Small Preschools

Parent Q&A

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  • Seeking small, diverse preschool for 3yo

    (5 replies)

    I am looking for a play-based preschool for an active 3-yr old boy in the Albany/Berkeley/El Cerrito/Oakland area.

    Ideally this preschool would:

    1.  have a student body of kids from diverse economic, racial, ethnic, family structure backgrounds

    2.  have no more than 24 kiddos

    3.  have indoor and outdoor play and lots of freedom to move between the two

    4.  have a curriculum supporting independence, inclusion, kindness, and empathy

    Is there such a place that checks all or at least most of these boxes?

    This description is Woolly Mammoth Preschool to a T! Our daughter loves WM and it checks all the boxes. 

    We've had a good experience with Little Elephant Too! in Berkeley -- seems to check all your boxes. We chose it specifically because we wanted a smaller school environment for our little one. There's a little less than 20 kids, mixed age, and the bigger ones help the little ones. There's both the great indoor classroom with a lot of interesting Montessori toys and a large outdoor space. Many parents come from outside the United States and several have come into the classroom to share traditions and stories from their home countries. We're grateful to have been part of the community for two years, since our kiddo was 2.5. And he loves it!

    Here is my quasi-regular plug for the home-based daycare/preschool we sent our kids to: Sunflowers Daycare in Rockridge. They also run Orkidz in Albany, which is bigger. Good outdoor space, great activities (weekly yoga, music, nature walks, etc), excellent homemade food, and very diverse group of kids with nice parents. The family who runs it takes it VERY seriously and really want the best for the kids. We are finally leaving after having been there for almost four years! A bunch of kids are leaving for TK at the end of summer so they will likely have a few spots (only 12 kids total).

    We are VERY happy at Monteverde, in South Berkeley that checks most of your boxes. I think there are more than 24 kids, but not all the kids are there all days. They have a play based curriculum with anti-racist/anti-bias built in. They are also great with helping children figure out socio-emotional learning. My child has become so much more empathetic and aware of others since she joined less than a year ago. The space is wonderful, and children have free reign to figure out where they want to go and how they want to play. And the teachers are absolutely incredible. They are so warm and welcoming! And also great at facilitating the million little arguments that happen between toddlers :)  

    We have been very happy with Child Education Center in Berkeley ( They have a diverse student body, and, while they have more than 24 kids total, class sizes are small. Our 2 1/2-year-old son is in a class with 8-10. It is largely child-led and they spend a ton of time outside - both on their grounds and also on neighborhood walks twice a week. There is art, yoga, gardening, etc. Our active son has thrived and learned so much, and we see the results at home with his increasing independence, kindness, and unprompted empathy. I am happy to answer any questions you might have as you consider what is best for you and your family.

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Looking for small home based preschool next fall

Oct 2007

We are looking for a small home based preschool starting in August for our son who will then be just over 3 years. We would prefer 1 or 2 teachers with a small ratio of children. N Berkeley area prefered, but willing to travel a few miles for the right school. We are very interested in Waldorf and Montessori based schools but are open to others. Would like to have an earthy type school with more natural wood type toys, healthy, organic snacks. Also open to co-ops. Our son has only had a sitter a couple of times in his life, so we are looking for teachers that are very present and attentive. Thanks for any suggestions!

Try Home Away From Home run by a woman named Lauren. It is based in her home on Birch street off of College. Very sweet, attentive, seasoned, enthusiastic staff (usually 3:1). Satisfied Parent

Looking for a small preschool in N. Berkeley

Oct 2007

BPN has given me info about a lot of great schools that we might consider, but I'm sending this in case we missed one. We're interested in finding a small preschool in north berkeley/albany that can be part time and is really nurturing. We want a place that would be great for a very bright and cerebral three year old. We think her current school may be too big and boistrous. ideally something 10-20 students. Lots of art, nature, gardening etc. Lots of attention to the kids- very involved teachers. A place that might have openings before next year is surely welcome. debbie

I think Cedar Creek Montessori would be perfect for your daughter. When our daughter started, she was very shy, intensely interested in a lot of things but needed to be in a place where she would be drawn out, or given enough quiet space to express herself. She has really thrived and blossomed at Cedar Creek, where kids like her do very well. In fact, it seems all kids do well there! Cedar Creek is bigger than what you're looking for, but I found it to be much calmer and more organized than other smaller schools we saw. Our daughter comes home every day with an art project (or three), and stories about what she learned in ''nature studies,'' which the older children participate in. The students also have music and dance classes weekly. The teachers are attentive, gentle, warm, and engaging, and they give hugs when the kids need them. Any time we've had a concern about our daughter, her teachers are responsive and helpful. Both the students and the teachers are fairly diverse. There is a lot of clear and organized communication between the school and the parents. It's just a great, safe, nuturing and stimulating environment. I had determined that our daughter would not go to a preschool with more than 10-15 children and I'm so glad we went to see Cedar Creek. The only complaint we have about Cedar Creek is that it will be too hard to leave! We feel spoiled now. We love Cedar Creek

Try Mi Escuelita in N. Berkeley, near Solano. Max 12-14 kids; offers part-time; bilingual Spanish; lots of art, music, songs, reading, daiy walks, library visits, warm, loving care-givers. My 3 year old loves it. Like a great, big extended family for her. Might have part-time openings now. Call 526-4357 raiss

Try ''The Gay Austin School'' on Hopkins in North Berkeley. It sounds like it has everything you are looking for. I have 2 children that went there and loved it! Andrea

Intimate, warm preschool with fewer than 20 kids

February 2003

I'm looking for a small, intimate, warm, loving preschool, preferably with less than 20 kids, for my daughter, who will soon be three. Many small preschools -- especially those in private homes -- aren't publicized, and I haven't lived here long enough to benefit from word of mouth. I'd love to hear your recommendations. Thank you! Laura

Recommendations received:

See also: more recommendations for home-based preschools