Mustard Seed Preschool

Berkeley, CA

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

DSS Facility License #: 
Berkeley Covenant Church
info [at]
N. Berkeley at 1640 Hopkins
Maximum Capacity: 
Language(s) Spoken: 
Ages Served: 
18 months - 60 months
Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri
Church affiliation

Parent Reviews

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When we first toured Mustard Seed we were taken by the beautiful courtyard where the children ride bikes and run around under the trees and play in the giant sandbox. Our son has been attending MS since he was 18 months old (the warm and welcoming environment made for an easy and seamless transition from his former daycare).  He's four now and continues to love school.  We love that there is minimal turnover with the teachers.  All the teachers are warm and engaged with the children and parents.  There are so many great activities for the kids to participate in.  We're always impressed with the art and crafts that our son makes there.  It's an enriching environment, including a pet turtle and pet lizards, and herb garden.    They offer a nice variety of elective classes, the one's which our son has done are capoeira, cooking, soccer and Spanish.  He has loved all of them!   We are a non-religious family and we fit right into this diverse preschool.  We're so happy with the Mustard Seed community.

We sent our two children to Mustard Seed preschool.  Back in 2012 our family had been looking for a preschool for my eldest, and we encountered many frustrating roadblocks of other nearby preschools (can only visit one particular day in October; no aftercare available; no returned calls; lengthy & costly admission process, etc.). It was worse than college admissions!  I finally came upon Mustard Seed, which was a breath of fresh air.  What we found was: smiling, welcoming faces; a flexible schedule for busy, working families; a clear curriculum for tots’ development; and a safe, nurturing environment to guide the childrens’ engagement with their families, their community, and the world.  Our younger child is currently in the 3rd year there.

The school takes tots as young as 18 months in their ‘Roo’ class. The teachers are very patient in helping to guide transitions for the little ones.  Drop-offs, potty training, naps, clean-up—this is all expertly handled by the experienced staff who truly are focused on the emotional and developmental needs of the kids.  9 times out of 10, I will get a personal update about my child from a teacher when I arrive for pickup. There is plenty to do in each classroom and the varying outdoor space, which includes a large sandbox area/playground, forts/playhouses, tricycles, gardening boxes, water-tables, etc. Older children in the ‘Kanga’ class are engaged in kindergarten preparation in addition to the loads of ‘play-based’ fun that is set out for them in art projects each day.  Though never pressured, my older child took up reading well before leaving Mustard Seed.

Mustard Seed integrates Christian teachings and holidays into the daily lunch-time prayer song, circle times, parties, and seasonal festivities.  Our family is fairly non-religous (but from a culturally Christian background), and we have felt these teachings provide a really positive grounding for our kids--who they are, and who they will become.  Parents who are averse to their children hearing any bible stories may want to consider another preschool: for example, they do tell the story of Jesus's death and resurrection at Easter-time to the older kids.  Sometimes after school, my children have liked to step into the church for quiet reflection together "with God," and I treasure these sweet memories.  Like many institutions in our area, Mustard Seed too teaches respect and compassion for all people.  We are proud that our children have Mustard Seed friends who speak different languages, and whose families come from many different parts of the world.  To strengthen the bonds of the families with the school, Mustard Seed holds seasonal potlucks, fundraisers, and parents-nights-out.

Each of my kids claims it as “MY Mustard Seed,” although our whole family is so grateful to be part of the diverse, caring Mustard Seed community.

Our daughter just finished with several years at Mustard Seed. We felt like MSP was like a family. Having moved on, we only now appreciate the warm, familiar atmosphere. The teachers are dedicated well-prepared and our child developed so much under their care. 

There are a fair number of questions about religion here. I am a secular parent with little family religious tradition and a fairly dim view of indoctrination at early ages in either direction. After my child got to 3, I found myself answering questions about whether I thought god was real and how the world was created, and she heard biblical storied daily from one teacher in particular. It increased at age 4. Honestly, it was a bit more than I wanted to process at that age, and I think some of the teachers are religious more than they realize, but it isn't extreme and there is plenty more to the curriculum. By the time I even started getting a bit bothered about it, my child was very bonded at MSP, and the other good qualities of the school made any switch over religion unthinkable. So ... you are wise to think it out in advance.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Mustard Seed Preschool - how religious?

Jan 2016

Hi! We are looking at Mustard Seed in North Berkeley. We're a culturally half Jewish /half Christian, religiously atheist/non-practicing family. Location and schedule of Mustard Seed greatly appeal, and the recent reviews look very positive. Can any families in attendance tell us how religious the school is? What form does practice take? We are okay with a little religion, but it must be an accepting and progressive atmosphere for a non-Christian child. Thank you! non-practicing mom

One caveat - my child attended Mustard Seed 10 years ago. I am an ardent atheist. We chose Mustard Seed because I was impressed by the teachers when I toured and the hours fit our schedule. It is Christian and religious. The students pray before meals and are taught about Christ. However, the emphasis was on the lessons of kindness and tolerance that Christ taught. I liked it and if my child had any questions about God I told him to ask his teachers. He grew up to respect other beliefs and develop his own rather Buddhist spirituality.

Recent reviews of Mustard Seed?

Feb 2015

Does anyone have any recent experience with Mustard Seed Preschool in Berkeley?  It
seems most of the reviews are from 2010, and I'm wondering about its program for
preschoolers.  Any advice, including outdoor time, teacher quality and turnover, arts
and creative play, physical space, religious aspect, etc. welcome. 
Curious parent

I posted a review of Mustard Seed on Yelp, but my son went there for his last year of preschool and had the most wonderful experience. The staff are warm, caring, and engaged. It's a combination of play and learning. The environment is nurturing and open. The biggest difference that I noted between Mustard Seed and his previous preschool was that the staff at Mustard Seed are more educated and motivated. They look for ways to creatively engage the children. Highly recommend! Anon

How religious is Mustard Seed?

Nov 2010

I'm looking into preschools for my daughter for next fall, and I'm wondering about Mustard seed. How religious is it? How much does the hosting church's beliefs affect the curriculum? Is it just about learning some bible stories, or is there a proselytizing undercurrent. Do they seem to respect non-traditional families? I've heard good things about the school, but I'm concerned about possible conservative religious overtones. liberal mama

My information is a bit old. My son went to Mustard Seed several years ago. Back then it was somewhat religious, they pray or give thanks at lunch, and celebrate all the Christian holidays. However, I am an atheist and chose the school for the kindness of the teachers. My son's first conversation with me about God was to explain how ''He made us all different,'' with an emphasis on celebrating differences - very nice. Since I don't practice Christianity, I was pleased for my son to be exposed to it in a tolerant and non-judgmental manner. Hope this helps.

April 2010

Re: Toddler-to-Preschool program for 18-month old
Sorry missed the original post so not sure where you're looking geographically, but the Mustard Seed Preschool in Berkeley (near Monterey Market) takes kids starting at 18 months old, and my son has thrived there for the last year. It's a program with both structure and play, teachers are wonderfully caring and very involved, and facilities are great. It's not a small school (about 50 kids total) but the youngest class has no more than 10 kids (usually 8) and 2 teachers which is a good ratio. We have been very happy with our experience there. Mustard Seed fan

April 2010

Our daughter has been at Mustard Seed Preschool on Hopkins for a year now and we love this school. The teachers are amazing and do very creative songs and crafts. They are exceptionally good at communicating with the parents. There is a nice harmony with the church it is connected with such as church members sponsoring seasonal events for the families of the school like the Fall Festival (complete with face painting, a cake walk and lots of games). It is nice that Mustard Seed doesn't expect your child to be potty trained before entrance, as well. We have been very pleased with our experience at Mustard Seed. Krista

April 2010

I'd like to recommend Mustardseed Preschool in North Berkeley. I've had two children go through Mustardseed and I would do it all over again if I had a third! It is a play-based preschool that provides just the right amount of structure and incorporates academics in fun and engaging ways. There is very little teacher turnover, and the teachers are caring, thoughtful, and knowledgeable. Rina Woodfin, the director, is passionate about early childhood education and clearly loves what she does. There is a wonderful sense of community in the school that our family will miss very much when my son graduates this June. The school holds family events throughout the year that are particularly fun for the entire family and help provide a sense of connectedness among the school community. My son and my daughter loved going to Mustardseed, and were well prepared for kindergarten during their years there. Happy Preschool Mom

Considering Mustard Seed

Sept 2009

I was hoping to get some current feedback on Mustard Seed Preschool (the most recent archived info is from early 2007). We are considering sending our child there next year. Thanks in advance! Anon

My son went to the summer program at Mustard Seed and is now in the 2-year-old class. We are very happy with this preschool. I carefully screened many preschools and home daycare options in the area and found that Mustard Seed offers the best combination of things I was looking for: caring teachers, play-based yet structured environment (kids are offered different projects, teachers sing songs and play games with them, i.e. it's not a free-for-all run-around-like-crazy place), nice premises with lots of space to play in, good selection of toys. My son is excited to go to his preschool every morning. He is a very active child and the preschool provides a great outlet for his energy, but at the same time he already learned to follow instructions, take turns, wait and interact carefully with other kids. I must admit he made much better progress in his social skills at the preschool than anything we could achieve at home.

Note, the preschool is associated with a Korean Christian church, but that makes very little impact on their curriculum (saying grace before meals, celebrating Christmas and Easter, that's about it). We are neither Korean nor Christian and have no problem with this aspect. Also, I can only speak personally to the quality of the 2-year-old class, but I have observed older kids and found them to be well adjusted and playing nicely; can't say much about academic preparation since we're not at that stage yet. Overall, great experience and highly recommended! Happy Mustard Seed Mom.

Mustard Seed for toddler?

April 2007

Does anyone have any current experience with Mustard Seed Preschool that they would be willing to share? I am particularly interested in the toddler classroom, since my daughter will be 2.6 in the fall, but also very interested in the preschool classrooms as well. Susan

Mustard Seed's strength is its staff. The teachers are consistent, kind and very thoughtful in their approach to the children. There is a lot of love and a true concern for the individual needs of the children. If your child needs a nurturing, structured environment this is a good school. It also has very flexible scheduling for families who need long days or unusual hours.

The drawbacks include the fact that there are not a lot of bells and whistles at Mustard Seed. The manipulatives and toys are pretty basic and are not changed throughout the year. The rooms are also very small and a bit crowded. This can be difficult for a child who needs a lot of stimulus or space to express him or herself. Also, it is a Christian school. Your family has to be comfortable with talk of God, the resurrection of Jesus and religious songs. All and all, we have been very pleased with our Mustard Seed experience. The commitment and kindness of the teachers has far outweighed any reservations we might have. anon

Feb 2007

Our son is in K now after going to Mustard Seed for 3 years. Our son was very happy there as were my husband & I. It's a wonderful school w/just the right mix of play & structure. The 2 older classrooms start preparing kids for K w/various age- appropriate academics but not pushed on the kids. We felt our son was very ready for K. Our son had some problems but the teachers worked w/us & did a great job of helping him. We had daily communication w/the teachers. They always let us know any problems, how they were handled & also wanted to know how we dealt w/problems at home so they could be consistent. The teachers are very loving, warm & dedicated. The teacher turn- over rate is very low. The classrooms are filled w/lots of fun & imaginitive toys & centers to keep the kids stimulated & engaged. There is a slight religious aspect to the cirriculum but not fire & brimstone! Mostly, it's the thought of being kind to one another & treating peole as you want to be treated. They upgraded the play yard adding new climbing structures & enlarging the area for ball play, chalk art & bike riding. They also have a big sandbox full of toys as well as a 'house' for the kids to play in. We felt this was a great school & are anxious to send our 20 month old son there in another year so he can have the same wonderful experience. Kelly

Current reviews of Mustard Seed

Dec 2005

I'm looking for some more discussion on Mustard Seed preschool. There are a few posts from 2003/2004. Are there any parents out there with current students enrolled willing to be contacted about their experiences? My first visit was very positive, though I'm reluctant to risk 1/2 of one months tuition to get on their list, without some more input.

My son was previously enrolled in the UC child care program (before he attended Mustard Seed) where the ''program'' is not so much about delivering a particular curriculum, but more about providing quality care to children so that their parents can attend school knowing that their children are being well taken care of and provided with developmental opportunities that are appropriate to the individual child. Sure there was a daily routine, but what happened within that schedule was pretty flexible and responsive to what the kids needed/wanted on that particular day.

At Mustard Seed the preschool-age program is much more defined (I cannot speak to the younger -age classrooms), and maintaining that program takes precedence over meeting the child care needs of families. In that way it is much more like grade school than child care -- in other words, if the child is not able to adapt to the demands of the curriculum, then the child needs to adjust, and if the child does not then the child cannot stay in ! the program.

This is not a criticism -- it's just one of those things that I think families should be aware of before relying on this school for care. I think most kids at age 3 are probably able to adapt - - for whatever reasons our child was challenged and the placement simply didn't work well for our family.
currently enrolled elsewhere

June 2005

Re: Nurturing Preschool for 3 year olds
I highly recommend Mustard Seed Preschool (527-6627) on Hopkins Street in North Berkeley, ask to talk to the director Cathy Squires. She is amazingly devoted to the cause of providing quality education to all children regardless of economics, etc.... Mustard Seed has extremely low teacher turn-over. The teachers are very devoted to the children. Plus they are very loving, affectionate, and playful with them. It is a playbased p! rogram and yet fairly structured with a balance of projects, learning centers, stories, singing, outdoor play. There are 5 classes starting with 18months-2yr olds, 2-3 yr. olds, 3-4 and so on. so the kids are in small groups with kids their own age. It is a Christian Preschool - but I call it Christian light. There are some lessons about a loving God and Jesus (fair warning) the student body is very diverse in both race, religion, economics, there are same sex couples etc... It is a very excepting and loving atmosphere. We started there when we move to east bay and lived down the street and I loved the warmth of it so much that I continued to drive my kids from our new house in oakland. I recently had to withdraw because of my job situation (distance) and I am broken hearted about it. I would gladly tell you more if you need more. alison

Oct 2004

We have had an overall very positive experience with Mustard Seed for our very energetic 2 1/2 year old. I like that there is an equal emphasis on structure and letting kids be kids. We feel that they celebrate her uniqueness as well as show her when it is neccessary to follow rules and why to follow rules. I think that some parents may think it's a bit too organized or somehow crimping individuality and creativity. For us-that is not the case, our daughter has grown in so many ways without losing that certain energetic spirit that is uniquely hers. She will actually listen more now to us about bedtime, naps and washing her hands because of the positive experiences at school. We feel lucky to have her there in such a good place where we feel she is safe and looked after as well. Paul

March 2004

Hi, I am thinking about enrolling my three-year old son in The Mustard Seed preschool next fall. I toured the facility and everything seemed fine, but I want to hear others' perspectives before paying for enrollment. I'm wondering about experiences others have had with the teachers, the program's approach to discipline, parental involvement, and other overall perceptions. Ideally, we want to send our son to pre-school only in the morning, but we'll need some flexibility for occasional extended care. He's hardy and gregarious, but naturally we want to find the best program for him and us. Thanks. anonymous

Mustard Seed is pretty Christian in its ''content''--songs, references, community, and even in the artwork that the children draw.
Looking for something more secular

My daughter has been in the Mustard Seed for 2 1/2 years now. I have always liked the school very much. They are definitely NOT academically oriented, however, they do some gorgeous projects. The entire focus of learning is through creative play. My little one loves it. The school is fine with whatever level of participation the parents want to do. They don't have those mandatory 20 hours that most schools do. The after school care is also very available and flexible. If you know that you need care, you just call a day ahead or the same day (rates vary) and they will keep the child in after care...or of course you just sign up for some days on a regular monthly basis. We have overall had a very good experience with Mustard Seed. Best of Luck. anon

Jan. 2004

I just checked out the recommendations for Mustard Seed Preschool, and while they are mostly positive, they are a few years old. Does anyone have any more current info about Mustard Seed? Specifically I am interested in the 2 year old class, the teachers, the physical space, etc. I'd love to hear about anyone's experience, positive or negative, with the school. Thanks

I was talking with a colleague the other day about her son and his next step to preschool. We are both affiliated with the Graduate School of Education at UCB and are, as you might guess, fairly passionate about education.

My wife and I have sent our daughter, who is 4 years old, to Mustard Seed since 2001. Before choosing Mustard Seed, we visited Beth El, First Presbyterian, University Village, Ducks Nest and the Univesity sponsored care on campus. We got accepted to each one we applied to. I loved aspects of each of these schools, but it ''felt'' right at Mustard Seed.

What does ''feel right'' mean and should you use it as a basis for deciding about preschools. Yes! But make sure you have done some homework, too. Cathy Squires, the director of Mustard Seed, is one of the most competent and compassionate educators I have ever met. She's lived around the world, studied and trained in Berkeley, and knows her way around ''fashionable'' theories and fads. Her teachers are pedagogues and more importantly at this stage, members of ours and our daughter's extended family. The facilities are very appropriate and well-kept. The church where the school is housed seems to do good work. Everyone at Mustard Seed is thoughtful, open and grounded in their practice.

Without making assumptions about my readers, if you are like me, dogma at this stage of your child's development is not what you're looking for in a preschool. I am part Jewish and went to public schools all my life. My wife is from Hungary, and has a healthy distain for state- sponsored dogma. She was raised Catholic and was fortunate to attend great public non-religious schools in her home town. I mention these facts/disclaimers, so you can get a better picture of how mixed our ''values'' are. If, like us, you have mixed values, come from a national and international perspective on education, and care about being at a school with lots of languages and laughter, then Mustard Seed is for you.

After this personal experience with early childhood education, I am starting to believe that it is the love that excites the learning. But the love is more complicated than many would have so believe. There are ''habits of love'' which our daughter has garnered from the school. She many times has to remind my wife and I to ''use our words'' and ''let the other person be''. She has brought home projects and play--but most importantly, Mustard Seed has taught her to bring love and respect into the world.

Figure out what your family wants in a school and you'll know when it's right. Brent

Re: Preschool for a spirited child (Jan. 2003)

You should look into Mustard Seed Preschool on Hopkins in North Berkeley. Kathy Squires is the director. She has a great philosophy that I think would work well with a spirited child. She believes in a play based system that allows children enough freedom to experience all of their emotions and learn to deal with the consequences of their actions. It seems that her philosophy is very much directed at helping preschools learn to be confident and happy within society. This does not mean kids are running around all day being naughty. Discipline it quick yet gentle. It is not about punishment but ahout understanding each situation. It is a Christian school yet the student body is very diverse from both a religious and ethnic background. I am not a religious person and I felt the message was pretty simple God loves all the children kind of thing. anon

May 1999

Our son is finishing up his 3rd year at Mustard Seed Preschool, a non-denominational Christian preschool connected with the Berkeley Covenant Church in North Berkeley, on Hopkins, next to the King Jr. High tennis courts. I've heard from parents that many Kindergarten teachers know of the school and appreciate the students who come from it because their classroom behavior is very good. The school stresses learning to get along with others much more than "academic" learning. The school is always full or practically full by word of mouth alone (they don't advertise) but it is always worth trying. The two older classes (4s & pre-k) are in a terrific new building next door to the church, and the 2-yr. old & 3-yr. old classes are in decent rooms in the basement. Now that the new building is complete & in use, I think they are working on improvements on the older spaces & the yard. This spring they also started a 18 mos-2 yr. small group. The teachers are consistently good, kind, patient & smart (The teachers have mentioned to me that there's always a waiting list of teachers who want to work there as it's known as a good place to work among preschool teachers), and the Christian teaching is simple and not overwhelming. Their regular school day is 9-1, with extended care from 8-6. It's fairly inexpensive compared with other schools of the same quality. The director, Cathy Squires, is a particularly lovely & wise person. Leah

Mustard Seed Preschool is almost always full (but do check it out, you never know. Now's a good time to look around for next year). They don't advertise, it's all word of mouth. There are approximately 70 students total, and up to 50 at any one time. Of course, they don't all use the play yard at the same time, but I think their license says they must have enough outdoor space as if they were going to have everyone outside together. I like that there are a lot of adults & teachers around - part of the reason we picked this over a tiny school. Until just recently they were in the midst of a long-term construction project. They tore down the little house (adorable & sweet, but old, small & becoming unsafe.) Now their two new classrooms (for the 3 & 4 yr.-olds) are complete & in use. They are lovely - light, airy, safe, etc. They even have itty bitty flush pottys - a big hit with the kids! The two classrooms for the 2 & 3 yr.- olds are in the same old spaces, with some improvements here & there. It's a non-denominational Christian school, partly subsidized by the church next door. That's why it's very reasonably priced (in comparison with comparable schools...) I also really like their payment schedule. It's more flexible for parents with odd work schedules than most, I think, and fair to the school also (for example, every month is the same, regardless of the number of school days/holidays. The Director has said she likes to keep it as simple as possible, "so we can all get on with life!" I agree.) The available hours now are 8-6, with the regular classes meeeting from 9-1. The rest is "extended care." I've very much liked all of our son's teachers, and he has made some terrific friends. When we started there, a friend told me she had never once in her long experience of the school seen any adult be less than patient with a child. Their attitudes and perspectives are pragmatic, knowledgable, honest, and above all, loving. Good luck finding a wonderful school!

Just a note about Mustardseed Preschool - my daughter was there for one year as a 2-year-old, and while the experience was generally positive I did have a couple of concerns. One was that the room for the youngest kids is a basement room with very little lighting or ventilation - little windows high on the walls that are at street level outside. I thought the classroom seemed dark, sad & slightly musty smelling. My other concern was that I didn't feel that the youngest kids were outside enough. They have a nice yard, and several times on colder or slightly windy days, they kept the kids inside. This was quite a contrast to my older daughters school where they would take the kids on rainy day walks (with proper clothing) when it was too wet to play on the playground. At Mustardseed, the older kids would be outside when I arrived at 1 to pick up my daughter, but it was deemed "too cold" for the younger kids.

May 1996

I sent my daughter to the Mustard Seed Preschool in North Berkeley while we were visiting for a year, and highly recommend it.

It's small and family-style. My daughter's classroom was not an actual classroom but composed of several little rooms in a house. There are many asian kids (the director is asian herself), and some staff members speaking Chinese (I think). It's a non-denominational Christian school, so they learn stuff about God creating the world and some songs on the theme "I love you, you love me, Jesus loves us all", and that influences the teachers' attitude towards the kids in ways which I really like -- s.a. truly respecting each child's individuality. On the practical side, the hours can be 9-5 if needed, and it's fairly cheap.