East Bay Montessori

Community Subscriber
El Cerrito
Private School
110 students
info [at] eastbaymontessori.org
(510) 236-8802
7075 Cutting Boulevard, El Cerrito, CA 94530
Editors' Notes:

East Bay Montessori serves students ages 4.5 through 8th grade in the beautiful hills of El Cerrito. For more than 100 years, the Montessori philosophy has shown that children learn through movement and incorporating all senses. We teach children to pursue their passions, explore their surroundings, problem-solve, and work on real-world projects they can proudly present. The world is one big Montessori classroom and East Bay Montessori reflects that.

We think tomorrow's leaders should learn how to collaborate at an early age. Students in our classroom learn how to work together, make contributions to projects, and listen to others' input. They learn how to be leaders and respectfully manage a team of contributors.

Parent Reviews

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Have you looked at Montessori Family School right on Cutting Blvd (close to the Arlington)?  It sounds like exactly what you are looking for.  I know some people are turned off by "Montessori" beyond preschool, but you should at least go take a tour of the campus and view the classrooms.  The materials used at the school are very hands-on, even for things like math (they use bars to represent 10/100/1000s for example) and the classrooms are intentionally and beautifully designed.  Even the outdoor space is amazing.  Conflict resolution is a huge part of the curriculum but also, Montessori is just conducive to a peaceful and loving environment.  Child are taught to respect their teachers, peers, and themselves.  It's amazing to see an "aggressive" child come into the environment and just relax after being so stressed out in non-nurturing space for so long.  I know MFS does offer some financial aid if you qualify AND it is significantly less than Prospect and other private school in the area.  They are pretty mum on the tuition cost but from what I have heard through the grapevine it is about $23k annually.  I feel like that is very doable if you are committed to quality education for your child.  Another thing about MFS is the Head of School, staff/teachers are committed, highly intelligent and all-around good people.  You can trust that they will have your best interests in mind going through the application process. Our elementary age child has gone to their summer program a number of times we always come away with the most excellent vibes from the school.  If we are in a spot to do it, we hope to send our child to the program (one of these days!).


This is our third school year at MFS in El Cerrito and our son is thriving, despite the challenges this year. We decided the outdoor pod option was the right fit for us and have been very impressed with the setup (safety, communication, learning materials, etc). The teachers have done a remarkable job translating the Montessori curriculum and philosophy to fit this new remote/distanced way of teaching. Our son had struggled with learning to read, as well as some social-emotional regulation issues, and his teachers have been an incredible resource to us as parents to help him through. Despite the circumstances, MFS still feels like a community and we're grateful to be part of it. 

My daughter is in her third year at Montessori Family School, now in her 1st Year of Lower Elementary. The staff clearly cares very much about the students and there is a strong focus on developing the strengths of each individual child. While they are offering a great outdoor schooling option this year, we chose the more conservative Year-at-Home online option. It’s a very small class size with an excellent teacher:student ratio and we have seen our daughter’s learning and development grow much stronger already this school year. The individualized approach to learning works well and she is excelling in math and language as a result. They have added in cursive to her curriculum and the students have been preparing and sharing presentations every week on a variety of topics - all wonderful to witness as a parent. During such a challenging time, it’s very reassuring to know that her learning environment is solid and steady.

Montessori Family School is open on both campuses for outdoor,  in-person instruction.  Our two daughters went to the Montessori Family School from pre-school through 8th grade.  Both had excellent preparation for high school.   As my wife and I see our daughters now out in the world — the eldest just graduated from a college and the youngest is a college sophomore — we are so grateful to MFS for the fabulous education that they received.   They will carry the kindness, love of life, and intense curiosity about the world that they learned at MFS for the rest of their lives.

You should definitely check out Montessori Family School (MFS) -- they have preschool-K in Berkeley and grades K-8 in El Cerrito.  It's a very loving environment that supports kids in whatever phase of development they are in, without pressure to be somebody they're not.  My kids have thrived there.  They have a number of very experienced teachers who are simply great with children.  They are excellent at helping kids develop strong social skills while still being free to express their own individual personality.  If you've heard any of the myths that a Montessori approach is less rigorous academically, don't believe them -- schools like MFS that do Montessori correctly will help your child become all that she's capable of, in academics, social understanding, music, self-awareness, art and more.  If one of your measures of success is the type of schools and career paths that MFS students move on towards, ask the school for that info, and you'll see just how strong their academics are.  My daughter was more prepared than most her peers when she moved on after Montessori, and continues to excel in a very challenging high school.  Children who have strengths beyond the traditional definition of academics thrive here too, as everyone's unique talents and contributions are honored.  The MFS environment fosters developing the whole package of a well-rounded individual who can succeed in the real world.


A tiny bit north in El Cerrito is the gem, Montessori Family School. If you have been happy with Montessori, you really should consider continuing - they do some incredible stuff with the elementary curriculum. MFS is the only PK-8 Montessori school in the East Bay (not to mention it’s just a great school). Amazing teachers, wonderful families and kids, and students who want to learn and show so much admiration and respect for each other. It’s really just a wonderful place and worth looking into.


Both of our girls were students at Montessori Family School from pre-school through middle school.   They had a fantastic experience at MFS.   They carry their Montessori education with them as kind, organized, confident, honest, passionate, curious, articulate, generous young women.   We would not hesitate to do it all over again.  

MFS is a wonderful community for children and for families.  Now that our girls have graduated, my wife and I miss MFS.   The MFS faculty are fantastic.   Both girls graduated from MFS superbly prepared both for high school and for life.  Our eldest is thriving at one of the most selective colleges in the country, our youngest is thriving at an academically challenging high school.  Both have lots of interests and passions outside of school.   

Feel free to contact me if you would like to know more.  Since both of our girls were there for all eleven years, we know the school from bottom to top!

Our child is currently in 2nd grade / Lower Elementary.  We feel so fortunate to have found MFS.  The curriculum is truly individualized to the children - they can go at their own pace; soar with their strengths; and not feel behind when things are harder for them.  The teachers are fabulous and absolutely committed to the children and the school.  The administration is accessible and passionate about the program and the kids.

We were not a big Montessori family before MFS - we chose play based for pre-school and were very happy with that choice.  However, after 2.5 years at MFS, I am a total convert and think how much better education would be if all K-8 schools were Montessori!  The child-lead approach to learning just feels right.  If you don't know much about Montessori, take a tour and check it out.

I love the emphasis on practical life, peace, and community as well.  The music and art programs are great too. I highly recommend MFS! 

I posted a positive review of MFS about a year ago about the KT class.  Now the child is in Lower Elementary (LE, which is 1st through 3rd grade) so Im writing to report on that.  The small KT class was fabulous but i had some trepidation about LE, which has alot more kids.  Even with 3 1/2 teachers, I was a little concerned that things might be too much for a small one to handle.   But our experience has proven to be just the opposite.  The classrooms are so well organized and the structure so well thought out and clear that the children, including ours, all seem to be thriving.  The LE class teachers emphasize "grace and courtesy" and "Living skills" as well as academics and it really pays off.   The children are calm but also excited about learning.   Great art, PE, and music programs round things out.  Again, as last year, what stands out the most to me with our child is how centered and self possessed he is; and what pride he takes in being part of the school community.  He has also blossomed with his own interests, and takes responsibility to learn things by himself.    You could not ask for a more supportive environment than MFS.   The academics are great, but its the attention to the whole chiild that makes MFS really stand out.

In 2015, our family was looking to switch from one of the East Bay's more prominent "academically" focused schools because we felt our son simply wasn't being challenged, and that the material being presented to him was rote and relatively uninspired.

What's funny is that prior to enrolling in that school, we had done what we thought was an EXTENSIVE analysis of East Bay schools (public and independent alike), that involved numerous visits, countless discussions with parents, meetings with school admin, and of course online research (including BPN). Montessori Family School just didn't come across our radar during our investigations. I suspect the same happens to many other parents. Maybe because "montessori" is so traditionally associated with "preschool", or maybe for some other reasons, this school just isn't terribly well known.

I'm here to tell you it should be. It's rigorous, yet nurturing; diverse, yet down-to-earth; welcoming, yet without pretension.

Here, we have found academic rigor: our son is zooming ahead in math at his own pace, while participating in small-group literature reviews, and preparing to present his months-long research on the Renaissance. 

This is a "If your kid wants to go to CPS, he/she will go to CPS" kind of environment.

But at the same time, kids who have strengths in one area, and need extra help in other areas, are met at exactly those points. This is the benefit of a smaller environment, and a school truly committed to personalized education. 

This is because personalized education is not something added on over the years at MFS, but rather goes to the core of what a Montessori education is all about.

And on top of academics geared toward your child's skills at any particular point in time, Montessori education is built to stimulate your child's particular interests; foster personal responsibility and a commitment to the greater community; and instill a sense of ownership in the work being done.

If you peeked in an MFS classroom, you'd see kids buzzing about--some working in teams, some independently--with teachers rotating to guide and challenge, much like a healthy professional environment. No droning on to kids behind desks. MFS kids get prepared to manage projects and take charge of their own studies.

And by the time they get to MFS' middle school...well, let's just say many college seminars have nothing on what is expected of MFS middle schoolers, and yet the kids love it and all seem to thrive.

Is the school too small? Nah. Ask the kids, who have plenty of friendships to pick from, and who forge close relationships with kids across grade levels. I don't see kids (or parents!) lacking for social experiences. And, really, the MFS community is cool, with just that right East Bay flavor you're looking for. 

Don't be put off because you're unfamiliar with the school, or Montessori education beyond the preschool years. There's something special going on here, and a very unassuming culture happy to help you learn more.

I wanted to share our family's experience with Montessori Family School, a hidden gem of a school.  A warm, unpretentious and caring community, we feel like MFS truly lives up to the "Family" that is part of its name. 

From the first moment we interacted with the school, we have felt warmly welcomed into the community.  Even after our son's admissions interview, the head teacher took a moment to speak to my husband about our son and his particular strengths and challenges.  We definitely felt that the school was interested in finding out who our child was as an individual and building his unique Montessori educational experience around those traits.

My son entered MFS in 3rd grade, which is part of the Lower Elementary mixed grade class, after our family re-located from the East Coast.  The school took care to pair us with a buddy family over the summer whose friendship made my son's first day of school very smooth.  His head teacher, Vanessa, immediately opened up a line of communication with us so we could find out how things were going and exhibited immense care and sensitivity throughout the year to our son's emotional and educational growth.   

I was surprised by how quickly all of the teachers and administrators got to know not only my son's name but his unique quirks, which were celebrated.  I was touched by the regular experience of having a teacher or administrator share a funny or sweet story with me whenever I was on campus about something my son had done.  

We have also found that the mixed age group setting was great for our son, who is advanced in certain areas and needs more support in other areas.  The Montessori philosophy allows for seamless differentiation--everyone is truly working at their own pace and level. The three-year age spans within each classroom have also given our son the experience of being both a leader and elder one year, and then a younger student who looks up to and learns from his older peers the next year.  

A highlight of the year which really brought home how special the school is to me was the annual school trip to Camp Cazadero.  Parents, kids, teachers and administrators from Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary go away into the woods together for several days of hiking, camp fires, flashlight tag, crafting and general unplugging and relaxing in nature.  I really got to experience for myself what a kind and supportive community MFS is, bonding with other parents and teachers while wading up the creek, supervising the gaga pit, sharing meals together at the mess hall and engaging in the annual epic adults vs. kids Capture the Flag game. It felt like a wonderful moment suspended in time with a terrific group of creative and dedicated people all working together to educate our kids.  We are already looking forward to this year's trip next spring!    

A Happy MFS Parent

We have had both our children at MFS for 4 years now. They started in the Kindergarten Transition class and are now both in the Lower Elementary class. We have loved every minute of our experience at this wonderful little school.

The Kindergarten head teacher is a very dedicated and wonderful teacher, and is adored by all her students. She truly gets to know every child in her class, and is able to adapt to each and everyone of their needs and diverse learning styles. She is passionate about Montessori education, and it shows in the lessons she plans, in the layout of her classroom, and in the expressions on the children's faces when she is with them. From an academic standpoint, the KT curriculum is light years ahead of most Kindergarten curricula, and the children remain enthralled and challenged while truly enjoying what they are learning. The KT experience is a wonderful introduction to a Montessori elementary education, and I encourage any families looking for Kindergartens to check out the KT class at MFS. 

As for the Lower Elementary class, we could not be any happier with our experience at MFS; We are constantly surprised by what our children are learning in class as the academic level rises so far above what one would expect in 1st-3rd grade. The curriculum is very comprehensive, challenging, and very interesting. (I want to be a student in this class!). The 4 teachers in LE (there are two head teachers and to Assistant Teachers, all Montessori trained, or in the process of being Montessori trained) are very dedicated, professional, kind, passionate and extremely caring about their students. Their classroom is one of mutual respect, hard work, joy and kindness. They are very passionate about the Montessori philosophy, and put so much thought into every lesson and every activity they plan. They are able to address all their students' needs and different learning styles with ease and professionalism. The children in LE enjoy learning and it shows! They all remain focused on their work, respectful of one another, and truly curious about learning. One would expect a classroom of that size and with mixed ages to be loud and chaotic, but on the contrary, this class of 40+ kids is quieter than most classes with fewer than 20 students! The teachers keep the LE classroom fully stocked with wonderful Montessori materials, books, works, activity stations, etc, all while maintaining a peaceful flow that inspires calm and focus within the students. My children have grown and learned so much during their LE experience, and will continue to do so through 8th grade at MFS. 

MFS is a wonderful community. The staff and faculty are dedicated, friendly and very welcoming. We've never had a question unanswered or a concern not addressed in a timely and respectful manner. There is so much care and attention to detail in every aspect of the school, and it shows in every communication, event or school activity. The new Head of School is fantastic; He brings to the school a much needed youthful energy and an extensive knowledge of Montessori. Within a few days, he already knew all the kids by name and made them all feel welcome and safe. The MFS families are very involved and go above and beyond to ensure that MFS does indeed feel like one large family, true to it's name. 

We have been and continue to be very happy with our MFS experience, and would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have. Feel free to PM us. 

Happy MFS Parents. 

First of all, just so everyone knows, MFS has a bus from North Berkeley so please consider it if you live in Berkeley! My experience has been with the KT class. We've found MFS to be just an amazing school and the little one is thriving and loving it. The new head of school Jimi, is young but experienced, enthusiastic and effective. Every little detail in the school is carefully planned so things run super smoothly and all the focus is on learning and having fun. Kids from 4 to 14 all know eachother and play together- our child feels like he is an important part of a larger community. It really acts and feels like a big loving family. I am no expert of Montessori but from what I have seen the kids are given these fabulous materials and guided to use them in a way that they teach themselves to read, write, and calculate. I am thinking this must be what is meant by the term "active learning"- they learn by doing and having lots of fun in the process. The kids take alot of responsibility for their own learning as well as for contributing to the classroom and for their own behavior. Its very impressive. They are so engaged. It seems like there is no passive force feeding going on at this school. Expectations for the kids are clear including the expectation that the children will challenge themselves. There is a lovely tone to the school- gentle, pleasant, easy, relaxed. In addition, the children are given a rich experience. For example, weekly meetings attended by all have focused on many aspects of life and culture. Cultural diversity is celebrated. The middle school children help run the weekly meetings and take a leadership role in the school as well as taking responsibility for planning and earning funds for their class trip. These older children are very engaged with the school and obviously have a strong sense of self worth since in the school setting, they have genuine power and make an actual contribution. When we were looking for a school, I searched BPN reviews to try to see what type of students were best suited for specific schools so I am trying to answer that question from our experience of MFS- but its hard. I would say that it is great for self-directed kids, who have initiative. However, I know of one child whose parents chose MFS because of the child's extreme shyness and I've seen that child just blossom. Another family sent their child to MFS because the child was super active and they didn't want them shut down or labeled in the public school system; this child is also doing great. There seems to be room for all kinds of kids there and they are accepted for who they are. The teachers and support staff are all very sweet, organized, excited about life and learning themselves, and effective at both teaching and dealing with kids. In addition to teaching the school, MFS also has lots of fun events for the whole school community such as potlucks, dances, etc. I feel we are really lucky to have a child here. Good luck with making your decision and feel free to private message me if you would like to discuss MFS in more detail.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Montessori Family School K-8 opinions?

April 2016

Can anyone share experiences for older kids? We are considering for next year, but I don't see anything recent for El Cerrito campus beyond kindergarten. Thank you! Livvi

We are currently enrolled at MFS. We specifically chose MFS because they go through 8th grade. The middle school is the smallest class in the school, which has it's pros and cons but the kids come through there very well rounded, grounded, with a strong sense of self and the academic skill of someone in the last years of high school. The teachers in the classroom support the kids to push their limits and they excel as a result. Not just academically but emotionally and mentally. The entire school provides children with the skills they need to be who they are meant to be. Good Luck. anon

I have mixed experiences at Montessori Family School, so I will give you both.

We have had a wonderful time in Middle School. Alissa is one of those life changing teachers that you remember. She's tough and loving and sees your child both where they are and where they can be. This can be hard at times as true growth challenges us, but it is worth it. She has high academic standards while understanding the emotional changes in your child, and the only drawback to the program is that it is small. My child has learned more both academically and about herself in her two years in Alissa's program than the rest of her elementary years combined. I wholeheartedly recommend the middle school.

Lower Elementary started this year with 48 children in it. 48!! Two teachers, one relatively inexperienced, and two aides who are called teachers but have even less experience, are in charge. Needless to say, it really depends upon your child if they do well there. If your kid can tune out distractions then it can work for your child. But it hasn't work well for our kid, and he is struggling. Some families have left, and we know still more who are not returning next year. Important to know is that if your child happens to have a hard time with a teacher, there's no other class to transfer into, and you're there for 3 years.

Our youngest child had a hard time paying attention in class. The school wanted him to have a neuropsych (at the cost of $6,500) with a doctor they recommended. I believe in early intervention, and we could see he was struggling, so our family agreed. But the school did not agree with the doctor's assessment (she wrote that ''the noise level and degree of commotion from 48 students in the classroom were notable,'') and so they did not implement any of the doctor's recommendations. They also encouraged us to medicate our child, even though the doctor didn't think it necessary, and did not diagnose anything, let alone anything needing medication.

If I were thinking about MFS for next year, I would ask about how the school works with those kids needing support. If the school asks for a $6,500 (or more) test, will they implement the doctor's recommendations? What happens when the results are not what they expected? Will the school work with you as a family, or is there a specific way of doing things in the classroom that is fixed or will the school ask you to leave mid-year?

Another way to assess the health of a school is to look at their fundraising numbers. What percentage of families are participating in the annual fund? How much money has been raised? How does this compare to the past 3-5 years? Or you could simply ask how many families have left or are leaving, either because they've been expelled or because they're unhappy. anon

*It can be hard for a student to come into the school in later years. Montessori methods of teaching are very different from other systems and kids who have been in the system since younger grades are used to the way Montessori teaches. However, my son started MFS in the 6th grade and ended the year quite well, though he did strugge the first few months.

* Middle school is very different from lower grades. It is meant to be different; students run parts of the class, there are little to no ''work materials'', students have detailed work plans that they are responsible for completing each week. The teachers pull back so that the students have to step up. I found the teachers to be less warm than I would have liked. My son complained that his questions were often met with questions, which he found very frustrating. I understand what the teachers were trying to accomplish, but this method did not work for my son.

*While the question posted was about the experience for older kids, I should say that the school may not be a good fit if your child has learning differences/difficulties or behavior difficulties. A child may not be able to self-regulate and self-motivate to the degree that Montessori requires. I am also not sure that the school handles these issues well. Karen

Hi! My daughter is in her second year at MFS (and a second grader), and she loves it and is thriving there. She went to a Montessori preschool and kindergarten so was very familiar with the Montessori philosophy when she started, but most importantly she loves all of her teachers. They work hard to setup and maintain an open, inclusive, and welcoming culture in the classroom that really lets each student feel comfortable and be able to do their best work. In addition to the academic work in her main classroom, she also loves her resource classes every week: art (her favorite), Spanish, mindfulness, and PE. My husband and I also love all the teachers and the administrative staff, the school has a wonderfully close family feel and we are so happy that our daughter is excited, inspired, and challenged by the material she is learning. Our son will be starting in the kindergarten transition program classroom in September. I'd be more than happy to answer any other questions you have by email. Take care, jennifer

Whatever your child’s potential, they will find it at Montessori Family School. What you’re getting at MFS is an education essentially catered to your child, taught to them at their level, at their pace. The elementary and middle school students learn to be responsible for their own work and progress, with the anticipation that by doing their best, they will reach the highest of standards. They are expected to be independent and are given the respect and encouragement to follow their interests. While the teachers guide the students through this process you will find that above all, they are caring, passionate, dedicated and truly inspiring. Both of my children thrived at Montessori Family School and I would highly recommend it to anyone who can embrace the Montessori methodology. The results are impressive. Montessori Mom

My son has been at Montessori Family School since he was 4 1/2. He is at the end of his 2nd grade year and thriving. He is in Lower Elementary - which is 1st - 3rd grade. He's had a wonderful all around experience - academic, social, emotional, etc. The Montessori philosophy is truly amazing and the teachers at MFS are very dedicated, competent and caring. We feel very fortunate that our son is learning and growing in such a wonderful environment. Please feel free to email me with any follow up questions! Liz

Hello- My daughter is currently in the Upper Elementary program at Montessori Family school and we are very happy with the school and her education. In particular, I appreciate her teacher's approach to her as an individual and providing guidance for where she is at developmentally as well as providing a lot of emotional guidance as the students navigate social dynamics. I am happy to discuss in more detail if you would like. ksol Happy MFS parent

Hello Livvi, I have a 9 year-old son who is a 3rd grader at Montessori Family School. He attended a Montessori preschool in Pleasant Hill for four years and half and joined MFS four years ago. He started in Kindergarten Transition (KT) in 2012 and moved to Lower Elementary in 2013, as a 1st year student. His transition to MFS was very smooth and he has been striving every year. The teachers are excellent, the classroom and school environment are authentic Montessori. The children work at their own pace, and have choices, so they can work more on subjects they are passioned about. The curriculum is presented in a very concrete way, and always within context, which makes learning much easier and fun. My son truly enjoys going to school and learning. Aside from excellent teachers, kind and attentive staff, and a rich environment, the school has a very friendly community that welcomes all families. Our family has been extremely happy with MFS and is looking forward to next year, when my son will be moving to Upper Elementary as a 4th grader with his friends (since Kindergarten!). I would be happy to answer specific questions you might have. Please, feel free to e-mail me. Hope my answer was helpful! Good luck, Samantha
P.s.: I highly recommend that you tour the school. One thing is to read a review, but seeing the children in action is invaluable.
We believe in the philosophy of Maria Montessori, i.e. to support children to become independent and learn at their own pace. This support includes guidance and help from teachers. In the current Lower Elementary classroom situation our kid was lacking guidance. He was walking around in the classroom and clearly disoriented, not knowing what to do. To better concentrate, the teachers suggested using headphones to cope with the noise level. Maria Montessori was a great leader and had a big classroom as well. It takes, however, a similar personality and leadership skills; as well as a natural authority with lots of love for children. This is what I believe you should look for in a teacher. I guess, if your child is capable of learning on its own, isn't easily distracted, and is fine with not receiving attention even for a longer period, the classroom could work well for you. Kids who need more support (and here I don't necessarily refer to behavioural issues) and guidance might not get this in this classroom. Anon

This is hard to write. My wife is the one who posted so glowingly previously in January 2015. We had been very happy at MFS and very involved in the community, so Admissions often asked my wife to post in response to just this type of question.

Unfortunately, things have changed. The school appears to be going through some significant directional changes and many of us have been told that our children are no longer ''a good fit'' for the school. We know of several boys from lower elementary alone who have not been offered re-enrollment.

In addition, there is a very different feel to the school this year. We parents have explicitly been asked not to discuss concerns about the school with each other.

There is significant disruption in our community caused by these changes in culture and the loss of so many families, many of whom were asked to leave and some who are leaving voluntarily. Families who have been the bedrock of our community for a decade will not be here next year, and very few students in our older child's class will be returning.

With very heavy hearts and after several months of moving through the stages of grief, we're pulling both our kids out. If you are considering MFS for next year, I would recommend you consider carefully and ask specific questions about the school's long-term commitment to your child or children. Good luck with your search. Mark

Oct 2015

We're looking at Montessori Family's El Cerrito campus for kindergarten, and I noticed that there was a new head of school circa 2012, and now there's an ''interim head of school'' on the website. Can any current parents comment on if/how that turnover has affected the school? Also, how ethnically diverse is the student body?  Thanks!
inquiring minds

 I had both my children attend Kindergarten at Montessori family school, and they have both happily moved on to the lower and upper classrooms. First, I'd like to say that the KT class is wonderful, and I could not have asked for a better experience for my kids. Both the head teacher and the new assistant teacher are top notch and well loved by the children as well as the parents. Second, the school has been through some transitions since the original founder/head of school retired a few years ago, but everyone seems very very pleased with the interim head of school-- parents, teachers, and students. He has also brought a relaxed sprit and communal feeling to the school which is lovely. Third, I am not 100 % sure how ethnically diverse mfs is in comparison to, say, Berkeley public schools, as it is a small private school. But I will say that, to me, there is a nice level of diversity. What is interesting is that it's not something my children even notice or think about because everyone is a different shade, just as everyone wears a different pair of shoes, or have different sets of interests. There has been a move by the staff and parents to actively embrace everyone's roots and the diversity of the school, and that is celebrated through various celebrations. mfs mom of two

 The interim head of school, Jimi Purse, is a great fit with Montessori Family School and has energized the teachers, students and parents alike. He comes to MFS with a strong Montessori background, which is really crucial for this role. He's a likely candidate to become the Head of School, which will make for a seamless transition when the time comes. As for the diversity of the school, I think MFS reflects the diversity that you find here in Berkeley. We have several events that highlight diversity, like our recent Asian themed back-to-school pot-luck and last year's ''The Many Faces of MFS'' school auction. I think you'll find the community to be warm, welcoming and supportive of all our members. MFS Mom

July 2015

As I sit here reflecting on my son's incredible six year journey at MFS (elementary campus), knowing that in less than three hours I'll be picking him up for the last time from the campus and faculty that taught as well as nurtured him through childhood, I'm tearful. The ''Family'' part of the school's name cannot be emphasized enough. We came to the East Bay from out of town and luckily got our son into MFS from the wait list. We had gotten directly into another school, but you know when you get that feeling that something is special and worth fighting for? Yes, it was MFS. Now, I'm not a starry-eyed, everything-is-perfect, head-in-clouds type. No school is perfect, period. There has been quite a bit of turnover recently. Some beloved staff is leaving, but among the remaining MFS team are many experienced and talented anchors of the ship (I'm looking at you Bharati, Lorraine, Vanessa, Luke, Micah....). MFS has inspired, excellent, caring teachers that work tirelessly to create lifelong lovers of learning. Only two more hours until I pick him up for the last time, but I'll forever be a champion for MFS! Jennie S

April 2015

Finding a school that works for one's kids is difficult. With the current climate in the public schools, which is grounded in testing, and often lacks the arts, things can get downright depressing. I have been through quite a lot of schools, trying to find a good fit for my twins. By far, the best fit has been Montessori Family School. My girl came home from her shadow day excitedly bubbling ''we did sentence diagrams today like in my school, but here they used these block things (insert pregnant pause) AND I UNDERSTOOD IT!'' I was sold on the spot. Kids learn in so many different ways, and Montessori Family School addresses it all. The learning tools are a huge deal for my girl. The following year, the other twin followed after a disastrous year elsewhere, and has positively blossomed and come back into the world again. This is enormous, as he has Aspergers. When I came to pick him up from his shadow day, I heard him in a conversation with his teacher, Alissa, and in that 3 seconds I knew she understood him. Alissa had a LOT of repair work to do with him, and I am very very lucky to have had her for my kids' teacher. Montessori schools takes a very different approach to learning, putting a lot of control in the kids' hands, and offering learning methods that are simply not available in other schools. The multi-age classes are such a boon to those kids that may be ahead in studies, but still very young emotionally. They fit in no matter where they are in skill acquisition. Tactile learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners will thrive here. Social skills, kindness, and responsibility is woven into the lifestyle. My kids are learning so much more at Montessori Family School than they would elsewhere. There are 2 campuses: One in Berkeley, which is the early childhood campus, and one in El Cerrito, which houses K-8. http://montessorifamily.com Wendy K

March 2015

RE: School for shy, gender fluid boy

Hi there, I can't speak to the schools you've asked about but couldn't help but notice that your son sounds like mine. I have two sons at Montessori Family School. The older one was in public school and we had to pull him out; he was being bullied. He is also extremely sensitive, and is super creative and a gifted writer. After we visited MFS, I felt strongly that it was the right place for him. MFS consciously and consistently builds a culture where uniqueness is celebrated. There are a lot of very special square pegs there, kids who will grow up to follow their own paths as innovators and creatives instead of feeling outside of society, thanks to the self-esteem MFS nurtures in them. My son felt he was ''weird'' and his self-esteem was very low when he started there. He now thinks he's a pretty neat guy after just a year and a half. Plus he has kind, fascinating friends who ''get'' him. My other son is a tiny jock with a strong interest in fashion. He is a self-adorning athlete and he is totally accepted too. We're such huge MFS fans at this point that I had to share. Good luck finding a great fit for your little guy! Grateful in El Cerrito

Jan 2015

Hi there,

My son started Montessori Family School last year and we are literally grateful
every day to have found it. He is a 5th year and his classroom, Upper Elementary,
goes through 6th grade, so your daughter would be in his classroom next year. 

My son is gifted but also struggles with learning differences. In public school he
was both bored to tears and lacking the support he needed. At MFS he is learning at
such advanced levels in some areas that I believe he is surpassing what I got in
high school. There are 3 teachers for his class of roughly 30 kids, and they are,
I'm not kidding, spiritually transcendent beings. They are so loving, they care so
much about my little guy, that it makes me tear up to write this. He is getting all
of the support he needs, from people who really care.

The middle school is small, with really stellar kids in there. They graduate
self-reliant, multi-talented people — we now know those kids fairly well because
the school community is pretty close.

One thing to know about Montessori is their emphasis on independence and internal
motivation. This may not be for everyone. My son struggled with this for the first
few months, having been previously told exactly which line to be reading or which
blank spot in which worksheet to be filling in (public school). However, he now
comes home and asks us to back off and let him take more responsibility on his own.
That's what Montessori does. We love it, and our son has blossomed since he started
there... can't recommend it highly enough.

May 2014

I have been a parent of two Montessori Family School kids for 11 years now and I cannot say enough good things about this education. My older son, who is soon to be going to an Ivy League school in the fall, tributes his love of learning to his elementary education at MFS. The school environment is loving and fun, so the rigor of the education does not feel stressful. Rather, they instill a love of learning and critical thinking that grows within the child. The kids, therefore, feel a desire to engage in their learning so that it comes from them rather than being imposed from the outside. The classrooms (especially in the older grades) are filled with laughter and playfulness, where it looks like the teachers are having as much fun as the students. The older the kids get, the more responsibility they take for their learning. For example, ''Literature Groups'' are discussions run entirely by the students. The curriculum teaches time management, independent learning, students teaching other students (because we all know that the best way to learn something is to have to teach it), and collaborative thinking. My children are well equipped in all areas of life from their experiences at Montessori Family School. If you are considering this school and want to ask me more questions, feel free to contact me directly. I'm happy to share more of my experiences with you. Marla

April 2014

Our daughter currently attends the El Cerrito campus of MFS--in their kindergarten transition (KT) program-- and we have been nothing but elated with the quality of education she is receiving. While she has always been smart and curious, attending the KT program has magnified these qualities in a very positive and prosocial way. She loves to learn and will ask for opportunities to learn new things, and to demonstrate the knowledge she already has.

The class is small which affords the instructors more one-on-one time with the students. While this is wonderful, the students are also self-directed and have opportunities to explore subjects that interests them. All of their in-class lessons are easily applicable to ''real world'' contexts and it has been an absolute joy allowing her to have a measure of agency and teach her mother and I about the things she finds fascinating.

Aside from the academics, there is a strong mission to teach 'peace education'. The way that we've seen it manifested is through conflict resolution. Our daughter has developed the ability to empathize and attempt redress when she has wronged someone, but also has the ability (and desire) to ask someone to work toward a resolution if she is the aggrieved party.

If you are looking for a kindergarten class for Fall 2014, I highly doubt that you will find a better situation for your child.

Nov 2013

Re: Progressive schools in El Sobrante area?
You should take a look at Montessori Family School (K-8) in El Cerrito - it's not far from El Sobrante, and there are a number of families that come from that way. My daughter attends the preschool campus in Berkeley, and we are loving all the things Montessori offers (mixed age classes, student independence, materials that promote concrete understanding, etc.). There is also quite a bit of art, music, and creative expression in the curriculum. Good luck! Happy MFS mom

MFS and Seismic Safety

Nov 2012

I'm applying for a spot at Montessori Family School's early childhood campus. A friend raised a concern about its proximity to the fault and brick/concrete construction. Does anyone have any information on the seismic safety of the school or has anyone had similar concerns? Is this something to factor in to our decision? Oy-- a mama could go crazy with so much to consider-- but I don't want to ignore something this important. Concerned

Thank you for your interest in Montessori Family School's early childhood program. You raise an important concern. The East Bay is a seismically vulnerable area, and every parent has the right to know about the structural integrity of their child's school. There are many schools located near the Hayward fault, just as there as schools in the liquefaction and landslide zones. I would be happy to speak personally with you or any other prospective MFS parents interested in knowing about the structure of our facilities, both our Early Childhood Campus in Berkeley and our Elementary/Middle School campus in El Cerrito. Please don't hesitate to call or email me directly. Henry Trevor, Head of School

I don't know the details of the MFS building, but in general, unreinforced masonry buildings are a bad bet in a major quake. It's quite possible that the MFS building has been retrofitted -- there could be a lot of rebar in that concrete, or maybe there is additional support for the brick. Both of those things will make the building much safer.

In your shoes, I would be very specific in asking what type of retrofitting had been done and at what date. Whoever manages facilities and maintenance may be your best source of information. Admissions personnel are hired to be knowledgeable about child development and the school's program, not seismic safety; I'm sure you'll get a well-meaning answer but it's hard to tell the level of expertise behind it.

Proximity to the fault is one issue, but any building in a slide zone or a liquefaction zone is also more vulerable. It's also worth knowing that public schools in California must be built in accordance with the Field Act (stricter seismic standards for schools) as of the time of construction, but private schools and preschools are not subject to this requirement. Living In The Fault Zone

Nov 2012

Re: How do kids do academically after Montessori school?

Congratulations on considering a Montessori education for your child! I have 2 daughters currently enrolled at Montessori Family School, and we couldn't be happier. While my daughters do seem to be advanced in some areas, I would have to say it is because the teachers are carefully observing my children to see when they are developmentally ready to absorb the information being taught. Montessori materials help my girls to deeply understand concepts in all areas.

MFS has a 3 year program, so the teachers have time to really get to know my children, and meet them where they are. While my daughter may be working a little bit more on math curriculum at one point, it is because she and her teacher have decided that is what she should pursue at that time. Next she may be working more on reading, or doing a little bit of everything simultaneously. I am extremely confident that by the end of each 3 year period, my daughter will be exactly where she needs to be to move on to the next class. I think, unfortunately, some parents may take their child out of a Montessori program before the 3 year period (based on planes of development) has been completed. That decision would result maybe in a child not completing the entire curriculum, then suffering in a public school where everyone is taught the same thing at the same time, (regardless of the readiness of the child). I think of it this way- if a child is removed from a class in March in a traditional school, they've missed the last three months of the year, and all the lessons that were taught from April to June. If a Montessori child is removed from the class after 2 years, they have missed an important piece of the curriculum as well.

The three year program also gives my September-born daughters the opportunity to not always be the youngest kid in the class. They have the opportunity to be in the middle, and then one of the oldest in the class. They have the chance to be the teacher to a younger child, which deepens their own understanding of a subject. You need to really know something if you're going to teach it to someone else.

While MFS does give the children standardized tests in order for them to practice test-taking skills, the teachers are never preoccupied by ''teaching to the test'' in Montessori. I receive lengthy, detailed information on my daughters' progress from their teachers, which I find more valuable than standardized test scores. I hope this helps! AU

Re the idea that kids who attend Montessori schools are "behind" when transferring to other schools or taking standardized tests, I can report my own experience with my daughter, now a high school freshman. She attended Montessori Family School (MFS) for 8 years, pre-K through the 6th grade. During those 8 years, MFS was the only school that my daughter knew. She did not receive any outside tutoring nor did she attend academic-type summer camps. MFS is an authentic Montessori school that is a full member of the American Montessori Society (for more info. about this, see http://montessorifamily.com/what-is-montessori/the-mfs-difference/ ).

For the 7th and 8th grades, my daughter chose to attend a non-Montessori independent school with a more traditional structure. That school had no mixed age classrooms, and had six classroom periods daily, each period led by a different teacher on a different subject. My daughter had no trouble adjusting to the academics at that school when she arrived there for the 7th grade, even though we had done nothing to prepare her. Her grades there -- the first she had ever received in her life Cb were excellent. Here are her grades from her very first quarter at the non-Montessori school: English, A; Math (pre-algebra), A; Science, A; Social Studies, A-; Art, A; Dance/Drama, A; Yearbook, A; P.E., A; and Spanish, A. My daughter has continued to receive excellent grades up to the present day.

As part of the admissions process for applying to middle school programs, my daughter took the ISEE while still in the 6th grade at MFS. We did not get her any tutoring for that test, but she had taken a yearly standardized test during the 4th through 6th grades while at MFS. She did very well on the ISEE, receiving scores high enough for admission into the school she was applying to that required the test. She similarly did very well on the ISEE when she took it again in the 8th grade as part of the high school admissions process. She was thrilled to be admitted into her first choice for high school.

My husband and I have never supervised our daughter's studies. We have rarely helped her with homework (only when she has asked, which hasn't been very often); we have never helped her to study for tests; and, in general, we haven't keep tabs on whether, when and how she completed her school work. As a freshman at a small, independent, college prep high school she's enjoying and doing very well with an academically challenging course load. She credits MFS for helping her to become a self-directed, well-organized and independent student who loves learning and who can handle the challenges of a rigorous academic curriculum. BTW, I had my daughter check all of the above for accuracy! Proud Mom of a Former Montessori Kid

I am one of the families that left Montessori Family School (MFS) last year. I wanted to post this so people understand that MFS was really great to us for the 8 years we were there. My oldest started in Kim's class in pre-school and moved on to the other campus for 5 more years. We chose to move to King Middle School because we always had in our mind that our children would move from private to public at the end of 6th grade (before MFS had a middle school). Things changed when our son came to us and requested he start King in 6th grade, instead of 7th. His primary reason was that he had a friend that would be moving to King, and my son said something along the lines of , ''He can't go to King by himself. He'll get eaten alive. He needs me there too''. This is what I love about MFS. They gave him that compassion. He cared more about what was going to happen with his friend than thinking about what was going to happen to himself.

After much consideration, we made the transition this year and am happy to report that my child is thriving at King. I was concerned that since grades are not part of montessori, that he wouldn't be interested in getting good grades. I knew he could get any grade he wanted, just didn't know if he would want it. He jumped right in and we quickly learned that grades were important to him. He made academic honor role with all A's and only missed one question on the standardized math exam they gave him last month. After all the years at MFS, with the wonderful teachers that cared for him and gave him knowledge, it has been confirmed that he not only is ''not behind'' academically, but also ahead on the standardized testing.

I will end this post by sharing with you what one of his core academic teachers told us at our teacher conference recently....''The difference between your child and the other students that are doing well in my class, is that he has the desire to actually learn. He thrives on it.'' That is what MFS has given my child, the passion and desire to learn. What more could any parent want to get from a school? No regrets here. Montessori will always get high marks in my book. RW

Seeking Feedback on Montessori Family School

Oct - Nov 2012

Hi Parents, The kindergarten search has started for us, and for school options we are planning on moving from SF to the East Bay, considering primarily private schools, but staying open to public as well.

The school that has captured my attention is the Montessori Family School - and I'd welcome more in-depth feedback about the school. Here are some of my questions: I've been reading about general current Montessori methods, and I like a lot of what I read. I am curious about this as it would apply to MFS - how ''strict'' are they about following Maria Montessori? How responsive and flexible is the school to new ideas and the evolution of Montessori? As it looks like the Founding School Head, Jane, has retired, I'm curious how the new director is doing in his new role.

Where do most of the children who attend the school live? We are thinking of moving to North Berkeley or Rockridge and would like a sense of integration within our local community and school community. Is this possible at MFS is we don't live in El Ceritto?

It is clear that Montessori has a goal of helping the whole child develop, and I'm curious about examples of places of emotional difficulty (frustrations, fears, anxieties etc) that young children experience and how these were handled in the classroom. I understand that additional enrichment classes are offered, and would love feedback about how these are integrated into the classroom experience. Any feedback on the parent community is welcome. Any feedback on the organization and communication from the school to both kids and parents is also welcome. Thank you so much for your time with this. We are making big decisions, and the info from parent-to-parent is invaluable. Warmly, ML

Montessori Family School lost just over 25% of their upper elementary classroom last year - what does that tell you? You can verify that by asking the school. I know the name of every kid who left, because my kids were there for a combined total of 11 years. Most of those kids left for private school, so you can't blame the recession. Unless you have a real self-starter, a kid can fall behind. Way behind. For example, I could never understand why there's just one lesson with the math teacher per week. The rest of the week is independent study, and forget about getting help with a question - my kids told me it would take 30 minutes or more of waiting to get a question answered. But it didn't matter if you didn't finish your work - as you know, there are no grades. I do still have friends at the school, and the teachers are incredibly sweet. I wish the new director well and hope he can make changes, but I believe the problem lies with the Montessori model itself in the upper grades. It becomes too much independent study, or non-study as the case may be. MFS is more successful with the younger kids. Also it can be really hard to have so few peers - it seemed to become frustrating for the majority of kids as the years went by. 40 kids in the classroom sounds like a lot of social options, but your kid may likely have only 2 or 3 same-sex, same-grade friends. 2 years ago a mom asked me about MFS and I told her my experience, and she enrolled anyway; last month I ran into her, and she had taken her kids out. PJ

First, congratulations on discovering a real gem of a school! I'd like to invite you to reach out to the moderator for my personal contact details. Montessori is best experienced first-hand, and my husband and I would be delighted to chat with you about our experience with Montessori Family School. We moved from LA to the East Bay last year, and have 2 children enrolled at MFS. When looking for the premier, authentic Montessori experience in the East Bay, we reached out to a Board Member of the American Montessori Society. Without hesitation, she said (and we now agree) that ''Montessori Family School is the best there is''.

We've been impressed with the professionalism and passion of both the teachers and the administration. The school is an excellent model of Montessori education - building and evolving with the fundamentals that make this philosophy so effective with children. Our kids transitioned from a Montessori school in LA, and both were attended to with such care; ensuring their move from their prior school was a positive one. Our daughter acclimated more quickly than our son who seeks social connections before academic pursuits. Our son started in the Kindergarten classroom at MFS, and missed his close friends and teachers from LA. Both the MFS Kindergarten-Transition teachers were immediately responsive to his needs, and kept my husband and I in the loop via email and in person about his school transition. They partnered beautifully with our family to ensure our son was thriving both socially and academically. By the close of his first month, the teachers had aligned his work plans with his passion, and he was thriving. As I type this, I find myself smiling at the progress of our now 1st grade son, who enthusiastically runs to the gate to get on campus every day and shares his daily excitement about the academic lessons he's receiving from his teachers.

The new Head of School is doing a great job retaining the spirit and heart that Jane Wechsler founded the school with, and is bringing new ideas and invigorating the school community with fresh perspectives. Like any transition of this size, there is an adjustment. It's been a refreshing one for MFS, as the new HOS is open, attentive, and enthusiastic.

The students attending the school come from as far away as Lafayette, and are largely concentrated in the Berkeley/Albany and El Cerrito communities. There is a daily shuttle that runs from Berkeley to the El Cerrito campus that can help bridge the commute for families that require it.

I hope to hear from you, as we can't say enough about how happy we've been at MFS. Our kids already talk about the fun they are going to have in Middle School (5+ years away!) R. P. - Elated MFS Mom of 2

We have had a wonderful experience at MFS. Our girls started MFS in pre-school. One is now a sixth year in the Upper Elementary classroom, and the other just started in the International Baccalaureate program at Berkeley High, and is thriving. (All of the MFS middle school graduates have gone to their first choice of high school.) While MFS is the only authentic preK-8 Montessori school in the Berkeley area, it is not dogmatic, and recognizes that much has been learned about brain development since Montessori's day. (One of the teachers put it this way, with a wink and a grin: ''What Would Maria Do?'') Still, the school adheres to the fundamentals of a Montessori education: the Prepared Environment (Grace and Courtesy, Freedom within Limits, Practical Life, Multiage Classrooms, Mentoring and Peer-to-Peer Learning, Environment as a Mirror of the Real World, and others). Our observation as parents is that these elements are indispensable and critically important. It works: we often get comments about how poised, confident, and capable our girls are. To answer your other questions: Henry Trevor came to MFS as an extremely experienced teacher and administrator, and with the personal recommendation of the Head of one of the premier Montessori schools in the country. He has brought a fresh energy to MFS, after the retirement of the wonderful founding Head, Jane Wechsler. Regarding community: MFS lives up to the ''Family'' in the name -- it is a wonderful community, from all over the area. Inspired by your question, I was curious and did a head count in the roster: 64 children from Berkeley, 31 from El Cerrito, 15 from Albany, and the others from Oakland, Emeryville, Kensington, Pinole, and others. Regarding development of the whole child: this is a central principle of MFS. There is a strong emphasis on the educational planes of development, and education of the whole child. For example, conflict resolution is a big part of the culture of the classrooms. Frankly, the children know how to resolve conflicts better than most adults I know. I would be happy to answer any other questions -- feel free to contact me. Andrew

Great questions and many that we grappled with during our decision-making process when choosing a private school for our daughter two years ago. She had been in a different Montessori pre-school and had an excellent experience, but we had been reviewing all the schools public and private in the east bay near Berkeley except Montessori Family School. There are many great choices but once we toured MFS, the last school we looked at, it became crystal clear this was where we wanted our daughter to go. We had never seen such a beautiful, balanced, conscious and loving expression of Montessori before and it was striking. The kindergarten teachers there, Trina and Sean are superb and we have been not only happy but overjoyed that we chose MFS. Our daughter is now in the Lower Elementary and we're having the same fabulous experience.

So in answer to your specific questions, I think the way Jane built and guided this school is evident in every nook and cranny, and as I mentioned its a very authentic and exceptional articulation of Montessori's method. I think there is balance, fluidity, and yet attention to the source so I would not say it is rigid. The transition with the new Head of School is going very well. Of course after 32 years with Jane at the head it's going to take time and many of us had our concerns but Henry is proving to be an excellent choice and doing a marvelous job in building on what Jane has created. And Jane is not going away entirely, just shifting into a more advisory role. It is a very good step in the next evolution of the school.

Students come from all over the El Cerrito, Berkeley, Richmond, Pinole and maybe even the Oakland area. So the school is not El Cerrito specific and you will feel at home whether your family lives nearby of not.

I think you hit on one of the main reasons we chose Montessori, precisely because it develops the whole child and sets a foundation of empowerment for becoming a complete actualized adult who understands what he or she wants and how to integrate and serve in the world. As far as handling emotional difficulties children may have, we didn't have any of that with our daughter, so I can't give specific examples, but I do know Trina and Sean and the faculty at large are excellent at working with these issues. There are many enrichment classes offered and like everything at MFS they are integrated into the classroom. Our daughter even did the summer camps at MFS in drama, art, etc. and has taken Jujitsu and Capoeta after school classes.

The communication at the school is excellent and very modern. A digital newsletter comes out every week and the website is excellent. Teachers and staff respond timely via email and are great about in-person too. The teacher-parent reviews are in-depth and excellent to gauge how your child is developing and understand areas that need attention. And the many events at the school, from the traditional pasta night, to PTA meetings, Music performances etc. are abundant, well organized and a lot of fun.

Finally, one thing that's hard to describe is the ''family'' aspect of this school. It is in the name for a reason and it really is one of the great aspects. I was skeptical about this when we first toured but then I found the parents, teachers, and entire community to be incredibly warm, inviting, committed while also unpretentious, loving and laid back. It's a school community that as a parent you want to be around. I dont know how to explain it other than to say it's something to be experienced to really get it. We've become friends with several parents and feel so a part of the MFS community. Not only are we ecstatic with the educational process our daughter is going through at MFS but feel we would do whatever is necessary to keep her in this community through middle school. I hope this has answered some of your questions and I highly encourage you to take a tour so you can witness the way MFS works in the classroom, meet the teachers, etc. good luck with your decision! jhabee

We are a family that had years of experience in this school, we were very active at the school and always volanteered, we used to drive many of the kids to school every morning, we drove and listened to the kid stories and points of view.

The Montessori system sounds wonderful on paper but it's actually very different in the school. MFS used to be an unbelievable place. The years we spend at the preschool were all great.

At the upper site things changed through the years. We thought there were a lot of hiring mistakes, and the director refused to listen to us. It became a dull place for our children, a school that forgot their job of teaching. ''The teacher just wastes time and we do nothing'' said our MFS student. (During our last year I counted 10 math classes that were given to my kid the whole year). My kids' teachers were late to school on a regular basis. Some of them would eat their breakfast during class every day, and get ready for the day during class time. Our children felt that some teachers would have favorite kids and they were afraid to say anything when those kids bullied them.

Work that used to be done at school started coming home over vacation time for us to work on with our kids. Circle time conversations turned into sports discussions or what the kids did on the weekend instead of presentation of new material. The kids in my car pool used to call it ''boring sport talk''.

I asked one of my kids his thoughts: ''When I got to middle school (in a different school) I finally understood how much more you can learn in a week'' The new principle is a blessing if he stands up and allows himself to change things. I'll give it a few years to see where it's going. I'm hoping for the best. Anon

Montessori Family School has a very loyal parent body in part because the pre-school is so terrific. We entered in first grade. After we entered I realized that many of the reviews on BPN speak to the pre-school experience, and that parents who come from the pre-school or who had their older children in the upper elementary in the school's heyday (perhaps ten years ago?)really have a different relationship to the school. What the school has in its favor is teachers with great kid sense and true gentleness. The kids are really nice to each other because most of them have known each other since pre-school (which does make it harder to form friends if you are a newcomer in firstgrade). The kids are quite good at conflict resolution because they get taught it in pre-school. If you are the kind of parent who wants to make sure your kid is not behind public-school peers at the end of the year you may be frustrated. My kid could have a conversation about astronomy that was so advanced I could not follow it because of the great conversations that were taking place in first-third grade science. He also had a lot of trouble grasping that 10+5 was 15 and no one was noticing. He was using the ''self-correcting'' math manipulatives the wrong way and the teachers were not noticing. At the time about half the class was working below grade level. When I asked the teacher about checking in with my son more to help with reading, she said that there were about 8 kids who really needed her help to get through the day, so she didn't have much time. The mix of kids does depend entirely on which classroom you are assigned to. Keep in mind when reading the reviews that individual experiences depend entirely on which classroom you are in. Each classroom is its own fiefdom, and classroom assignments are for three years. My daughter is in private school elsewhere, and I have to say that seeing the curriculum she is getting in writing, art and science, I really regret sending my first child to MFS. another mom

Our family was not satisfied with the level of communication at MFS. We were there for lower elementary and it was a constant source of frustration for families who would send emails (you were not allowed to drop in, schedule appts, etc) only to have them disappear into a black hole. It was a huge huge problem.

In our classroom there was little tolerance or support for otherwise normal kids who didn't meet a certain standard, and there seemed to be no understanding of learning differences or variations in normal development. If a kid has any kind of learning issue they will likely not get support. Five kids out of a total of 23 were asked to have an in-class aide. The learning specialist & lead teacher are extremely quick to recommend specialist evaluations, so it's a good place to get a diagnosis for your kid, whether or not they actually have a problem. Like the upper elementary, there was a large exodus of families last year.

On the positive side, Montessori system is a good system for a very particular type of child: one who has above average abilities to organize and is on an accelerated developmental track (that does not translate to ''above average intelligence,'' btw). If your kid needs more structure, they will struggle. The academics are good, and the parent community is sweet and unpretentious. The music program is outstanding.

I would have no problem with the school if they were very clear and upfront about the limitations of the system. Parents need to know what they are buying. For most of us, it looks great on paper, but in fact, we have no idea. Unfortunately, there was a kind of ''drink the koolaide'' boosterism among some, and you will hear that every kid should have a Montessori education. No--for some kids it will be a disaster. Anyhow, for the sake of friends we left behind, I hope the new head-of-school can clean things up. Wish we had known

We have been delighted to be a Montessori Family School (MFS) family since 2002. My 12-year-old daughter started as a 3-year-old in the preschool and is currently in the 7th grade. My 15-year-old daughter, now a high school freshman, attended MFS pre-K through the 6th grade. MFS is not strict or rigid about Montessori pedagogy. New ideas and creativity are highly valued, especially when they originate from the children themselves.

I, and many other parents, think that the new Head of School, Henry Trevor, is fabulous and has been doing a great job. Our wonderful founding head, Jane Wechsler, helped to select Henry and is very enthusiastic about him being her successor. The transition has gone smoothly.

My family lives in North Berkeley. There are many MFS families who live near us. Some families take advantage of the school's shuttle service, which transports children from the preschool/Kindergarten campus in Berkeley (at the corner of Scenic & Hearst) to the elementary/middle school campus in El Cerrito.

It has absolutely been my experience that the teachers and environment at MFS provide tremendous support for the development of the "whole child" including a child's unique emotional needs. Parent-teacher conferences have focused as much on the social and emotional development of our daughters as on their academic development. This "whole child" focus is something that I love about MFS because it has helped my daughters to thrive and grow as people, as well as to learn traditional school subjects. It has become increasingly apparent to me over the years that my daughter's academic progress is directly tied to their emotional and social development and growth. My older daughter in particular benefited from the "whole child" focus as she's an unusually anxious kid. Every teacher she had during her 8 years at MFS took her unique wiring into account, which helped her tremendously.

A specific example of how the MFS teachers handled my daughter's anxiety is that they not only allowed, but actually encouraged her to draw during class and to incorporate art into school projects. The teachers observed that my daughter was passionate about art and that she used it both to calm herself down and to help herself concentrate better while in class. More broadly, the teachers treated her with love and kindness, and were unfailingly patient and understanding with her, even when she required more coaching because of her anxiety. The results: some of my daughter‚s school projects, e.g., her geometry workbook in the 6th grade, blew the teachers (and her parents) away with the depth of understanding expressed; she has blossomed into a highly accomplished artist; she became noticeably less anxious with each passing year at MFS; she enjoyed being at school and made wonderful friends; and she made terrific progress in her academics, becoming an 'A' student once she transitioned to a more traditional school that gave out grades.

In general, what I have observed in the kids who have spent extended periods of time at MFS (my daughters included) is that they tend to be well-organized; to have great time management skills; and, best of all, to know who they are - something that is quite striking in a young person. They also tend to be unusually kind; to take sincere pleasure in the successes and accomplishments of their classmates, friends and family; and to truly care about our planet and humanity.

Regarding the MFS upper elementary (UE) classroom (grades 4-6) in particular (referenced in a couple of the postings here), I have nothing but positive things to say. During UE, both of my daughters became more independent, confident and mature. They improved their ability to focus on and become joyfully absorbed in their work. Both became avid readers, and also made tremendous strides in math. My older daughter told me that the three years she spent in UE were the happiest and best years of her education thus far.

Regarding the MFS middle school classroom (grades 7-8), we are off to a great start with my seventh-grader. She says to me frequently, "I love middle school!" One misconception that I think some parents have about Montessori education is that "kids can do whatever they want" - a misconception that becomes more worrisome to parents as their children approach the higher elementary and middle school ages. The fact is that at MFS, especially in grades 4-8, it is not at all a free for all, and the kids are not given free rein to choose their school work. While the teachers provide choice, the choices are provided within limits. There is an environmental structure that provides choice within the confines of scope and sequence. For the higher grades especially, it is not about choose-your-own work but rather choose-your-own-way-of-working. The teachers determine what students work on (sometimes presenting a few options within each subject area), while the students determine the how and when. This environment affords children with much more responsibility and freedom than they typically are given at more traditional schools.

E.g., for my daughter who is in the seventh grade, the assigned work is laid out in study guides. She is given wide latitude about when to do her work, with whom and how it looks when it is done (though expectations, requirements, and rubrics are also explicit). She is allowed to make certain, limited choices re the work, e.g., she can select among 3 novels for her reading during a particular work cycle. But she is expected to complete all of the assigned math, English, science, Spanish, etc. by certain deadlines.

I hope that you visit MFS and see for yourself how wonderful it is! Bridget

While many do well at MFS, we had a different experience. Our child attended upper elementary and middle school at MFS. UE teachers were generally good and caring, but one was particularly insensitive to kids. Though our child was not a ''special needs'' kid, middle school was a disaster due to a complete lack of structured learning (e.g., there were NO math lessons at all) and an unwillingness to recognize that self-directed learning does not work well for all kids. (Also, it's virtually all ''book learning'' -- none of the physical types of learning tools are used, as with earlier years at Montessori schools.) Three kids out of the seven in 7th grade, including ours, were left struggling to catch up virtually on their own. The teacher made it an extremely stressful experience for our child and for us parents alike. We left mid-year. Former MFS parent

Thoughts from a long-time Montessori Family School parent...

Our child has been at Montessori Family School since pre-school and is now in the middle school. I had no preconceptions of what Montessori education meant when we enrolled, and we certainly had no idea we would still have our child there at this stage (not least because MFS didn't have a middle school then!).

Which brings up a relevant point...the school has undergone tremendous changes over the past several years, including the acquisition of the El Cerrito facility, the creation of the first Montessori middle school in the East Bay (and one of the few in the country), and, last year, the founder's (Jane Wechsler) retirement and hiring of Henry Trevor, the new Head of School.

I believe all of these changes are unambiguously good. Having a permanent space has allowed the school to build its programs, opening the middle school enables continuity for those excited by what Montessori education offers, and Henry's arrival brings new energy and engagement across the school.

Coming into the school with no preconceptions, I have come to firmly believe that Montessori education is not for everyone. If your child needs (or you think they need) highly structured environments that reward rule-following, succeeding at externally defined goals, and answering rather than questioning, then Montessori education may not be for you. If you want your child to be seen as an integrated being across intellectual, emotional, social, and physical aspects, then Montessori may be for you. And if you want your child to learn how to access internal rewards and motivations to define and accomplish their own goals, not merely those that have been handed them, then Montessori is probably for you. And a statistic that speaks for itself: all of last year's 8th graders were accepted into their 1st-choice high school.

I would encourage anyone considering East Bay independent schools to investigate Montessori Family School, visit the classrooms, and talk to the teachers and Henry Trevor before making that important decision. Michael

We are in our 8th year at Montessori Family School and live in North Berkeley. We now have one each in Lower (2nd grade) and Upper Elementary (4th grade), both started in the Preschool, so we have progressed through 4 different classrooms.

We have had a fantastic experience with all of our teachers who really work to understand each child and what gets them hooked on learning. Through the Montessori philosophy, the school really does deliver on their tagline "preparation for life" - which the children get by learning how to manage their own work time (a skill I wish I learned as a child), conflict resolution, collaboration, and respect for others around them. In the multi-age classrooms, the big ones guide the little ones and each gets a turn in the role of youngest, middle, oldest. I have loved seeing my children make this progression in each classroom. I am always impressed when I attend the graduation ceremonies each Spring and hear the graduates speak about what their MFS experience. They are articulate, thoughtful and confident kids. They come back to visit the school and report being well prepared for their next step in life.

While no school is perfect for all children, MFS with its Montessori approach does serve a really broad spectrum. There are no aides to individual students in the classrooms this year, though there is (and has been) a learning specialist who works with the parents, teachers and some students to support learning differences.

The school has gone through a transition as the founder retired and we now have a new Head of School. I think that some of the less positive experiences that other posters communicated happened during the time leading up to this change. Being on the other side of the transition, I can tell you that the new HOS is focusing in all the right places. In just this much of the school year, I am seeing stronger than ever communications and other improvements in many areas that add up to a really positive evolution for the school. I have heard from some families in the past about changes they were seeking in the Upper Elementary classroom. This is our first year in UE, and I feel like all of the suggestions I heard about are being addressed. Of the 3, terrific, full time UE teachers (and ~30 kids - nice ratio), our daughter has 1 who is her advisor and meets with her regularly to check her academic progress.

The community is very vibrant. We have many friends whose children have grown and graduated and we're thrilled with all of the new families we meet each year who are joining the school. The first few community events of this year have been a blast Cb and a great way to meet newcomers. There are many ways for families to get involved and meet each other Cb through the Parents Association, volunteering for school or classroom events or at some of the bigger social events each year.

MFS has been a huge part of our lives and we're very happy with the impact it's had on our family. I highly recommend checking it out. Patty - Happy MFS Parent

Our experience in the MFS middle school was quite frankly amazing. We are convinced that our older child is thriving in high school now largely because of her experience at MFS, particularly in the MFS middle school. We view the MFS middle school as one of the gems at MFS. We are very much looking forward to having our younger child in the MS next year.

That said, it is vitally important to understand the curriculum, because it is very different from traditional middle school. While the middle school curriculum is not structured in the traditional way, the learning at all levels is extremely structured and organized. For example, there are no traditional, lecture-style math lessons -- that is not a Montessori thing. But there is lots of one-on-one math teaching, with teachers and with other students and through peer learning. While this style of learning can be disconcerting for those not accustomed to it, we observed that this worked well for our daughter and her classmates -- indeed, this collaboration is one of the essential aspects of a Montessori classroom, because it is at the root of self-motivation and ownership. Now, she is regularly helping other kids in her geometry class in high school, because this is a mode that she is very used to. Because teaching something is the best demonstration of having learned it, a Montessori environment encourages children to develop this talent.

Our older child had struggled with organization in her younger years, but very clearly as a result of her experience in the MFS MS she is now extremely organized. She was challenged often, which was good. Occasionally falling flat on her face during the middle school years was important, as was the knowledge that the teacher, Alissa Stolz, was serious when she said that ''the work doesn't go away.'' Alissa does not relax this policy --- otherwise it would not have been effective -- and honestly it can be stressful. But our view was (and is) that this is essential preparation for life, where the work generally *doesn't* go away. This is totally age appropriate at the middle school level, where everything is still off the record, while having to learn this for the first time in high school level would be problematic, and of course on the record. For many, no one is asked to learn this full complement of executive function, scheduling, time management, ownership and the skills to evaluate one's own work until college (at best).

Since self-directed learning is perhaps *the* central aspect of the Montessori system, it is important to understand this up front. While all children can in principle benefit from a Montessori education, for some children with executive function or other challenges, the cost to the learning environment of accommodating that child can be unacceptably high. So in practice, Montessori is not for every child. Assessment of the appropriateness of your child for this program is important here.

In middle school, little of the learning is rote book learning. There are two pieces to this. First, very little of even the academic work is book learning, in the sense of learning from textbooks. But in the MFS MS the academics are not the focus, and this is deliberate. The central part of the curriculum is learning organization, learning to complete work on time, learning to fall flat and get up again, learning to write proposals, developing leadership skills, learning to run a meeting with an agenda, and many other non-academic skills. To be sure, there are academics, but in an important sense they are a means to teaching these executive skills. Our view was (and is) that with these skills, the children are well-armed to take on almost any academic challenge in high school and later. Without them, they are significantly handicapped no matter their academic level. In practice, the academics are nevertheless very strong -- our daughter is finding her first year of high school very easy, and the workload has dropped by a factor of three or so compared with MFS middle. An important strength is the huge amount of writing that the students do. Our daughter read and completed extensive written reviews on 12-13 books per year during middle school. The students write. And write. And write.

The manipulatives that the younger children use in the Montessori system are not used (much) at the middle school level. At most, they are brought up occasionally as a reminder. This is deliberate: It would not be age-appropriate for middle schoolers to be using manipulatives. The kids are moving out of the concrete to the abstract at this level.

Our daughter did struggle at times, sometimes on her own, mostly with peer and teacher support. This was good. As much as possible, the MS classroom is supposed to model a real world environment, and I freely admit that I often struggle in my adult professional and personal lives!

Despite the intensity of the program (or maybe because of it), MFS middle school graduates report having had a wonderful experience, and in retrospect would not have made a different choice. How many of us can say that about our middle school years? a happy MFS MS parent

I'm so glad you're looking at MFS for your child! I have 2 daughters currently at Montessori Family School, and we couldn't be happier. I also looked at private and public schools in the area (we live in Berkeley), and found that none offered the kind of individualized experience I was looking for like MFS. I feel that my daughter's teachers really know and love them, as they are together for 3 years in the Montessori program. While MFS offers an authentic Montessori program, it also looks to innovate and update Montessori practices based on current brain research. MFS also works closely with local Montessori training facilities, to help train new Montessori teachers.

Although we were all very sad to see Jane Wechsler, the founder of MFS, retire, I must say I am very pleased with how our new HOS, Henry Trevor, has transitioned into his new role. Henry has made changes for the better, and has worked tirelessly to make this transition a smooth one for everyone. He has helped streamline communication between the school and home, keeping everyone informed of goings-on at school. There are no aides to individual students in the classrooms this year. The school has a part-time learning specialist on staff to work with parents, teachers and students. While no one school is the best place for every child, MFS does its best to accommodate every learning style. The Montessori method makes this possible, as children learn at their own pace, when they are developmentally ready to take in the information, rather than when a text-book says they should be ready. After all, Maria Montessori was a pediatrician who started her school with the working-class poor preschool-aged children of Rome a century ago. She didn't have the luxury of ''hand-picking'' a class. MFS strives to provide ''education for life'', and the graduates routinely report that they are well-prepared for their next school. I wish you the best of luck in your search. AU

Regarding feedback for Montessori Family School - our family has had over 19 kid-years at MFS, from pre-school through middle school, and I whole-heartedly recommend Montessori systems in general and MFS in particular to anyone. Much has already been written about Montessori and MFS so I'd just like to briefly address a couple of points in reaction to other postings.

First, the middle school program is amazing, and the vast majority of families who have been through it agree. It bridges the ultra-nurturing elementary program and external high schools, where kids need to be self-sufficient, organized, confident they can handle a wide variety of life situations, and academically prepared. Sometimes that involves tough love on the part of the teachers to follow through with logical consequences, and sometimes some developmentally-critical letting go on the part of parents. Bottom line, it worked - my child and others were challenged, engaged, well-prepared for the future, and LOVED it.

To some other comments, certainly no school is perfect and MFS has its strengths and weaknesses as others. For our family the few weaknesses have been far outweighed by the strengths. Also I have seen concrete improvements to organization and communication (administrative and elementary - this was never an issue in pre-school or middle school) and in having better tracking and transparency in the math program (in upper elementary). Again, I highly recommend MFS - or the best Montessori school in your area if you aren't in the East Bay - to anyone. Mom of happy former & current MFS kids

We've been involved with MFS for several years. So far our children have benefitted tremendously from the education methods at MFS, mentioned thoroughly in previous postings by Bridget Clarke, Andrew Westphal and others. Henry Trevor, the new Head of School, is doing a fantastic job, and families, children and teachers are genuinely happy with the school's transition. MFS is a school worth investigating in your search for Montessori education that works to support each unique child. You don't want to miss this school. Happy MFS Parents

My son has been attending MFS for 6 years now. He is in MFS middle school now. It has been very good place for my son. He went trough some challenging times. Every one in MFS is really supportive. We always feel that teachers are very involved in kids development. We are very glad that we made the decision to attend MFS 6 years ago. I would highly recommend this school to any one. Happy MFS Parent

We've been part of the MFS community since 2005 when our daughter was in the pre-school while her older brother was attending kindergarten in Albany. Our original plan was for her to attend pre-school at MFS and then switch to Albany, following in her brother's footsteps. Well, that changed two years later when we decided to switch him to MFS for 2nd grade because we felt that he needed to be challenged. It was a smart move because he thrived at MFS all the way through 6th grade. For Middle School, he wanted a school with the academics along with organized sports programs like basketball, cross country and football, so we had to look elsewhere. He was accepted into Head-Royce and Prospect Sierra and ultimately decided on PS because it was closer to home. The self motivating and organizational skills he developed at MFS was key to his successful transition into his new and more traditional school. As for academics, he had a bit of trouble staying engaged in math class because the 7th grade material at PS was what he had already learned at MFS. It was better once he moved into honors math. He's now in 8th grade and we feel that he is well prepared for high school.

Our daughter has had the full experience from pre-school all the way to her current 5th year. Over the years, she's learned skills to be a self starter and self advocate and to be an independent thinker. Last year, her 4th year, was rough because of all the transitions. The Founder and Head of School, Jane Wechsler, was retiring and a new HOS needed to be found. In the midst of the HOS search, a new math curriculum was implemented in Upper Elementary and was not working. The kids needed more guidance to navigate the new system and the materials and the teachers were trying to figure it out. Some families were frustrated and did leave during this transition. This year, the new HOS, Henry Trevor, stepped in and is doing a great job working with the teachers to reorganize the structure of the curriculum, including the math program. I am happy to say that this new program is working well for our daughter. She's progressing at a good pace in math and she's writing a novel. She writes every night and she is working with her teacher to complete her first novel through the Nano Wrimo's Young Writers Program. I do acknowledge that last year was frustrating, but this year, it has turned around and we are happy to still be a part of the MFS community. cyndi + syed

Dear Berkeley Parents, I have been a parent at Montessori Family School (MFS) since January 2008, though it feels like a lot longer. I cannot imagine what our life would be like without MFS. MFS has been more than a school for my family of two. I am a single working mother, who was both going to graduate school and working part-time when my daughter began attending MFS in the middle of her first year( i.e. 1st grade - Montessori facilitates supportive learning and reciprocity between age groups, classes generally include three year spans). My daughter Phoebe acclimatized to the nurturing environment easily and soon formed close bonds with a network of friends who have been a part of many adventures throughout the years. MFS has supported her academic and social growth, I say supported because it has been she who has faced the challenges and adapted in her learning, there has been much wisdom gained. My daughter has truly developed into an evolved and grounded person and is more emotionally mature at age 11 than I ever could have thought possible. In terms of her academic achievement she has honed her preferred skills and faced obstacles with methodical determination. Phoebe enjoys collaborating and being a part of a motivated team; the ability to work with others, forming contracts on projects as varied as cooking to research to funding to productivity is a skill set that has been integrated into her learning style and will serve her for many years to come. There are so many opportunities for enrichment including all school camping trips and a student-run (managed, designed and executed) restaurant night; the proceeds from which go to a charitable organization of the students' choosing. Last year the students supported the purchase of bikes in Africa - 'World Bicycle Relief', the previous year they supported 'Smile Train' an organization providing medical intervention to children born with cleft palates who could not otherwise afford the operation. On the topic of test-taking, MFS does provide a battery of nationally rated exams for children to measure their achievement on a large scale.

I truly believe that the wholesome and ambitious atmosphere at MFS has enabled my family to strive for balance and fulfillment in our lives. When issues arise I feel invited to partake in a process that includes my views and expertise as a parent. Phoebe faces most challenges with the realistic expectations of a child who has had the scaffolding needed to assess and work through obstacles. The community of parents and teachers at MFS has been so intrinsic to her learning process and growth and has enabled me to move forward with my goals. On a daily basis I feel assured that my daughter will be nurtured and cared for; as a social learner she has been given the opportunities to birth her interests and explore her areas of challenge. MFS has consistently supported her development as a valued group member and as a competent individual. I guess most importantly for me, as a working parent, is the knowledge that I can leave my child at school and know that when I see her at the end of the day she will be better for her experiences. I feel secure in the knowledge that my child will be safe and nurtured, challenged and valued. Warmly, Nona

I strongly recommend Montessori Family School in El Cerrito for any family considering a K-8 Montessori education for their child. MFS was recommended to us from our prior Montessori preschool. While we had no intention of sending our children to a private school, we quickly changed our minds after visiting the school and learning more about the benefits of a true Montessori education. My daughter is in one of the lower elementary 1st-3rd classes. She loves going to school, is introduced to advanced topics and concepts, and is able to work at her own pace with both older and younger peers. We could not be happier with the school. The teachers are all wonderful mentors, and the new head of school is involved, caring, and brings years of experience. MFS is truly unique and amazing, enforcing respect for others and a genuine care for individual space, growth, and care for the classroom environment. We are excited to be a part of the warm and friendly school community for 7 more years. We easily commute from the Oakland hills, as do several other families. I am an educator and spent much time viewing numerous private schools in the East Bay before visiting MFS. It was evident immediately that MFS was top notch and the perfect fit for our bright daughter. I encourage parents to go observe and see for yourself! The curriculum taught in traditional and public schools, and how it is taught is completely different and cannot be compared to what children learn at MFS. We were thrilled to have found this school! Tamara-Happy Parent

Editor note: reviews were also received for Montessori Family School Preschool

Oct 2012

Re: Montessori Family School Vs The Berkeley School
Hi, My second grader has just started at Montessori Family School and loves it. Having tried three different Montessori programs both here and abroad (for two children) - I can say that the teachers and set up at the Montessori Family school follow the original methodology fully and most creatively. My second grader's teachers have a beautiful awareness and sense of what the children's needs are and they incorporate this sensitivity into their thorough and well-constructed program. Anon

The only authentic preK-8 Montessori school in the Berkeley area is Montessori Family School, which was voted Best of the East Bay by Parents' Press in the last two years. Berkeley Montessori is no longer a Montessori school, and is now named The Berkeley School. The Montessori method has been shown in a recent paper in Science to be a highly effective approach to childhood education. Our girls have been at MFS for a combined total of 19 years, and we continue to be extremely happy at MFS and are totally sold on the value of a Montessori education. Most importantly, our girls love school and love learning new things. -- A Happy long-term MFS parent, who gets this question often Andrew

Our family chose Montessori Family School last year when moving to the East Bay at the recommendation of Dr. Pamela Rigg (a past board member for the American Montessori Society). Montessori Family School afforded our 2 children an authentic Montessori experience. The pillars upon which the philosophy is based are strong at MFS, and the school's Board of Directors works diligently to ensure the school remains true to this charter. Both of our kids are thriving academically and socially, and the community of families is amazing. Please feel free to contact the moderator for my personal details, and I will be happy to answer any questions or provide further details about our experience. Delighted Montessori Family from MFS

Oct 2012

Re: Hands-on, no-homework private/charter elementary?
I highly encourage you to check out Montessori Family School. It has both a Preschool (in Berkeley) and a K-8 campus (in El Cerrito). Both of our children started in the preschool and are now in elementary school. We didn't start our search looking for a Montessori school, but feel so lucky to have found it. The Montessori philosophy has all of the elements you mention Cb and through that, our children have grown in so many dimensions that I couldn't have anticipated. Check out the video on the home page: www.montessorifamily.com to see how MFS puts Montessori into action. It is really a wonderful spot. Highly Recommend MFS

Sept 2012

We have had our girls at Montessori Family School for a combined total of nearly 20 years. We have had an excellent experience at MFS. MFS was recently voted Best of the East Bay by Parents' Press in the last two years, and we completely understand why: it genuinely is a gem. The wonderful MFS faculty hold to basic Montessori principles --- the prepared environment, multi-age classrooms, grace and courtesy, independence and autonomy, mastery versus grading, freedom within limits, practical life, and others --- while recognizing that much has been learned in neuroscience and brain development since Maria Montessori's time, so the approach at MFS is not dogmatic.

In the pre-school classrooms (ages 3-5), it is amazing to watch five-year-olds put their conflict-resolution skills into action, and teaching those skills to the younger children. Montessori teachers do not dumb down vocabulary, so you regularly hear pre-schoolers saying words like ''trilobite'', ''esophagus'', and ''cnidaria'' (and knowing what these mean). In the two Lower Elementary classrooms (ages 6-8), the older children become even more active mentors and teaching assistants for the younger children, and the Upper Elementary (ages 9-12) sixth-year students come down once per week to help their first-year buddies. The Lower Elementary language, science and math ''works'' (Montessori jargon) are inspiring and wonderful. The Upper Elementary math program, including Hands-on Algebra, is home-grown and implements the principle of freedom within limits in a clever way. The MFS Middle School (ages 12-14) is phenomenal, and as far as we know is unique in the Bay Area. The emphasis on preparation for life (e.g., ''The Work Never Goes Away'') and education of the whole child, not just the academic part, is extremely impressive, and is totally unlike the middle school/junior high experience of 99+% of us. All of the graduating Middle Schoolers at MFS have gone on to their first choices of high schools.

Our children (now 11 and 14) love school and learning; they are confident, courteous, and as comfortable talking with adults as with other children. Sometimes we hear a criticism of Montessori --- that it is not like the ''real world''. On the contrary, the Montessori classrooms are much more like the real world than traditional classrooms. (When is the last time you had to sit in rows and listen to tedious lectures at *your* work? On the other hand, when is the last time that you worked with collaborators, ran a meeting with an agenda, prepared a budget, or wrote a proposal?) MFS is the only authentic preK-8 Montessori school in the Berkeley area. The Montessori method has been shown in a recent paper in Science to be a highly effective approach to childhood education. A link to this paper, and video introductions to MFS and to the Montessori method are here: http://montessorifamily.com/what-is-montessori/links-resources/ Finally, the MFS community is warm and wonderful and lives up to the ''Family'' in the name. I am happy to answer any questions about our experience at MFS -- feel free to contact me. -- Andrew

Montessori Family for spirited/gifted kid?

May 2012

Hi, We are starting to evaluate elementary schools for our daughter. She is gifted and spirited with all the sensitivities that entails. She is also very independent and headstrong. We were considering Dunham but the drive would be such a challenge. Then I stumbled onto Montessori Family School Elementary School, which sounds great! I really like the focus on peace as well as the individual learning plans. However, I am a bit concerned that the focus on peaceful and respectful interpersonal skills might mean they don't 'like' my daughter because she can be challenging in that respect. She is very loving and helpful, but she will insist on doing the opposite of what is expected every time. I have also read a review that suggested the self-pace can lead to not challenging children enough academically. Does anyone here have a child of similar temperament and/or ability that has gone or is going to this school? Is there another school in the area that would be recommended instead? I prefer either an individualized curriculum or multi-age class environment. Thanks! School Seeker

What a wonderful gift to have a spirited child! From our personal experience with both our children at the school, the environment at Montessori Family School is precisely the answer for your child. The faculty at MFS would do more than ''like'' your daughter, they would respect her - a far greater gift for her in her development. It's important for all children to reveal and refine their voice in a way that sets them up as successful, confident, gracious, and self sufficient adults. This the heart of this school's Montessori application. The individualized curriculum, professional faculty, vibrant community of smart and engaged families, and committed administration would present a wonderful environment for your daughter to flourish. R. P. - MFS Parent

Dear School Seeker, Thank you for inquiring about Montessori Family School(MFS). It sounds like you have an awesome child. Every child is different and unique. I hope my experience with MFS may be informative in some ways. My daughter is in her 1st year at MFS and thrives there. She is sweet and caring. Yet, she is a very strong-willed child. She has her own sense of fashion and thinks she knows more than we do. Sometimes, we have power-struggles with her at home. However, we learned that she is very different at school. She is very social and kind and yet knows how to set her boundaries with her friends. She listens to her teachers.

As a parent I want my daughter to excel in academics. And I understand why you have some concerns in that area. My daughter's reading and math skills were almost none 9 months ago when she started her school. My daughter's teachers have been patient and amazing. Now she reads well and loves math. She tells me that some of her 2nd year friends are so advanced in math and even do better than the 3rd year students in math. I recently read an article in Forbes magazine. Research by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that we need IQ, EQ(emotional intelligence), MQ(moral intelligence) and BQ(body intelligence) to be successful. We believe MFS helps my daughter become a whole person and prepares her well to live life fully. Our son will be in a KT program next year. Thank you. namgoong

Montessori Family School is a great place for children who are self-regulating, self-directing, and can follow rules/procedures without too much individual attention. The teachers are highly qualified, loving, and caring. However, to use my children's teacher's own words, they are not trained nor given resources to teach those who can be considered ''special needs'' children. The way you described your daughter is what might be considered ''special needs'' at Montessori Family. These children are either required to have an aide for part or all of the school days, or are eventually counseled out of the school. A Fellow Parent

Feb 2012

Re: Finding a school for a well balanced education
You should look into Montessori Family School (MFS) if you want a holistic education, with a solid PE program and wonderful art program. It's all there in one package. No pretense or private school snobbery. Just a wholesome environment for kids that teaches respect for oneself, community and environment in addition to strong academic skills My teenage son went there for 10 years (from preschool through 6th grade, now at Head Royce) and my 9-year old daughter is currently in 3rd grade. When it came to searching for schools for my daughter, we didn't need to. Both kids are happy, productive and balanced, and extremely good students and independent learners. Also, MFS tuition is comparatively low relative to other bay area independent schools. It was started by single moms who understood the financial and practical challenges of getting kids a well-rounded education. Laura

Feb 2012

Re: Seeking a Montessori school for 5 year old daughter
Our 7-year-old son is in his second year at Montessori Family School in El Cerrito. The teachers are great. The families are great. The teachers and staff spend time and patience dealing with socialization issues for our son, as well as other children there. They provide a warm, welcoming environment and are able to focus on the specific needs of each child. Also, the school puts on numerous social events throughout each month and keeps families informed of everything happening on the campus through weekly emails. I highly recommend. MFS Parent

Jan 2012

We have a 7-year-old son in his second year at this El Cerrito school. He enjoys the work and gets significant attention from the teachers. We chose MFS because the teachers let the students learn at their individual paces and the teaching staff is made up of simply amazing people. The school also places a great deal of weight on each child's social skills -- which is essential for our child. MFS offers various art, music, jewelry making and language classes as well. MFS Parent

We would like to recommend Montessori Family School in El Cerrito, CA as a wonderful place for children to learn, grow, and be nurtured. Our daughter is in her 1st year there. My husband and I were looking for a private school in our area. Our daughter had a visit day at the school to spend a couple of hours in the classroom and experience the MFS environment. The first thing that came to our attention on this initial visit was how Mariah was made the focus. She was not talked about in the third person, like, "your daughter will love it here". She was addressed directly by the MFS staff as a person, not just a thing there to be coveted. They also were careful to pay attention to Maria'? little brother so he didn‚t feel ignored. For Maria'šs visit a buddy was assigned from the current students in Maria'šs age group. The buddy introduced our daughter to her friends and was very attentive. After spending a day there, we asked how she liked the school. What she liked most was that the teacher Bharati LISTENED to her very well. Our first impression about the school was the staff was very welcoming. The principal and the founder Jane gave us a tour of the school while Mariah spent some time in the classroom. She explained to us why she started the school 30 years ago. Jane was very personable and her passion for children‚s growth and development was very evident. We felt very welcomed by the staff and administrative head. One thing that Dennis and I noticed was how well behaved the children were on the playground. All the children played together regardless of age. Small children were allowed in on big kid games and everyone was courteous to each other. There was no cruelty or bullying seen. We spoke with Mariah about our visit and agreed this was a great choice for her education. Now our daughter thrives there. She enjoys learning. The authentic Montessori curriculum used is ideal for Maria'šs enthusiasm towards learning. We have learned many new things we did not know about Mariah. She is very outgoing at the school. According to her teachers, she studies hard and plays hard. During drop-off and pick up time, we talk to other parents. They say their kids thrive there too. I am learning that all these parents made a commitment to give their children the best education there is. Our son, Noah applied for this school for kindergarten next year. We look forward to sending him there as well and highly recommend this school if you are looking for great nurturing environment for your child to grow and develop. We would be happy to answer any of your questions. S-Y

Dec 2011

Re: Warm and Fuzzy Montessori?
My child is a student at Montessori Family School, and while I think MFS has that "warm and fuzzy feeling" I may be approaching this concept in a slightly different way. While schools and teachers can be welcoming to children and families, ultimately this feeling is created through meaningful mutual relationships. At MFS my child is seen for who she is and loved for what she brings to the school community. In a rich and challenging academic environment she has built an internal sense of being capable and competent. And, in this environment she has developed meaningful relationships with her peers and teachers to create this "warm fuzzy" feeling.

In Montessori schools children learn what it means to be a part of a community. They are seen and valued for who they are as unique individuals as well as members of the group. They learn how to be independent and responsible. Working within a community leads to a true and deep "warm and fuzzy" feeling. Schools can't give that to a child (kind of like how parents can't "give" a child a sense of self esteem).

The teachers are MFS are incredibly happy, compassionate, bright and dedicated educators. If you visit a Montessori classroom during work time students are often independent and focused on their learning. You may not immediately see the warmth and connection that children feel with their teachers and each other. But, if you observed over a day and watched class meetings, lunch periods and other times of day you would see children and educators who are truly happy, connected and engaged. At MFS you would experience the "warm fuzzy" feelings of a thriving school community. Please take a look at MFS since it is an incredible school. Good luck in your school search! Catherine

Dec 2011

When deciding to move from LA to the East Bay earlier this year, our search started first with the right choice of schools for our two children ages 5 & 7. Both were having an exceptional experience with the Montessori school they'd been attending for 3+ years, and we were anxious if we would find another community we enjoyed as much. Montessori Family School in El Cerrito was highly recommended by several leaders in the American Montessori Society, and it has become our instant and treasured home. The administration is proactive and professional, the staff is thoughtful and attentive, and the families of the students are deeply invested in the experience the education delivers.

If you are not familiar with the principles that are at the heart of Montessori, I invite you to consider some of the many benefits we've enjoyed with our children: -An individualized curriculum that invites children to interact at a pace that develops their competence AND confidence -Scientifically developed learning materials that provide children the opportunity to ''figure things out'' - a real blessing in this world where creativity and not compliance are dictating the direction of our developing industries -An appreciation for the larger world we live in, and our responsibility to a social contract -Emotional maturity development through conflict resolution understanding and skill development - grace, respect, and courtesy

More and more research about how a Montessori education provides a lifelong learning advantage for children is surfacing. There are several articles and books that provide valuable insights when making the decision and commitment for your child's schooling. A quick google search for ''Montessori research'' delivers a wealth of information at your fingertips.

Montessori Family School is an exceptional model of Montessori practice at work. If you are seeking a school from which your child(ren) will develop a sound foundation for the adult(s) they will one day become, Montessori Family School is the perfect choice. Our children are ecstatic about the school, and we could not imagine being happier. R. P.

Nov 2011

This is the second year our 7-year-old son has attended MFS in El Cerrito. He is one of the few kids I know who tells us how he enjoys school. The teachers keep him and his peers academically interested, which makes us happy of course. But as parents we have prioritized the importance of social growth because our son has sensory integration problems and has always had challenges playing appropriately and making friends. The teachers and after-school counselors make themselves available to discuss how to work with our son, and they go out of their way to give him attention unique to his needs and direct him so his days are as successful as possible. The teachers give a sense of enthusiasm over their jobs and the challenges that children present. Also, all of the families we have met are exceptional people. MFS Parent

Nov 2011

My son is four and a half and has been enrolled at Montessori Family School in Berkeley for over a year. It is a loving environment, and his teachers are both highly skilled and deeply invested in his development. I love their curriculum - he has developed a profound curiosity in science, and is able to engage what he's learning with the world around him. MFS has also taught him to be independent and self-directed, yet connected with his friends and classmates. He has learned to negotiate (lucky us!) and problem solve with his peers. I've seen his teachers encourage and support these skills. In sum, I feel like my son is loved and supported to succeed in these pivotal learning moments at MFS in the beautiful and unique Montessori way! alegria

Nov 2011

Re: School for sensory seeking 1st grader
Our son is 7 and also has various sensory integration issues. And also, in class he keeps it together, but during the less structured time after class, it takes a lot for him to control himself. We found Montessori Family School in El Cerrito, and it's amazing. For starters, the teachers are great teachers. But they also work with our son and with us as parents putting together programs that help our son succeed. I know it's a challenge for them, but they understand sensory problems and take the challenge as an opportunity. Regarding classroom size: it's small. I don't know the exact number, but for instance, 10 kids and two teachers made up his kindergarten class. We have not had his former-OT come to class, but I believe some other kids have helpers for attention deficit problems and such. We are so thrilled about the school. bg

Oct 2011

I would just like to let everyone know about our experience at Montessori Family School. We are in our 5th year at the school and it has been wonderful. The staff works very well together and with the student's. We are about to transistion to public schools. We know that we have set our children up for a wonderful smooth move and everyone is very excited. Thanks to all of the staff at MFS anon

Oct 2011

Re: School for socially anxious 9-year-old with ADHD

I would highly recommend Montessori Family School (MFS) in El Cerrito. My son has been attending MFS for 5 years now. When he started there he was 8-years-old and had a lot of problems with making friends, dealing with conflicts and being able to stand/sit still. MFS provided all kinds of recommendations, support, additional tutors, etc., etc., etc. It took a while, but the improvement in my sonC-s behavior is tremendous. He has learned how to deal with people and manage conflicts, able to concentrate and study well, and generally become part of school family. Happy MFS Parent

April 2011

Re: Schools - children with different learning styles
Montessori Family School, with the k-8 located in El Cerrito, is a wonderful gem of a school that addresses the needs of the individual student. Because it is a Montessori school the children progress at their own pace and are guided to make their own discoveries by means of engaging with meaningful and mulit-sensory materials. More than this, however, is the fact that the teachers and staff are knowledgable and supportive all of types of learners.

Please don't make the common mistake of thinking ''Montessori = strict and/or unfocused.'' It is so far from the truth.

My oldest son, who has Down syndrome, attended MFS for 4 years very successfully (please see an earlier post of mine from 1/05, it begins with ''I feel compelled...'' ), my younger son began MFS in preschool and is now in 5th grade. He is a strong student who works above standard grade level, but is very sensitive and has had periodic issues with anxiety and focus. The teachers are willing and able to meet with me and with him to support him in the most appropriate manner possible. They don't coddle - they learn, advise, and figure out a way to support all of their students in the best manner appropriate.

MFS has learners of all types and students who come from a variety of backgrounds and home situations. They strive to create an environment that supports and respects this diversity. I urge you to check it out. The elementary school is at 510-236-8802. -A grateful and happy MFS parent

March 2011

We took our child out after many years because the upper elementary classroom (grades 4-6) was so disappointing. Teachers are very kind, but academics are so lax, our child was testing 1-2 yrs behind grade level on state standardized tests - now is loving public school and finally catching up to grade level. Wish we'd changed sooner, but I listened to public school horror stories and am so pleasantly surprised. It's great to finally have challenges. It was just way too loosey-goosey in MFS 4th-6th classroom. They typically take a whole week or more off work at end of semester for no particular reason. Homework extremely light, and no one minds much if you don't turn it in. Now my child is seeing the problem with MFS, which offers one math lesson per week (none if the teacher happens to be out), and the rest of the time is independent study, which is easy to neglect there. Nice community at MFS, and people love the middle school, and not everyone perceives lacking academics in that classroom - but we sure did! Disappointed

March 2011

My son has been attending Montessori Family School for 4 years now. We have transfered him from another local private school and could not be happier. In fact, this Fall, he will be attending middle school at MFS and is very exited about this opportunity.

In the past, I did not know anything about Montessori education and was somewhat uncertain if this is the right choice for my son. During these several years, I am convinced that there is very unlikely I could ever find a better fit for my son.

From the head of school, to every teacher, to office support personal every one loves working with kids, extremally knowledgeable, helpful and really enjoys what they do.

As most boys, my son had various discipline and organizational problems. The school staff was working with our family on the way to improve situation in unbelievable cooperate manner. Our family together with teachers would met and come up with various strategies on how to help my son to do better in school.

The results are incredible. My eyes often tear-up when I see my son doing so my better at school and at home. He is now well behaved, much more responsible, doing very well academically and socially.

MFS offers Montessori curriculum from preschool to grade 8th. I would encourage anyone to contact MFS if in the process of selecting school. In fact, I am often feel envious that I myself did not have a chance to go to school like MFS. Happy Parent of MFS Child

Feb 2011

Re: Challenge with Transitions & Kindergarten Choices
I would like to recommend Montessori Family School, just up the hill from Windrush in El Cerrito. My son started there in September and is thriving. He is in a class of ten, with two teachers, and they all get individual attention. Transitions are not a problem for him but he does have some difficulty with focus and staying on task, and the teachers have been great in working with him on this. Feel free to email me if you want to know more. Lori

Jan 2011

Re: Seeking schools that have no homework, or much less
The Montessori Family School (MFS), 7075 Cutting Blvd., El Cerrito, 510-236-8802, has a very reasonable approach to homework. There is very little outside work in the early grades and it increases in a way that is manageable. I have relatives who attend public school in Berkeley and the West Contra Costa School Districts and the amount of homework they have from even kindergarten is very excessive. It really cuts into family time during the week when things are busy anyway. I was so happy to learn about MFS's policy of not piling on the homework so that students can enjoy their families and participate in activities that are educational within the context of family activities. I am relieved to know that we will not be robbed of family time while my child is a student at MFS. Give them a call and learn more. The school is great. Happy parent

Jan 2011

My son is 7 years old and has been attending Montessori Family School since 2009. We moved to the east bay from the central valley and were searching for an authentic Montessori school like the one he had attended since preschool. We found that and more at Montessori Family School!

MFS is an amazing school beacuse the teachers really take the time to know every child and they work tirelessly to address the needs of the children individually. The MFS community is vibrant, the academics are challenging, and the teachers are proactive (not simply responsive). My son has trouble focusing at times, and his teachers have been in constant communication with us regarding his progress and potential solutions.

As the students progress in the classic three-year classrooms, their confidence, self worth, and thirst for knowledge grows. I often find the older students in the classrooms mentoring the young ones. Like most Montessori classrooms, the children are not limited to the academics of their year and my son often comes home all excited about the curriculum he learned from the older group.

Montessori Family School is the best place for my son because the school truly incorporates family. The children at MFS are respected and nurtured. They are not only encouraged to be individuals, but also taught how to function and thrive as a group. At the opening pot-luck this year, a rush of good feelings prompted me to tell the Head of School, Jane Wechsler, that being back on campus felt like coming home. My son was running around the playground, happily greeting old friends and teachers alike. I couldn't imagine a better place for my son.

Please feel free to contact me with any specific questions about this remarkable school! Jennie

Dec 2010

I highly recommend Montessori Family School. We have two boys who attend MFS's elementary program. One is nearly 7 yrs old, and is in the ''Lower Elementary'' (1st-3rd ''grade''); the other is 9 and in the ''Upper Elementary'' (4-6th ''grade''). We have been at MFS for about 5 years, since my oldest son was in the Kindergarten program in Berkeley (my younger one also attended the preschool program there), and we have loved every minute of it.

MFS provides a strong academic program that is based on Maria Montessori's deep understanding of how children learn and grow. The method supports the child's natural developmental learning process, seemlessly integrating physical, language and cultural ''work'' and ''play.'' One thing I have really appreciated is the 3 year classrooms; as a newcomer, the first year child is mentored by the ''older'' 3rd year students, and as they progress through the 3 year classroom, she/he in turn becomes the elder, able to nurture and support younger students, developing their own sense of kindness and responsibility. I've often been touched to see on the playground, how swiftly other children stop what they are doing and come around to check on any child/fellow student who may have fallen or been hurt. I've also been impressed with the deep commitment to ''education for peace'' which is the school's slogan. In case of any disagreement between the children, even if a matter of hurt feelings, the children are encouraged to write their concern down in the class book, for group discussion in a calm and considered way that respects all persons' points of view.

The teachers have many years/decades of experience, and bring deep insight, warmth and compassion to their daily interaction with the students. Extracurricular activities are rich, with especially incredible art and music programs. History, science, literature and math curricula are also stimulating. The staff are professional and always helpful, while the community of parents and families provides a genuine warm experience of the ''family'' part of the school's name. I can't imagine a better place for my children to be. -MIE, a parent delighted with MFS

Nov 2010

Re: Kindergarten for a Math Geek
I can't speak to Park Day, but your son sounds like my daughter, so I wanted to reply. Our daughter has always loved math (one of her favorite preschool pastimes was adding huge numbers in the calculator on my husband's IPhone and then solving the problems on paper before pressing ''='' to see if they matched) and science (we have a ''science lab'' in our garage, her 5th Bday party was a science party, etc). However, ever since toddlerhood, she was a bit socially awkward. She was always the one on the sidelines at birthday parties and group playdates; she played by herself or sometimes with just one or two good friends at preschool; she never liked ''being in the spotlight'' and shied away from situations where she had to perform publicly or call attention to herself. After looking at a VAST number of k-8 public and private schools, we chose Montessori Family School (MFS) in El Cerrito and couldn't be happier. The Montessori curriculum is extremely strong in Math, and with the individual, child-led approach to learning, the kids can take it as far as they want to go. My daughter's Kindergarten teacher gave her a long division problem as a challenge last spring, and using the materials in the classroom, she solved it--beaming proudly as she did! However, in addition to the strong academic curriculum, the focus on social skills and justice is one of the main reasons we chose Montessori Family School. The slogan of the school is ''Education for Peace'', and they live and breathe that throughout the school. They have a zero tolerance policy of exclusion and bullying--and it is enforced by the kids. They use Jane Nelson's ''Positive Discipline'' approach, holding weekly classroom meetings to co-create rules and solve problems together as they arise. The teachers all treat the kids with respect, valuing their individual talents and challenges, and from what I've seen, the kids do the same with one another. My daughter is now in her second year at MFS, and the change we've seen in her since she started there is dramatic. The small class size and individual attention she received last year allowed her to feel safe, take risks and make friends in a way she has never before. This led to a developing sense of confidence in social situations that extends beyond the classroom. Just the other day, we went to a birthday party where she only knew one other child. Instead of sitting back and watching the kids from the side as she used to, she immediately dove in and started playing with all the kids. Also, this year, she signed up for the children's theatre program at Contra Costa Civic theatre, and actually auditioned for (and got) a part, singing by herself, in front of everyone! She would NEVER have done that before. Anyway, I know this post doesn't really answer your question, but if you are interested in a school with a strong academic curriculum (that can truly customize work based on a child's skills) AND a strong social curriculum, I encourage you to give Montessori Family School a consideration, or feel free to email me with any additional questions. Good luck in your search! Happy MFS Mom

Nov 2010

I would like to give a recommendation for Montessori Family School. My son who is almost 7 and in 1st grade LOVES SCHOOL,something I was almost postive was not going to happen. My guy is an independent free thinker and having to learn like everyone else in public school just did not reach him. I would hear him complain frequently when it was time to do homework. (which is ridiculous anyway at 5)I thought he was too young to have a bad attitude about learning so I found myself at MFS on a tour. At MFS they are able to teach my Son on all levels.He gets to touch,feel,talk and move. Working together is encouraged,working things out in a postive way is encouraged,having feelings is encouraged and embraced. They treat the kids like people with a say. The kids get a real sense of how they fit into this world as a whole and how they can make it a better place. I will continue to update my review as years go by, but right now I could not recommend MFS more. Alexandra

May 2010

Re: Race to Nowhere - Questioning Public Schools
If you can afford going private, consider montessori learning for your child. Not all montessori schools are equal though. We have had a wonderful experience so far at Montessori Family School (MFS) and are pleased with both the academic and social/emotional learning and growth we see in our child and other children at the school. It is such a balanced, kind environment and we appreciate the community focus. Next year our second child will start in the preschool and our first is moving on to a kindergarten transition classroom. We feel our children are a good fit for montessori and they do not need supplemental external pressure. They get enough of it from us at home. Montessori Family School continues from age three through middle school or eighth grade. I never believed we would stay in montessori past kindergarten. After doing research for awhile and exploring a variety of school options, I came to similar conclusions expressed in Race to Nowhere. I started to relax a little and am grateful for the insights. It's never too late to change your course. A child is a child only once. Happy Parent at MFS

March 2010

Re: Kindergarten for son w/Auditory Processing Disorder
Anu, I am at the other end of raising children - as my son, who had several learning problems including auditory processing is just about to graduate from college. He was diagnosed at 6 and was attending Montessori Family School in Berkeley. I found that because of the way they taught (small circles with several children and a teacher only a few feet away)and their awareness of his learning style, that he was able to do work around the problems. I would recommend a small classroom situation (and would recommend Montessori Family School)in addition to learning specialists as your daughter gets a little older. Amy

Dec 2009

I would like to recommend the new middle school program at Montessori Family School. In the last decade or so Montessori education has been establishing middle and high school programs, and this program is an outstanding example. It utilizes current research and was developed especially to meet the needs of this age group.

The program not only prepares students academically, but teaches leadership development skills which enable the student to take responsibility for their own education. In the classroom these skills may take the form of being class leader on a reoccurring rotation, where a student leads the daily community meetings, greets classroom visitors, sets the agenda for the Friday morning Council Meeting, and numerous other responsibilities. The students are given many opportunities to practice these skills. A recent example that impressed me was the planning of a stone soup event for fellow MFS students and teachers. The middle school students took responsibility for the planning of the entire event. They wrote letters to area merchants and received food donations. They made seating arrangements and divided tasks among themselves, and organized the community to bring ingredients for the soup. The students also cooked and served the meal to 120 guests.

Academically, the school year is broken down into 5 week work cycles where the student learns to manage long and short term assignments. Research indicates that at this developmental stage, a cause and effect cycle of 5-7 weeks is ideal for students to learn how decisions made at the beginning of a work cycle impact the end of the work cycle. More importantly, the 5 week cycle also gives the student multiple opportunities during the school year for self assessment--to ask themselves: What worked? What did not? What am I going to do differently next cycle? The program also practices ''Mastery Learning'' where each student must master 80% of the academic material presented in order to move forward. On a regular basis, students assess how they are doing which gives them the information they need to focus on areas where they may need improvement. This practice culminates in parent/teacher/student conferences where the student leads the conference, giving a self-assessment of where they are academically and shows a prepared work portfolio to support their position.

Alissa, the teacher who leads the MFS middle school program, is quite amazing. She has a keen sense of knowing what each of her students may need, whether it is encouragement or someone who will talk them through the process of solving a problem they may have encountered. The most impressive trait I feel she possesses is that it is obvious that she absolutely LOVES working with adolescents and thoroughly understands them and the physical and cognitive changes they are going through.

I feel extremely confident that my daughter will have the academic, time management and leadership skills that are needed for high school, college and beyond. If you would like to know more about this program, I encourage you to attend one of Montessori Family School's Info Sessions or call Nasi Maghsoudnia White, the Admissions Director for more information.

Please note that we have moved! The new school contact information is as follows:

Montessori Family School
Elementary/Middle School Campus (new site!)
7075 Cutting Blvd., El Cerrito, CA 94530
Tel. 510 236-8802

Nov 2009

Re: Challenging Progressive School?
Montessori Family School provides an excellent, progressive Montessori education. The Early Childhood Campus (for ages 3-6) is located across the street from UC Berkeley on the corner of Hearst and Scenic Avenue. The Elementary and Middle school campus (Upper Site) is in El Cerrito. A shuttle transports children between the two campuses.

I encourage you to explore the Montessori method which allows children to delve deeply into the learning process at their own pace. Exceptional children are able to go as far as they need to go. We have seen examples of mathematically gifted children at this school eating up high school level algebra and trigonometry in the fourth and fifth grade! Actually the preschoolers and kindergarteners are doing pre-algebra (e.g. ''Fill in the blank...5 + ___ = 7''). Children become critical thinkers, write well in many styles and write expressively from the heart. Children receive an individualized curriculum and over the course of time, they develop amazing self- awareness and time management skills that will serve them well for life in the 21st century.

This is an extraordinary education and we are grateful to have discovered Montessori and the Montessori Family School. Montessori Family School is fabulous and we like the community a lot. All children have their strengths and challenges, and what we like about this particular school is that the academics are strong and the social/emotional education and experience is also as good as it gets.

At Montessori Family School there is little teacher turnover because the environment is vital, happy, supportive and challenging. We have taken note that many of the alumnae of this school are happy, focused, self-aware, socially responsible and successful individuals making a difference in the world. We are personally engaged in a program to reach out to alumnae now in college to document outcomes from the school.

Visit the website at www.montessorifamily.com Please feel free to contact me with questions. -Sharon

Sept 2009

I can wholeheartedly recommend Montessori Family School for any child. The school is large enough to be dynamic for the children, but small enough for all of them to feel personally known and loved. I can't recommend it highly enough. My daughter came from another school where she had many struggles, and when I found that MFS had a kindergarden opening, they simply embraced her despite her past challenges. Within a week she was settled in and doing amazingly well. Her teachers not only understood her for the unique person she is, but they embraced both her gifts and her challenges and gave me the confidence that she was going to shine in this environment, and she has. Communication with all the teachers and administrators has been easy and natural. Her specialty and after school classes have been very fun and interesting. In particular, for anyone currently interested in a small kindergarden for their child, MFS started a second kindergarden class that still has openings and I would highly recommend it for any child that needs a little extra attention. Your money spent at MFS will go a long long way. Good luck in your search for schools! Grateful and happy parent

March 2008

Hi! Any current comments on the new MFS campus at Cutting and Arlington? Specifically, size of the classrooms, daily schedule, make-up of the classes, community spirit,arts/music specialists? Thanks!! curious parent

The new MFS campus is terrific. There has been no increase in the number of students per classroom, but a huge increase in the amount of space, including an artroom, multi-purpose room and a spacious and fabulous kitchen. The only classroom being added for 2008-2009 is a kindergarten classroom with two new teachers. The schedule for the kids is the same (9am - 3pm, with an option for before and/or after care), and the resources are also the same. The main difference is a beautiful new building that the kids and staff LOVE, and the option of going to the local park on sunny days at lunch on Fridays and at other times throughout the week. If you want specific details about the kindergarten/elemenatry program at MFS you can go to their website at montessorifamily.com and/or telephone the El Cerrito site at Tel: (510) 236-8802.

March 2006

Re: Academically strong and liberal private school
I can strongly recommend Montessori Family School in Berkeley. This also relates to the family who requested a recommendation for a shy toddler. My son was PAINFULLY shy when he began MFS when he was three years old. His teachers were very good with him and all of the students. This school and all of the teachers focus on the whole child - academics, social skills and community awareness. It is well worth a visit.

January 2005

Re: Berkeley Montessori vs. Montessori Family
Our daughter was in BMS for preschool-kindergarten, after which we moved her to to MFS and have been wildly happy?and certainly happier than we were at BMS.

MFS is a smaller, much less top-heavy (bureaucratic) school, still run by the founder, who is also still a teacher in the Upper Elementary classroom; so really there are no administration vs. teacher conflicts?as there were at BMS?conflicts that led, a few years back, to several BMS teachers fleeing to MFS! Though I gather things have settled down.

In any case, MFS, both for preschool and beyond, is a very happy, well- run school, with incredible, creative, devoted teachers and a very responsive (small but efficient) staff. BMS also has many wonderful teachers, but I do think the administration is (or was) a real issue; also (at least when we were there) the emphasis was on raising money for the fancy new site?so tuition was on a steep upward trend.

In short, I'd cast a strong vote for MFS. Feel free to email me if you'd like more info.

[an additional letter from the previous author]
I just wanted to sing the praises of Montessori Family School a small, focused, happy, intellectually serious school. The teachers (including ''resource teachers'' for PE, yoga, etc.) are absolutely amazing: totally dedicated, with fabulous ''kid sense,'' demanding but also keyed in to the different needs of their students. We visited several schools (traditional and non-) when we were looking for a first grade class for our daughter (a refugee from Berkeley Montessori), and we were just blown away by the atmosphere in the classroom at MFS: all these students busily and intently going about their work; an amazing blend of excitement and concentration. Our daughter is now in her 3rd year at the school; she loves it, and so do we.

One thing we appreciate about MFS is that it really is a ''family'' school, in that parents are strongly encouraged (though not compelled) to spend time in the classroom, helping with reading groups etc. Several teachers and staff members are also parents of current students; and the founder and head of the school is still teaching in the Upper Elementary classroom; so there is as close to perfect harmony between administration, teachers, and parents as one could imagine. That this matters became clear to us at Berkeley Montessori, where the sometimes tense relations between these groups did in fact ''trickle down'' in various negative ways to the classroom. (Though BMS also has excellent & dedicated teachers, I hasten to add)

Like all Montessori schools, MFS has mixed-age classrooms (1-3 grade, 4-6 grade), a feature that MFS fosters by means of a buddy system (each incoming first year student has both a third year and a sixth year buddy?an arrangement that all parties enjoy). Each spring the whole elementary school goes camping (in cabins, not tents) for 2 nights?something the kids absolutely adore, and that also increases the sense of community. The mixed classrooms also enable students to learn at their own pace?e.g., our daughter is very advanced in reading but very average in math, and the work she is given in school reflects this, so she is neither bored nor frustrated.

Another small ''plus,'' but one that can be important to the quality of daily life: the elementary site is peaceful & secluded, with amazing views of the bay?and painless for drop-off and pick-up (no lines, no difficult parking, etc.).

All in all, this really is a special school. But the best way to get a sense of it (or any school) is to visit it yourself. EO

Hi: WE are also considering the MFS school for prek for our 3 year old daughter. I visited Berkeley Montessori and found it very :business'' like where as in MFS I found it very warm and nurtuting. Also, The teacher in the pre k class Mary comes highly reccomended by my daughter's pediatrician. Mary taught all her 3 children @ Berkeley Montessori before she moved to MFS. be

I asked a friend who taught at both schools and sends her kids to Montessori Family. Her response to me is as follows: I believe I have just the experience you are in need of?I am a former teacher of both Montessori Family School and Berkeley Montessori. Through substituting and interning I also worked at two other east bay Montessori schools. I obviously have a strong bias toward the Montessori philosophy, but I am familiar with many of the K-8 private schools in the east bay through friends and family members who have children attending such schools. I did not return to teaching after having two children, but felt I had ?insider information? when it came time for my son to start pre-school. The clear choice for me was Montessori Family School. Montessori Family School has superior teachers and a director who has no agenda other than to guide her teachers to support the children to become the best possible person they can be: academically and emotionally. What the school may lack in ?first impression facilities?, they more than make-up for in a staff with heart, integrity and devotion. Berkeley Montessori is a fine institution, but I feel it has no soul.

My son is now in the elementary program while my daughter attends the pre-school. They are both thriving and I am so grateful for the community the school creates. I?m pretty sure the school is giving tours now. Seeing for oneself is always a good decision maker. Good luck! -Trina anon

I was surprised to see several people endorsing MFS as ''warmer'' than BMS. We visited MFS and were really turned off by the way the teacher we watched (I forget her name) would ''shush'' the children periodically for no particular reason (they weren't being very noisy). When we heard her say ''Shh! Children, if you quiet down, you can hear the Mozart music that's playing!'' my husband and I rolled our eyes at each other. We also found the MFS administration much more off-putting and unaccommodating than that of BMS. When I called MFS to arrange a visit with my son, we were told we could come at a time that's right in the middle of his nap time; when I requested a different time, for that reason, I was told ''take it or leave it.'' That didn't make me feel like they had the best interests of my child in mind--they seemed more concerned with their own convenience in scheduling.

In contrast, BMS (where my son goes now) has, in our opinion, a warm and happy feel to it, and the children are not being shushed so they can hear the Mozart! Our son is flourishing there. BMS parent

My child attended Montessori Family School and I regret to say I cannot recommend it. There is a lot of busy work in the classrooms, poor parent/teacher communication and a lack of tolerance for learning differences. Many of the children require outside tutoring.

We switched schools and now have a greater social circle for my son and also he is rising to the new challenges with excitement! Regrets

I have two children at Montessori Family School. Although I can't offer advice on which school --Berkeley Montessori or Montessori Family-- is best for your child since I haven't had experience with Berkeley Montessori, I can say we've been very pleased with our children\222s education at MFS. The teachers are truly dedicated educators and concerned about each student's needs. My children are passionate about learning and I credit the Montessori Family environment for a majority of their successes.

I read the recent negative comments made about Montessori Family on this post site and felt I needed to respond. Those comments didn't ring true to me with what I've experienced at the school. Every parent, student and teacher are not going to agree all the time, but I have found at Montessori Family that the students' best interests are being looked after. There are some students at Montessori Family that have benefited from outside tutoring as students elsewhere can benefit from tutoring. I don't see this as a negative issue, I see it as the teacher recognizing a situation where the student can benefit from additional instruction.

I suggest if you\222re considering any school, you should visit that school more than once and attend an open house where you\222re able to talk to the students themselves. Montessori Family has many open houses throughout the year. A private school education is expensive and you need to feel that you have a good school-student match. I\222m very happy that we found it for our children. MFS parent

In response to two recent negative posts concerning Montessori Family School, I'd like to describe our very positive experience. Our daughter attended MFS for 5th and 6th grade, and our son has been there for K to 4th grade. Our daughter was made welcome despite being ''the new kid,'' and thrived in her classroom. Our son has special needs and learning differences, and we have found the school to be flexible and effective in meeting his needs as well as those of other students we know with learning differences. Of course, the various classrooms within a school provide different experiences, but we have been very happy with MFS and would be pleased to discuss our experiences with any interested parents. Zach

As a parent at both BMS and MFS, I respectfully disagree with the comments about MFS. My own child does not do 'busy work' at MFS. He is working beyond grade level in all subjects. The teachers at MFS are excellent at targeting instruction to the individual student. Last year he had his own individual math group because no one else was at the same level. The group above was too high, below was too low. I have found parent teacher communication at MFS to be excellent. Conferences are available at any time, the director (who is also an upper elementary teacher) has made time to talk with me at surprising length. It is simply not true that 'many children require outside tutoring'. MFS does support learning differences, the teachers are very focused on the student's individual educational needs and supporting those needs. MFS dedicates a smaller portion of resources toward administration than other schools and it does show sometimes in the quality of the administration. I'd rather see more of my tuition dollars go into the classroom and deal with a less than stellar administration. MFS is a small school with a small social pond, some families find it too small. BMS is a much larger school with more social options and a much larger administration, both are good schools. happy MFS & BMS parent

I feel compelled to respond to the negative postings about Montessori Family School. Someone stated MFS was ''more off-putting and unaccommodating.'' Another post said that there is ''a lack of tolerance for learning differences.'' This cannot be further from the truth. I looked long and hard at preschools - ultimately visiting over twenty schools when I was looking for a school for my son who has Down syndrome. I experienced schools that flat-out rejected my son, schools that lied to me about their enrollment being full (I was told there was room, then 30 minutes later they were full when they heard that my son had Down syndrome), schools that tried to say everything possible to deter me from being interested in their school, and simply and sadly a lack of tolerance for my child. I did find one school that was ''willing to try it'' on a trial basis. The ONLY school who was not just willing to accept my son, but WANTED HIM, was the Montessori Family School.

He attended MFS for four years. He was accepted, graciously accommodated, and embraced by the teachers, staff, administrators, students and families. I feel so deeply grateful to MFS for not only accepting my son, but for believing in him, challenging him, and understanding that although he is more like his peers than different, he is different and he does have a disability. The person who posted the comment about the intolerance for learning differences also wrote that ''Many of the children require outside tutoring.'' Just like most all schools today, some students do receive tutoring (or other support) outside and inside of the school. This should not be viewed as a negative aspect; it is certainly not due to the teaching methodologies (which are superior). Some students simply require more academic attention than others. To me, this speaks to MFS's willingness to work with such students - and they are willing. I have seen it not only with my son, but many children with learning differences and disabilities in the preschool and elementary school. As long as the student isn't aggressive toward himself or others, MFS is willing to work together with families to create a structure that works for everyone involved.

There are occasions when a family isn't ready to acknowledge that their child needs extra help. I understand that feeling and also understand that as a school, they can't help a student if a family isn't ''on board'' to address an area of difficulty. This is the only time when I have seen tension between the school and families of children with learning issues. Also, a montessori education isn't necessarily the best choice for every student and/or a student might ultimately be best served by their public school district. In these cases some students do move on - but it is certainly not for a ''lack of tolerance.'' Rather, it is due to lack of parental support or simply because the student may be better served in a different setting - as was ultimately the case for my son. My son is doing as well as he is today in large part because of the terrific education that he received at MFS for 4 years. When he ''graduated'' from MFS at age 6, he was reading, understanding basic math concepts, had formed true friendships, and most importantly had confidence in himself. jennifer

August 2002

My two children went to Montessori Family School. A great school. The school has pre-k through 6th grade. Contact me if you want more info. Zp

March 2002

RE: Kindergarten programs

My daughter attends the Kindergarten program at Montessori Family School. We've been extremely happy with the program and best of all my daughter LOVES going there. Her teacher, Mary, has 30 years of teaching experience and somehow empowers her students to simply love learning. I would suggest also setting up an appointment to look at the MFS upper elementary school in Kensington.

For private schools, it is really important to observe the teachers who may be the ones your child gets. We applied to 8 private schools, two of which you mentioned. The year we applied, Windrush had two super teachers, a real draw for those applying there. But they left and two less experienced teachers were hired in their place. I understand some parents (and children) were disappointed at that turn of events. That is hard to predict but the administration may have seen it coming. Our child was accepted at Montessori Family School. for Kindergarten. The way that classroom was structured at that time, it did not follow the Montessori ''community'' model: only a dozen kids were in the class and they were all about the same age, crowded into an underlit and small room with two teachers. One teacher brought her family problems to school, alas, and inappropriately shared them with my child. She may be gone by now. We ended up in public school in the end, where our child got a really great teacher and managed to have a great year! anon


We are very happy with the MFS. The teachers are professional teachers. They are there because they want to teach, not because they are just doing it until something else comes along. The director, Jane Weschler, has a clear vision of what she wants the school to be. My daughter is at the Kensington site. It's "small", but a pleasant setting. There are three classrooms, and all are mixed grades. Two are 1st-3rd, and the third is 4th-6th. There are 22-24 children per class. I find that the mixed age group works very well. The older children model behavior for the younger children and are kind of like pals. My daughter plays with both the first graders and third graders in her class. So in practice, it does work. That's why it's called the "family" school.

The Montessori philosophy of education is a little strange to me, but it suits my daughter. What I really like for her is that she gets a lot of individual attention from the teachers, and my daughter is thoughtful and able to focus so all of the little manipulatives of the Montessori system suit her just fine. The teachers continually circulate among the students so I have more a sense that all the children are getting some attention.

There are next to no discipline problems. Children are not allowed to punch each other and shout out at circle time. I think having a mixed-age group really helps in that regard, but I give the teachers' classroom management style high marks. At the MFS, the teachers decide where the children will sit at circle time (they keep the same seating assignments for a month at a time), so they nip a lot of disruptive behavior in the bud. It might sound "over disciplined" but it's not. It's a thoughtful approach that works.

The MFS doesn't have a library, but each classroom has it's own collection of books. There are a lot of specialists: science, art, music, PE, and Spanish. At the MFS, she is learning useful things, like reading and math, but she is also being exposed to geography (which she really likes for some reason) and "concepts" like the scale of the universe from atom to galaxy. So I think it's a very rich education.

On Montessori Family School: We have have had our 5-year old in the Scenic Ave. pre-school site (just across from campus) for a year now, and will have him there for kindergarden during the coming year. It has been a very positive experience for him and us. The teachers are very committed and supportive, the school seems to be well run, and our boy has simply loved it. He went from a more day-care oriented pre-school the year before to this one last fall, and simply took off with creative work within a couple of months--drawings, letters, numbers. It was amazing to see the difference. He can't get enough of school now.

I don't have experience with the elementary school (the Kensington site, I believe), but the school as a whole seems very well run, with a good blend of traditional (AMI) and innovative (AMS) Montessori curriculum. If we could afford to keep him in the elementary school there after this year we would, but he will going to public school here is Albany for 1st grade. Mark

Our son has been at MFS for 2 years of preschool and absolutely loves it (as do all the other kids at the preschool), but the elementary school is somewhat different so I can't comment about it. I will note that some of the current preschoolers have older siblings who are at the elementary school site, and some of my son's older friends from preschool are now at the elementary site; that's a positive indication. Fran

Our son attended MFS last year for 1st grade. The teachers are fabulous, and the after school program is wonderful. The classrooms are grouped for 1-3 (Lower Elementary) and 4-5, I think although it could be 4-6 (Upper Elementary). Because we live in Berkeley, it was inconvenient to have our son in Kensington each day, although they have a van that leaves from the Scenic site. Although the Kensington building is earthquake safe, I did not like the distance between my husband and I and our son, as well as the hill location. This is also a problem with the Berkeley Montessori School for Elementary and Middle school children, although it is located in Berkeley.

Our son was young to enter 1st grade, but the teacher paired him with another child that was young, and the use of Montessori materials and curriculum helped him immensely. His basic reading, writing, and 'rithmetic skills are well developed, but he also was able to pace himself for his needs (a plus for one who has developed a bit of perfectionism). The teacher also recognized this tendency and helped our son work on not having to be perfect (a real plus!)

If you are prepared to be involved heavily in the school, and can afford the tuition, I think MFS is a wonderful school. Karen

Montesorri Family School (in North Berkeley (age 2-K) and Kensington at the Unitarian Church) has extremely strong academics. The teachers are excellent. The only school that compares to MFS in math is Bentley. My oldest son went to MFS for 6 years and is now in another very good school for middle school, but he is years ahead in math. At MFS he was doing algebra and a little trig in the 5th grade. Now he is doing the California framework for 6th grade - multiplication. He is still learning, but there is no comparison in what a child can do if he is allowed to move at his own pace, has the motivation and the ability.