McGee's Farm Preschool

Berkeley, CA

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Editors' Notes: 
  • McGee's Farm Preschool, founded in 1983, closed in 2004

Parent Reviews

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Archived Reviews: 

March 2004

I am considering sending my child to McGee's Farm. We've been a couple of times and were amazed at how our normally shy 2 1/2 y.o. attached to another child there. My concerns are mostly about safety and how the ''curriculum'' is set up. Both times we visited, all the kids did was play outside, which is fine, but I thought there would be more ''activities'' such as circle time or reading/story hour, etc. The recommendations on the archives are 2 years old or longer. Does anyone out there have any recent experiences/recommendations to share--good or bad--all welcomed. Thanks, anon
I think McGee's Farm has a very nurturing atmosphere with very little structure. They are good at developing kids' social relationships with peers and empathy. Our daughter went to McGee's Farm for the year of 2001 and had a good experience as a 2-year-old (this was with the same director, Maria, whom she adored); when she turned 3 we moved her to a Montessori school and she did seem to respond well to the greater level of stimulation and structure. The drawback at McGee's Farm is the administrative hassles. The school has been on thin ice financially; we had to donate our deposit to keep the place running the month we left and, although that was two years ago, our downstairs neighbors had the same experience last summer. If you're willing to invest yourself in both the administrative and maintenance aspects of a co-op, McGee's Farm could be a good match for you. g
As a former McGee's Farm parent, I would not recommend this school. In our experience, although our child was fairly happy there and enjoyed the small size of the group, it is a place that is very, very hard on parents, for a variety of reasons. There was a huge turnover during the time we were there - many families left because they were unhappy. There isn't much in the way of ''curriculum'' - basically circle time (most days), outside time, and some art projects - which is OK for very young children but leaves older ones bored sometimes. But the true problems in my opinion are the lack of stability, lack of financial responsibility, the time and stress burden of being in a co-op with only a few parents, and the sometimes unsympathetic attitude toward parents. I would look elsewhere - even in a bigger school your child might find an intimate environment she would like if they have small class groups. Former McGee's parent

Nov 2003

I am considering McGee's Farm for my daughter, but I have several questions. While I like its size and its atmosphere I'm wondering why they always seem to be looking for more girls. I have seen signs around Berkeley for the past year or so saying they are looking for more girls. I have also heard of several families pulling out their girls midyear, but I haven't heard of boys being pulled out. (Note: I have read the archived posting from a family who pulled their daughter out.) Why is this situation occuring? I am also concerned about it's financial stability. I'd appreciate any comments about these concerns. Thanks! Preschool Searching
Hello! My name is Ricky Freed. I am the President of McGee's Farm Preschool Co-op. My son is 4 and has enjoyed the play-based atmosphere since enrolling earlier this year. Both my wife and I have noticed growth in his maturity as he has experienced many wondrous things and is learning more about himself and his world!

Our school is small, (12 kids max; w/ 6:1 ratio), for ages 2 to 5 and is mornings only, and with our teacher Maria being the center of activities, our Co-op has many opportunities that we did not find available in larger classroom environments. We have now what we believe is a unique situation in which our son is thriving!

Our school is a joyful, strong community of families interested in creating a safe, creative place for each of our children to explore and grow.

I read a question on here asking what were the circumstances around the absence of girls or why the families of girls chose to withdraw? The fact is that when the families left it was June; the normal time for change in the schools...We currently have five boys and four girls and are looking to have at least two more families participate with one more girl and one more boy (ages 3+/4) in hopes of reaching and attaining an appropriate mix of both age and gender. I also noticed that the poster did not leave a name or email address to which a response could be made, so i'll just post this here!

Also we do not have as many families currently involved as would make our financial situation break-even, so, as a NON- profit Co-op, we are into a bit more in the way of temporary and creative fundraising. :) Each family participates in a variety of ways:

Attending the monthly meetings
Selecting a job
Participating in the classroom
Cleaning McGee's on a rotating basis
Participating in the work days is our web-page...

Please feel free to email either myself or our director with *any* questions at all! Ricky

I'm responding to the newsletter question concerning girl's enrollment at McGee's Farm, I am a parent of a 2.5 year old girl who is currently enrolled at McGee's.

We have had openings for girls over the past several months for no special reason beyond a wish to maintain a gender balance at the school, the ideal is to reach a 50/50 ratio (this is very important since we're so small.) My daughter is flourishing at McGee's, as far as I know other families with girls are as pleased as we are. Some families who originally had agreed to enroll their children this fall cancelled their contracts before the start of the year (meaning that they never showed up), which left us with more boys than girls (3:1)and we would like to correct this.

Concerning your question regarding financials, McGee's has been around for a very long time (20 years, I believe). However, it's a co-op and the reality is that it takes a lot of work to keep tuition reasonable (which it remains) and continue paying the bills. The state fiscal crisis is also another factor, so we are also pursuing alternative fundraising efforts. Co-ops are well-suited for families interested in being hands on and building a community, so far it has been a wonderful experience for our family but there is definately some work involved (mostly fun).

Feel free to email me if you have anymore questions and best of luck finding the right situation. shauna

this is in response to the poster asking about mcgee's farm preschool and why so many families pulled out. we are one of those families. my daughter had a very bad experience there, which i'd be happy to tell you about privately. please contact me.
As a former McGee's Farm parent, I had to respond to the question about this school. I think most kids are fairly happy there - the small size is nice - but for many reasons it is very hard on parents. The time commitment (constant crises/tensions to deal with, on top of it being a co-op), the lack of dependability (school closed several times w/short notice), and the fact that there is only one teacher are all problems. I don't think there's any particular problem with girls, but there is a steady, large turnover of families in general - another problem. During our time there, I know of 5 families, besides us (in a small school!) who left because they found the problems too annoying. From what I've heard, this has been a regular pattern for years. And no, the school is not financially stable, nor is it run in a financially responsible way. This is partly because it's a co-op, and with the steady turnover no one is regularly in charge. If you are a stay-at-home parent with lots of time and energy to put into the school, you and your child like the teacher, and you're not depending on consistent childcare, it might be fine - but if you're looking for a long-term, stable, parent-friendly school I would strongly recommend against McGee's Farm. Former McGee's parent

Oct. 2003

I'd like to recommend McGee's Farm Preschool in Berkeley for families who are looking for play-based care. It's a mixed age (2-5), parent-run coop located on Grant Street @Allston that has existed for many years. The hours are M-F 8:30-12:30, children are enrolled for a minimum of 3 mornings a week. It's an extremely loving and warm atmosphere, organic snacks are served, the play yard is great, there are lots of projects and creative activities. Because it's a coop the cost is reasonable, families work 1- 2 mornings a month plus take on an administrative role. The maximum enrollment is 12 children (currently at 7), which makes it a good environment for children who are new to preschool. The director has been there for several years and is an early childhood trained teacher, my daughter adores her. Visit the website for more info (

April 2003

We tried several preschools before finally finding the JCC (sure wish we found it sooner!) including the one you mentioned, McGee's Farm. Although we liked the low-key atmosphere, physical space, and the other families we met at McGee's, our daughter did not do well with the lack of structure/activities or with the limited choice of playmates her own age: the 4-11 kids she was with there (it varied as people joined and/or quit), the age range was 2-5, and most of them at the time were much younger than she was. I thought the mixed age group sounded like a good idea, but she was bored and didn't find good friends, which at age 4 for her was very important. Of course, kids are different; some kids seemed to do fine there, especially the younger ones. At that time, there was also a lot of turnover of staff (and surrounding tension), making it hard on the kids, too. K

April 2002

I would like to highly recommend McGee's Farm co-op preschool near downtown Berkeley. Our 3 y/o daughter started in February and absolutely loves it. She had been typically shy and withdrawn around other children, but has popped out of her shell in this caring, nurturing environment. We were extremely reluctant to start her at school; she had never had daycare or school experience. But we all instantly warmed up to the cozy, peaceful atmosphere at McGee's! It is a play-based curriculum and parents are required to assist the teacher twice a month, plus take on a "job" such as Secretary, groundskeeper, etc. It's a great way to get involved in your child's education, starting early! It's a small school (max enrollment is 12/day, ages 2-5) and currently open mornings only (8:30a-12:30p) A three day per week minimum is required. They currently have openings and this is the best priced co-op in Berkeley! Call the director, Maria at 510-849-3593, for more info. We should have a web site soon, but in the meantime, there is a open house (slash yard sale/bake sale!) scheduled for Saturday, April 20, at the school (2214 1/2 Grant St.), from 10A-2P. Come check it out, it's a great school I can't stop bragging about! thx, Janet

November 2001

I would like to enthusiastically recommend my daughter's preschool, McGee's Farm. We have been there for a year now and my child is blossoming in the gentle, loving atmosphere. She started the day after her 2nd birthday, so she was the very youngest and got lots of TLC, not just from the teacher but also from some of the older kids. She receives many opportunities to focus on projects and learning new skills, so she has really developed in her abilities to do puzzles, drawing, and art projects. The learning style is child-led and play-based. Children are gently encouraged to follow their curiousity. The emphasis is on social skills, cooperative play, conflict resolution and kindness to other children. The school has a capacity for 12 children. Some people have part-time schedules, so there are as few as 7 or 8 on some days. The director teaches every day, and is very nurturing to each child. A part-time teacher works two mornings a week and parents act as the assistants on other days. There are significant parental participation obligations, since McGee's Farm is a parent-run cooperative. The school is located in a cottage behind a residence in central Berkeley. There are two play rooms, a kitchen, and a yard with a climbing structure, sandbox, and playhouse. The hours are 8:30 to 12:30.

The children bring their lunches and eat together just before pick-up time. (My daughter eats better and sits at the table more cooperatively at school than anywhere else.) A snack of healthy, organic food is offered at 10:00. GRINGOG


re: childcare in downtown Berkeley
I'd like to recommend my daughter's old pre-school, in particular to Dorothy, but in general to everyone. It's not quite on your commute route, since it's on Grant St. a few blocks west of the BART station, but it would only be a 5-10 minute walk out of your way.

The school is McGee's Farm, and it's a parent co-op nursery school. It's very small -- 12 kids in the mornings, and 6 in the afternoons, although when we left they were considering expanding the afternoon program. It's open 8:30-5:30, although they can arrange for earlier openings if several children need it. The mornings (8:30-12:30) are staffed by a teacher and a parent. Another teacher comes in at about 2 PM to relieve the morning teacher. The two teachers are excellent and have been with the school for years. The school tries hard to pay the teachers a decent wage, which is difficult to do, and results in a full-time tuition of around $730/month (quite steep). There is no surcharge for part time, so if you just want three days, that would be 3/5 of $730, and it's also possible to go just for a morning without staying for the afternoon. Any work that you do at the school (either helping with the morning sessions or taking a job such as recruiting or maintenance) is credited against tuition at $7/hr, so that can help with the tuition.

What I loved about the school was that it is very cozy and unstructured. It's in a converted in-law apartment with a nice backyard. There are a lot of nooks and crannies for the kids to play in, and they're generally free to go wherever they want. That's not to say there's nothing organized to do -- there are 2 circle times in the morning, there's always an art project in the morning, and there are weekly trips to the library and to kindergym. But, most of the time, the kids are just free to play. It's small size makes it a little like a family day care, but having the parents there in the mornings creates much more involvement.

The only required parental involvement is a monthly meeting and twice-yearly work days (4 hours each). Any additional work, as noted above, is credited against tuition. It's great if your schedule lets you work at least one morning a month, since that lets you keep up with what's going on in the school.

One additional thing I appreciated about the school was its sensitivity to cultural diversity. We're Jewish, and that makes me sensitive to the fact that most schools think diversity means talking about other religions' December holidays in between making Christmas tree ornaments. At McGee's Farm, many holidays were celebrated throughout the year (Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, Passover, Halloween), all with fairly equal weight, and the teachers were always looking for parental input for other holidays.

Because the school is small, there are not always spaces available, so if you might be interested, it's wise to get on the waiting list.