Deciding Which Private School

Parent Q&A

  • Best Private Schools around UC Berkeley?

    (19 replies)

    Hello!  I have just found out that I will be moving to Berkeley or Oakland.  What are some schools that I could look into for first grade for this fall?  I know the regular admissions cycle has passed, but I am wondering if any schools still have any spaces?  Please advise!  Thank you :)

    Please check out Aurora School (K-5 in Oakland, upper Rockridge area). We live close to UC Berkeley and both our kids have gone to Aurora and it has been well worth it! The school is small, which makes the teacher:kid ratio terrific. And all the staff and leadership are just incredibly thoughtful and intentional about educating kids. It's a truly amazing school -- big emphasis on social-emotional learning, while maintaining solid academic rigor in a way that honors the child. Welcome to the East Bay, and good luck with your search!


    My son is going to ShuRen International school, it is an IB Chinese immersion school. We are very happy with the school and most important, my son LOVES it. He cannot wait to be back when we are on vacation... I don't know what is the age of your child, I understand they may have a program for kids who do not Chinese to catch up with the language. Worth a try. I cannot say enough about this school.

    Give the Bentley School a call.  The school is close to UC Berkeley with children of professors in attendance. It's a well-rounded program with strong academics, plenty of art, music, PE, and foreign languages. 

    I'd suggest checking out Park Day School, in North Oakland.  It is a wonderful K-8 school dedicated to progressive education.  I've had 2 kids there for a total of 16 years and we've experienced it as a fantastic place with a warm community, excellent teachers, and a commitment to social justice values and a whole-child approach.  I have no idea if there are openings for next year, but it can't hurt to ask, if this sounds like the kind of place you'd like.  

    Best of luck.

    I would have to second the recommendation for The Berkeley School.  We had started off at another school in Richmond but transitioned to the Berkeley School last year and couldn't be happier.  Its location is easy to get to, has an amazing team of teachers and the Administration is just great!  

    Welcome to the East Bay! It's a wonderful place to live and raise kids. Our 10-year-old twins are at The Berkeley School and we couldn't be happier. It's a progressive independent school that values equity and inclusion and is deeply committed to its mission and to civic engagement. Late applicants are welcome and there are currently spaces available in first grade. The Berkeley School is a wonderful place. You'll be happy you checked it out.

    Welcome to the East Bay!

    Our daughter has been enrolled at The Berkeley School since pre-school, and I cannot imagine a better educational environment in which to grow up. Anna will be an 8th grader next year - our final year at TBS! - and I look at the confident, self-aware and engaged young person she has become both with pride, and with gratitude to the exceptional faculty and administration at The Berkeley School. I believe the education a child receives at TBS to be unparalleled in the Bay Area, and I encourage you to reach out to Paula Farmer, our director of Admissions, to arrange a visit to the University Avenue campus for you and your family. 

    Please feel free to reach out to me, too, with any additional questions you might have - and again, welcome!


    Please check out Aurora School in Upper Rockridge. It is such an amazing place, so welcoming, and extremely joyful. Aurora offers mixed grade classrooms, which means that your child will have the same teacher for 2 years. This way the teachers really gets to know your child and understand your child's learning style. The teachers and staff make learning fun and the older kids really mentor the younger kids, teaching everyone how to be leaders. We are very happy at Aurora.  

    Hi!  Welcome to the East Bay!  Another great school to consider is Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley (EB) - its a French immersion K-G8 school, with a focus on the "whole-child". It's the oldest bilingual school in the East Bay so its program is very well established and strong.  All three of my children are there and we're loving it.  The teachers are great and the community is very special - diverse, caring and lively. There are families from all over - many American, but also about 50 other countries are represented.  I just love how globally oriented and inclusive the school is and what engaged, bright children it is producing.  

    I suggest you look at Walden Center & School in Berkeley.  I am current parent of a first grader, and I am pretty sure there are still openings for next year.  It is a small, progressive, arts-focused school that has been wonderful for my son (who is not especially artistically inclined).  The music and drama program is fantastic, and he is thriving socially and emotionally as well as academically.  The cost is also much more reasonable than many other private schools because each family has a family job that contributes to upkeep of the school.

    Hi there,

    Would you consider a Spanish immersion school?  I want to give a shout out to EBI, Escuela Bilingüe Internacional, a Spanish immersion pre-K to 8th grade school that follows the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. This is our second year at EBI; we have a child in 1st grade and a daughter in 3rd grade.  We can recommend EBI highly!  We were drawn to the school for the Spanish immersion and the IB curriculum, and we are very pleased on both fronts.  We feel our kids are getting a well-rounded education.  Some of the highlights: native speaker Spanish teachers; differentiated learning; two teachers in the classroom through 2nd grade; an over-arching emphasis on raising "global citizens" (thanks to the IB curriculum); very welcoming and tight-knit community of down-to-earth parents.

    FYI EBI accepts a couple of non-Spanish speakers in 1st grade, so don't feel discouraged if this factor may seem limiting.  Reach out to the school!  (A classmate of my 1st grader joined this year without speaking Spanish and I can have proper conversations with her in Spanish already.  It is amazing!)

    I'd be happy to discuss more with you or answer any questions you may have. Send me a message if you wish.

    Good luck!



    Check out The Academy (K - 8) located at 2722 Benvenue Ave (510) 549-0605 ; Justine Lewis, Director of Admissions 

    We were extremely happy and grateful for the environment at Prospect Sierra.

    The Berkeley School! There are some places in 1st left.

    "Academic Excellence, Equity & Inclusion, Civic Engagement." You cannot miss there!

    K-8 campus

    1310 University Avenue 

    Berkeley, CA  94702

    Just down the hill from Cal. Lots of Cal families!

    We love Shu Ren (! It's a certified International Baccalaureate school (of which there are very few in the country) and Mandarin immersion - globally oriented and inquiry based. We were intrigued by the IB curriculum and have been delighted by the Mandarin acquisition on top of it. Every classroom has two dedicated teachers - one teaches in English and the other in Mandarin. Our daughter started after Kindergarten and is doing extremely well now two years later - and I would expect that you can still enroll this late in the year. Classes are small, the new director is incredible, great location... check out the Jefferson campus (they have a preschool on University as well), you won't be disappointed!

    We went through this when we had to find a school when we moved to the area a few years ago after the admissions cycle ended. The process was incredibly time consuming but it ended well. You have come to the right place for your first step. Make a list of all of the schools you are interested in from the list on this site and then just start calling the admissions staff. Many of the schools we called didn't have openings but enough did that we ended up with a suite of good choices. Some good options to call are Prospect Sierra, St. Paul's Episcopal School, Black Pine Circle, The Academy in Berkeley, the Berkeley School, Berkwood Hedge School, Aurora School. We even visited the Saklan School in Moraga, which was lovely but we decided we didn't want to make the drive. 

    Hi! Montessori Family School has their KT-8th grade campus in nearby El Cerrito, and I believe they have openings. Others for consideration off the top of my head include Prospect Sierra, Black Pine Circle, The Berkeley School. These will have varying degrees of vacancies. Best of luck!!

    Check out Black Pine Circle.  Its a progressive, private K-8 school in Berkeley.  Its been amazing for my son and we are sending our daughter there next year.  

    In my experience, most East Bay private schools have some space for new arrivals through the summer. I'd think about where you want to live and then explore the schools in that area depending on your child's interests.  If you haven't already found the EBISA website, that's a good place to start for a list of all the schools. Then go from there based on what sounds compelling. Your options are more limited if you need financial aid--much of that is already awarded--but even there, you'll find some schools that can still accommodate you. Welcome to the East Bay!

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  • Independent School Advice/Head Royce/Redwood Day/BlackPine Circle

    (2 replies)

    With only a few hours to go, we are trying to decide between Head Royce, Redwood Day, and Black Pine Circle for our daughter's kindergarten year. We are looking for a good balance between academics and opportunities to express oneself creatively. Also concerned and curious about way down the road--where do these graduates end up for college? She is currently attending a Reggio Emilia based language immersion preschool. I will be grateful for your feedback! Thank you!

    Our children, now 16 and 18, attended Black Pine Circle starting in kindergarten.  We loved the school, which combined excellent academics with music and the arts.  Each year Black Pine Circle hosts an event for high school seniors about to go off to college, which my daughter attended last spring.  Many students go on to UC schools, often Berkeley, Davis and Santa Cruz.  Alumni also were headed to private schools such as Yale, Brown, and USC (my daughter).  

    As a former Head Royce grad (along with all four of my siblings) I'd say 100% HRS is a wonderful environment with great and caring teachers with space for creativity and growth. Obviously, I can't compare it to other day schools but there is an excellent alumni community and I felt lucky to have gone there - I felt extremely well-prepared for college and I think my siblings would agree. HRS graduates in our family attended Tufts University, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Pitzer colleges and many of us have stayed friends with the friends we made at HRS to this day.  Feel free to message me with specific questions!

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  • K-8 or k-12 private school recommendations

    (3 replies)

    Hi moms and dads 

         My son is currently at Montessori preschool and are looking for recommendations/thoughts on private schools for K-8 or k-12, preferred non-religious, mid range tuition, <25000/ per year in the following city: 

    1. San Leandro 

    2. Oakland, preferred closed to 580

    3. Berkeley 

    the list is so overwhelming, any thoughts/ideas are greatly appreciated ! 



    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.

    Definitely check out the Rennaissance International School (TRIS) in the Dimond District in Oakland! It is a Montessori K-8. The music and art programs are extraordinary. In preschool and Kindergarten children have 4 teachers ("guides" in Montessori lingo) per classroom: 2 speak English and 2 speak either French or Spanish (you choose which language for your kid) to the children. Beginning in First grade there are three teachers in each classroom - one speaks English, one speaks French and one speaks Spanish. Children receive lessons in all three languages so by middle school they are trilingual! In Elementary they being each morning singing with an instructor for at least a half hour (accompanied by a live pianist). We've been blown away by the dedication of the teachers and staff. We feel like they are truly caring partners in helping our daughter grow and thrive. There are many special events throughout the year to truly connect with the teachers and administrative staff and to make sure you understand what your child is learning/developing and the Montessori method throughout the grades. They have amazing field trips, including international trips. You can schedule tours to check it out. And if you have any specific questions, I'm happy to answer them. We've toured every school I think, some twice(!), and are so happy with our decision to be at TRIS. Good luck with your search, it's totally overwhelming for sure!!

    Pear Tree Community School sounds like what you are looking for, especially if you want to stay with the Montessori model. It is located in the East Oakland hills close to 580. We left our local public school in North Oakland to attend. My daughter is in 1st grade there and we are happy. The application deadline is coming up but you may be able to apply late and still get a spot.

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  • Private Schools in Walnut Creek/Lafayette area?

    (1 reply)

    Hi! We are new to the Bay Area and considering Palmer and Seven Hills for our pre-kindergarten son. Some of the reviews on this site are very dated so would love to hear from anyone attending or has recent experience. Also any other private schools that are worth checking out in Walnut Creek/Lafayette area?


    We moved to the Bay Area 10 years ago, and did the independent school rounds. Our three kids have thrived at The Saklan School in Moraga Kids come from Oakland, Orinda, Lafayette, WC, PH, Alamo. Amazing academics and social emotional program, less competitive environment and easier to get into at K than some of the bigger independent schools. Our son in now at an independent HS, but girls are still there and we love the teachers,  environment and community. Let me know if you want more info!

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  • Advice for Head Royce, Bentley and Redwood Day Elementary Please

    (7 replies)

    Dear BPN,

    We are going through the kindergarten application process for our 5yr old, and would love to hear current and recent perspectives for Head Royce, Bentley and Redwood Day.  We have done all the open houses, parent tours, and spoken to folks we know, but it is still difficult for us to feel like we truly know the schools well.  

    We have the basic facts of the schools, but don't know what they are really like.  The things that are important to us are (1) an education that focuses on fostering curiosity and skills rather than knowledge acquisition, and is adaptive to the child; (2) preferably no homework for the lower grades; (3) supportive of dual-working parents; and (4) a warm and grounded (rather than entitled) environment for our family to make connections and friends. 

    Please share your perspectives on the schools, both good and not so good and/or difficult experiences - we find that we often learn more about the schools through understanding others' struggles.  Thank you!

    Seeking Feedback

    Given what you've written about what's important to you, please do come check out Aurora School! Our family has been a part of Aurora's community for 7 years now and it really does meet all the criteria that you describe. It's a small school, which makes it a little less well known, but it has been providing a solid progressive education for over 25 years. They are *very* intentional about making learning about *how* to learn, and not about test scores or rote memorization (no homework in lower grades, no formal grading except for narrative progress reports). That said, our family has never felt that Aurora is "soft" in terms of academics -- our oldest daughter has transitioned wonderfully to middle school -- Aurora prides itself on providing rigor in its academics -- believe it, it's true! Also, the community is really amazing -- many families have dual-working parents, and many never imagined that they would send their kids to private school but discovered Aurora because they were looking for a place that deeply cares about its kids in a way that is difficult to do in many other larger schools.

    We were in your same situation last year, except we had Aurora School on our short list. I suggest taking a tour and see what it's like in action during a school day. I was floored by the energy level of the kids (and teachers, too!). It is a very joyful place. Our child visited all 4 schools, and her choice hands down was Aurora. Good luck to you!

    It seems to me when you are describing what's important to you about a school, you are describing Aurora School. I strongly suggest you check out Aurora School over the schools you've listed.

    I recognize that this does not answer your question, but The Renaissance International School does an exceptional job over the pre-school to 4th grade years. It adheres to a Montessori philosophy. So curiousity-driven and no homework are part of the core approach. My children attended through 4th grade and I strongly recommend it for that developmental phase.

    If you visit, pay close atttention to the children's activity and developmental accomplishments in the class room. The school philosopy on a tour can seem very rigid, but the teachers are in fact very caring and nurturing.

    It also has a relatively long school day (aftercare until 6 pm?), so it acccomodates working parent schedules.

    Good Luck finding a school that fits your needs.

    Going by the things that are important to you in a school I would highly recommend Aurora school. It's a K-5 independent school in upper Rockridge. Small class sizes, differentiated learning, mixed grades in the same classroom, k/1, 2/3, 4/5, progressive education philosophy. We are in our 2nd year at Aurora and couldn't be happier with the school. The teachers get to know each child and create a supportive and safe learning environment for everyone. There is no homework in the lower grades and no letter grades given out. Parents get 2 progress reports for the school year and have 2 parent teacher conferences. Applications are due Jan 19th but they have a rolling admissions policy so it's not too late to get in contact with them. 

    I cannot recommend redwood day highly enough. From the teachers to the educational program to the diversity to the wonderful parent community. It’s a fantastic place that fosters learning.    In my opinion it hits all the things you’re looking for. And honestly I can’t think of one negative thing to say... Except maybe the yellow jackets  that sometimes bother the children during lunch :-)

    We are, and have been, in love with Redwood Day for five years. It meets both of our VERY different children's needs, and our needs as grownups! The community is amazing - kids, parents, faculty, and staff (I've heard from others that the love/care/availability of admin is unique to Redwood Day). It has everything you're looking for except #2. There is homework, but it is very minimal in the lower grades and until 4th is completed on a weekly basis (so you can do it all one night or split it into bits across the week). Also, teachers are very flexible when it comes to homework and the needs of each child. At one point, one of my children wasn't doing any homework and just practicing her reading. I could talk on and on about the school (and really enjoy doing that! :), so feel free to reach out to me through my username. I will leave you what made our decision for us, and what reaffirmed it once we were there. While applying, I could find NO ONE who was unhappy here - NO ONE! After being here for awhile, I realized I also had no complaints. I know that sounds insane, and I could probably come up with some nit picky stuff if I tried, but the school talks the talk and walks the walk like no other institution I know.  It's an incredibly special place. 

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  • Which private school for high energy boys?

    (5 replies)

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

    1. Student population diversity

    2. How they support high boy energy

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

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

    Thank you! Any insight is greatly appreciated.

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

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

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

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

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

    Hope this helps in your decision making!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I can't speak to your questions about these schools, but I suggest you look into Aurora School as well, located in the Upper Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, off highway 13.

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  • Progressive Elementary School for Oakland kindergartener

    (4 replies)

    Hello parents,

    We are new to the area, just moved from SF to North Oakland. My daughter is currently enrolled in a progressive charter school in SF (Kinder). I need to transfer her within the next month to an Oakland school. We bought in Bushrod thinking Peralta was our school, but found out we are a block out of the border. 

    Where else do you suggest for a progressive education? We are not looking to spend too much on a private school. We did tour Walden and I like it. Anyone have thoughts regarding Walden or other suggestions?

    thank you in advance!

    Walden is a wonderful, small, and often overlooked progressive school with a large emphasis on the arts. Our three children went to Walden and I highly recommend it. It’s a place where kids are able to be kids, learn in a supportive environment with small class size, and have fun while still being well prepared for middle and high school. Kids are taught to think critically and be kind to others. I’d be happy to talk more and answer any questions you have, so feel free to DM me. My kids are now 14, 21, and 24 and thriving:)


    There are lots of good schools in Oakland besides Peralta. And if you are looking to start Peralta in 1st grade as opposed to kinder, there just might be a spot for you. But also consider: Chabot, Kaiser, and Glenview at Santa Fe (though I guess they'll be moving back to their old site soon).

    I highly recommend Aurora school in upper rockridge. They offer a progressive education in small class settings. Students are in mixed age classrooms and spend 2 years in the same room so the teachers really get to know the children. My son started kindergarten in another school but we pulled him out after 3 weeks because it just didn’t feel like it was a nurturing and very warm environment. As soon as I walked through the door of Aurora school it just felt like home. It has a great community of families and amazing teachers and staffs. Go to their website for more information. 

    My two kids went through Walden and are now in an arts school and a private boys middle school. (Two different schools) they thrived at Walden and love Walden! The bar was set high getting them into middle school and thankfully it has been met! Walden teachers, staff and kids can’t be beat. The arts, the collaborate learning, outside time, etc are special. You will not be unhappy with choosing Walden. You can contact me if you want to talk more.

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  • Private school with social emotional support for a persistent 4th grader

    (2 replies)


    We are looking at schools for our rising 4th grade currently-homeschooled daughter, and in particular want to find schools that will be responsive and supportive in her tendency to be persistent with other kids when she has an idea she is excited about. As an only child, she does not get to practice negotiating with other kids at home. When she is excited about an idea, she tends to persist, and wears out other kids with her persistence, unless they are just as assertive/excited as her, in which case they quickly come to a compromise on their different ideas. While we work on it at home, we want for her to be in a supportive school environment that will help her gain awareness on how to read and respond to more subtle cues from kids who are more laid back, and practice how to let go of whatever it is she is after. This would need to be done by keeping an eye on her and giving her regular feedback, without making her feel too down on herself. (She is trying to work on it, but loses track of her behavior whenever she is excited about some idea she has on how to play).

    I guess I'm talking about social emotional education? We are looking at a number of private progressive schools, but do any of you have a daughter like that and have found your school to be helpful in guiding her in this respect? (Strangely, she can also be very inhibited in a new environment, but I'm not worried about that, as I suspect that most schools are helpful in that regard)

    Have you looked at Walden? Our daughter is there in first grade. I've found their social emotional teaching to be excellent and given their arts integration, there are lots of steady teachers available for feedback.  

    I really think your regular public school would be fine. There are many kids (for some reason especially girls) who sound like they have the same energy as your daughter. Public school teachers are generally amazing. In public school, your daughter will get used to being "one of many" and how to make that work in a positive way.

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  • Kindergarten with serious outdoor time/space?

    (11 replies)

    Hello bpn,

    My 4 year old is currently at a preschool where he has a ton of freedom, and generally uses it to be outside. We are looking into kindergartens for next year, and I am dreading the thought of him doing worksheets, or even doing structured "centers," and only having specific, limited "recess" times to be outside playing or digging. Are there any kindergartens  that would give him more freedom to explore the outdoors? (I am aware of Berkeley Forest school.) We are in Berkeley. Thanks, parents!


    I second  the recommendation for Crestmont School in the Richmond Hills. I had the same concerns for my son when he was 4,  I couldn't imagine him ever being happy at a "traditional" school sitting at a desk doing worksheets. The thought of kindergarten was completely stressful for me and I  had fantasies of homeschooling. He was accustomed to being outside most of the day playing in the sand or running around the yard barefoot at his very play based preschool. Fast forward 1 year and my active, curious son is absolutely thriving in kindergarten and loves his school, his teachers and his friends. Although they do have centers for a portion of the day, the lessons are meaningful, fun, hands-on and creative. The most important lesson taught is that learning is fun. The kindergarten teacher whom the kids affectionately call Mama Kay is AMAZING and the class size of 16 means tons of individual attention. The kindergarteners have a large sandbox, dramatic play area and loft which are often available during choice time. The teachers understand that young bodies need to move and there are frequent breaks to let off steam. All learning styles are respected.There is a long recess and lunch and ample space for active play. Plus the kids have PE, movement, or gardening daily as well as monthly fieldtrips and walking trips to the local park. We are so happy to have found this amazing community. I encourage you to come check it out. Also, keep in mind that a lot can change between the ages of 4 and 5 and your son may be ready for a bit more structure next year.


    I totally understand.  I felt the same way when my son was in pre-school.  

    Both my children attend Berkeley Rose School.  It's a Waldorf school in Berkeley and the children spend TONS of time outside, especially in Kindergarten.  They do not do academics in Waldorf Kindergardens.  They focus on play, purposeful work, socializing, fine and gross motor development, gardening, cooking, climbing, songs, stories and did I emphasize play!  I would really recommend you going to see the Kindergarten classroom at Berkeley Rose School.  The children are relaxed and happy (parents too!).  

    Berkeley Rose Waldorf School is truly a wonderful school for anyone looking to let their children be children for as long as it is possible. My daughter absolutely loves going to school, and I couldn't be any happier! In kindergarten her job was to play; through her play she learned so much and is now thriving in the grades. The teachers at the school are AMAZING, they are passionate and give so much of themselves. Best of luck!

    I highly recommend checking out East Bay Waldorf. Their early childhood program is wonderful, very experienced teachers and an absolutely stunning environment. The campus is on 11 acres and it’s right next to wildcat canyon park. My son spent 2 years in kindergarten there and I couldn’t have been happier. He was allowed to be a child, to be in his body outdoors running, climbing, exploring. This is also balanced with indoor time to hear stories, paint, craft, play, cook, sing, the list goes on. 


    You should take a tour and check out Crestmont Elementary School to see if it would be a good fit for your son! They focus on hands on learning outside of the classroom both on and off campus. Our daughter has thrived there both academically and socially! 

    My daughter attends Berkeley Rose Waldorf School. She is in first grade right now, but completed kindergarten there last year. The kindergarten class experience was wonderful for her. It is a play based class with daily time outdoors and lots of play in the classroom as well. The class has a daily structure but with ample time to play.  I recall the teacher saying in the morning: "Alright children, now it is time to work and play." The school believes children's work is playing and that learning comes through playing. There are no work sheets or desks to sit at in the classroom. Instead the children sit around a group table with the teacher when an activity requires a table/desk--i.e. lunch, snack, artwork, or handwork. The children learn through songs, art (drawing and painting), stories, play, sewing, other handwork, and cooking. Play often includes putting on puppet shows for the other children, playing in and under the little classroom loft that mimics a treehouse with wooden toys, blocks, puppets, dolls, and silk scarves. This all encourages the development of the imagination in children at this age. Learning takes place in an organic way in that instead of sitting at a desk and working, they learn through doing daily living tasks and playing. For example, every week each child brings a vegetable to chop on soup day and it all goes into the pot with broth for a snack that morning. On other days they bake bread, grind grain into flour and do other simple age-appropriate cooking related activities. They also help with setting the table and cleanup after snack and lunch. The morning starts out with jump rope on the back patio. The exercise seemed to enliven our daughter and got her ready for the day but also incorporated counting songs and taught her about rhythm by learning to jump to the songs and the movement of the rope. They take a daily walk to the park for play outdoors and have a little garden that they work in at the back of the school. They learned simple sewing and woodworking by making some little felt objects and a wooden sailboat. They also learned some simple spanish counting songs during the class. 

    I highly recommend a visit to the school. I believe there is an open house on January 20th where you can see the classroom and meet the teacher Ruth Alden. Ruth is gentle, loving, and attentive. There is also a Winter Faire this December 9th that is a great way to see the whole school and have some fun holiday activities and meet others in the school community--which is the other wonderful thing about the school. It has a great group of parents and teachers who open, friendly, and warm. We were new to the Bay area and California two years ago and without this community I think it would have taken us a lot longer to feel at home in a new state. 

    Check out the school's website for more information at: My daughter could not be happier at this school. I hope you will make a visit and see what the school is all about. Please don't hesitate to write back if you have more specific questions about the school or kindergarten. 


    Bekah Shields, first grade parent at Berkeley Rose Waldorf School

    You might want to consider Walden Center & School in Berkeley.  My son came there from a preschool where he also had a lot of freedom to choose his activities and spent most of the time outside.  The children at Walden, especially in kindergarten, spend a lot of time outside and have a pretty long noon recess.  The school grounds have several smaller play areas (one right next to the kindergarten room) as well as a larger field and sandbox.  They also move around a lot inside the kindergarten classroom and between the various classroom buildings.  It definitely was an adjustment for my son, but I felt good about the amount of time he spent outdoors and in unstructured play with his classmates.

    East Bay Waldorf — kids spend a ton of time outdoors.

    Have you looked at the East Bay Waldorf school in El Sobrante?  My two little ones are there in Kindergarten and they spend a lot of time outdoors.  They have rain coats, rain pants and rain boots in case it rains.  On Fridays, they go on a long hike and other days, they spend in the school garden or at various other places on their large property - even a frog pond.  My kids love it there!

    The Berkeley School is nice

    Singing Stones in Walnut Creek is AMAZING and people come from all over the Bay Area to attend it. I can't really recommend it highly enough. It is on seven acres, has an organic garden, the kids spend TONS of time outside and even every other Friday in an off-campus nature spot (that varies). 

    They are a Waldorf school and they are extremely nurturing and, at this young age, have no focus on traditional "academics." And if you are daunted by the price they have an "accessible-to-all" philosophy and will work with you (seriously, they give me about 75% off of tuition because I'm a single mom and that's what I can afford). If you'd like to speak to me about it PM me your phone number and I'd be happy to. Good luck!!

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  • Struggling to decide on which private elementary school

    (1 reply)

    Hello All,

    My about to be 5 year old son is an outgoing, energetic, curious, talkative and academically strong personality. He is currently attending the Dorris-Eaton Pre-school in Alamo. We live in Walnut Creek and for the kindergarten admission, we applied to Head-Royce, Bentley and Dorris-Eaton. Given that he got admission into all the three schools, our struggle began as to which school would be best fit for him.

    Besides the three different philosophies and educational environment of the above three schools, we are also wondering if we should also consider the different neighborhoods to eventually move or would a commute from Walnut Creek for next 6 years is worth with regards to volunteering activities, play-dates etc.

    Any recommendations towards our selection process would be much appreciated.


    The commute to any of these three from Walnut Creek makes my head hurt, so yes, I would absolutely factor in where you might like to move in the long run to be closer to one of them (unless one is along a commute you're already doing for work--and then I would consider that). This may be driven in part by your budget, too. Head-Royce probably gives you the nearest options for more affordable neighborhoods nearby but it very much depends on where you work. As you already know, the schools themselves are quite different too, so that might offer you a starting point if you don't have a commute in the mix. Good luck!

    New replies are no longer being accepted.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How to research schools

May 2016

i am starting to look into elementary schools for my son - public, charter, private. i was wondering how one does this...are there websites that compares rates, scores, rankings? google search reveals which i've perused. i've also looked thru BPN, alameda parents network (i live in alameda), and yelp. anywhere else? i have 2 years until he enters kindergarden and would move if necessary/able to. i am looking in alameda, east bay, east of caldecott tunnel. thank you in advance for your recommendations. helen

My first bit of advice is to not overthink it! My second piece of advice is to remember there's no such thing as a perfect school. So unless your child is extremely ''special'' in some way, he/she will very likely do just fine in your local public school, or a charter, or a private school, whether it be in Alameda, Oakland, Orinda, or wherever. I think BPN is a good resource for checking out schools, especially if you have specific questions. I don't necessarily trust GreatSchools and I don't know anybody who reviews schools on Yelp. Word of mouth is probably the best resource available to you. Good luck to you!
Mom of 3 who've been in school for awhile

Private elementary schools -- constructive negative feedback?

Sept 2014

Hello, We are looking for a private kindergarten in Oakland for our son for the 2015-2016 school year and just starting the touring/application process now. We have had no trouble finding parents with glowing reviews of just about any private school in Oakland and Berkeley. However, I am curious whether there are parents who would be willing to share constructive criticism of their schools or parents who have left certain private schools and would be willing to share reasons why. We are particularly interested in Park Day, Redwood Day, Head Royce and Bentley. I'd really appreciate your insight! Thanks in advance, Potential private school parent

I know you are looking for negatives for the various private elementary schools, but I think that you will need to figure out the negatives for yourself. I don't mean that to be unhelpful, I truly mean that the negatives I found at each school are likely positives for other people. For example: a couple of schools we visited emphasized social-emotional development over academics while others valued academic rigor over social-emotional development. A couple of schools have mixed-age classes while others do not. Depending on what you are looking for and what your child needs, you'll find a good fit. When we were looking for a private kindergarten, we looked at Aurora, Bentley, Head-Royce, Redwood Day, and St. Paul's. I think that they are all excellent schools but we only felt drawn to two of them. I recommend starting at the EBISA fair- i felt like you get a snapshot of each school there. I will say that one admissions director was completely uninterested in talking to me at that event or making me feel welcome, and that feeling continued with other people (teachers, etc) at our school visit. Bottom line, it was just not a fit and we did not apply to that school. I'm sure other people love it there. To each their own, but I think you'll get a good sense of each school on the visits. It all sort of seems whitewashed, but the true character of the schools actually shines through, in my experience. Good luck, former searcher


How did you narrow down your choices?

Feb 2013


Having finally completed the Kindergarten application process, we, like many families, are in the waiting stage. Our family applied to four private schools, all of which seem very strong. I'm wondering how we will choose between them if we are lucky enough to get into more than one. Can you share how you narrowed your choices down, especially if you were unsure before getting your acceptances? Or, should I even be worried about this - do most people only get into one school? It's hard to know how much to think about it now before hearing from admissions, though I also don't want to scramble once we get our letters. Thank you! anonymous

When selecting a school, keep in mind that the school's administration probably wants you to talk to families who are happy with the school. To find out if you yourself are likely to be happy with the school, ask how many people (i.e. children and teachers) have left in recent years. A few families leave because they are moving out of town or because they are unusually hard to satisfy. But if more than a few families and/or teachers leave, that could be a red flag.

The school's administration knows how many families are applying elsewhere. So, ask directly: Are the children I saw during my visit going to be there next year? Has the school's size been stable? Have there been changes in staffing? Do you anticipate changes in staffing?

Also keep in mind that unsolicited reviews on BPN can only be positive, as a matter of BPN policy. If you have a question about a particular school, the only way you can find out not-so-positive information is in response to a posted question. And even then, the information isn't going to be free of bias: At my child''s school, parents earn parent participation credit for posting on BPN and for monitoring BPN and responding to any criticism.

Perhaps all the schools where you applied are great and people are happy there. In that case, you can't go wrong and might simply decide on the basis of location or convenience. Cautious

First off, try not to worry. I know that is much easier said than done-- but the likelihood is that everything will work out well. ( Full disclosure, I have a daughter in the midst of the high school application process- and I find myself thinking about it all the time. So do as I say, not as I do! ) For now, relax and enjoy spending a little extra time with your child. Once you know what your choices are, then arrange to take one more look.

It is not unusual to get acceptances to more than one school, so you may find yourself in the happy position of having to choose. From the time the acceptances are mailed until you need to respond is called ''quiet week'' because the schools are not supposed to reach out to you to try and sway your decision. However, you can and should reach out to them, and you should find that they are happy to answer any lingering questions you might have. You might even be able to arrange a time to have one more visit to the school.

Then, I would encourage you listen to your gut. When you close your eyes and picture your child in that school, or with that kindergarten teacher, how do you feel? Comfortable? Safe? Excited? Happy? Anxious? Nervous? Stressed? You know your child better than anyone, and (s)he is most likely to thrive in an environment that has the right mix of nurturing and challenge, stimulation and safety. What is the right mix? The answer varies with every child- and that's where listening to your gut will serve you well. Don't focus on the literature, watch the teachers interacting with the kids. Pay attention to how the Head of School interacts with parents and teachers. I'm sure you will make a great choice. Happy at The Berkeley School


Which private school?

August 2005


Hi, We are going to start the private school process in September. Our daughter is very smart in a science, math sort of way but socially is very shy and observes rather than joins. She tends to have one or 2 friends but for the most part enjoys being on her own doing things like reading etc... We have heard about all the schools but would love parents opinions. I do believe she needs some structure and fairly strong academics but I don't want a child in 4th grade with 3 hours of homework , but also don't want her to be bored. Please advise if you know anything and share your thoughts. Another alternative is just moving to Piedmont.

I have a daughter who's entering 2nd grade at Park Day ... read this review ...

Why not consider Redwood Day School? read this review ...

Our daughter is going into 2nd grade at Park Day and pretty much fits the description of your soon-to-be kindergartner. read this review ...

As a parent who has had a child in Bentley and in Piedmont (and examined several of the other alternatives you mention), I would emphatically recommend against Piedmont for a gifted child ... (see Moving to Piedmont for the schools and Bentley School

Dear School-Searcher: My advice to you is to visit the schools especially when class is in session. See if you like the energy level and interaction of the classroom. Also look into schools which may not be on your short list. We ended up at a school we didn't even know existed (at the beginning of the process). You'll have a gut-feel about it and you will make a good decision. tli


How to decide on a school

October 2002


I have looked at the archives about these three privarte schools but the posts are from 97-99. We are considering these three schools for Kindergarten for 2003. Their websites are vague about tuition costs, scholorship availability, interview process, etc. Most of all we just want to know what worked for you in the decision making process (visiting the school, interviewing the teachers,??) and how you are enjoying your decision. Thanks much for your time. Nilou

Actually, you can find quite detailed information about the Windrush application process on their website. Just click on ''Admissions'' at the top, and then you'll see a sidebar that has lots of links to information about the application process and other FAQs. You won't find information about tuition or scholarships on websites because they usually don't know what the tuition will be until it's decided in the spring. However, Windrush lower (elementary) school tuition is currently around $10,000 and Prospect-Sierra is $12,500. You can expect increases of from 4 to 10% from year to year. To find out more about scholarship availability, you just have to call the admissions office.

As for advice on the decision-making process, you might find helpful two articles that I wrote for the Neighborhood Parents Network, which have been reproduced on their website. One is called ''Sorting Through the Choices'' and the other is called ''Raise Your Hand: Questions to Ask''. You'll find them both at this site:

I have friends at a dozen different schools, public and private, and everyone has things they love about their school and things they don't. We ended up at Windrush, which felt like the right fit for our family in terms of its educational philosophy, but also because we instantly felt at home there. We liked the teachers, administration and community members, loved the campus, liked the smaller class size, werer impressed by the afterschool program, and liked the relationship between the middle and lower school kids. But we probably would have been happy at Prospect- Sierra, Park Day, Head Royce, Redwood Day, Black Pine Circle, Cragmont or Oxford. There are so many choices. But we chose Windrush, which turned out to be the right place for us (so far)!

Good luck on figuring out what feels right for your family. Natasha B.

Feb 2009

Re gathering info about schools: For private schools, write or call the admissions office. Beginning in the fall, there are two types of programs - "tours" and "open houses." The open houses are large meetings for all parents who might be interested in the school. There's a presentation, some opportunity for questions. It's held at the school. "Tours" are daytime tours of the school, while kids are in class. You go with small groups of other parents. You can ask lots of questions and pick up any literature you don't already have, plus the application packet. You see the premises, the teachers, and the kids in action. After a while, I skipped all the open houses and saved a lot of time. I learned all I needed at tours. I also checked out a few schools I knew I wouldn't commute to, just because they were reputedly "good" or had a certain philosophy and I wanted to have a basis for comparison. Most schools also have lists of parents you can call. One piece of advice: when looking for kindergarten, think of the type of school best for YOUR child, and think of the years beyond K. How far does the school go gradewise, will this be a good third-grade place for your child, etc. Linda