Smiles Day School

Oakland, CA

To view the State's license info—inspections, citations, and complaints—click the License number below. Also see About Childcare & Preschool Reviews.

Iona Green
(510) 339-9660
Montclair on Thornhill
Maximum Capacity: 
Language(s) Spoken: 

Parent Questions

Smiles Preschool(3 responses)

Parent Reviews

Parents, have you used this organization's services? Sign in to post a review.

Archived Reviews: 

Aug 2012

Re: Affordable, Academic, Diversity Preschool for 4yr
You may want to check out Smiles Day School in Montclair. It's semi structured, where there's free play time and some academics, in preparation for kindergarten, such as writing. I don't know how much diversity you are looking for but there is diversity in its students and particularly with its staff. Each week, the students learn a theme such as learning about a country or shapes or agriculture, etc. It's got a lot of students there (50 students on a given day in one program) and yet there's a lot of individualized attention. I never felt my son was lost in the fray and the staff are quite responsive. It's about $924/month for full time care from 7:30-6pm but the rates go down if you are looking for less than full time care. Hope that helps! Lisa

May 2012

Re: Montclair preschools, play-based and also structured
My daughter is about to graduate from smiles and it has been a wonderful experience. It is play based but has great structure so she is well prepared for kindergarten. It is a bigger school so she has learned great social skills too. Smiles also has flexible hours and is very reasonably priced. melissa

Dec 2009

Currently looking for recent feedback on Smiles Day School on Thornhill Avenue in Oakland (Montclair District). My son is currently in a 2 year old program since Smiles accepts kids at the age of 2-9. I am interested in Smiles given the location, neighbor recommendation, and cost. I would like something more play based, but not certain if the size of the program would offer this. My son is very energetic (not overly) but is currently getting time outs for excessive hugging of classmates and climbing in the classroom. Thanks in advance for the feedback.

I've been a happy mom at Smiles for the past 3.5 years, with two rather energetic daughters. The director has been there for many years and I've been very impressed with her insight and communication to the parents. The program varies based on the age of the child, since they are divided up in groups based on their age and maturity - it is largely play-based for the 2-3 year olds, just a bit of concept introduction and messy art, songs, and so on. It seems large, but the groups are only about 8 kids per teacher and that works quite well. The upstairs program is smaller and kept separate. One of the interesting concepts is that the groups rotate among teachers, so the kids get to know all of them well, and don't get stuck with one teacher they don't click with. I like all the staff, some have been there for a long time, but the new ones are great too. I like the Smiles community too. The school feeds mostly into local public and parochial schools. Lots of kids go (almost) full time and have both parents working, which has been really supportive for my situation. Good luck on your decision. Kitty

My 3.5 yr old twin boys have been attending Smiles since September and they love it. The school is run very well and they have been learning a lot. I was worried about my boys cause they are active and were in timeouts in their last facility, but Smiles does not use timeouts and uses reasoning which seems to work with my boys. They are very structured, you know exactly what your kids are learning for the month and the staff is wonderful. I thought this preschool was very afforable for the service they provide. My husband and I were even more impressed when attending the 3 orientation hours with our sons. If you haven't done so, I recommend observing their circle time. drake

Oct 2009

There aren't many recent reviews of Smiles Day School so I thought I would just say that our experience with Smiles has been truly great. The teachers were very patient with my son during his transition (which wasn't easy initially) and now he's anxious to get there in the morning. He often tells me he needs to hurry up and go to school because, ''his friends are waiting.'' The children are loving and kind which I think reflects back to the teachers. I checked out many other preschools that were far more expensive, and still cannot figure out how Smiles provides everything and more with their very reasonable tuition fees. They truly do a great job - they are firm with high expectations but also loving and kind. We are very happy there and look forward to our daughter attending. Melissa

June 2009

Re: Full-time preschools for less than $1000/month?
We were in the same situation as you. The only preschool I found that was structured and under $1000 and worked with our hours was Smiles in Montclair. It is not much under $1000 (860), but every bit counts. Meredith

Jan 2009

Hello, We're considering Smile's Day School in Montclair as a potential place for our 2 yr old daughter since we feel she is ready for more stimulation and interaction than what her current daycare provides (she has been there since 3 months!). Looks like the reviews are kind of outdated. I'm curious if anyone can offer some insight on how they like/dislike Smile's? Give me the good, the bad and the ugly :) Thanks. Laura

We have a 4th grader who is a Smiles graduate and a four-year old who is currently enrolled. We moved our 4th grader from a more academic preschool to Smiles when she was almost four. I quickly learned that because of the warm and nuturing environment our older daughter quickly gained more confidence and interest in learning. I have seen little turn over in the staff in the last six years, which is a great asset (same staff as in 2004). There are weekly themes and concepts. The children participate every morning in circle time before breaking into groups. Our four-year even learned to count in several languages. I highly recommend Smiles Day School! Lisa

April 2006

I checked the archives and didn't see any messages about the house site of Smiles Day School. I think that the church site and the house site are very similar, but I'd really appreciate hearing about recent experiences at the house site of this school. Thanks!!!

My daughter is in her second year at the Smiles Day School House Site and we couldn't be happier. The Director and teachers are excellent. This was my daughter's first experience away from home and she needed a definite adjustment period. The Director and staff were very helpful in making her feel welcome, safe and comfortable. She has blossomed in the past year and a half, learning and growing so much. She looks forward to going to school every day and adores her teachers. She just got into the kindergarten of our choice, much to the credit of the Smiles House site teachers. Bonnie Saar, the Director, is outstanding. She is very attentive to each child and their needs, making sure that parents and teachers are all working as a team for the best of each child. I have seen other preschools and have yet to find one as efficiently organized as this one. There are clear rules and schedules, so children know what is expected of them and spend their time playing and learning without so much chaos or disruption. The House Site facilty is wonderful, with many vibrant classrooms and a great outdoor play yard. I would heartily recommend the Smiles Day School House Site to anyone!
Smiles House Site Parent

Feb 2005

My family and I are moving to Oakland in 3 months and there is an opening for our 3 year old son at Smiles Day School. Does anyone have any experience with this preschool?

Our son has been at Smiles since he was about 3 (he's now 5). We absolutely love it there. We're at the church site. The director there, Iona, is fabulous! She is just such a mom. She's seen it all and the kids can't pull anything over on her! She's always very direct and kind with the kids. The teachers there are excellent to good (there's always going to be one that you're just not that crazy about, but I think they are all very competent and good with the kids). My son has had a few ''issues'' to work out (don't they all at this age) and they have been wonderful with working with him. I suppose the only negative thing is that it is a rather large population of kids. I think they handle it well, though. I would recommend them highly. My son will graduate to Kindergarten this fall, and I'm sad that I'll have to look elsewhere for after care (although I'm on the waiting list for Smiles, so I've got my fingers crossed). Best of Luck to you!

This responds to the post a few newsletters ago seeking information about Smiles Day School. My son is in his second year there. He started when he was 2.9 and attends the church site, which is a bit bigger than the house site. The two sites are very separate -- they are more than a block apart, and the only time the kids interact is for a joint Halloween parade and a joint holiday show in December.

We've been pretty happy with the church site. It's a very clean, bright space with many rooms and a nice layout. The director, Iona, is great. The children's day is very organized. In the morning they are all together for circle time, where they check the weather, sing songs, count the boys and girls, talk about what day and date it is, etc. Then, they are divided into groups of about 10 kids each that are roughly the same age. The children do not have one teacher, but rotate around throughout the day so they have art with one teacher, ''concept'' with another teacher (each week there is a concept that they work on every day -- this year some of the concepts they've done are water, space, safety, manners, Africa, and families), outside time with another teacher, etc. The teachers rotate too, each week, each taking a different concept, etc. The kids therefore know all 6 of the teachers very well as they spend a good amount of time with each of them every day -- it's also nice because not all the teachers are created equal and no child has to spend all day with one that isn't quite as great as the others. (There are two, in particular, who I perceive as ''going through the motions'' and not very into the kids - one, in fact, I'd call mean. The others are very warm and seem to really enjoy the children. My son, however, likes all of them, even the ones I don't.)

They have outside time in a large outside space, which is all concrete (no grass, play structure, or sandbox, unfortunately). But part of the patio is covered so that the kids can play outside even when it's raining, which is nice, and they have all sorts of outside toys for the kids to use on the patio -- trikes, tunnels, tents, building toys, balls (there's a basketball hoop)-- and then they usually set up trains, legos, etc. on the outside tables for the kids who want to sit more quietly rather than run around. They all eat lunch together and in the afternoon, the kids take a nap and then the rest of the day is less structured. The kids are still in groups that rotate around, but not necessarily with their same group that they do the morning activities with. The kids can basically choose if they want to play in a certain room, or do the afternoon art project, or play outside, with some input from the teachers as they like to keep each group of kids roughly the same size.

The school provides very hearty snacks in the morning and in the afternoon (cheese, crackers, fresh fruit, raisins, turkey, tuna, bagels/cream cheese, that kind of thing) and you can purchase a decent lunch very cheaply (there's a printed menu so you know what they're offering every day, although they seem to vary from the menu fairly regularly which is annoying). You can pay extra for computer and fitness classes, which are pretty good and happen once a week. The older kids do pre-k activities during one of the morning chunks of time, like learning phone numbers, addresses, how to spell first and last name, patterns, that kind of thing.

The biggest negatives for me about the school are (1) it is quite a big school and this year they added 10 kids and an extra teacher without notifying the parents in advance, so it is even bigger now (somewhere between 50 and 60 kids) and parking for dropoffs and pickups can be a pain (they share the small parking lot with the house site and another preschool). I also think that the staff isn't quite as clued in to each individual child as I would like. If my son complains to me about something and I talk to the director she is very responsive, but it's always on me to raise the issue -- they rarely let me know that something's bothered my son, etc. Also, they are pretty strict -- there are certain times when they teach the kids to stay quiet, like during lunch, and I've heard them telling the kids to use nice singing voices during ''singing circle'' time (where some of the kids might be yelling the song or being goofy) -- I can understand the need to have some control over that many kids and to teach them that there are times to be loud and times to be quiet, etc., but it always bothers me a bit to see any squelching of enthusiasm. Again, this bothers me more than it bothers my son, who doesn't seem bothered at all, and I think he's actually benefitted quite a bit from the structure and learning to follow rules. Finally, while the snacks and lunch are fairly healthy, on special occasions they let the kids eat quite a bit of junk (on birthdays people usually bring cakes or cookies, and on Halloween and Valentines Day, they give each kid a goody bag filled with candy -- it's nice that they give the kids treats but I'd like them to be healthier ones).

Sorry for the long post but I figured I'd give as much info as I could.

Jan. 2002

I've already read the information on the website about Smiles Preschool in Montclair and would appreciate any updated input (positive or negative). My daughter will be 3 in the Fall and we are considering their part-time program. Had an on-site visit and I liked the diversity and the teaching staff. Things that made me pause though were how quiet it was (were the kids having fun?), the fact that groups of kids cycled through several teachers a day instead of having one main teacher, and maybe a slight sterile/cold feeling about the rooms. Any input would be appreciated. Thanks!

My sister- and brother-in-law have two boys (now six and three) who attended Smiles (the three-year-old is still there). Both boys honestly enjoyed going there each day (they were in the morning program) and both seemed to profit from the experience in terms of learning colors, songs, days of the week, even basic astronomy. When I spoke to my sister-in-law about the school, she was always very positive. Hope this helps. Linda

I've had mixed experiences with Smiles. I know many parents like it a great deal, but I took my son out of the school after a few weeks since he was not adjusting well, and didn't seem to be attaching well to his caregivers. I found it very disconcerting that it was so quiet, and structured.

I wanted to respond with our experience with Smiles Preschool since my two boys go there right now and will be there through next year. They LOVE it there. The teachers are great with them and they have had no problems attaching to the teachers even though they go through different classrooms during the day. They love the fact that they can go to the block room and then play outside, etc. They are with the same kids all day long and have made friends there. There are 4 main teachers and Iona, the director of the school. Iona is wonderful and knows each kid and his or her special habits or needs. The teachers are very loving and know all the kids very well. My boys have been there for about 5 months now and they are excited to go there (they are there 3 half days per week). They talk about their teachers at home and about the projects that they have done at school. They also have enjoyed the things that they learn, like the days of the week, about animals, etc. They love eating lunch with the other kids and are learning about manners, etc., during that time. My kids bring their lunch most days but a lot of kids buy their lunch and it is very reasonably priced for that. I have been very happy with our decision which originally was based on a good feeling about Iona and then some of the practical aspects (e.g., proximity to our home, availability, flexibility for a 3 half day program instead of 5). Basically, they will work with your child through whatever issues he or she may have and smooth the adjustment process. Iona suggested that I bring my boys several times before they actually started school so I took them for an hour or two and stayed with them about 5 times before they actually started over a month long period. On our first "official day" when I left, they were just fine. The school was also very flexible on potty training issues we were having with one of our sons and gave him the time he needed to decide to make the change from diapers. Most schools we talked to were very rigid about the potty training issue, which can be a problem for boys that train late. Please feel free to email me if you have further questions. I investigated about 8 schools before I made a decision and am convinced we made the right one Shannon

I have 1 daughter going to Smiles, this is her second year. My older one graduated last year.

We've been very pleased with Smiles. It is true that there is structure but this appealed to me. Children are busy doing arts and crafts, reading, playing. There are some projects the kids have to do, the rest is free choice.

The groups rotate through different rooms (each with its own toys and activities). They change teachers but I think that is good. All the teachers get to know all the children. I think both teachers and children welcome the variation. The teachers have different abilities and hobbies: some are art oriented, some are more letters and numbers oriented, some work in the garden with the children. It's better than being stuck with a teacher that maybe is not your favorite.

The children have fun, they dance to the music, they listen to stories or they just play together. Indoors they have to keep an "indoor" voice so maybe that's what gives the impression of quietness and subdued note. But they still run and laugh and squeak.

I also like the cleaniness. I visited lots (over 12) of daycares before and there were a lot with peeling paint, kind of dirty, dirty old toys, stale air, darker, some were cold. I like to see a clean bright environment, you would want to see in a school the same environment you created at home, wouldn't you ?

My daugthers went to other daycares and although we liked the school and the teachers, we felt that they were very business oriented: charging you extra for providing care during their weeks of vacation (on top of the full monthly fee), tough cancellation policy (are you ready to lose the last month tuition-$900 if you pull out before scholl ends?), supply fees, enrollment fees every year etc.

Smiles has always been very accomodating: no penalty schedule changes, drop off occasions, very short vacation time (1 week in spring, 1 week between Christmas and NY). I've never felt that they were trying to milk as much money as possible from us as I felt other places.

And as a last note: believe me, when you try to rush out the door in the morning you will be thankful that you don't have to pack lunch and that your child will get a good, nutritious, warm lunch on site. I am a full time working mom and that made a difference for me. Hope this helps, Simona


We are considering sending our son to Smiles Preschool (house site) and would like to hear from people regarding the school (pros and cons) and the lack of a play structure. The director said they have no plans for one in the future yet I have heard they had one a year ago. Chris

I am looking for input on the Smiles Day School in Montclair and the Broadway Children's School in Oakland. I have twin boys who will be 3 in the Fall and am looking for a good MWF half day program to help prepare them for kindergarten and help socialize them. I would appreciate any thoughts people have on these programs. Also, as I look at a school like Duck's Nest v. these schools, I note that Duck's Nest is twice as much as these and wonder whether it is worth the extra $3000 per child. The Duck's Nest program looks exceptional and I don't want to be cheap about it. I do wonder though what the children really need at this age and whether I should go for a lower key (and lower cost) program. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Shannon

My children go to the church site but I think the schools are pretty much the same except for location. I like the fact that the school is very clean, well organized. There is a very prompt monthly newsletter that tells you in advance what themes each teachers will introduce: teeth cleaning, letters, seeds, birds you name it, and also about events, birthdays, announcements etc The teachers are very friendly and while their English is very good they come from different countries. The children are diverse too and are taught at circle time to count or short rhymes in Spanish, Russian, Romanian, Chinese. The bilingual children helped by the teachers actually "teach" the others. It's very boosting for self esteem. The nap time is in a trully quiet room and the non nappers are separated from the others and do all sorts of activities.

The church site provides nutritious hot lunches for an additional fee(like $17/month) which is a great relief for full time working moms always rushing out the door. I'm talking from my own experience. The teachers are very responsible, if you ask them something to do or not to do for your child they do not forget and always comply with your wishes. The director Iona is wonderful. They do not have a play structure at the church site either but they always take out toys, blocks, play tents, bycicles, balls and hoops so the children have enough to do. They offer ballet, computer and fitness classes for additional fees. Overall my children and I are very happy with Smiles. They are thriving, even my shy one. I looked at about 12 daycares before choosing their first daycare(which closed) and an additional 7 before deciding for Smiles and I am trully very happy with my decision. Good luck. Simona

My daughter has been at Smiles in Montclair for 2 years. We love it. They have 2 sites - one that is primarially half-day children and another that is for full days. They have a ballet teacher, a gymnastics teacher and a computer teacher that come weekly (for an extra fee). My daughter "graduated" and will be starting kindergarten but will be attending Smiles for aftercare twice a week because she likes it so much.