Growing Light Montessori Kensington

Community Subscriber

Kensington, CA

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

DSS Facility License #: 
Surya Voinar Fowler & Rachel La Field
(510) 527-1278
kensington [at]
Arlington Ave
Maximum Capacity: 
Language(s) Spoken: 
English, Spanish
Ages Served: 
24 months - 60 months
Monthly Cost: 
Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri
8:00am - 6:00am
Additional Services & Features: 
Afternoon option, Part-time available, Pre-K program, Year-round, Sibling discount, Snacks provided, Organic options, Potty training support
Editors' Notes: 

Parent Q&A

2021 Growing Light Kensington thoughts? May 7, 2021 (4 responses below)
2019 Growing Light thoughts? Jul 8, 2019 (3 responses below)
Seeking current review of Growing Light Preschool - Kensington Feb 20, 2018 (0 responses below)
Recent toddler experience with Growing Light? Jan 3, 2017 (1 responses below)
Experience with Growing Light Montessori? Jul 15, 2016 (2 responses below)
  • Hi all,

    looking for parents of toddlers currently attending Growing light Montessori school in Kensington.

    I would be happy to get any opinions on it, if it is worth considering or not for my almost 2 years old boy.

    Thanks in advance!


    Such a great experience so far for our toddler. We started in August and plan to stay. Teachers have been wonderful. So far this has been a safe and nurturing Montessori environment and we have been able to see our child grow and develop over the course of the year. 

  • 2021 Growing Light Kensington thoughts?

    (4 replies)

    Hello--I'd love to hear from current Growing Light Kensington families. We are considering enrolling our son for the fall and would love to know more about how families feel about the school. I hate to say this, but the fact that they have openings makes me wonder if something is going on there? 


    Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. My daughter has been at Growing Light since she was 2, and we kept her in instead of enrolling her in virtual kindergarten this year. The staff are nurturing and the leadership is great. My daughter started after being kicked out of another local daycare for crying at dropoff (!). Though she has continued to have some separation issues, Growing Light has worked with her, not against her. When her transition to her new class with a new teacher last fall was made especially difficult in the context of an extended absence from covid, her new teacher actually met us at a park over the weekend to help her get used to her. Also, during covid, Growing Light worked hard to open back up and has been just fantastic throughout. Take that opening!

    Our daughter has gone to Growing Light Kensington for the last 3 years and our younger son will be joining when he turns 2 in the Fall. While there have been some teacher and leadership transitions over the past 3 years, I think things are going well currently. They have done a great job with COVID precautions and we are big fans of the Montessori approach and curriculum. Regarding openings, my anecdotal experience is that a lot of families are continuing to keep their kids at home or in smaller pods because they are not yet ready to come back to a larger school setting. Feel free to message me if you have any other questions!

    We started our youngest child there in August 2020 age 2.5 yo and we are very happy so far. Kind, supportive teachers and lovely community. I was surprised to hear about openings recently. We plan to stay! 

  • 2019 Growing Light thoughts?

    (3 replies)

    Hi there --
    We just toured Growing Light and are thinking about enrolling our 3.5 year-old son (in Laura's class). We like how it seems to be a good mix of structured and unstructured time -- and love that they make regular trips to Blake Gardens. Sounds like there have been some transitions recently though -- changes in leadership and some turnover? Would love to hear from current parents about the school's plusses and minuses. We will treat your to a beer at Circus Pub in exchange for insight 😊. Thanks so much!

    RE: 2019 Growing Light thoughts? ()

    If you are referring to Growing Light in Oakland, I can say that our daughter had a fantastic experience there. She graduated 6 years ago, so the information may not be current.

    The staff and teachers were warm, lots of nice families. When she entered Kindergarten at one of the strong academic private schools, she was ready in every way.

    We highly recommend it.

    RE: 2019 Growing Light thoughts? ()

    We did not have a good experience at Growing Light.  Our family felt like we were being discriminated against and our son was targeted and labeled as a “behavior issue.”  The school went as far as to suggests that we get our son assessed right before we left in January, which we did professionally, and absolutely no red flags came up.  We were being called almost every day to pick up early during the fall because our child was such an “issue.”  He was only defiant, no physically aggression was displayed.  We had a teacher at back to school night tell my husband and I that “we sure did pack nutritious lunches for him, I worked at First 5 and I’ve never seen a family like yours pack anything but junk.”  My husband is black and the teacher was basically implying that because of his race and perceived socioeconomic status that we were (as a family) incapable of providing good quality meal for our son.  When we informed the school in Dec/Jan we would not be returning and mentioned all these incidents (just one listed here), they agreed that our son was targeted and gave us back our “non-refundable” deposit and a month’s tuition.  He switched to a new preschool and we have not had any problems to date.  None at all.  If I was a parent enrolling in a school I would want to know this information.

    RE: 2019 Growing Light thoughts? ()

    I'm surprised to read the anonymous reply below. We have been at Growing Light in Kensington for one year (our daughter is just finishing up in the Bonsai room, the 2-3 year old class) and it has been a great experience. She had attended a Montessori style daycare and we appreciate the self-directed learning with a good amount of oversight from the teachers. I have been impressed with all the teachers, their attention to the kids and commitment to all aspects of development (social, physical and academic). The teacher communication is strong and they are committed to working jointly with the parents to solve any problems they see. I really appreciated the regular conferences, newsletters, updates and social events.

    There has been some turnover recently, but no more than I might expect at any preschool. The school is always good about proactively messaging upcoming changes and allowing the kids to understand what is going on. Obviously, your choice will be driven by your child’s personality and your family’s needs, but Growing Light has been a great fit for us. Happy to chat more (at the Circus Pub) if you like!

  • I would love to hear if anyone has recent experience (as of Feb 2018) with Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. It seems they have closed their lower elementary classes and when I toured the school, though I really loved it, the classes didn't seem very full. Our overall impression was very positive but I want to make sure I'm not missing anything! Thank you in advance. :)

  • We are thinking about starting our soon to be two year old here and I'm wondering if anyone has recent/current experience with their young toddler at Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. It seems great, I'm just worried about our daughter adjusting, being able to nap, eat enough, and have fun and wonder how the environment helps with this.

    My daughter was in the toddler room last year, she's now moved up to the older room. I started her at almost two years old and the experience was great. The teachers, Jason and Kathy, are amazing. They helped so much with the transition from nanny care, both for me and my daughter. They are both so nurturing so the adjustment period didn't take too long. She's always been a difficult napper but they somehow have the magic touch (maybe the classroom full of sleepers helps) but to this day she only reliably naps at school. At first I know she cried so someone would hold her in the rocking chair that first week or so until she drifted off. Eating all of her lunch is hit and miss, as it is at home. Some days she eats a lot, other days she seemingly subsists on air. There is lots of playtime and it didn't take long for her to be excited to go to school and see her friends and pushing us out the door to leave. The teachers were also extremely helpful when we started potty training. 

  • Experience with Growing Light Montessori?

    (2 replies)

    We are considering enrolling my son in Growing Light Montessori's 2 year olds program next year. I like the Montessori philosophy, but not when it's too rigid. It's important to me that children get ample free range play time, but I also think learning how to cooperate, concentrate, and be independent is very important as well. If anyone has any experience, positive or negative, they'd like to share about Growing Light's 2 year olds program I would love to hear. Thanks in advance!

    My two boys attended Growing Light (Oakland campus).  We are very pleased with the experience.  My youngest also spent his first year (18 months to 2.5 years old) at Grand Lake.


    Lots of exposure to Spanish.  Depending on the class the kids will be exposed to Spanish about 1/3 of the day.  The kids start to grasp it quickly.

    Not as rigid as Grand Lake (and less expensive).

    Good use of facility.

    Not a lot of churn of employees.


    No grass (they do make great use of the facility).

    Shuts down for week during Greek Festival week (great week to plan a vacation or work with other families for coverage).

    My two boys were very well prepared for Catholic School.  When they started kindergarten they had excellent "soft" skills and were able to use their energies to focus on the academics.  We don't hesitate to recommend Growing Light Montessori.  

    I highly recommend Growing Light.  My daughter age 9 and sone age 5 both went there beginning in the 2 year old classroom in Kensington.  It was a very positive experience with a balance of the Montesorri structure and free play. The teachers are carrying & dedicated and Surya is lovely. The parents and kids are super nice and smart.  We have been there a combined 7 years and are very sad to leave as my son will be heading to kindergarten but thankful to have been in the school.


Parent Reviews

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I highly recommend Growing Light Montessori. There is one in Kensington and one in Oakland. My child with special needs who needs a lot of support went to the one in Kensington and absolutely loved it. The owner is an amazing lady who truly understands what it takes to create an environment where every child is cherished and thrives. And the teachers went out of their way to make sure my child's needs were met. Most of all, it is a place where I feel confident to say that they truly put the children's best interests first (not every school does that). 

Our daughter has spent two years at Growing Light, and we feel truly lucky to have found it. What stands out most about it are the wonderful teachers—so dedicated to their time with the kids and to their roles as guides to ease kids into education. They create a warm, homey environment and flow to the day, and a real community both in and outside of the classroom. My daughter made some great friends at age two in the toddler class, and now at age four in the preschool class, those friendships continue to evolve. There is no pressure to learn, but lots of opportunities to do so. A ton of effort is put into rotating classroom materials, which the kids can feel free to explore at their own pace, either solo or with friends. They have the freedom to play and pretend and invent, with a grounding routine to the day and emphasis on contributing to the group. A great school!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Feb 2015

I'm considering sending my child to the Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. I'd
really love to hear any recent reviews about the school. Do you think there is enough
imaginative play? Outdoor play? I know strict Montessori's have a lot of quiet
individual activity time, is there a sufficient amount of group activities? And what
do you think of the afternoon program? And for recent graduates, was the transition to
kindergarten or 1st grade easy as far as academics and social maturity?
I am also curious as to which elementary school most of the kids go to, I would assume Hilltop?  I've found the reviews here to be so helpful so thanks in advance for your response!

Our 3 kids have attended Growing Light Montessori School (GLMS) in Kensington (2 are there now). and we've been very happy there. Several of the teachers have been
recognized for excellence. It's set up well for families with working parents (kids
can attend from 8-6, although most younger kids don't spend that long there). There's
plenty of yard time, a great community of parents, many of whom send multiple kids
there like we have, so there's some continuity over the years. Most of the kids come
from the neighborhood (Kensington/El Cerrito), but some come from farther away. The
afternoon program is relatively unstructured but the teachers are experienced and
great with kids. Our older son was well ahead of many of his classmates when he
entered kindergarten at Hilltop - per the Montessori philosophy, there's no pressure
to read or write, but kids who are ready to do so get lots of opportunities and
reinforcement. Kensington Hilltop is probably the school that's attended by more GLMS graduates than any other, just because it's the closest - about 4 out of 24 kids in our son's kindergarten class came with him from GLMS, which helped to make the
transition a gentle one (since our son has an August birthday, he was on the young
side for his class). 

Nov 2014

Wonderful school! Our son started GLMS when he was 2 years old, about 3 months ago and has been doing great there. I'm amazed by how independent he has become i.e always trying to put his own shoes/socks on, tries to dress himself etc. He adapted very quickly to the school and talks about his new friends and teachers incessantly. He is always bringing home new art projects and telling me about all the activities ''jobs'' he gets to do- including music time with various instruments, and soccer shots. The school has a very small and warm feel to it. I already feel like we are part of such a great community. Also- Great playground with a lot of outdoor times.

March 2014

Re: Bright Star (or other Montessori) for May
Hi- Welcome to the East Bay! We were in your shoes about three years ago. I'd like to recommend Growing Light Montessori School. My older kid transitioned there from his SF Montessori school and now my three year old is in the toddler room. Although it is in Kensington, that's not too far from Albany. Check it out. Montessori Mama

Dec 2013

Re: Recently moved and no space in preschool!
HI, we had both our kids at Growing Light Montessori when they were 2.5 until Kindergarten and we loved it. If you haven't checked there for availability, we'd recommend it. It is a Montessori school without being ''too'' Montessori. It is in the church across from Kens Library and there are several schools that lease space there. Good luck! Luisa

May 2013

I wanted to share the amazing experience that I had with Growing Light Montessori School of Kensington. All three of my children graduated from the program not only ready for elementary school but ready to be amazing citizens of the world. The way the teachers implement the Montessori Curriculum is very holistic and true to the philosophy. The kind teachers set examples for the children of how to treat others and solve problems in a powerful way. Many of the teachers have been teaching at the school for more than 10 years some even close to 20. My children learned the basics and were ahead of their peers. They weren't pressured, only inspired to learn and discover new ideas and concepts.

The best thing we got from the school was the community. My kids have all remained friends with their classmates from preschool. As a parent, I made great relationships too and I still see many of the other parents and even the teachers. We loved our experience and highly recommend this school to everyone. They have now added an early elementary program which is great for kids who are not able to attend Kindergarten due to the new age requirements. If you have any questions or want a tour just call Surya. 510-527-1278. She is wonderful . Margaret

Feb 2011

I am looking for more recent comments on Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. The last posting was in 2009. anon

Our daughter has been at Growing Light for about 6 months and we are VERY pleased with the school and program. The school is VERY well run and organized. Teachers are excellent with the kids, accessible to parents and seem to be on top of everything. The schedule offers a good balance between Montessori work time, free play time outside and optional classes like cooking, creative movement and science. We have no complaints and would recommend without reservation. Mary

June 2009

Re: Year-round all day preschool in Berkeley/Albany
Check out Growing Light Montessori school, which is right on the Arlington, 5 min. away from Berkeley. It is a very established Montessori school with well trained teachers, a warm environment, and a good balance between academics and freedom. My children went to school there, and really blossomed. The school is year-round with extended care until 6pm. It is a wonderful place. Happy mom

April 2009

Re: Looking 4 preschool for 4 yr twins w/kindergarten
Check out Growing Light Montessori, which has campuses in Kensington (10 min. drive from Berkeley, 5 min. from Albany), and in Oakland. The school goes from toddler classroom through kindergarten. There's no parent participation requirement. More over, it is an authentic Montessori school, a warm community with well trained staff members and teachers who have a remarkably low turn-over, and also, it has a low teacher/student ratio. My older daughter graduated from there last year, and the younger one is still happily thriving there. The school works wonders. Katrine

Dec 2008

I wanted to post a glowing recommendation for Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. It is a fantastic place for children to learn, to grow and to explore. Our son is in the toddler program and has been since the beginning of September. He is thriving--learning all sorts of things and making wonderful new friends under the tutelage of two gifted, loving and talented teachers, Hannah and Jason. The director, Surya, is wonderful--hands-on, aware of happenings in all of the classrooms and always available with a kind word for children and parents. Our son was ill this week and came back to find a handwritten card from his class wishing him well. Contrast this to our cooperative preschool last year where, when he was hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery, we heard not even a single expression of concern or support from the teachers or director. Our son is an asthmatic and the staff at the school is on top of his condition--we really feel safe having him in their care. Enrichment activities and special programs are constantly offered, as is childcare during days that the campus is not normally in session. If there is a better place for a child to thrive, we haven't heard of it! Happy Parent

Nov 2007

Re: Preschools with Male Teachers
my daughter went to Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. there are two wonderful male teachers-- Jason in the toddler room & Nobu in the primary class. they are kind, fun, silly & gentle men who truly love children. there are also 2 male subs. Virginia

Nov 2007

Re: Seeking preschool with working mom's hours!
Growing Light Preschool in Kensington has working parent hours. They also provide childcare (at an additional cost) during the school breaks. You noted that you are on the wait list for Via Nova. Just thought I would mention that VN closes for about 5 weeks out of the year (Christmas, Summer and Spring vacations) and DOES NOT provide any additional childcare. -working single mom

May 2007

Re: Montessori Preschools in Kensington/El Cerrito
My son has attended GLMS for a year now, and his dad and I are really really happy with the school, but it depends on what you want. My son had a rough adjustment period and the admin took the time to meet with us multiple times and give us ideas on how to help the transition. I feel that more than just learning stuff, I really feel like my son is learning to be a good person. They talk a lot about respecting the environment, learning about other cultures, feelings, etc. I like the other parents. I don't find it snobby. I can't speak about Keystone since my son never went there, but I think the parents of children that attend there like it too. I think either would be a good choice. Happy GLMS parent


Our daughter went to Growing Light Montessori in Kensington from age 2 thru age 6, and we loved it. In the toddler program, you mention that there aren't a lot of toys out. They actually have many toys and activities, but carefully set up the classroom with a reasonable amount displayed, with items at the correct developmental level for the individual kids. They then swap out the activities continuously throughout the year. One thing I loved, especially about the toddler program, was that the activities were teaching important skills and concepts, but were done in such a way that our daughter felt like she was playing the whole time. There were interesting motor skills activities, early number and learning activities, and other things as well, all done in a wonderful, fun, nurturing environment. I also liked the fact that they took the best ideas of Montessori, but were not overly dogmatic about it. We're definitely fans! Marilyn

Our nearly 3 year old boy/girl twins are currently enrolled in the Toddler Room at Growing Light in Kensington. Here are a few thoughts in response to your question about the toys and activities in the toddler room, and about our experience at Growing Light more generally. First about our experiences in general: We (parents and each child) have been very happy at Growing Light. Our kids are very different from each other (one is more physical/tactile and socially-driven, the other is more verbal and self-driven), and each has gotten a lot out of the program. Our tactile/social kid ADORES the Montessori toys/materials, which often involve manipilating objects with his hands, and te seems to love the social environment of being around other children at preschool -- he talks about his school friends constantly. Our verbal/self-driven kid loves singing at home all of the songs she has learned in school and since starting school seems to thrive on chosing to focus her attention for a relatively long time on a given activity (e.g., play dough, building with train tracks). The teachers in the toddler room are terrific at respecting the needs of each individual child, and creating a fun/nurturing environment. Both of our kids have just blossemed, in their own way, since starting at the school last Fall and each has developed strong self confidence. They are thrilled to go to school every Monday when a new week begins. As parents, we recommend the program without reservation, and as they will soon outgrow the toddler room, didn't think twice about signing them up for the 3-5 year old room upstairs for next year. As to your question about the toys and activities..... I suspect that you might be reacting to the look and feel of the Montessori-based materials, which are often made if wood and/or modelled on everyday practical objects, as opposed to looking like brightly colored ''toys''. Also, in the room the materials are all geared literally at the children's level (so they are 1-2 feet off the ground on low shelves as opposed to being at adult height). I guess all I can say is that our kids seem very well-stimulated by the materials. When we get to school in the morning, they run in and pick up something to play with, often before taking off their coats, and as best as we can tell are never bored (though we are not there during the day to observe them directly). The teachers seem to be thoughtful about switching the materials/toys/books around pretty frequently as well. As for group activities, our kids talk enthusiastically about cicle time, tea time, and playing outside, and they talk about the books at school and sing new songs from school all the time too. I hope this helps to answer your questions! Carolyn -- Growing Light parent

My son is currently enrolled in the toddler room at Growing Light, and is thriving. It's a warm and caring environment. I have never felt there weren't enough toys, in fact, it seems that the teachers spend a lot of time choosing toys to put out for the kids to work and play with, based on where they are developmentally. My son walks in and gets busy. Children are guided through a process at GLM that focuses on how to respect themselves, each other, and their environment. As such, each child plays with a toy on his or her own rug, and can work alone or with a friend, and must put the toy away once done with it (cleaning up!). That may be why you sensed a dearth of toys. There are a multitude of other ways the teachers, Jason and Hannah, engage the children, through art projects, song, puppet shows, yoga (''reach for the apple''), face painting, etc. Regarding Surya, the new director, she's actually not new, just new to the position, and she's a wonderful asset to GLM, in my opinion. She has worked there for over six years, so knows how it's run. She's been working side by side with Maggie for awhile now. She is approachable, and really good with the kids. When they're down a teacher, she goes into the classroom. I wouldn't worry about poor leadership under Surya, she's up for the job. Am happy to talk more offline about GLM or to answer other questions you may have, just let me know. Sara


June 2006

I would like feedback on people's experience at Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. Most of the feedback is either old or about the GL campus in Oakland. I am thinking about applying for my son who will be 3 in 2007.
Thank you

Growing Light is fabulous. The director and all of the teachers are just wonderful. We have been at the school for the past year and a half and will be there for another year. We can't wait to send our younger child there too. There are many positive things about Growing Light but if I had to mention one thing it would be that the teachers have a plan for each individual child. If there are things that your child lacks (mine was social skills) they will work with the family and the child on developing these skill sets and keep the family posted on the progress. I think we had at least 2-3 regular teacher/parent conferences and if we requested one, it was always scheduled. I recommend Growing Light without any reservations. smaa

Feb. 2005

I noticed their ad in the last Schools newsletter and thought I would chip in with my 2 cents.

We transferred our then-3-year-old to their Kensington campus for preschool after discovering that the preschool he was in was physically abusing him (among other problems).

He loved Growing Light Montessori. They had wonderful toys which were also (of course) great learning tools; teachers who were loving, patient, creative, and attentive; really nice classroom layout; and a huge play area, with a separate smaller area for the younger children.

Connor was very happy there. Some of the things I remember most fondly:
* That there was always a teacher ready with some awesome art project or game in the mornings, as an alternative to just running around in the playground before school;
* That the teachers, and especially Maggie who is the director of that campus, were always willing to stop and talk to us parents about anything, and could do it while still being there for the kids;
* That they had really wonderful conflict resolution skills, and helped the children deal with their problems and come up with solutions without blaming or punishing anyone;
* That they had a good variety of very healthy snacks;
* That they were concerned with the quality of the children's food in general, with clear guidelines like ''no snacks that have sugar in the first three ingredients,'' and would tactfully bring it up with us if the lunches we sent were too small for him or weren't in line with the rules - they put the children's needs first rather than just kissing up to the adults as some schools do;
* That if our child had problems at school, they were eager to meet with us whenever was convenient to work out a mutual solution;
* That they had great, enriching activities in all areas and offered several extra activities like dance and Spanish for a fee that we could manage;
* That they were open to all suggestions and requests from the parents;
* That they had a really, really, really good school photographer who included candid shots of the children as well as a formal class photo, and black and white as well as color shots - his school photo from this year is still my favorite picture of him!;
* That they had a variety of community events throughout the year, like a ''celebrate your heritage'' potluck, that were interesting and exciting for the kids and let the families mingle and meet;
* That they have campuses in Oakland as well as Kensington;
* That they have after-school education so that (if necessary) a child can be in their supportive and loving environment from 8-6, and that they have excellent boundaries so that parents actually get their children by or before 6;
* That they were very willing to work with us when our finances shrank in the Great Dot-Com Bust -- we ended up doing a work-exchange for the fees and some of the tuition, and talked about scholarship possibilities for the future.

Personally, the thing I valued most about Growing Light is that when our child's emotional problems became too much for them, they were willing first to work with us to find a solution, and finally to honestly say that they did not have the resources to help him, and to recommend several therapeutic preschools that could better support his needs. They were willing to put our child's needs above their own and be totally clear about what problems they saw and what kind of attention and resources he needed.

I cannot think of a higher recommendation for a school than that, and I hope that someday he will be able to return to Growing Light and to Montessori education in general as an older and emotionally healthier elementary school student. And for his part, Connor has always rated Growing Light at the very top of the six schools he has attended in his short life, tied for first with Building Blocks (the wonderful therapeutic preschool he subsequently attended). Aidan

Feb. 2004

Re: Montessori schools
Another good Montessori program is Growing Light Montessori. It has a Pre K/Kindergarten class at both of their locations - one of which is in Kensington. Their Kindergarten teacher, Deborah Carr, is the best! Call Maggie Scheving at 527-1278.