Which Elementary School for High Energy Kids?

Parent Q&A

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  • Wondering how a school like Head Royce is for a rather energetic, social young boy (will be entering K). Is it a sit-in-your seat type of school? thanks

    My experience is that you will be hard-pressed to find a school that is long-tolerant of a child - regardless if it is a boy or girl  (remember, we are in the Bay Area) -- who won't sit in their seat.   That is considered a distraction at many schools and is most likely work against your child.  As the income levels of east bay residents continue to soar, and the more people with high salaries are relocating to the east bay from the peninsula or sf, the east bay schools are enjoying a ride of being able to be very selective of the type of child they will accept.   I've seen the trends change over the past 10 years, in particular with my own child who was not at HR, but at RDS -- but very similar in the type of student they will accept and socio-economics.  My experience, and I think it is fair to say this is across the board, is that if the school perceives that your child is going to be a possible distraction to the other students, then it is probably better to either wait another year or explore other school options.  I know that a lot of parents don't want to hear that, that they want to believe that their child is so creative and intelligent that the teachers will put up with it, but I have seen too many students axed -- either right after Kinder or before they continue on to middle school.  I would suggest looking at your local public school for Kinder and take advantage of the services that the school can provide to help your child develop and conform to classroom protocol, and then consider a more elite school after that year.  Good luck!

  • We have two high energy and studious boys (5 and 7). We are looking into the 3 schools mentioned in the title to transfer to. We’d love to hear about the following at these schools:

    1. Student population diversity

    2. How they support high boy energy

    3. Community connection (parents and students), examples of activities for community building

    4. What areas/aspects of the school need improvement?

    Thank you! Any insight is greatly appreciated.

    My son has attended The Berkeley School for four years and is in second grade. Our experience has been very positive. I especially appreciate that they have two teachers per classroom, so that if a conflict or unhappy moment arises, it is not brushed under the rug, but is dealt with in a very healthy way, while the other teacher is able to keep the rest of the class on track. My son is high energy, has a temper and is also very curious. He loves reading and learning, as long as the teacher makes it fun, which I think they do. The teachers have been so kind and patient and extremely proactive in reaching out to us when our son's behavior has been challenging at school. They initiate meetings and we problem solve together - often with very good results. They are so supportive and positive with him. I appreciate that The Berkeley School isn't a sit-at-your-desk school. Kids are busy, and aren't parked at their desks listening all day.

    Our son is in his 2nd year at The Berkeley School (he’s now in 1st grade) and he’s doing great. I apologize for my long response, but I want to cover all your questions.

    Our family is a mixed race – African, Indian and Caucasian and diversity is important to us. We’ve found TBS to be an inclusive community of all different types of diversity including race/ethnicity, LGBT and neuro-diversity. Last year the school was particularly focused on the importance of racial diversity both within and outside of school and held parent focused programs with different speakers and facilitators on issues of race and ethnicity.

    My son is definitely on the high energy side and TBS teachers do a great job of taking his energy in stride. I feel that TBS is good at meeting children where they are – whether that be high energy or more introverted. Also, the school’s academic standards are high and they do a good job of catering to those kids that are ready for more academically and others that may need educational scaffolding in areas.

    TBS has lots of parent and student education events throughout the year like parent and staff coffee talks where school staff talks about the school’s philosophy on different academic areas like math and science. Also, like other independent schools, there are speakers that come to the school to talk about interesting educational and parenting topics. Last year Allison Gopnik came to TBS one evening to discuss her latest book on parenting.

    We have found a warm community at TBS. We just had our winter festival with a cook-off, bake-off and lots of crafts. The school isn’t large so families know each other and know each other’s children. There’s also a focus on community service which connects members of the community to each other and connects TBS to the greater the community outside the school.

    Just like all schools there are areas at TBS which need improvement. For example, I sometimes see same parents doing lots of volunteering, but I think that most schools also have lots of busy families and have similar volunteer issues. The important thing about TBS is the leadership makes themselves available to parents and are very willing to engage with parents on suggestions or critiques.

    Our family has been really happy with TBS. Good luck with the decision making process, I know it can be stressful.

    We have a 5 year old boy and 12 year old girl at The Berkeley School (TBS) and have had a fantastic experience with both of them.  It's truly an amazing school that effectively teaches to a huge range personalities.  They are incredibly attentive to each child, and I frankly have no idea how they give such individualized care and attention.  Of course, at the heart of every school is the staff, and they have a gifted staff, administrators and teachers alike.  They are all committed and talented educators.  Between our two kids, we now have 12 years with TBS, and I can't recommend the school highly enough.

    We have two boys (8 and 11) who are also high energy.  They are thriving at Black Pine Circle.  I'll try to respond to each question:

    1) The student population is probably as diverse as it gets for a private school.  There are many children (up to 50% in some grades) on financial aid.  The school community (which includes teachers, students and administrators) is ethnically and gender mixed. 

    2) Ahh, boy energy!  The teachers expect many of the children to have lots of energy.  In some classes, the teachers let the kids run a lap on the yard if they can't concentrate.  My younger son was given fidget toys in class (like play doh) and allowed to work on math problems on the rug instead of in a chair. The first grade classroom has wiggle chairs that the kids can choose to use. The PE teacher (Coach Michael) is just amazing--boys and girls just love him.  PE is three times a week 1st-5th grade and 4 times a week for K.  Recess happens twice everyday.

    3) I think everyone at BC feels as though they are part of a community.  We mourn the loss of community members together, we organize family camping trips together, we even plan moms/dads nights out.  We also invite parents and children to do community service together, go to afterschool parent education nights, and to have family maker nights.  The idea is that you can be as involved as you want in the school and in the community.  Some of our very closest friends have been made at the school.  

    4) The areas that need improvement really involve space constraints.  I think the school would benefit from a dedicated music building--younger children play strings and older children are required to learn to play the recorder, ukulele and the guitar.  The band and orchestra programs could use space of their own with great acoustics.      

    Hope this helps in your decision making!

  • I need suggestions for schools for my highly energetic, intelligent 5 year old son. He has some sensory processing challenges and considerable impulse control issues. These struggles exist even at his current school, where he is outside, given plenty of work and physical opportunities and has a wonderful teacher who is skilled at nurturing and redirecting him. We are seeking a school that is even more equipped to work with our son. We live in Pinole, but are willing to travel a bit. My concern with some public schools is being given work that does not engage my son or help him flourish, as he thoroughly enjoys learning and being challenged. He would also need a very small class size, as he tends to become more energetic and disorganized among larger numbers of kids. Also essential are teachers skilled in positively and strongly working with students to transform their behavior. Thank you!

    No responses received.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


K for sensitive, spirited boy? Private or BUSD?

Nov 2014

Hi BPN community

I am looking for a school for my son who will be entering Kindergarten next year and would love your input. I'm open to both private and public (we live in BUSD Central Zone) but am guessing that private may be a better match for his needs. However, cost is a big issue so we're looking at public as well.

He is a spirited boy who needs to be in an environment that channels his energy in positive ways. He wants very much to do the right thing but he struggles to sit still/quiet for very long periods of time and he is working on impulse control, using his words, and knowing how to enter play with others...all of which seem like age-appropriate challenges to me. He is a sweet and social child who enjoys being part of a group, team, or classroom community. He is very bright and curious about learning. His current teachers (in a private Bridge-K program) say that he processes information so quickly that his mind is on to the next thing before some other kids have picked up what's being said, which can be frustrating for him. He needs teachers that will be positive and encouraging and warm - not punitive or scolding or shaming. He also needs to be in an engaging, exciting and challenging learning environment - not one where he will be doing worksheets and where he will be expected to sit quietly and wait for other students to finish their work (as opposed to a differentiated class where he will be given additional challenges that keep him engaged when he's ready for more). The most important thing to me is the social-emotional climate...how well his teachers will really see him as an individual and will help channel his energy with positive and gentle guidance. Given his sensitive nature, I think that a punitive classroom would be particularly damaging to him (not that any child should have to endure that type of discipline, in my opinion). Due to a variety of factors, the private schools we are considering so far are Berkwood Hedge, The Berkeley School, Black Pine Circle, and Prospect Sierra. Input about BUSD Central Zone schools would also be helpful. Thank you in advance for your support!! Mama considering K

I might not be the right person to respond to this because I have a girl who's super spirited at home but not in the classroom, so let's hope you get other tips, but we are super happy with our experience in the Central Zone. Our daughter is in 1st grade at Cragmont and has had a wonderful teacher who is just amazingly skilled with even the most squirrelly kids in the class. Nobody is ever waiting for the others to finish -- kids go over to the reading corner or to one of the activity centers when they're done. There are kids of all different stripes (academic, emotional, ethnic, economic, etc.) in the class, which I so appreciate. Yes, the worksheets are annoying, but whatever - we all have to do things we don't adore in life. I count that as a good lesson for my spoiled daughter!

I just think that you should try out public school first before going the private route. It's just kindergarten! BUSD is a great district - the class sizes are very small and there are a lot of parent volunteers in the classroom. We have been so happy with the community we've found at Cragmont. Happy Cragmont Mom

Hello there! I'm surprised you don't have Walden Center and School on your list; it is a small, arts-based private elementary school in central Berkeley (a couple blocks from Berkwood Hedge) and I think it's a good match to your description.

A few of your phrases jumped out at me: ''positive and encouraging and warm - not punitive or scolding or shaming''... 'the social-emotional climate''...''how well his teachers will really see him as an individual''. Each of these is a good description of the environment at Walden. With small classes, the teachers get to know each child as an individual and work with their unique traits in a positive, nurturing way. There is definitely no sense of scolding or shaming that I've ever seen or been aware of.

When we were looking for a K school for my son, he had such strong anxiety that I didn't know if school was going to be possible for him. He responded particularly poorly to harsh authority (sometimes freaking out and running away, and even putting himself in danger), and because anxiety doesn't always look like anxiety, I was very concerned that he would end up in punitive or disciplinary situations for not following direct orders. I will be forever grateful to the amazing teachers and staff at Walden for taking such good care of my little guy, giving him space, understanding, appropriate challenges and (yes) love that has allowed him to grow up mentally healthy, socially capable, proud of himself and able to face the world in ways I could barely imagine when he started at Walden. This school is truly a gift in our lives and the life of our child. I hope you find somewhere that works for you and yours! - Happy Walden parent

I could have written your post about my son, practically word by word, a few years ago. I struggled with finding the right school for him. Ultimately, we chose Prospect Sierra. For the most part, all the teachers and staff have been the right fit: challenging and supporting him appropriately. Prospect Sierra provides the right balance of structure, routine, clear expectations while allowing freedom for individuality. Additionally, the academics are strong enough to sustain curiosity and attention. No school is perfect and I've had to do my share of advocating for my son but overall I've been very happy with the school. continuing to be a spirited parent

I recommend that you look closely at The Berkeley School. I have one child who went all the way through one of the central zone schools in Berkeley and one child who left after a few years at the same central zone school to attend the Berkeley School so I can compare the two. The Berkeley School has been wonderful for our younger child. The teachers are really able to differentiate instruction, they get to know the kids very well, they work really hard to keep the kids engaged (our child comes home ever day and says that school was ''awesome'') and they seem to really enjoy the kids. The public school teachers really couldn't offer differentiation at all in the classroom and we also had experiences in several classrooms where a tremendous time was spent on discipline. My older child did fine in the public school environment but given what you have described about your child, I would give the Berkeley School a close look. public and private parent

I am writing to recommend Berkwood-Hedge School to you for your son. My child has been at BH for 3 years, and it is a wonderful, engaging, creative and dynamic school. My child, and we, have been very happy. The teachers are kind, intelligent, empathic and teach in a unique and approachable way. There is nothing punitive about the school ! It is a warm and nurturing environment, and the teachers and staff take all and any concerns seriously There is a large focus on social-emotional learning, and there is a focus on positive communication. Each child is seen as unique, and they are met where they are at. There are wonderful art and music programs, which felt ''missing'' when we look at the public schools. The PE program and teacher are great - and the kids have a lot of fun and get great exercise and development of many skills. There have been some changes since we arrived, as a new Director came on, but the school is weathering the changes. The KG teacher, Hanan, is very wonderful and was so welcoming to our family the whole year in KG. I highly recommend you visit the school and take a tour. Best of luck with your process... Lauren

I've seen a handful of sensitive, active, bright kids do well at Escuela Bilingue Internacional. One of the factors that has kept my smartie pants kids doing well at EBI is the variety of teachers each child has; not only is there a primary teacher for various subjects in Spanish, each class also has an English teacher as well as awesome music teachers, an art teacher, and PE. Kids don't sit in one classroom all day long. Also, the learning specialist shares tools for wiggly kids with ALL children, so even undiagnosed kids can use a heavy lap pad or fidget toys. An excellent ratio of teachers and assistant teachers to kids makes for an environment with a ton of support. This year's three kindergarten classes, for example, have 17 kids per class, which is incredible for kids who need a little extra academic challenge and also for language acquisition in Spanish or English. My children are very engaged in the classroom and supported by a warm bunch of teachers and staff. There are tours open in December and January to see for yourself. good school is essential

My now 9 year old son sounds very similar to your son: intellectually advanced, sensitive, kind, low impulse control, active, etc. I encourage you to think about public school. After trying both options, my son is thriving at a BUSD school. The learning is differentiated and challenging. We had one difficult year with a punitive teacher, but all the others have been incredible. The private school setting was actually less prepared to work with my son's unique strengths and challenges. Both public and private schools are going to ask your son to be able to function respectfully within a group, ie: wait his turn, control his body, manage his emotions, etc. I used to think that the ''right'' setting would limit my son's difficulties with these issues, but I was wrong: he really needed to learn these skills, regardless of his environment. After trying both options, I would say there's nothing super special about private schools that makes them a better fit for kids like ours. You might want to save your money for a social skills group, martial arts, chess classes, or whatever else really helps your son build upon his strengths and learn to develop impulse control and friendship. Public school convert

My daughter goes to the Crestmont School (in the hills above El Cerrito)where I think they do an exceptional job with kids like ours. My daughter is highly sensitive, and the teachers and administrators at Crestmont have really taken the time to get to know her and accommodate her in the ways she needs. She loves it, and is learning fast. It helps that it's a very small school, with a lot of adults around (on most days my daughter's class has an exceptional teacher, a terrific aide, and a parent volunteer for 15 kids). If the commute works for you, it's worth checking it out. Crestmont Mom


School for HIGHLY spirited child

September 2002


Our HIGHLY spirited child will be going to kindergarten next year. Can parents of spirited children recommand a school that cherishes the spirit and allows spirited children to thrive? Spirited Mom

While I don't think my son fits all the characteristics of being spirited he is very active and outgoing, and is thriving at Aurora School (he is now in 1st grade). The program is developmental and doesn't require as much sitting still and being quiet as some more academic or structured kindergartens. At the same time students are expected to respect each other and the teachers, be good listeners, and generally create a kind community for learning. The program also has wonderful art, music, movement and spanish. I would definitely check it out and see if you think it would be a good fit for your child. Leah

Our daughter is a very high-energy kid. She was at Beacon School for kindergarten last year, and we were delighted with it. The classes are quite small, and the teachers are excellent. She learned a great deal -- both socially and academically. Things were a little bumpy in the beginning as she adjusted to all the changes -- new school/teacher/kids and the tremendous difference between of the expectations/program of pre-school and those of kindergarten. However, she came to love her teacher and the school. We were particularly impressed with how they were able to set firm but loving limits with her, reasonably accomodate her needs, and encourage/support her strengths. For example, she loves to do cartwheels and does them all the time -- down the street, in the supermarket, and at school. It does not work to simply tell her that she cannot do them. You have to figure out how she can do them but be safe. When she began to do them in her classroom last year, the teacher talked to her about it and worked out an agreement with her that if she needed to do cartwheels, she could go to the dead-end hallway that adjoins the classroom, do them there, and then come back to class. This worked out very well and prevented the issue from becoming a big deal. Good luck with the process of finding the right school. It is difficult, demanding, and important. I hope you are able to find the right place for your child. bernie

My son just started kindergarten at Walden Center & School in central Berkeley. He's not especially spirited in the way you mean, but the school seems to leave a lot of time for outdoor free play between more structured activities. Walden is definitely an alternative school and not right for everyone. There are mixed-age classes, no standardized testing, and a lot of integration of the arts into all types of lessons. The teachers seem to understand what kids are like and what they need, so it might be a good fit for you. Jennifer

Just a little bit of a suggestion... Spirited can mean a lot of things. If you have a particularly high maintenance kid, you may want to seriously look at public school, where there may not be as high standards of behavior as a private school.


Private School for high energy boy

August 2001


Last spring our private school informed us that they could not offer my son a place in their second-grade class. They also denied admission to our younger son, who started kindergarten this year. Our older son, while excelling in all academic areas, consistently had trouble meeting the school's standards of behaviour. As parents, we never thought of those standards as unrealistic and always tried our best to help him meet them. We continue to give his behavior lots of attention, and both boys are succeeding fairly well with impulse control, following instructions, etc., at their new school--though much room for improvement remains. Unfortunately, the school lacks the resources to really challenge them academically or enrich their education beyond the basics. Besides being "active," they are both _exceptionally_ intelligent and eager to learn. My question is: should I apply to private schools for next year? Can anyone recommend a school that does well with this type of kid? We live in South Berkeley and would prefer somewhere nearby if possible. Karen

My son is a very high energy child and got in so much trouble for it at his pre-school that I voluntarily got him out before they expelled him. For that reason, I have decided to put him in private school vs. our neighborhood public school. My son attends Redwood Day School in Oakland, where he absolutely loves it. He started in their pre-K program and is now in Kindergarten. In my opinion, their success is based on a healthy balance between a very challenging academics program and a wonderful physical, arts and science program, which includes 3 PE classes a week, music, art, swimming, Spanish, computer classes. I firmly believe that my son would not thrive in an environment where only the basics of education are taught. I would love to give you more specific information, so feel free to call me. J.

I think that high energy boys might do better in an environment where their behavior doesn't stick out and make them "the troublemaker". There was a thread a year or so about private school and ADD, which sounds as though it may not be the case for your boys, but is still relevant. (See Middle Schools for ADD and LD Kids for that review)

FWIW, I think a good public school is likely to have less rigid views of behavior than many private schools.