played with water, made artwork, built stores and performed concerts.  As an educator myself, I respected the fact that the school was for the children, not there to wow parents with cute, perfect projects. The schedule worked perfectly for our family, and was flexible with families that needed more care. The supporting teachers are warm and welcoming, each bringing their own expertise to the environment (story telling, yoga, music, sewing).   Betsy was honest and open to us as parents and painted a true representation of our child's experience at school.  She modified the program as she saw fit, giving some of the older students more challenge and responsibility when they needed it.  Although the space appears small at first, the children move in and out with ease and on their own schedule.  When my son, one of many energetic boys that year needed more space to run they started taking walks to the park.  And they have SWINGS!  Where do you see swings anymore?  We remain close with many of the families we met at Griffin and our kids play and thrive together because they learned how to play safely at school. We encourage you to check Griffin Nursery out when you are making your preschool decisions.  We are happy to speak with anyone who has questions as well!

Griffin is the best thing that ever happened to us!  After 3 unsuccessful daycare/preschool programs, we were really nervous to try a 4th.  We told Betsy (the director) about our history and her response was "he sounds independent and self-motivated to me."  I laughed a little inside and thought "she hasn't met our son."  Now we know that she was SO right!

We have a very active, outgoing, loud, imaginative and awesome preschooler.  He is extremely big for his size, he's Black and has two moms.  So our past includes some hard to pinpoint prejudices.

However, this is all behind us thanks to Griffin Nursery School.  We feel that the director and the teacher see our son for who he truly is.  They only see strengths and celebrate them.  We have only heard them say wonderful and loving things about our son.  

The first time our son was there for his site visit, we didn't want to leave.  I told him it was time to leave and he said, "ok, bye mama."  I was shocked because he always cried hysterically in the past at other programs.  He instantly had a connection to the school and felt so safe there from the start.

What works for him: 
1. The indoor and outdoor space.  He chooses when to be inside and when to be outside, and there's very little rules around coming inside.  Our son needs a lot of outdoor time and it's heaven for him to go out there where he wants.
2. Independent lunch.  The kids eat when they want.  When they are hungry.  There's no lunch time.  Our son is not a big fan of "circle time" and lunchtime was always hard because it's basically circle time but with food and with lots of rules. He loves the independence of choosing his meal time.
3.  Sand, sand, sand.  Half of the school yard is sand and they also have a sand pit.  This helps with his sensory play.  He's constantly digging.  
4. Water play.  In the yard the school collects rain water into a big jug with spout.  He loves playing with the water ALL DAY.  Most days he gets so wet they change him.  And they don't mind.
5. Teachers.  WOW! Never met so many people with such patience and calmness.  Nothing gets to them.  It's all normal and OK.  You'd think going into a room full of preschoolers would be chaos, but GNS never is chaos.  It feels like a retreat.  The kids are calm because the teachers are calm.  Yet they are having fun, playing and talking.
6. Play structure.  They have a brilliant climbing structure that makes imagination play flow.  The other day I flew "the airplane over the bay".  Awesome!

What works for us:  The director and the teachers are easy to talk to.  They tell you great things about your kid, what they currently like, who they are currently interested in.  And they give great suggestions for playdates to build bonds with other kids.  It's so encouraging and helpful to get this feedback.

Griffin is such a great school.  Their strength in providing the kids with strong social and emotional development is more than we could have ever wished for.

We have been sending our 3 year-old to Griffin Nursery School this past year and love it. It is a play-based school with focus on emotional and social development. There is a structured circle time as well.

Teachers are the best and the most experienced in the field. Betsy, the director, for instance, has devoted her whole adult lifetime to teaching and nurturing those who are fortunate enough to have been in her presence.

Having worked in several preschools myself all over the country, I have seen many operate and this school is the among the best of the best.

My two (now 17 and 21) went to the wonderful Griffin Nursery School in Berkeley (near Alta  Bates) -- it's a magical small, nurturing, play-based school that's all about social-emotional development and building on kids' curiosity.  The kids can move freely between the inside and outside spaces.  The teachers provide opportunities for activities and projects throughout the day, but they also pay attention to what the kids are working on and then build on that.  For example there was a stretch where my daughter and friends were building a stage and putting on a production of the nutcracker (not for the parents or anything -- this all happened during the school day, and it went on for weeks).  I loved that school so much!!!

We have been so happy with Griffin Nursery School. Our daughter has been there this past year in their morning program (3 year olds) and will continue next year in their afternoon program (4 year olds) with some mornings added. The teaching staff are truly gifted. Doris, Betsey, and Tina make an amazing team with each teacher offering their unique talents to my daughters education (or rather guidance). I have been impressed with how clear they are with maintaining a manageable school environment. I have never seen them understaffed and they are very clear that students who are not ready to thrive in the school environment are asked to wait to enter the school. This protocol guarantees that Griffin is a calm and nurturing environment for everyone. My daughter has never not wanted to go to Griffin and when Sunday night comes along, she gets very excited for her return to Griffin on Monday morning. I think that says everything.

Tucked off Telegraph Avenue, in a little old-fashioned schoolhouse with a sweet, serene outdoor space, Griffin Nursery School is a haven for preschoolers and their parents. Griffin's structure is mostly play-based with just a tiny bit of group structure and a strong focus on social and emotional well-being. I can't recommend it highly enough. Even our somewhat intense little guy -- who at first did not share our interest in preschool -- leaves for kindergarten this week excited about going to school. He has learned how to express himself clearly and respectfully with other kids and adults; how to approach others in play and make friends; how to listen and feel good about learning, challenges and structured activities; and how to stick up for himself as well as how to apologize. I wish he could stay there forever, but thanks to the confidence Griffin teachers have imparted, he smiles and tells me he's ready for kindergarten now, mama! Future Griffin families should feel very lucky.
grateful/sad to leave

Griffin is the perfect, sweet school for any preschooler! If you are searching for a preschool for your child, I definitely recommend you go see it in person. We fell in love with Griffin immediately, and our appreciation and love for it has only grown over the years. Our 6 year old attended Griffin for 3 years, and our 3 year old is currently entering his 2nd year.

I've read other posts that say Griffin is like stepping back in time, and I think that's the perfect description. It has a small, intimate feel while managing to have lots of open, well thought out spaces created just for the imaginative preschool mind. There is lots of outdoor space, including a jungle gym, sandbox, art and digging/building areas, and two large open areas. Much of the outdoor space is covered and can be used all year long, rain or shine. The indoor area is open and spacious and always well organized and clean.

The teachers, lead by director Betsy Nachman, are all incredibly kind and nurturing. I cannot say enough about how amazing they have been to our boys over the years! Although Griffin is a child led program, allowing each child to figure out his or her own interests and move freely throughout the school day, the teachers are always actively engaged.

We love Griffin!!!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Oct 2015

RE: Seeking a small, warm, play-based preschool

I highly recommend Griffin Nursery School. It is a lovely, play-based pre-school that provides our little ones with the opportunity to play and explore and grow. The director, Betsey Nachman is so incredibly thoughtful about the needs of 3,4 and 5 year olds. She and all of the teachers are particularly attuned to their social and emotional needs. There is a nice outdoor space that has some covering as well as heat so that the kids can go outside in any weather. My son spent two years there and flourished. My daughter is there now and is so excited about school. It's really special. It is on Prince, right at Telegraph in south Berkeley. Good luck in this process! Feel free to email me if you have any questions about the school. leigh 

Jan 2015

Re: Playbased preschool for next year?

Though they do not offer full day care, we LOVE Griffin Nursery School. Our daughter started at 2 y/o (3 in November) and has really thrived. The school is play based, and really focuses on the emotional and social growth of the kids. There is a lot of ''structured'' freedom, kids can eat whenever they are ready, play inside or out, choose crafts, dress up play, etc.

Teachers are great, and there is a great network of parents.
Happy Griffin Mom

May 2014

Re: PT Half Day Preschool Fall 2014 for 2.5 yo

Dear Meghan, You should take a look at Griffin Nursery School in Berkeley (Elmwood neighborhood). They offer a 3-morning per week enrollment (8:30am-12pm). Our daughter is finishing her first year there and we love it. We were also looking for Reggio Emilia, and though they don't specifically state this philosophy in their literature, they do mirror the basic tenants of the philosophy ie encouraging a child's specific interests. It is a very play-based school with an emphasis on social development/relationship building, and the children are free to play inside or venture out to the beautiful back yard/patio/play area whenever they please. The teachers are all wonderful, and I know there are a couple openings for this fall. celeste

May 2014

I was lucky to stumble upon this preschool gem in 2008. Both my daughters have attended this wonderful school. It is intimate, loving and playful, with a focus on social and emotional development. The school itself is the perfect size with indoor and outdoor play areas, on a quiet street close to Whole Foods on Telegraph. There are no Disney products or similar toys in the school. The Director, Betsy Nachman, and the other teachers help kids feel safe to explore, play, learn and negotiate the challenges of social interaction. Conflicts are talked out with the aid of a teacher. Kids learn about nature, self-reliance and many other subjects as well. Both of my daughters knew the alphabet and much more before launching into kindergarten. I feel privileged that my daughters were able to start their independent lives in this amazing and supportive setting. Feel free to contact me with any questions. jb

May 2014

We have friends who used to live up the street from Griffin Nursery School. I remain so thankful that they passed along word-of-mouth recommendations about the school to me, for I would never have found this magical little place to send my kids.

What you see is what you get with Griffin school. You walk into this lovely, calm space where every child is happily doing the work of children -- they are playing. At first I was taken aback. Compared to my kids' previous preschool school, a colorful, bright, and buoyant place, Griffin could not be more subdued. The interior is a kind of mellow green, the teachers are all engaged with the children -- talking slowly and calmly. Griffin is not a frenetic place, it is not a place where chaos reigns. Rather, it is a place where kids can explore, develop friendships, learn to get along with one another, work on gross and fine motor skills, and truly be listened to.

The teachers pay very close, loving attention and they know what children need and want. I love that their outdoor space includes a large covered and heated area so that kids who need physical activity can play outside during the rainy winter months. I love that my girls have been taught to speak up for themselves and that Griffin pays close attention to teaching them how to communicate, be confident, and get along with others. (Isn't that really what's most important in life?) I love that my kids love school and that their disappointment over the weekend fades to Sunday night glee in anticipation of seeing their teachers and friends on Monday.

We loved this school so much, in fact, that we paid for an extra year of preschool rather than send our kids to transitional kindergarten. They're only little for such a small amount of time and we feel that we couldn't have found a better place to let them be children. Griffin is a truly gem. It comes with my highest recommendation. 2012-2014 parent

April 2014

My 3-year-old has been attending Griffin Nursery School since September 2013 and we love it! When my husband and I visited, we were instantly enchanted by the magical atmosphere of the small converted bungalow that houses the school. Established in the 1950s, Griffin still retains much of its *classic nursery school* character -- wooden toys, or Fisher Price classics, authentic play kitchen, adorable tables/chairs for creative arts projects... The three morning teachers (Betsey, Tina, & Doris) are all wonderful with the children and take the time to really get to know each individual child. It is a play-based preschool with an emphasis on building relationships and developing social skills and the staff is extremely skilled in helping children deal with the little emotional crises they go through on a daily basis (sharing, not getting what they want, not being able to express themselves). I especially love how the kids can go outside to the back patio/play yard anytime they want. Outside time was one of my top priorities so I was thrilled about this option. The outdoor area is filled with fun activities, with something to discover in every little corner. At the end of the day the kids gather together for circle time where the teachers lead them in music, dance, story time or other cute creative group play activities. I loved peeking in the window one day at pick-up time and seeing them all playing spoons and singing ''we all live in a yellow submarine.'' Griffin is a wonderful school and I'm so grateful my daughter has the opportunity to spend her early-childhood there. celeste

April 2014

I would like to shine a little light on The Griffin Nursery School in Elmwood. It is such a sweet, nurturing school! My son is 3.5 and in his first year there and we just feel so lucky to have found it (through recommendations). We looked at some other, quite popular schools and just felt that this was the place for our son. He is a sensitive, artistic little guy and the school is so warm and welcoming and nurturing that he has felt comfortable since day one (okay so he cried when I dropped him off for a few days but as soon as I left, he LOVED it). The teachers are all wonderful. There is a real emphasis on social/emotional growth - something that is just so important for these little ones. My son has really come out of his shell there and is interested in so many new things. The kids can move from outside to inside as they wish - the outside is really special and has a covered, heated area so the kids can be outside year round. The inside has several different little areas and nooks and feels so welcoming. I'm just continually impressed by the quality of care and attention to these little people. I cannot recommend this school highly enough! A very happy Mama of a Griffinite

April 2014

My daughter is coming to the end of her second year at Griffin Nursery School and I have watched her soar into the most amazing little person during her time here. I know the care and attention she gets from the wonderful teachers at Griffin has helped in making her the confident little person she is today. They are so caring, attentive, creative, and always helpful. They make time for any questions or concerns parents may have and really work with the kids if they need it. You can tell they take their roles in the kids' lives seriously and care for them very much. The school itself is quaint and has a wonderful mix of activities, such as, role playing, building, crafts, and many other things. They have a sweet little room that they call the waving room, a quiet space with a comfortable chair and a window that opens up so that they kids can wave goodbye to their parents. One of my favorite parts of the morning was seeing my daughter wave and blow kisses then jump down to go play with her little friends. They have a wonderful mostly shady backyard that the kids have free access too. There's a sand area, a play structure, a little cabin to play in, a garden, as well some water play. Recently, a hummingbird made a nest in the backyard and the kids got to witness the process of the babies leaving the nest. The teachers gathered the kids around and and asked each one what they wished for the birds as they said goodbye to them. I was so moved by this, and think it speaks volumes about the wonderful teachers my daughter is so lucky to spend her time with. If you're looking for a warm, nurturing, creative and fun place for your little one, look no further than Griffin Nursery School. anonymous

April 2014

I cannot say enough about Griffin. We feel so lucky to have discovered this sweet school and highly recommend it. Our 5 1/2 year old is nearing the end of his third year at Griffin, and our 2 1/2 year old will be starting there in the fall. Here are just some of the things that make Griffin a special place to send your child:

- The schoolhouse itself is leaps and bounds better than any other small school we visited. It has the feeling of quaint intimacy without feeling cramped and overcrowded like many of the other small schools in the area. Griffin has an open floor plan inside that always manages to stay organized. Everything is designed specifically for the preschool aged child.

- The outdoor space is phenomenal. Half of it is covered, so kids can play outside all year round no matter the weather.

- The teachers are all incredibly loving, caring and nurturing. I can't say enough about them. Longtime director Betsy Nachman puts her heart and soul into making Griffin the very best school it can be year after year. She is not only amazing with the kids, but is equally kind and communicative with parents. She is always available for meetings by phone or in person for any issues that may arise, big or small.

- Griffin is a play-based and child-directed program where children learn how to negotiate relationships, explore and thrive. I worried my son might not be stimulated enough in this environment at first, but the opposite is really true. The Griffin website does a great job of describing their philosophy, which you can read about here:

- The unique schedule was my biggest concern when starting at Griffin, but it has ended up being one of its greatest attributes. The schedule is very flexible. You can really create a schedule that works best for you and your child. The 3 year olds attend 8:30 AM - 12:00 PM any combination of days of the week Mon-Fri , and this can be extended to 8:00 AM - 1:00 PM if needed. Children ages 4 - 5 yrs attend the afternoon program Mon - Thu 1:00 - 5:00 PM with the option to extend a full day. My son has extended days twice a week, which he loves. When there are enough ''big kids,'' they go on all kinds of nature and exploration walks.

I promise if you visit Griffin you will fall in love with it immediately too! Sara H

Feb 2014

I often get asked where my son goes to preschool and have come to realise that Griffin has to be one of the best kept pre-school secrets in the Bay Area because very often parents have not heard of it. If they have we spend 10 minutes raving about how wonderful Betsy and her team are. There is a tendency, regardless of the subject, to like the thing you chose and to feel that you must have made the best choice, but in the case of Griffin it really is one of those special places where I feel that objectively it just is the best. The school is small, but that means that children (particularly boys) don't get sent outside to burn off energy for the sake of it. Instead the teachers use the smallish space they have brilliantly and creatively. Compared to the other program we have experienced (ECEP at UC Berkeley) there is no staff turnover, no massive bureaucracy in which your child gets lost, and a small group of children whom your child can get to know.

When I drop my son off in the morning (who by the way loves to go, wants to rush out the door), I want to stay myself because Betsy, Tina and Doris are so calm and sweet, listening to the ramblings of my son and finding something he wants to do rather than trying to fit him into something that they want him to do!

Anyway, I obviously can't recommend it highly enough. Don't be put off because it's not big and fancy. It is awesome.

Oh, one other thing, at ECEP we had to pay an additional $120 per program for music lessons, where someone from Music together came and played a guitar and sung songs. Guess what? Betsy plays the guitar and sings songs and you don't pay extra - cause that's one of the things that good pre-school teachers do right? Make music with kids! Griffin convert

Dec 2013

Re: Preschool near Albany for highly sensitive child

As a parent of a child who was highly-sensitive/extremely shy in preschool and elementary school, I know what you are experiencing. I had to pull my daughter out of her first preschool because it was overwhelming to her. What I found very frustrating about her first preschool is that the teachers didn't do anything to help her adjust. They just let her stand there. I eventually put her in the Griffin School, which is on Prince Street in Berkeley. It's very small, and and old-school type nursery school. It was all about social interactions. The teachers were great in terms of supporting my daughter socially. She's now a thriving middle schooler. Anonymous

Dec 2013

Re: Recently moved and no space in preschool!

Welcome to Berkeley! Have you had a look at Griffin Nursery School? If not, I highly recommend it. My first born, now a first grader went there and I can not even begin to tell you what a wonderful foundation it was for him. It is a child-led, play-based gem that has been around since the 50's and few people know about it. The classroom is calm and you'll notice that there is no shouting or chaos. The teachers physically kneel down to the children's level when speaking to them and they speak to them with respect and genuine concern. At Griffin, children aren't told that they have to share. They are instead fed the social cues, ''Who had the toy first''? ''Well Thomas, why don't you ask Jenny if you can play with it when she is finished using it''? ''Is that alright with you, Jenny? What would you like to say to Thomas''? You get the picture.

At Griffin the teachers play more of a role of facilitators. Deacon and Jeffrey will find Rose (who is the outdoor teacher) to ask her for bungee cord to make their water tubes channel the water under the sand tunnels. It is just a fabulous learning environment. The children learn how to relate to one another, they learn by doing and they determine how. If the children want to ''write'' books, a teacher will set up a workstation and help the children sort out what supplies would work best. The children determine which room they'd like to play in and they can go outside at any time (even on rainy days). Children are allowed to just imagine, create, and relate on a very human level. I strongly recommend looking into Griffin for your little girl if you haven't already. Mama to a Griffinite

July 2013

My second son will be entering his second year at Griffin in the fall. His older brother also attended Griffin 2 years from 2010-2012. We could not be happier with Griffin. My first son was introverted, very unassertive and quiet before he started pre-school. He blossomed beautifully at Griffin socially and artistically in their play-based, unstructured creative curriculum. He loved going to school; he gained confidence, leadership skills, self-direction and made great friends there. My younger son, with a much different personality, is also thriving. While he is much more social, he is learning boundaries, resolving conflicts, and learning empathy and compassion. He, too, loves his days there. The intimate facility size, the lovely teachers, and resources are just right for little ones, and we especially loved the free access to the exterior for our boys. My only comments, while I do not see them necessarily as negative, are that the lack of much structure (other than circle time) made the kindergarten transition a little difficult for our older son; and since there doesn't seem to be much of a track record for kids going to private schools afterwards, we had mixed luck getting our son accepted into private schools even with Betsy's glowing recommendation. Ultimately, however, my older son was accepted into what was probably our first choice private school (a Spanish immersion school) and did do well his kindergarten year. Even with that, we really value that kids should play as much as possible at that age and we wouldn't have changed a thing about his pre-school experience. happy Griffin parents of 2

May 2013

Re: Preschools in Southeast Berkeley

Welcome to the East Bay! The Le Conte/South Berkeley/Elmwood neighborhood is lovely. There are 5 pre-schools that I know about in our neighborhood: Sheffield Preschool, Model School, Higher Reach Learning, Heart's Leap and Griffin Nursery School. My son attended Griffin which is a sweet, little pre-school that is playbased and outdoor oriented (children have access to a outdoor space year round). The teachers are excellent, caring, and emotionally supportive of the children's growth and unfoldment. From your description of what you are wanting, Griffin would be an excellent match. You can read reviews on Berkeley Parents network and find out more or better yet just call Betsy Nachman the Director/Teacher who is awesome. Susan

June 2013

I noticed that there are not a lot of recent reviews of Griffin Nursery School and I am writing to wholeheartedly recommend it! It's a true gem of a school in Berkeley. The lead teacher, Betsy, has a true gift with children. It's a peaceful, joyous place - kids are so happy, nurtured, and loved there. It's a play based program with an emphasis on social and emotional growth - so kids are learning to play together with gentle guidance and support. And, the kids just love it. The play is so imaginative and full. I could see my son's whole body getting totally into the world they were creating. It was a joy to be there and we miss it. I highly recommend checking it out - it's a special place. There are not many others like it. missing Griffin

March 2013

Re: Griffin Preschool vs. Heart's Leap
I can only speak to Griffin preschool which was wonderful for all three of my children. There is structure to the day and the kids do need to change activities and transition at certain points during the morning or afternoon schedule. My son often had a difficult time with transitions and the Griffin staff were thoughtful about working with him and helping him (and me!) identify that this was his challenge. He often had a hard time giving up the fun he was having (usually legos or outside digging and sand play) to come in, but with their help he learned to do it smoothly and without a fuss. I can't say enough good things about Betsy and all of the staff we have known and loved at Griffin. It is a truly wonderful and special place for children. All three of my children have beloved memories of Griffin.

Jan 2013

My 2.5 year old will be starting preschool next fall and we love The Griffin Preschool (and Monteverde and Hearts Leap). My only concern is that my child is a big napper and I can't imagine that she won't be at age 4. Have any other parents had to figure this out at The Griffin Preschool? Since the 3's go in the morning, it won't be an issue for another year, but I don't want to commit for two years if the schedule won't work in the second year. My other question for you Griffin parents is how it felt to have your 4's go in the afternoon? Any thoughts/feelings/advice about Griffin (or preschool in general) is welcome! Thanks so much. Mom of napper

My daughter now, 4.5 will graduate Griffin and enter K this year and my second daughter will be entering Griffin this fall. I had the same worries you did about napping. My first daughter was an avid napper (so is my 2nd for that matter) and I worried about losing this nap her second year. It, however, was a total non issue. She was really ready at that time to drop her nap. I could tell because if she did nap, she'd stay up waaaaay past her bedtime because she just simply wasn't tired. At the beginning of the year I used to nap her on Fridays or the weekend if I needed a break or thought she needed it, but we've dropped that altogether. I love the schedule and it completely makes sense for the age, although it may seem hard now to see how it could work, it will
Happy Griffin Mommy (and kid)- maybe we'll see you there in the fall!

My 4 year old daughter is thriving at Griffin Nursery School and I highly recommend it. The environment there is nurturing and supportive. Betsy really has a knack for hiring caring and sensitive staff. They all seem to know just when to give support without overwhelming the kids. The kids are given the tools to learn how to interact and deal with themselves as well as others. There is a strong emphasis on social skills and a sense of freedom to expand themselves. They have the best wooden toys and they make great use of the space. All the children seem at home there. They are given time and space, and the love and direction to bloom. Betsy has a knowledgeable and sensitive approach to parenting that is inspiring. Magali

Nov 2012

Hello, I've checked the archives and haven't found any recent reviews of Griffin Nursery School in Berkeley. Does anyone have any feedback, both positive and negative? Thanks! alex

Hi, I just looked at the most recent reviews for Griffin Nursery School (2011), and I would say they are still relevant and current, thoughtful and accurate. In fact, the school is one of the most established, consistently excellent early childhood programs around. I have a 10 year old and a 5 year old who both went to Griffin (as recently as 8/12), so we have enjoyed a number of years at this very special school. I feel so fortunate that my children got to experience such a nurturing environment that also challenged them to grow and thrive socially, emotionally and intellectually. Many educators and psychologists send their children to Griffin, which is testimony to their deep understanding of early childhood development and the respect they receive in the professional community. When I first saw the school I wondered if the physical space was too small, but it turned out to be just right. The spaces are beautifully designed and allow children to explore while at the same time feeling safe and secure. I was also always impressed at how tidy everything is kept--it's visually calming for the children that things are kept neat, but the space is also kept clean and hygienic--important for little ones (these things can't be taken for granted)! Betsy is a blessing, and all the teachers we have known there have been highly skilled, emotionally astute, kind individuals. It's idyllic, really. (If you couldn't find the 2011 reviews: Grateful Griffin Alum Family

Oct 2011

Re: intimate play-based preschool

Look at Griffin nursery school in south Berkeley. It's a very sweet place all of your criteria would be met I think except that they don't do a lot of community building. But my son was very peaceful and happy there. It's very special! Kelley

Sept 2011

Re: Relocating to the Bay Area, looking for a walkable neighborhood

If you are still looking for a preschool you should definitely be in touch with Betsy at Griffin Nursery School. I just saw on the website that she's still looking for girls in the morning program. We've been delighted by Griffin in the year that we've been there. The teachers at Griffin are warm and deeply experienced. I feel like I learn from them all the time (and I've spent a good chunk of my adulthood studying how kids learn!) When I share a behavior that I am trying to resolve with my son, their answers often surprise me (in a good way!), and help me think about the issue from his perspective in ways I could not have otherwise. It's such a safe and sweet setting, really very charming. We found it easily, since our close friends had sent their kids there and were very happy with it, but some of the parents of our son's Griffin-friends checked out many other preschools and at least two of them have emphasized to me how lucky we were to find our way to this special place. The big trick is that kids only go for half a day the first year, and in the second year you can add extra hours, but I think it's worth it to figure out other childcare for the rest of the time you need. And yes it's not the co-op I'd always hoped we'd join once we had kids (we're in South Berkeley and I didn't want to spend so much time commuting to preschool, but I can understand your interest!), and I don't know what being in a co-op is like, but I think this is as close as you are going to get outside of a co-op. Maminka

August 2011

Griffin Nursery School is an excellent preschool. Betsy, the director and head teacher, has a rare and wonderful ability to communicate and facilitate interactions with young children. Both my boys have attended the school. They have been nurtured, honored, challenged, and engaged by the entire staff. The facility is also quite special: it is a house transformed into a school layout with a gorgeous backyard (with play structures, gardens, swings, etc). I feel very lucky to have found this school and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a traditional, play-based preschool. Robyn

July 2011

Our son is finishing his first year at Griffin Nursery School in south Berkeley. We looked at a number of preschools very carefully before deciding on Griffin and we are extremely happy with our choice. I (mom) am a child psychologist and had heard from colleagues over the years that Griffin was a very special place, and this has proven to be true. Griffin excels at understanding and supporting preschoolers' emotional and social growth and development. From our first visits to Griffin, the director's sensitivity and attunement to our son's emotional state enabled her to respond to him in a very nuanced way, knowing when to move back a few steps, when he needed a transitional object to help him leave, helping him put words to his feelings, etc. In terms of socialization, the focus seems to go way beyond turn taking and conflict resolution to helping the children relate in a way that fosters the building of friendships.

Many schools purport to have an emergent curriculum, and my sense is that Griffin had one before that term was even around. The school is small enough and well staffed enough with talented and creative teachers that they can really elaborate the children's interests. For example, our son had a particular interest in music and instruments; many times when I picked him from school up I learned that one of the teachers had either brought in unusual instruments from home, had worked with the children to "build" a piano using a painted standard board and black tape for the keys, or had worked on a rap song following a child's initiation. And that was on top of the regular music curriculum offered by the school. Another example of the school's sensitivity and individualized attention: At one parent-teacher conference we were given a transcription one teacher had made of conversations between our son and his friend, in order to give us a sense of his language development and a window into what he had been working on at school. In addition, the staff was very sensitive and responsive when our son had a medical issue which required intervention during school hours. The teachers came early to school one day to be trained by a medical professional and then carried out the treatment once per nursery school day for many weeks.

Betsy Nachman, the Director, is a gem. She has tremendous expertise and experience with early childhood development. She has a very warm, calm, patient, and caring presence and is always available to parents. When I had some concerns about my son's development early on she listened carefully, did not dismiss my concerns but was also very containing, gave me her perspective on what might be going on, invited me to come in and observe, etc. All of the teachers are wonderful and have their own strengths. Our son has formed a relationship with each of them. We can't recommend Griffin highly enough. Happy Griffin parents

June 2011

I am a parent of a five-year-old who is finishing her second year at Griffin Nursery School. My husband and I have been delighted with this play-based school. What stands out the most to us about it is the way it teaches children about relationships with their peers. The staff excels at giving the children both the space and support they need to learn about how to express themselves and also listen to others, how to be flexible in their friendships. We have also felt supported and guided in our development as parents at Griffin. All of the teachers at the school have modeled for us helpful tools, such as fostering dialogue between children if a conflict emerges so they can begin to find their own solutions, setting healthy limits in a loving, firm way, and setting up a system in which children's innate quest for independence is supported (for example, I have seen my daughter find a sign to put by her food when stepping away for a moment to let others know she was not yet done eating). We have always appreciated how our daughter has been seen for who she is as an individual by all the staff members, and supported just where she is and in the unique ways she needs to grow. This attentiveness to each individual child begins even before the first day of school when Betsy Nachman, the director, visits each family's home. Betsy has the rare gift of being an excellent communicator with both children and adults, and she is a thoughtful liaison between the children, the staff, and the parents. We cannot recommend Griffin highly enough. Krista

Feb 2011

Re: Oakland/Berkeley Preschools with Caring Teachers

I have had three children attend Griffin Nursery School in Berkeley. The staff there is outstanding and they have had very little teacher turnover in the eight(!) years that we have been attending. Parents drive there from as far as Lafayette and Kensington because the director, Betsy Nachmann is so warm and caring. Teacher Rose is fantastic. All three of my kids have very different personalities and each had a super experience. I have looked at other nursery schools over the past few years (seeking something closer to home) but realized I wouldn't change if you covered our tuition somewhere else. Happy mama

Oct 2008

Re: Afternoon Preschool Programs

Griffin Nursery School in Berkeley has an afternoon program for the 4 year olds. Three year olds attend mornings. 4 year olds have the option of attending all day. A handful attend full days 1-2 days/week. Very few attend full time every day. A great place. Happy Griffin parent

Sept 2008

Re: Any openings at your kid's great preschool?
Try giving Griffin Nursery School a call. I believe there might be a last minute spot available. South of Cal campus. Great place. In our second year

July 2008

Re: need a preschool for my twins

Hi My daughter spent two years at Griffin nursery school. She is now starting second grade. I think Griffin is a wonderful place. The teachers are well trained, smart, thoughtful and kind. There is minimal scheduling and regimentation. The children have access to both inside play areas and outside play areas at all times. There is always at least one teacher inside and another outside to welcome the children and engage them. The kids have a lot of autonomy to pick wha

t interests them. They have free access to their lunch boxes throughout the day and a teacher available to invite their friends to join them at the table. My daughter loved Griffin and still remembers it fondly. When I was choosing a preschool I remember thinking that it was the only preschool that I personally would have wanted to stay and spend the day in. The children seem focused, engaged, (mostly) calm and happy. I'm sure your kids will love Griffin if you can make their schedule work for you. It is a classic nursery school with a morning schedule for the younger ones and an afternoon schedule for four year olds. If you are wondering specifically about how the school would handle separation, I suggest you call the director, Betsy, and ask her directly. I think you will find the school to be as she describes it. Good luck. nostalgic Griffin parent

January 2006

Re: Preschools that value guidance and humor

Hello, I would definitely visit Griffin Preschool in Berkeley, South of Campus on Prince Street, just off Telegraph Avenue. Wonderful teachers. Play based, but the curriculum is socialization which is so important. It is play based but the children are directed in their play and negotiation skills day to day. The environment is calming for parents as well as children. They are empowered knowing they have choices in their day at school, a very special place away from home. They are listened to and known as little people, not merely shuttled from project to project in a day. Call to schedule a visit, you will surely be impressed. A very happy Griffin parent

Feb 2005

I was looking for some feedback on Griffin preschool. Specifically what the transition from such a play-based program to a more academic Kindergarten program, like Bentley, was like. Thank you.

Griffin is a wonderful preschool. I think it prepares children to enter any type of kindergarten program. At Griffin the teachers respect each child's own learning process and believe that children learn through playing. But, my child frequently writes length books as part of her playing! I believe that preschool is a time for children to explore, play and form friendships. The teachers at Griffin are wonderful at supporting a child in these endeavors. It's a warm, safe school with wonderful materials for children.

I can't comment firsthand on how a child from Griffin might transfer to a school such as Bentley since my child is still attending Griffin, but I think the transition would be smooth. I would just make sure that you are comfortable with a program which allows children to direct their own play and learning (as Griffin does). If that is what you are looking for, then Griffin is an amazing place for preschool! A Happy Griffin Parent

Sept 2004

Anyone interested in an outstanding traditional nursery school program should look no further than Griffin Nursery School. My daughter just finished two years there and I just learned that they have two openings in their morning program. Located in Berkeley (Prince St.), Griffin has been providing child care services for over 30 years. The program is child-centered, rich with materials for exploration, and marvelous, caring staff. I highly recommend it! Contact Betsy Nachman, Director at 845-2025.

March 2004

I am looking for current thoughts on Griffin preschool in Berkeley. I checked the archives, but the postings were older. Has anyone been involved with the school since the interim director (Carlyn) has been there? Thank you for your input.

I can highly recommend Griffin Preschool under the interim director, Karlyn Scott. Our three-year old daughter attended Griffin last year and she loved it, as did we. The teachers were very warm, caring and provided endless support to her during her transition period (she was having significant separation problems) and she loved the flexible schedule--the kids decide what they want to do, when they want to eat their lunch, etc. She did some amazing art projects and went from screaming when I left in the morning to begging me to sign her up for more school time there. We left when we needed full-day care, as their current program only allows half-days for kids under age 4. Karen

We have been a Griffin School family for the past five years-- our second child is finishing up this spring/summer. We are very, very happy there. We love the size of the school, its rich history and sound progressive philosophy. When I was looking for a preschool, someone told me that ''Griffin School raises good people,'' and I found that very powerful. As a Griffin School parent, I would agree. Their focus is very much on helping children develop their interests and passions, balanced with helping them navigate the world of social interaction and emotions. My kids have both emerged confident, happy people who are interested in the world and other people and comfortable with themselves.

The current staff is incredibly well-calibrated. The teachers are experienced, loving and deeply knowledgeable about children and committed to the ethos of the school without being preachy or overbearing. Betsy Nachman, the director, is a very special person and teacher, and she is away on a leave, but Karlyn Scott, the acting director, is strong, kind, responsive and wonderful in her own ways. And Rose Gilles, the director of the afternoon program, has been at Griffin for years and is one of the most wise and emotionally intelligent teachers I know. We are devoted to Betsy, but have been very, very happy the past two years despite her absence.

Be aware that the school is a play-based preschool, which means that there is no introduction of worksheets or other paper/pencil tasks. There's lots of learning and stimulation, but it emerges out of the kids' interests. Good luck in your search. lm

Hi, My daughter has been at Griffin for over a year now. We are all very pleased with it. The kids get a lot of individual attention, and the focus is on socialization, building community and creativity. The school has great indoor/outdoor space and an extensive and eclectic collection of toys and activities. The (temporary) change in director occurred just weeks after we signed up, so we have only really known the school under Carlyn's leadership. We think she and the other teachers (several of whom have been at Griffin for many years) are wonderful. Feel free to email me if you want specifics. Dana

Jan. 2004

Hi, I am looking at Griffin and am a little hesitant because of their apparent lack of structure could anyone please share some current thoughts on this. Also we will want our daughter to go to private like Head Royce and curious if anyone from there has found that a hard transition from no structure to Kindergarten at a private school. megan

Hi, My daughter has been at Griffin for about a year now, and we are all quite happy with it. When she started, I wondered about the lack of structure too. But now I see it more as a child-driven structure rather than a lack of structure. The kids tend to have their own routines and habits (when they like to eat, when they go outside, etc.) within the open school schedule.

In terms of curriculum (if you can use that word with preschools!), the only thing the school consistently puts forward is a focus on interpersonal relations: how to make and keep friends, how to get your needs met in a group, how to resolve conflicts, etc. They are very focused and adept at teaching these skills.

Beyond that, the kids bring their own interests into the classroom, and the teachers support those through their choice of available books, toys, and activities. They're able to do this because it's a small place. Having watched this in action for a while, I think the approach is effective because it recognizes that you can't really teach a four-year-old about something that doesn't interest them. I find it refreshing that Griffin doesn't adhere to a pre-planned program of seasonal content that may not be relevant to their students.

I don't yet have experience with the transition to kindergarten, but I am hoping that kindergartens are by their nature designed to help kids make the transition from self-driven activities to the more formal expectations that school will place on them. Feel free to email me if you have want more information. Dana


Regarding Griffin Pre-School. My daughter attended the Griffin School ten years ago so my comments may not be accurate for today. However, it was great. The school concentrated on socialization. There were no real academics. Mrs. Griffin knew each child, their particulars, academic prowess, etc. Many of the children who attended the school are now very successful individuals/highschoolers. Carol

I had two wonderful experiences at Griffin. Two daughters (now 12 and 6) each went there for two years and loved it. The director (Betsy Nachman) takes great pains to know each child as an inividual and to bring out the best in them. What I enjoyed most is that it was not "teacher driven". The adults are there to help the kids work/play with each other and develop real social skills. They can be inside all day or oustide all day, they can eat when they want (big hit with alot of kids). There is limited "must do" activities. I highly recommend this sort of free play environment.