Preschools for High Energy Kids

Parent Q&A

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  • Preschool for Active High Energy Kids

    (3 replies)

    We are scrambling to find a good fit for our twins. They are super smart and bright but extremely active and high energy. Prior to the pandemic our twins were in a play-based family childcare form 15 mos. to 2.5 yrs. and then home-schooled for 9 months due the shelter in place order. The childcare never reopened so we enrolled them in a Montessori preschool last fall. Since then they have been in two different Montessori schools and although I love the concept of independent learning, both seemed too structured and didn’t leave room for learning and growing social-emotion skills and transitioning into new environments. My twins have gone through a lot of change over the year and I feel a combination of things is causing our children to not transition well in school. Any suggestion on any preschools that support family with kids that have trouble transitioning, have anxiety, and with a ton of energy?  

    You don't say where you are located but I would suggest lookin for preschools that are not so structured. Looking for schools described as play-based and emergent curriculum might be a better fit. Sounds like they need more unstructured active play time. 

    Check out the Lake School in Oakland - they are play-based and were perfect for our very active,  very anxious son. He hates following rules and sitting still, and this place has been perfect for him .It's also relatively affordable.

    Our child spent 2 wonderful years at Room To Grow. Don’t let the small and somewhat “well used” environment deter you. They spend every inch of their space very well and work with all types of kids wonderfully (including high energy kids). My own child who is on the high energy did very well there and I saw many extremely high energy boys thrive. 

  • We've just moved to Berkeley from the East Coast (hooray!) and would love some insight on program/school/care options for preschoolers.  My boys (age 3 & 5) are home with me during the day.  I would LOVE maybe 2/3 mornings a week to drop them somewhere where they can play with other kids.  The boys are bright and very energetic, and we would strongly prefer that they spend this time socializing/playing/being outside rather than sitting/working on pre-academic skills.  We'd love your insight.  Thank you!

    Check out the East Bay Waldorf in El Sobrante.  The kids work on social skills and spend a ton of time outdoors.  It was a good fit for my high energy little ones.  

    Albany Preschool, it is a parent coop. Depending on the numbers of mornings a parent would need to participate weekly or biweekly. Just north of Berkeley. I am sure there are such places in Berkeley as well.

    Check Albany Preschool's afternoon program, they may still have open slots.  This is a parent cooperative, but the PM program doesn't require participation.

    You should definitely look at Step One School. They just opened a new classroom this year and so I believe there are still nursery school spots available for part-time. It's a wonderful play-based program with gorgeous outdoor space, including a hillside nature trail where kids can build, dig, play in a little stream, etc. (I almost cried when we went up to the hillside when I went on tour). My child really thrived there and the teachers are just amazing: they build the kids' social-emotional skills and intellectual/artistic curiosity - and they make it look easy. Classrooms have a Reggio-based curriculum that follows student interests and there's a ton of free play that's scaffolding the kids' curiosity...the teachers get to know each child really well and the environment gives them so much to investigate. My child never sat and did a worksheet at Step One but is doing great in kindergarten academically and socially, loves science, and most importantly, is a kind person. It's really a special, magical place. 

  • Looking for preschool for active 3-year-old

    (3 replies)

    I'm seeing a lot of posts on here that precisely describe our situation, but most of them are quite dated so I was hoping for some more current info.  We have a very active and easily overstimulated 3-year-old daughter in a preschool that really isn't a good fit. The main challenge at the moment is that the school requires all kids, from infants to age 5, to take a 2+ hour nap. She has trouble powering down, gets overstimulated, acts out, and often gets sent home. We know this can't go on much longer - from the school's end or ours - but we're having a really hard time finding a school with openings mid-year, and waiting until September isn't going to be an option. Based on what we know and what I'm reading here, it seems that a lot of structure and a well-defined routine would be best. And there needs to be a no-nap alternative. As far as location, we'd prefer a school in North Oakland or South Berkeley.

    My kid was the same way. We loved Claremont Day Nursery.

    Try reaching out to Room to Grow in Rockridge. Our child went there. It was a wonderful play-based preschool. It can seem chaotic especially if you visit during their free play time, but they did not require kids to nap. They encouraged kids to nap and had designated nap time for 3 year olds, but my kid didn't nap consistently and they worked with us. Their philosophy is child led, so if the kid is not a napper, they don't force the kid to nap and will let the kid have quiet play time. 

    I can confirm the recommendation about Room to Grow. It is our second year there. The school philosophy (Reggio Emilia) acknowledges that every child is unique, so the curriculum is set up in a way that kids can choose from various activities. That can include napping or not napping. There is a separate room for the younger kids (3 yrs) where they are being encouraged to nap. The older kids often roll out their mat in the main area, and would have some quiet time while browsing through a book. After a while, they can quietly get up and play in the art room. Mo-Thu there is "literacy group" for the older kids where they would read a chapter book together and create art about what they have just read, while younger kids are napping. No real age cut off restrictions to join one group or the other. Kids can decide for themselves and parents can voice their preferences to the teachers.

    I am pretty sure they currently have openings so no need to wait until the new school year. Good luck finding a solution that works for your family.

  • I am looking for recommendations for a daycare/preschool for our sensitive, big-emotions, boundary-challenging, prone to tantrums, bright, sweet, inquisitive 2 1/2 year old daughter.  I am hoping to find a small place where she will be loved, well cared for, and stimulated, not necessarily in a kindergarten-preparedness sort of way, but rather sensorily, linguistically, emotionally, and physically. I prefer somewhere she can stay through the age of 5 if it works out, rather than a daycare that funnels into a preschool. I sense that a small, likely home-based environment, with a large outdoor play space (animals a plus!) guided by a caring, experienced leader would be best for her: a place with low teacher:child ratio and caregivers who can hold space for our daughter's big emotions and help rein them in with patience and love when needed. If this sounds like a place you have sent your child or have heard of, please get in touch. We are hoping to enroll sometime shortly after the new year. Thank you.

    My Own Montessori in Rockridge sounds perfect for you, but they usually enroll a year out.  Definitely worth looking into, though!

    Sounds to me like a Montessori preschool or daycare would be a good fit? I'm not sure what's in Oakland, but I've generally found that they're all good as far as quality of education.

    I highly recommend Sequoia Nursery School, if you are open to a co-op experience. You'll get about a 2-3 kid to grown up ratio, which is amazing. It's all play based learning and you won't find a more caring, nurturing and supportive community. You'll need to wait until she's three, but the school is hosting a parent night in January and then doing tours through the spring. Our son has flourished there and we'll be sending out daughter in a couple of years when she turns three. Sequoia is a really magical preschool experience. Good luck with your search!

    I see that you are leaning toward a small school for your daughter. One thing to consider is that with a small school comes a small amount of teachers. If you are at a larger place, there are more teachers. The reason this could be important for a child like yours is that if she is a challenging child to have in class, it could be to everyone's advantage to have more teachers to work together. What I'm trying to say is that she might wear out a sole-provider daycare person, or a two-person outfit. The quality of her care could be less in that situtation---if the caregivers get burned out by her. I mean, I certainly felt like I needed breaks from my own very intense daughter at that age, and in a small setting her caregiver doesn't have that opportunity. In a larger environment, she would have multiple people watching over her, sharing the "burden," as it were (I hated typing that out, because no child is a burden, I'm just lacking an internal thesaurus right now). She would also get the chance to see behavior modeled by other children, and by interacting with a greater number of children have a greater opportunity to practice her own appropriate behaviors. As parents, I think that our instinct is to want to cocoon our children and keep them in small, well-controlled, "safe" environments. I think that sometimes parents fail to see the advantages of the larger environment and the exposure to more people, more ideas, more ways of doing things, more emotions, etc. Good luck!

    If you are looking for something for next year, the Good Earth School is opening in late January/early Feb. The owner Gail, has a infant/toddler daycare, Galoshes ( where my son currently attends. We are moving him to Good Earth when it opens. My older daughter also attended Galoshes with Gail and she is great at dealing with children that sound like your daughter. My daughter is the same way... she's especially boundary-challenging! Outdoor play is the highlight and emphasis of Gail's philosophy. The new school will be in Kensington (on the property of the Unitarian Church). 

    HI there! I recommend a Reggio-based (play-based) school or program if you can find one. The Bay Area (especially Berkeley) has a lot, and they should focus on outdoor space, outdoor time, child-centered, play-based learning where children's interests lead the curriculum. Schools with this philosophy should be well versed in big emotions and validating those feelings while helping children find healthy ways to express themselves. I don't have a specific suggestion, but I recommend touring places with "Reggio" style learning!

    I cannot recommend Redwood Gardens Preschool highly enough. It is a small, home based Waldorf preschool and the teacher Lauri Miller is a true gift to parents and children. We've sent both our daughters there and our first is also an intense, spirited sort. RWG was so soothing for her. She was there 2-5 and still goes back to visit and help out. Good luck!

    Your daughter sounds a lot like my son, who's now 5 and thriving at a small school for gifted kids. He was (still is) a super-intense big-emotions, boundary-challenging profoundly gifted kid. It would be a bit of a trek if you're in Oakland, but if it works for you logistically, I highly recommend the Creative Play Center in Albany. It's just a really loving, friendly, safe space. I was worried at first that he would be bored and unchallenged because they're not heavy on the academic kindergarten-preparedness side of things, but most importantly, it's a joyful, loving environment. Erika, the head teacher, is full of energy and ideas. She and the other teachers are just exceptionally loving and warm. They were great partners in the socio-emotional development of our extremely bright, but extremely challenging kid. The space is a little cramped (lower floor of a house) but they do spend a ton of time outside and have a pet bunny named Delilah :) They also take the kids on field trips regularly. Here's an article you might find helpful in choosing a preschool. Good luck! 

  • Hi,

    We're hoping for some recommendations for preschools in the Oakland Hills or surrounding areas. Our son is a very sweet, but VERY active little boy. We like the idea of a play based school, but also want him in a program that helps get him ready for kindergarten. 

    Any recommendations or advice appreciated!

    Thank you.  

    I know this isn't your main question, but I thought it might ease your mind to hear that my two kids attended a half-day play-based preschool and were perfectly ready for full-day, academically rigorous kindergarten. Most of their preschool friends likewise had no problems transitioning. If you look at the research you'll find that play-based preschools do help kids develop the skills they need to succeed academically. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Preschool for high energy kid in Oakland/Berkeley?

June 2016

My 3 year old and I are now ending a bad preschool experience. Without going into too much detail, I think the main problems were the staff either did not have the energy for or the desire to work well with my high energy 3 year old. I think there likely was some bias and discrimination wrapped up in how our family was treated from the very first day as well. They actually come highly recommended under questions about preschool for high energy kids on BPN - so I'm somewhat perplexed and feeling hopeless that my child will be ''seen'' and appreciated for the bright, funny, caring, creative, high energy person he is. Does anyone have recommendations for preschools that can appreciate high energy children of color? Thank you in advance.

Children's Community Center is a play-based co-op preschool in North Berkeley (near Live Oak Park) and it is a great place for high-energy children. Your child will be valued for exactly who s/he is and how s/he contributes to the group. Things I've observed the teachers do with high-energy kids:

  • Learn to manage their big emotions (happy and sad) and learn how to communicate to other children and get their needs met.
  • Support kids in the big-muscle play they need: the kids are allowed to do almost anything they are physically able to (climb trees, structures, etc.); there are supervised wrestling sessions with rules the kids make up themselves.
  • Empathize (and teach other kids to empathize) with the highest-energy children and how hard it is for them to always be ''the leader'' or the one that other kids look to for leadership Have the kids run a few laps around the yard to burn off energy before circle time, if they are particularly energetic that day.

CCC is also co-op preschool, so it's a lot cheaper than other preschools--and they also offer financial aid to families that need it. The school values diversity and has an anti-bias curriculum that even the parents are trained in. Many of the teachers are also from a diverse background. I'm pretty sure there are still a couple openings for the 4-year-old class next fall.

My older son is a student there now and we can't wait to send our younger guy. I can't say enough good things about it. It is preschool nirvana! CCC fan

You should check out Blue Skies for Children. It is an amazing play-based program that is quite diverse and has well-trained, committed staff. They have an amazing philosophy that supports helping every kid develop into his or her own best self. Blue Skies Parent

You should try Magnolia Children's School (disclaimer, we currently attend it). The school is play based and with the exception of lunch & nap, the kids are able to roam btw the inside and outside freely. There is no set outside time like in a lot of preschools.

The school is not much to look at, and can use a little more cleaning. But the head teacher, Laura, has a pretty high energy boy herself who use to attend, and really thinks a lot about getting kids out. They do outings to nearby parks a lot also. They also do conflict resolution which I really like. They are expanding to 14 kids so I think there will be openings.

active kids need to get outside

Best Preschool for an Easily Overstimulated Boy

Oct 2012

My energetic 3 year old boy is having trouble in his preschool and I'm trying to figure out how to help him. Whether it's due to being around more than 20 kids or the variety of activities at his disposal, he gets overstimulated and has a hard time controlling himself or using words to interact with other kids. When alone, with adults, or in a small group, he is calmer and able to control himself better. In trying to look at the world from his eyes, I can see how his current school must feel like being in Las Vegas!

My main goal is to find a preschool environment that works for him. I imagine that I'm not the first parent with these issues and would appreciate some advice on good, small preschools for easily overstimulated and active boys. While names of schools would be great, I would also love to hear about the key factors that ended up working for you - size, amount of structure, teacher's familiarity with handling these issues, etc. I live in North Berkeley and work full time, so those are also important factors. Thanks for your help! concerned mother

I highly recommend The Room to Grow , in upper Rockridge. It may be a bit far for you in North Berkeley, but I encourage you to check it out. My son, now in kindergarten, had many of the same issues at age 3 as you describe - especially the difference in behavior in a large group of kids versus one-on-one with an adult. In fact, he started at another preschool and after three months it was obvious he was having trouble. I found RTG and made the change. The teachers at The Room to Grow encourage child led activities, allow for each child to be an individual while at the same time teaching the kids how to play and work together. What really helped my son was that in the afternoons and on Fridays, it was a much smaller group. I needed full time care, but about half the kids are there part time Mon through Thurs 9-3pm. The afternoons and Fridays are generally more mellow times. Don't be put off by the somewhat small outdoor space. they use the space very well, and my son did better with a more confined area. The teachers are right there with the kids. the have a garden, great loft area, wonderful art teacher, cooking, etc. They embrace all kids and don't back away from boys with big energy. Give them a call at 655-0300. Valerie

Your son sounds a lot like mine. Our first preschool, a play-based school, was a terrible fit for him. He's very outgoing and I thought that this kind of environment would be perfect, but it was way too overwhelming and he was miserable (and getting in trouble). After 6 months, we moved him to a Montessori school, and he loved it. The Montessori school was so much calmer, but also allowed the kids more freedom to do what they wanted, when they wanted to. That being said, I made sure to select a Montessori school where he could work with other kids - some of them are a lot more strict than others. He still had plenty of time to run around outside, and when he was inside, he worked with friends on whatever he was interested in. There was so much less chaos, he was able to relax and be himself. There are many different styles of preschools, so you may want to check out some different types to see for yourself what might suit him best. I think it's very kid-specific. Good luck!

I'm going to start with the typical ''I could have written your post'' reply, but I'll now cut to the important stuff. What we found to help - and help a lot - was more structure and routine. We thought that since our son had tons of energy that a ''play-based'' environment would be best, allowing him to blow out all that energy. Instead, and it took us an embarrassingly long time to realize this, the ''ready-set-go'' hours-long completely free play caused him to be anxious and resulted in an increase in confrontational behavior as he sought limits.

His new school is completely all-play but there's a schedule (inside/outside) and predictability that appeases his need for routine. The staff discretely oversees the free play, redirecting play from oppositional to cooperative w/o directing the play itself and has an expectation of social behavior to which our son responds. They encourage involvement with projects instead of just offering the materials. The staff is consistent, kind, patient, plentiful (which makes a huge difference) and diverse in personality, gender and background. The class size is the same as the other school, in fact the overall school population is much greater. We've seen a big difference/improvement in our son's behavior with his peers and with us. Hope this helps a bit! My kid too!

Preschool for VERY ACTIVE and energetic boy?

Aug 2012

I'm looking for a preschool near rockridge or South Berkeley that can handle and enjoys very active boys- possibly a school that has some male teachers? Also, are there schools that don't require the afternoon nap? I'm finding my kid doesnt want to sleep until almost 9:30 when he takes a nap. Thanks! tired mama

You should take a look at Step One . It is located in the Berkeley Hills and has a reputation of being hard to get into (they don't interview or look for a ''certain'' kid) but I have heard people put an application in after first learning they are pregnant! I didn't do that and happened to get offered a spot. They have a fair number of male teachers and they don't require kids to nap. My son doesn't nap and I didn't like the idea of having him stay late to stare at walls on a cot! They are very good with active kids. Once you take a tour and see their outside space you will see quite clearly that they let kids be kids (and even enjoy the active ones!) Good luck with your search! Been There and Found That

Good preschool for my active 3.5 years old

Nov 2011

I am looking for a good preschool for my 3.5 years old boy. He is active. I am looking for really good teachers who are patient and are very caring and know how to deal with every child. I am looking for something around Albany. thank you Mom

Please try Ocean View Montessori in El Cerrito. Our athletic active spirited yet sensitive son has thrived there and blossomed academically!!! It helps that it is a small school, it has been around for decades with the founder still very active in the school. There are multiple opportunities for the children to refresh themselves with outdoor activity balanced with academics and the development of social skills. Proud parent

My son was very active at that age. We thought the New School on Bonita near Cedar in Berkeley would have been a perfect fit, but they didn't have a space for him. Lots of outdoor space and animals. Our daughter went to the Berkeley JCC Preschool ( and we thought it would have been a good fit for our son. There were lots of very active boys in her class. I would look for a developmental preschool that doesn't expect kids to sit quietly if they don't want to. Male teachers may also be a plus--on the whole, they seem to understand that boy energy better than female teachers. -Been there, unfortunately didn't do that.

Nurturing preschool for very active son

Jan. 2011

We have a son who is about to turn 4 and is in a preschool that isn't really a good fit. So, we're looking for one that is.

The two main qualities that I'm looking for are 1) attention to developing social skills, and 2) lots of active play, preferably outdoors. Regarding #1, our boy can be a bit shy. He wants to make friends, but just needs a facilitation of the process of developing relationships. Regarding #2, he is VERY active. Our current preschool only has 30-45 minutes outside and very little of the indoor time is physically active play. Our son has a lot of wiggles he needs to get out.

We live in North Oakland, but work in East Oakland/Fruitvale. So anything in either play or in between would work well for us. Thanks for any suggestions you can give us! -- a dad

Try the Room to Grow Preschool on Broadway in Rockridge/Temescal. The outdoor space is on the small side but is available for kids' play almost the whole day. Much care and attention is paid to socialization skills as well. - active kid sympathizer

It's not in Oakland, but you might want to consider The Berkeley School 's preschool program. My son (who sounds a lot like your son) is in the elementary school there, and it's been terrific! Lots of play-based learning in the younger grades, lots of attention to social skills, and lots of activity. The teachers really pay attention to what each child needs. In the elementary school active kids are allowed to take a lap around the yard (in a non-punitive way), and I'm sure they have something similar in the preschool. Good luck! D

We changed preschools in order to find a better fit for our high energy child. We couldn't be happier. Check out Daisy Child Development Center , in Oakland, across 580 from Mills. The teachers are great at seeing each child's gifts and recognizing that each child has challenges and that it is their job to assist the child. It is a play-based program and has lots of room for kids to be kids. Great playground, too. mama of high energy kid

Preschool for spirited 2-year-old daughter

Jan. 2003

I am hoping to enroll my daughter in preschool in the fall, when she turns two. I have visited a few schools and gotten recommendations from friends, so I've narrowed down my choices to four: Hearts Leap (I loved the program), Duck's Nest (two blocks from our house), the JCC (lots of her friends go there), and the New School (highly recommended by a friend). Each school seems to have advantages and disadvantages, so I'm hoping the knowledgable parents on this list can help me make up my mind. Specifically, I want to hear from parents with what nowadays are called 'spirited' children who have had recent positive or negative experiences at these schools. I have read the recommendations of each school on the site, but since the right preschool for each child is the one that best suits his or her temperment, I'm looking for something more specific in the area of fit for spirited kids. My little one is very verbal, independent and bright, and also incredibly determined, emotional, opinionated, and tests limits as much as possible (it seems like all these traits go together.) She has a short attention span, and while she responds well to some structure and routine, she has a hard time staying engaged for long periods of time. We are looking for a school that will encourage her curiosity and autonomy, offer lots of imaginary play, music and art, but also provide positive direction for her less socially acceptable behaviors. We follow a 'positive discipline' approach if that helps, and I like schools that encourage kids to problem solve when behavior issues arise. Finally and optionally, I'd love her to get some more practice with American Sign Language (we sign a bit with her at home.) Whew! This is a tall order, and I can't wait to hear what folks have to say. Please feel free to email me personally or post. Thanks in advance, Kelly

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