Seeking a Preschool with Good Outdoor Spaces

Parent Q&A

  • Berkeley/N. Oakland Preschool - Outdoorsy and Creative

    (13 replies)

    I had hoped to just find a preschool close by and be done with it, but I've visited a few and none feel right. My son is 2 and we'll probably enroll him in the fall. He's very energetic and curious so I'd like to find a place that has a nice outdoor space where he can play, get a little dirty, and be creative since he gets less of that in our small home. We are less concerned about any specific educational philosophies, which is funny since I have a higher degree in educational philosophy and currently work in youth development. 

    Just hoping to get some recommendations of places where the teachers seem happy, and their kids are happy, thriving, and seem like they've throughly explored each day. I'm looking for places in North Oakland/Berkeley ideally. Thank you!

    Hello, it might be a little beyond your preferred area, but The Pine Crest School in Kensington sounds like a good match:

    Highly recommended, excellent teachers, lots of exploring nature outdoors and being creative.  My children have thrived with them.

    We loved My Own Montessori.  I felt exactly the way you did (i.e. less concerned with the philosophy, but wanted to get a good feel from the place) and the moment I walked in to visit M.O.M, I could tell that the children were happy and thriving.  It is right by Trader Joes off of College.  The children do wonderful art projects and do spend a fair amount of time in the outdoor space they have.  I can't recommend it enough.  

    Look at The Berkeley School campus on Francisco near Shattuck.

    We also have a curious, energetic boy and we Loved Claremont Day Nursery - they have a location on Claremont Ave (where we went) and on College Ave. They have huge outdoor play space and the kids get lots of time to play and explore!

    Check out The New School on Bonita off Cedar. 

    We love Duck's Nest on 41st in the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood. My son is in his 3rd year there. The outdoor area is not huge, but it's ample with a big sandbox, 3 separate climbing structures, a whole outdoor art studio, a bike deck area, outdoor chicken coop and bunny hutch, building blocks area and train table, lots of greenery and growing things and plants and room to dig and get muddy and dirty. If you want your son to get dirty every day, I can assure you that can happen at Ducks Nest! My son's poor clothes are evidence. The kids and teachers are all happy there. Low turnover, with lots of support for child-directed/child-driven curiosity. 

    Have you looked into the Early Childhood Education Program at Berkeley? If you can get a spot I think it's what you're looking for. It's given priority for Berkeley affiliated parents but sometimes has community spots as well.

    We were looking for similar features as you and we ended up sending our kids to Temple Sinai in Oakland. It’s not as outdoorsy as many of the places we visited but they do have a large outdoor space. What really attracted us to the school was that the teachers are experienced and happy and seem to really intuitively understand how to handle our rambunctious mischievous and creative bundle of energy who was getting into trouble at some daycare and toddler programs due to his behavior and aggression.  I have been absolutely thrilled with how well the teachers understand him and he has a really thrived And matured there. I am a little bit sad that he isn’t somewhere where he can play in the woods all day but he does not lack for anything and we will make up for that by sending him to an outdoor camp in the summer

    It sounds like you're looking for Learning to Leap in Oakland.  It's a little out of your neighborhood, but it's worth it.  The kids are happy and thriving, they have a great outdoor space, have a holistic approach and the families really love all the teachers.  I've known the director for years, my daughter has been an intern at the center, and I've always been impressed with how happy and comfortable all the children are.  I highly recommend you check them out:, 510-318-4275.

    I highly recommend Duck's Nest Preschool on 4th Street in Berkeley (just off Gilman), for all the reasons you list and then some. We knew as soon as we entered the gate that we had found 'the one.' Our son is currently enrolled and our older daughter attended for two years. We have been very, very happy there--kids and grown-ups both!

    I would check into Berkerley Unified School District preschool.  There is a tour at Franklin elementary this Saturday. Unfortunately, I can’t make it.  I will be doing the March tours to Franklin Preschool, King CDC and Hopkins Child Development. Good luck!

    Hearts Leap in the Elmwood! For my family, this has been the ideal preschool. They give the kids lots of outdoor time in their amazing yard and my son always happily came home with dirt-covered pants.

    The outside space is a laboratory of discovery with a big sand pit, shovels, trucks, tires, ropes, balance beams, climbing structure, playhouse, all surrounded by redwood trees and planter boxes where the children garden. Sometimes the ballet school opens their big windows which border the play yard and the children can watch the dancers and listen to the accompanying piano.

    Not only is the physical space of a Julia Morgan-designed building beautiful, the classrooms are thoughtfully laid out. Every day brings a new adventure at Hearts Leap where children can choose between an amazing variety of art, tactile, or building projects, play in the imaginary play area or create their own fun in another area. 

    It feels so good to come through the doors – one instantly feels the warmth of community, the love for children, and an environment that nurtures exploration and creativity. The curriculum is child-led, with projects often continuing for weeks as interests evolve and take new directions.

    The director has a gift of hiring teachers who all have advanced degrees in child education and are compassionate, engaged, and genuinely enjoy working with children. There is a real sense of teamwork between all the teachers, not just within each classroom, and despite the size of the school, every teacher seems to really know each child.

    Adding to the qualities which make this preschool unique, there are many excellent enrichment extras including dance and soccer classes every week, visits to the Berkeley Playhouse, dramatic storytelling by Mr. Michael from the Berkeley Public Library, and visits from the Marine Mammal Center, as well as the Vivarium.

    Sending both of our children to Hearts Leap over the past four years, we have always been filled with confidence knowing that their social, emotional, and developmental needs were being supported and that they were happily thriving in this special place. And they've just opened an infant program!

    Check out The Room to Grow on Broadway in Rockridge. It is a small preschool that follows the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Kids get to make up their own projects from the abundant materials present in the classroom, the school agreements are democratically created, they can run in and out to the yard at their own convenience and yes, they do get dirty! Teachers are just wonderful, guiding the kids with so much respect, creativity and passion. My kid brings home tons of art work, they go on trips to the farmers market with BART, build a fort from cardboard, then wood and nails, do yoga and learn about how to recognize and express emotions through colors etc etc. Seriously, I wish I went to a school like this when I was a kid!! There are a lot of options to get involved as a parent, but no pressure if you don't want to. Family camping trip twice a year, potlucks, and you can hang out at school with your kid as long as you like to read books, help on projects etc. Not unimportant, hours are 7.30am - 6pm, very convenient for working parents. Good luck on finding the right school for your kid!

    New replies are no longer being accepted.
  • Preschool w/ animals, tools, and/or gardening

    (6 replies)

    Hi - I would love any recommendations for play-based preschools for a 3-year old in the El Cerrito/Albany/Kensington/Berkeley area with lots of outdoor play and ideally some animals, gardening, and/or working with tools?  Thanks so much!

    Albany Preschool!!! Love that place. Two great play yards, and class pets when possible.

    Monteverde School has all of those things.

    I second Albany Preschool! It is a play-based preschool. I know they raised silk worms and praying mantises last year. There is a little garden area in one of the yards and water pumps the kids can play with. There's pretty much as much outdoor play as your child would like - rain or shine!

    Albany Preschool is a co-op so that is something to keep in mind. Family involvement differs between the morning and afternoon programs so families can pick what works best for them. 

    I recommend Duck's Nest on 4th street.  I have a recent graduate and a son returning for his second year. They place kids by age group but spend a good chunk (a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon) on their amazing yard for all age play.  They had an offsite garden, lost the lease and are creating a new garden on site.  And there are Chickens!  We have been thrilled with the curriculum and the warmth and creativity of the teachers.  Both are boys have thrived there.  Good Luck with your search!

    It's a little more north, but I would recommend you check out Sunshine Playschool in El Sobrante.  They have a bunny and a tortoise, and an amazing outdoor play area where they have grown some vegetables and regularly dig in the sand/dirt pit with tools.  My son is always telling me about their construction "projects" which usually seem to involve building some kind of stream/dam contraption.  Earlier this year they grew kale and made their own kale chips.  It's a magical place.

    Check out Hug a Bug preschool in Kensington! Definite yes on animals and lots of outdoor time (including walks in the woods just behind the preschool). It's an amazingly loving place. My daughter spent two wonderful years there. 

    New replies are no longer being accepted.
  • Berkeley area preschool with good outdoor area

    (15 replies)

    Hi bpn community,

    As the most recent responses are now four years old, I was wondering whether anyone had any other preschools to recommend. We are looking for somewhere with good space for running around outside, digging, etc., in or near Berkeley. Our son will be 4 before next school year.

    (We've checked into El Cerrito co-op and Skytown, both of which have the kind of area we're looking for, but we will probably be waitlisted so are seeking other options.)


    Check out Step One School!

    Check out Duck's Nest's Berkeley campus. The yard is phenomenal, as is the rest of their program, facility, and staff. We're about to send our second child there, and are thrilled to bits.

    We just learned that Ducks Nest (which has amazing outdoor space and gardens) has a couple of openings for next year. Won't last long though. 

    Dandelion or Beth El Nursery School

    UC Berkeley's pre-schools are open to the public; you don't have to be affiliated with the University to attend.  The Harold Jones Child Study Center has two outstanding facilities, enormous outdoor play areas, structures, sand boxes and outdoor playthings.  Unless the weather is inclement, most activities take place outside.  Look into the Early Childhood Education Program on the UCB web site.

    Also, Step One pre-school on Spruce in Berkeley has an excellent outdoor area.

    We love Kensington Nursery School.My daughter went there and now my grand daughter is there.They have two large play yards and it is great!

    It sounds like Albany Preschool might be a good option for you! My son goes there currently and I heard they still have openings for next year. There are two outside yards for the kids to play in rain or shine. One yard has a playground with bikes and trikes. The other yard has a giant sandbox with swings, shovels, balls, water tables and planter boxes. Albany Preschool is a co-op preschool and I participate in the mornings typically in one of the yards. The kids decide what they want to do. Us adults just make sure no one gets hurt and help the kids get out the items they want to play with. Last week I went on a worm hunt (We found four.), was served "lunch" of sandy soup and helped dig trenches around the lake in the sandbox and set "bridges" for the kids to cross the trenches. I recommend you take a tour and check out the Albany Preschool Facebook page. The Facebook page has pictures of some of the kids' activities during the day.

    Sequioa pre-school in Oakland has a very large outdoor area that is surrounded by lots of trees.  It is a free play co-op and allows the children to spend as much time outdoors as they'd like.

    Hi! Check out Magnolia Children's School, on Sacramento near the corner of Parker. Our 3 year old has been there for almost 6 months now and we are so happy. It's a pretty big yard, with room to run and play. There is a garden which the kids get to help in, and two chickens which they get to help feed and take care of. Definitely space to dig, get dirty and wet, etc!

    There's often a water table available for play on warmer days, and they let kiddos play in the rain if it's ok with a parent, you send extra changes of clothes, etc. My son LOVES digging and playing in the rain... one of his current favorite things to do is "make soup" in the rain with wood chips and dirt in one of the big buckets. Or play in the water table... in the rain... basically lol, I can often measure how happy of a day he's had by how many clean, dry changes of clothes he's been through that day. ;)

    Anyway, give Laura a call. There are reviews here on BPN both for Magnolia and for Woolsey Children's School (the school's name from its former location) from many happy parents, and I'll definitely add my name to the list. Laura and all the teachers are so kind and good with the kids, they're totally on top of positive behavior reinforcement and childhood development, and I feel like the daily schedule is a very good mixture of *lots* of play time outside, with inside play spaces available too, sprinkled with awesome teacher led activities (Art! Music! Yoga!). I could keep going. I feel very lucky that we got a space and plan to be there until our little one is ready for K. I'm not sure what kind of availability she has left for next "school year" (they follow the Berkeley Unified calendar), so you may want to call soon.

    I hope you find what you are looking for! Lots of great preschools around here. Good luck.

    ECPC still has a few spaces open in their afternoon program! We had two kids go through there and we loved it. It's not too late ;-)

    Children's Community Center has an amazing outdoor space. If you liked the vibe at ECPC, you'll love Children's Community Center too. At this time of year, it's wait lists everywhere, so do not be deterred by that news. The dust will settle by summer and you'll eventually get in almost everywhere for fall. 

    Albany Preschool! Two outdoor yards and TONS of activities for the kids.  My daughter comes home with dirty clothes everyday from being outside all day!  The children get to choose where and what they want to do!  It's a play- based affordable pre-school coop! I highly recommend it! Teachers are wonderful, interactive and caring too.  

    Hearts Leap in Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood has a fantastic, woodsy outdoor area with lots of space for digging and running around. Our active son loves the Hearts Leap yard and would probably spend his entire day outside if given the chance (and they give them a lot of outdoor time!). The play structure is great for climbing, there are also monkey bars, a "house" structure, a tree swing, a vegetable garden, lots of shovels, hoops, balls, trucks, and other toys to play with imaginatively. This is a very special school (the inside too!) - highly recommended.

    Sheffield Preschool on Stuart St. in Berkeley has a fabulous and very creative yard (complete with pirate ship, if I remember correctly).

    Berkeley Hills Nursery School has very nice shady outdoor spaces, and adjoins a tiny, underused city park, which they spill over into frequently.

    New replies are no longer being accepted.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Oakland preschools with great outdoor spaces?

April 2013

I know this has been asked in the past, but the recent responses are pretty Berkeley-centric. Wondering if anyone knows of any Oakland full-time preschools with excellent outdoor spaces and/or gardens, ideally in North Oakland. We know about Duck's Nest and Oakland Garden School; are there others? Thanks! Starting the search

I suggest you check out Daisy Child Development Center . We have a super active boy and outdoor space was important to our choice of preschool. They are a play based school with a progressive vibe. The main play structure was parent built and therefore unique. They have a garden and chickens. It is a larger school with four classes but the wonderful teachers make every child feel special. We loved everything about Daisy. Happy Daisy Parent

Looking for a Preschool with a Garden

July 2012

I am starting to look into preschools for Fall of 2013 for my daughter, who will be 3 in late September of 2013. She loves to be outside, looking at plants and flowers so I'd like to find her a preschool that has a garden and includes gardening in the curriculum. She is a mellow kid who is also a bit slow to warm, so I'd like to find a school with a small class size. We live in Elmwood but I'm willing to include schools in Rockridge, Albany and possibly El Cerrito as well as Berkeley. I'd prefer to send her part-time for the first year, so schools with a half-day or options for 2 or 3 days a week would be great. Thank you for any recommendations! Mom of a Nature Lover

Take a look at Sheffield Preschool . June Sheffield has been teaching for 30 years, her school is a gem, with a big beautiful yard of garden and play areas. There are only 12 children at a time in a very nurturing environment, and a play based curriculum. Happy Sheffield Mom

Ducks' Nest has 2 wonderful gardens -- one in the back by the older kids and one accross the street. The kids play and work in the garden a lot. It's a large preschool but is very very well run, most of the teachers are wonderful and the place is full of wonderment and and playtime fun. The admissions process, at least 4 years ago, was not as pleasant. They do get many applications. I have found that if you ask at the last minute they sometimes find they have an unexpected place. ruthe

Please consider El Cerrito Preschool Co-op on Moeser Lane in El Cerrito. We are certified as a Schoolyard Wildlife Habitat Garden by the National Wildlife Federation. Here's a little bit more about our garden: ECPC is a play based preschool for children 3 -5 years old. We offer morning and afternoon programs in a relaxed, supportive and culturally diverse environment. We have an experienced, caring and professional staff with a low turnover rate. Our preschool has operated as a parent cooperative since 1940. While our professional teaching staff runs the program, member families own the school and are responsible for administration and maintenance. This helps keep tuition low and allows parents to be fully involved in their child's education. It also serves to build a strong sense of community among the families in the school. If you would like more information about enrollment, please email: enrollment [at] Lia

You should visit Berkeley Rose School in North Berkeley/Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood. Their website is: We are in the midst of putting in a wonderful garden right outside the classroom in our new, permanent location on Cedar and Walnut. Berkeley Rose is a waldorf-inspired (seeking certification) preschool through 2nd grade school. The school will be growing a grade a year. My 4 1/2 year old twins attended the preschool last year and will be doing another year of preschool before kindergarten. I didn't know much about the Waldorf philosophy but have learned a lot and really believe in all of it! There are 2, 3, 4, and 5 day options for preschoolers and the regular time is half-day (8:30 - 12:30 with an option to attend the afternoon program if desired). I think Waldorf is a good fit for every child - they learn how to play, use their imagination, tell stories, sing songs, be outside, work with nature. Berkeley Rose is also lucky to have a wonderful preschool assistant teacher who is also the school's garden teacher, Willow Summer. She previously started and ran City Slicker Farms, an urban farm in Oakland. She is wonderful with both children and plants. There are several parents who drive from quite far away (Orinda, Lafayette, El Sobrante) to attend the school! A happy Berkeley Rose parent seh

Cedar Creek Montessori School on Sacramento and Cedar has a lovely little garden and a strong nature studies program. All around, it's a wonderful preschool! Check it out (even though I think you might get tired of the commute from Elmwood). They offer part-time and full-time. Tea ceremony, weekly bread-making, nature walks...we really love that school! Mom to 2 Cedar Creek grads

Preschools that have the most quality outdoor time?

Sept 2011

I have seen positive feedback for daycare / pre-school / school settings that have lots of high-quality outside play, but --which environment has the *most* outdoor time in grassy, muddy, animal and plant-filled nature?-- We are looking for a ''kinder forest'' sort of environment ( for our 2.5 year old. It seems that Oakland Garden School and Cottage in the Woods are both candidates, but we would also like immersion in Chinese, Portuguese or other languages besides English. We're hoping to find a program where true nature and exposure to culture and language come together. We live in Pinole but are willing to consider anywhere in the larger Bay Area. Thanks for your feedback. Nature and Language Family

No school can compare with Waldorf schools for quality outdoor time for kids. If you are looking for pre-k and kindergarten, please contact Diana Mei at < href=rose.html>Rose Kindergarten , in El Sobrante. She was a long term teacher at East Bay Waldorf and opened her own school a few years ago. Our boys have and still attend her school. Much of the time is spent outdoors, rain or shine, playing and gardening. She has bees, chickens and I think is planning on alpacas. She is an amazing teacher and her school is wonderful. If you are looking for 1st grade and beyond, visit the East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante. Diana Mei, Rose Kindergarten, (510) 223-8309, rosekindergarten [at] Maria

You should take a tour of Duck's Nest Preschool in Berkeley [on 4th St. near Gilman]. It's hard to imagine a more comprehensive, attractive, and integrated outdoor program. happy nature/animal lovin' parent

Preschool with great outside space?

April 2011

I love our home-based daycare, but it just doesn't have any outside space and I'd love for my little one to be able to run around outdoors during the day. Does anyone have recommendations for a 1) full-day preschool, 2) that takes two-year-olds, 3) ideally in the Lake Merritt / Fruitvale / Glenview / Piedmont area that 4) has some safe space attached where my child can run around outside? -Loving the sun

Recommendations received:

Preschool for very energetic 2 year old son

June 2002

In searching for a preschool for our VERY energetic soon-to-be-2-year-old son, we've come to feel that the playground is one of the top considerations. We're looking specifically for a preschool with a playground that:

- has a LARGE outdoor area
- offers free and total accessibility all day long (kids can wander in and out as they choose)
- has both good shade and good sun -- in other words an all-weather play area (well, except for rain or storms!)
- has solid high fences for security and privacy
- has natural features -- trees, grass, flowers, birds ...
- is in a quiet, peaceful setting -- not right next to a busy road, freeway, train-track, etc.

Can anyone make a recommendation based just on this criteria? We realize that a place this good may not even exist, but -- we hope! Thanks! Colleen

Recommendations received: