Willow Street Schoolhouse

El Cerrito, CA

No longer in business

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

Home-Based Daycare/Preschool
DSS Facility License #: 
Diana Bickham
(510) 525-2305
willowstreetschoolhouse [at] yahoo.com
El Cerrito
Willow St.
Maximum Capacity: 
Language(s) Spoken: 
Ages Served: 
24 months - 60 months
Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri
8:00am - 5:00pm
Editors' Notes: 
  • Jan 2019: We assume this daycare has now closed since the facility license number can no longer be found in the State's database.
  • Prior to 2001, Willow Street was known as "Patrick's Playmates"
  • Diana Bickham also owns a preschool in Kensington: Pine Crest School

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello fellow parents. We are considering enrolling our son in Pine Crest Preschool in Kensington for next Fall. Pine Crest is the new incarnation of Willow Street Schoolhouse that has operated for a long time in El Cerrito. I'm wondering if anyone has any experiences to share? It feels like a big decision and since this is Pine Crest's first official year of operation there is not a lot of history/reviews to go off of. I'm assuming that Pine Crest will be similar to Willow Street, but I'm not even 100% sure of that. I'm like to know positives and negatives if anyone cares to share! Thanks!!

    We are just starting Pinecrest this summer. Our boys love, love, love it! Danielle is a wonderful person who connects well with the kids and parents. We are very lucky to have a friend who has a doctorate in education and is a professor. We asked her for recommendations and she said Willow Street. She sent both of her kids there and became so enamored with tthe program she put  a chapter about it in a textbook she wrote! 

    We were also fortunate that Pinecrest, its sister program, opened just this year. Having twins (boys, no less) makes it harder to find places with two openings. We got very lucky and got in as the program opened!

    Pinecrest is located on the grounds of the Unitarian Church up at the top of Moeser and Terrace up in the hills. Breathtaking views and plenty of space to hike, garden and run around. It's a Reggio Emilia inspired program that balances freedom of choice and exlploration with kind, supportive boundaries and just enough structure to keep the routine and rhythms of the day consistent. 

    Two sets of thumbs up !

    We started our 4-year old son a few weeks ago and we are so so happy with the school.  He didn't talk for the whole first month at his prior preschool.  They thought he was nonverbal but it's just that he can be a little reserved at first.  And he was really not himself for the whole year that he was there -- the volume on his personality always seemed turned down there vs. how he is at home.  So we were thrilled when he took to Pine Crest immediately.  Within a day he was completely comfortable and just gave me a hug and a see you later at drop-off, happily jumping on the couch to join the other kids for morning stories.  He has been generating so much art and has been getting to lead the small summer class on daily nature walks.  Danielle has a very calm and grounding demeanor and the kids all love her.  It's my understanding that the Willow Street kids and teachers will be joining Pine Crest in September so prior reviews for Willow Street should be a good indicator of what Pine Crest will be like.  The only negative I can think of is that it's a bit of a drive up the hill but I think it's worth it to get that much space for the kids. 

Parent Reviews

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Archived Q&A and Reviews

June 2014
RE: Preschool for 2.5 y.o with fall openings

Hi El Cerrito Mom, Have you checked out Willow Street School House (WSSH)? It is very close to the El Cerrito BART station. The ideal location of WSSH is not it's only selling point. Both of my children have been members of the WSSH community. And let me tell you, it is a community of smart, intelligent, and caring parents and wonderfully creative children. Diana, the owner of WSSH, fosters this kind of energy and sense of community among the parents and children. I have to admit that I was a little nervous when we first started at WSSH (coming from a Montessori school before), but the longer that our children have been there, the more that I believe in a play based/emergent atmosphere for early childhood. The program is multi-age from about 2 to 5+. The children entering kindergarten spend their entire year before in a pre-K program that has an amazing emergent curriculum and probably the most observant and in-touch person with children that I have ever met, that's Ian. He's fabulous. While the younger children nap, these pre-K'ers go on endless adventures to local libraries, BART rides to the city, and sometimes just down time in the wonderful garden that is on the premises. What else does WSSH give to the children? The list is long and probably can't be covered in a single response here. Healthy home-cooked meals, gymnastics, music, lots of art, swim lessons during the summer, regular field trips, some to the farmer's market and some to local parks, and even a trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium. This place is fantastic, the 3 main teachers are some of the most caring individuals, and I feel lucky my children get to spend their days with them. As a parent, I have learned a lot from our friends at WSSH and feel like I have a joint partnership in raising my kids with these amazing folks. Check it out. Stephanie

Our son, who is 2 1/2, started at Willow Street School House in El Cerrito in September. Willow Street is an incredible, nurturing, loving environment. They have bunnies and plant lots of vegetables. They also go to gymnastics and other outings weekly. The kids are served lunch and snacks. (A major bonus for our family.)

All that aside, what makes Willow Street what it is is Diana, who runs it out of her home, and the amazing teachers. All of the teachers deeply understand children and kids are treated with total respect. I am amazed with the patience, care, respect, and thoughtfulness that each child is given.

My son wants to go to Willow Street every day! He comes home with a sparkle in his eye that let's me know he has been valued and honored all day long. Becky

I would highly recommend Willow Street Schoolhouse in El Cerrito! http://www.willowstreetschoolhouse.com. It's a small (12-14 children) home and play-based daycare/preschool with a great child to teacher ratio of 4:1. It has all the things you're looking for: a lovely outdoor garden play area with an appreciation for animals (rabbits, bugs, growing vegetables, etc.), mixed ages where most kids stay until kindergarten, offers music/gymnastics/field trips, and has part-time hours. My son joined at 2 years old and he (and we) love it. WSSH really fosters a family and community feel because of its small size and the caregivers are extremely nurturing and attentive to the needs of the children. For more information, contact Diana Bickham at 510.525.2305. Happy WSSH Parent

Both of my sons attend Willow Street Schoolhouse in El Cerrito. My 4.5 year old has been there since he was 3, and my almost 3 year old has been there since he was 2. It meets your ''dream list'' -- a wonderful backyard and garden where, among other things, the kids help plant and harvest vegetables; animals including a rabbit and silkworms which the kids feed and watch grow cocoons and turn into moths; 12 kids of mixed ages, from 2 through kindergarten age; weekly music, gymnastics, and/or swimming classes throughout the year; frequent field trips to parks, the library, farmers market, tidepooling, and others; and part time hours when available. In addition, the teachers -- Diana (the owner), Ian, and Danielle -- are WONDERFUL with the kids: warm, caring, creative, excellent at supporting the kids' curiosity and development while guiding or redirecting gently when needed, and extremely communicative with parents. I really can't say enough good things about it! My boys love it, and so do I.

Oct 2011

Hello Families, I would love to hear any feedback you have about Willow Street School House in El Cerrito (near the EC Plaza BART station). They just recently won ''2011 Best Child-Care Center'' from Parents' Press Magazine. I also heard that they just started a new pre-K program. If you have any experience with Willow Street School House, I'd love to hear from you! S

Both of our daughters attended here and we love Diana and Helen. I loved that the kids could be either inside or outside whenever they wished. It is a warm, nurturing environment . We can't say enough positive thins about them. Our kids who are now 8 and 6 still talk about visiting. Anon

Willow Street Schoolhouse is a wonderful, nurturing, creative, educational daycare/preschool for children. Both of my sons attended WSSH and they thrived there. I'm a reading specialist and have been in education for over 20 years and I'm still in awe of how the teachers at WSSH interact with the children. There is so much language development, social and emotional development, creativity and learning that goes on there- it's really impressive. There's also a lot of what teachers call ''kidwatching'' at WSSH which can be hard to find at daycares and preschools. The teachers are constantly actively observing the children- and they communicate their observations to parents! My sons would tell you that ''Willow Street is fun!'' ''The teachers are great!'' (I asked them for a quote before writing this!). It was an incredibly supportive place and community for me as a parent. I will always be grateful for the wonderful care they gave my sons- who are now thriving in elementary school! Lise

My two daughters both attended Willow Street Schoolhouse and I really can't recommend it highly enough. It was such a happy experience for my entire family. Diana and Helen were born to do the work they do -- they are so gifted with small children.They know what makes them tick and what they need most during the course of the day. What I admired most was the way they were able to help the kids deal with conflict. They were able to cultivate such a peaceful, family feeling. They were also so good with the first time parents that most of us were. I felt so incredibly safe leaving my kids there and felt like they were taking care of me just as much as much as my daughters. I don't know what else to say except that I wouldn't have wanted my kids to go anywhere else. Kate

My 3yr old is currently at Willow Street Schoolhouse and has been there since he was 11 months. We love it! The homely and relaxed, yet very structured atmosphere that the teachers create is an ideal setting. My son will start their Pre-K program in August next year, and we are very excited about this as it is largely science and nature based work.

An aspect that was important for us (besides the wonderful learning and creative play environment) was their willingness to actively support a parent in potty training. When I was potty training my toddler they completely supported my method and continued with it at daycare so that my toddler did not receive any mixed signals about potty training. They do this for all toddlers who are being potty trained and are very aware of the individual child's needs.

We do not have any family living in the USA, so it was important for us to find a daycare that provided a homely & gentle atmosphere, with children that we could substitute for the "cousins" that our little one would miss out seeing on a regular basis. The teachers at Willow Street are truly inspirational and I am so glad that both my child and I are having this amazing learning experience with them. I have even gleaned some good parenting skills and conflict resolution tips from them.

You can contact the owner Diana Bickham at (510) 525-2305 or email willowstreetschoolhouse [at] yahoo.com. Very happy WSSH parent.

As part of a family who is in our sixth year at Willow Street, I would be thrilled to tell you about this magical place. The minute I walked in to the backyard and saw all of the children industriously playing and exploring and the teachers talking with them so unobtrusively and gently, I knew this was the right place for my lively, intellectual son. When, a couple of years later my shy, slow to warm daughter came along, I had no hesitation that this would be a good place for her too. And I was right. In six years I have had not one single issue in which I was not in accord with the teachers as far as how to proceed (and I've learned through other settings that I'm really not that easy to please, LOL). The teachers are brilliant. They understand children's need to be heard and also to receive consistent feedback to help them make sense of the world. They provide constant activities for exploration of the natural world without the requirement that everyone do the same thing or engage in activities in the same way. The fact that they successfully take 12 toddlers and preschoolers on at least weekly excursions by foot and van, and I have never once worried about safety, speaks volumes to the teachers' abilities to set clear expectations that the children are eager to meet. As a result, they have weekly gymnastics classes, almost weekly trips to the farmer's market, and a whole host of planned and impromptu explorations (both of my children have been particularly fond of trips to the hardware store to get needed construction supplies for projects). The new preschool program has added a wonderful, somewhat more structured piece to my now 4 year old daughter's experience. As she explained, ''at pre-k time, we write in journals because we have so many important ideas. And also we do experiments.'' My children (and my husband and I) consider Willow Street to be an extension of our family. I am grateful every day that the teachers of Willow Street have helped raise my children. Stephanie

I cannot say enough good things about Diana and Willow Street School House. I found Diana in an urgent moment of childcare need 3 years ago and she more than bent over backwards to accommodate my situation. She was so loving and understanding and willing to be flexible and work with my difficult situation. Not only that, but my child thrived under her care and LOVED going there. I was able to visit often as I kept irregular pick up hours, and noticed how calm and self-managed all the children were. I have never seen a group of 18 mos. to 3 year olds interact so well. Diana gives them lots of outdoor time, sand/water tables, home-cooked meals and snacks--I love how everything was pint sized and how they served themselves...completely self-managed and learning such wonderful skills. I also noticed how Diana's staff had been with her for a long time which is always a good sign. My child quickly aged-out of Diana's, and I still miss our happy time there. I wholeheartedly recommend Diana and Willow Street School House. Please feel free to contact me for more information. Kay

July 2011

Re: Preschools near a BART station
Hi! I can recommend a wonderful, creative, and child-centered preschool program, Willow Street Schoolhouse. It's literally a 2 minute walk from the El Cerrito Plaza Bart station and it is a nationally accredited family home childcare program (that's a really big deal!) My daughter is now 4 and attends there 4 days a week, and we have been exceptionally happy there. The owner is Diana, and I think she has had the program for nearly 20 years. They have a wonderful, solid staff including a teacher, Helen, for 8 or 9 years and 2 male teachers, a Japanese teacher and teenage ''helpers'' who are previous students that come back to help out in the afternoons. You could not ask for a more loving program, and the activities they do are all due to the children's interests and are often taken from ''seed to harvest,'' so-to-speak. As a former preschool teacher turned speech-language pathology student, I could see the failings of other programs, and I viewed more than a dozen. Willow Street hooked me because it is very family and community-oriented, and the children are listened to and attended to, individually. Our family has adopted many of the ''lines'' they use at Willow Street, when talking to the children. The way they handle difficult behaviors is simple and leaves the self-esteem of the child intact, if not boosted. I encourage you to take a tour and see how wonderful their space is. It is simple, but inviting, and the children are all flourishing... what more could a parent ask, right? Please email me if you have specific questions. The phone number is (510) 525-2305. Dawn

Jan 2005

Re: Part-time affordable non-coop?
I researched El Cerrito area preschools extensively last fall, and have a couple of ideas for schools you can check out. One is Diana Bickham's Willow Street Schoolhouse, near EC BART. Diana is warm, calm and wonderful with the kids, and has flexibility especially if you're looking for part-time hours. I don't remember her exact rates, but I think they are within your price range. Diana is not snooty at all! Our daughter was scheduled to start there last year, but then we needed to start her in preschool sooner, but we were sorry she wasn't able to go to Diana's. There are positive recommendations for both of these schools in the archives. Good luck in your search! Gayle

Oct 2004

I just wanted to add my two cents about Willow Street. My daughter has been there for about a year and a half, since she was about 15 months old. I have only positive things to say about the place. The caretakers, to a person, are gentle, kind, and loving. My daughter has had a wonderful time there and feels safe and loved. The feeding program has been wonderful.Diana and her staff are flexible and suppportive. But most of all, Willow Street has encouraged a sense of family and community that I am now realizing is very rare. Diana, Helen, Robbie, Esther, and Kathleen all give of themeselves tremendously and it is reflected in the loving relationship the children have with each other. Kate

April 2004

We are looking for a small play-based preschool in the El Cerrito area for our daughter who will be 2.8 years in the Fall. We really like the Willow Street Schoolhouse, and will be visiting Pickles in Albany soon. We read the archives on both programs, but are looking for more recent views. We would love to hear from anyone who has experience with either program, how your child liked the program, your relations with the teachers, etc. Thanks a lot!

Our 2.5-year-old daughter is at Willow Street Schoolhouse (family daycare) and we really do love it a lot. She started last fall at 2 having been with a nanny share, and has transitioned fine and is enjoying it immensely. Aside from simply being a warm and nurturing feeling place, I like that they have a range of ages from 10-12 months to over 3 -- you can actively see the children learning to care for each other at the different stages. Lots of gentle guidance in communication in a play environment. Many preschool-style activities scaled down for the younger set such as walks and field trips (parks, vivarium, pumpkin patch, little farm), music twice a week, gymnastics for the older kids, and tons of play time inside and out. And lots of singing! Lunch included. A great staff and ratio (tends to be 1:4). We will be sad to leave when she gets too old for this wonderful daycare. Feel free to email me with questions. Jocelyn

Sept. 2003

Re: Afterschool care for Harding Kindergartener
Check out Willow Street Schoolhouse/Daycare which is located on Willow Street in El Cerrito. I know that in past years the owner has picked-up kids at Harding either on foot or in a large van and the parents that have used her really like this arrangement. I also hear that her daycare is great. I do not know the phone number but I believe she is listed on the network. Liz

August 2003

Willow Street School House now has a couple of openings. It is a family based daycare for the children between 1 year old and 4 year old and is located on the corner of Willow St. and Richmond St. close to the El Cerrito Plaza Bart station. The school takes no more than 12 children and there are several part-time and full-time caring teachers. My son started going there when he was 10 months old and he really loves there. The director Diana Bickham does not stress much on the academics; however, she give excellent opportunities to children to experience many different things in life. Besides regular outdoor play, they occasionally go to the farmer's market, visit parks, and go nature exploration along the trails. Also they do regular picture book readings and music classes. I highly recommend to visit and stay an hour to feel the atomosphere. Diana's phone number is (510)525-2305.

July 2001

I highly recommend Willow Street Daycare as a nurturing home daycare for your 15 month old daughter. That is the exact age my son was when he started going there, and we found Willow St. through the UCB Parents' Archives (it was formerly known as Patrick's Playmates). Everyone we have ever recommended the daycare to has ultimately placed their child there. Diana Bickham is the director and she is so warm and nurturing as are all of the other daycare providers she hires. When my son was in the daycare, I always came at different times during the day and also made a point (especially in the early days) to secretly stand outside the play area in order to listen to daycare provider-children interaction and have only been impressed with what I have heard and witnessed. Willow St. Daycare is on the corner of Willow St. and Richmond Road in El Cerrito. Willow St. is parallel to Central Ave. The school takes no more than 12 children. One caution is that the house can seem somewhat rundown and smallish. My husband and I put aside our adult sensibilities and tried to look at the environment from a 1 year old perspective. We decided small was better-safer, and that our one year old wouldn't care if toys were old or new. Diana's telephone number is (510)525-2305. Daphne

March 1998

I'd like to second Margo's recommendation for Patrick's Playmates. Actually, now that Patrick is in kindergarten she has officially changed it to Willow Street Schoolhouse. My children have been going there regularly for the last 2 years. She has told me recently that she has an opening and, while most of her kids are now in the 3 to 4 year old range, she would welcome a younger child (after all, since most people stay with her, she needs to start a new generation or else she will run out of kids in two years!). My children also shout "Diana's home" when we drive by and ask me can we stop by and pay a visit (which we never do because it is Saturday morning and I figure she has seen quite enough of us during the week!).

There are several part time staff members who are there on different days, but they have been the same people for quite some time and the children all become friends and go to each other's birthday parties. Diana doesn't concentrate on "academics" per se, but they read books every day and do spelling games and one of the helpers gives them a Spanish lesson each week. It's a very pleasant relaxed place with a family atmosphere.....I don't know how she does it!


March 1998

I read your request for recommendations for daycare for your 14 month old boys. I would like to suggest a lady named Diana Bickham of "Patrick's Playmates" a family daycare located in El Cerrito, right next to the El Cerrito Plaza Bart station. \tMy sister and I have both used her, my sister's two children and my now-six year old. My son really liked it there and constantly points out her house and says, 'Diana is home!! Look!!" Her daycare is named after her youngest son Patrick, she also has an older son who often helps out. She has a helper and has a teacher come in frequently to do special activities. She is always taking the kids out on field trips, (day hikes around the area). She does not have a TV for the kids, but has a computer that the kids can get on with some very good educational programs, has a yard with grass and play structures.., does lots of activities inside and out. She turned her living room into a play area with cushy places to sit and read, several play areas for make believe and such. I have found her to be a very gentle, patient and kind caregiver, I've never witnessed her yelling at the children, but talking in a measured tone of voice if she needed a child to understand the urgency of what she was saying. \tI suggest you visit and stay for about an hour to see what she does. I believe she'll take children as young as 14 months. I've seen children there with diapers. She takes part time as well. Her number is Diana Bickham, Patrick's Playmates - 6727 Willow, El Cerrito, 525-2305.