Which School for Shy Child?

Parent Q&A

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  • My 8-year-old son is in a large OUSD public elementary and it has become pretty clear that he needs a school with more support around social skills. He has always been an introvert and gravitates towards adults. In the 3 years he has been at his school he hasn't made any real friends. He struggles with a lot of anxiety and insecurity but also seems to have a hard time reading some social ques. Our current school does a good job of talking about being inclusive and accepting but I find that without caring capable adults on the playground to help guide kids towards these kinds of behaviors, inclusiveness isn't going to happen. We are hoping there is a private school in the area that does a good job of helping young kids with this kind of stuff. Does your private school have caring adults on the playground to help kids navigate tricky social issues? If so, please share your experience.

    Thanks in advance!  

    I'm sorry to hear that your son is having struggles with friends. I can recommend Aurora School in upper Rockridge in Oakland. They have super supportive and caring teachers and staff. They have a "buddy bench" where kids can go and sit when they don't have anyone to play with. The kids know to befriend anyone sitting on the buddy bench. The school blends grades, so K/1, 2/3, and 4/5s are together and they all have teaching assistants as well. It is currently a K-5 school, but will be starting a middle school next year which we are all super excited about! The school prides itself on it's social emotional curriculum and their remote schoolhouse program has been amazing. We have nothing but great things to say about Aurora. Please check it out.  

    I suggest looking at Walden Center & School in Berkeley.  I have a 4th grade boy there and have been consistently impressed with the social/emotional skills development.  The teachers and recess and afterschool staff are very involved and take time to work with the kids on relationship skills.  They also encourage the kids to develop the skills necessary to resolve conflicts themselves in a fair way.  My kiddo is introverted and often lacks self-confidence but has really found his voice there in a way I don't think would have happened in a larger school.

    Hi, Our kids (1st grade and 3rd grade) go to Crestmont School (https://crestmontschool.org/) and we picked this school for the emphasis on community-building and social emotional support. The school is a small coop with an amazing student:teacher ratio, teachers aids, support services, a school-wide emphasis on kindness and non-violent communication and meaningful fostering of inter-grade relationships. Everyone knows each others names (adults and kids alike) and in non-COVID times we have tons of community event throughout the year where we really bond as a group.  And side-note - it is likely that the school will be given the green light to re-open in the coming months. Let me know if you want to know more.  

    Look into Aurora. We’ve been there for the past three years and love it. Their focus is social emotional learning. Good luck. 

    My kids have social skills issues, and I have toured many private schools in the east bay. Although schools these days have an increased emphasis on inclusion, I don’t believe there is a mainstream private school that can dedicate enough resources to give what it sounds like he needs.  My unsolicited advice—I would actually recommend an evaluation from his current school district. Definitely sounds like you have reasonable grounds. Even though it sounds like he doesn’t have a diagnosis like high-functioning ASD and so probably wouldn’t qualify for an IEP, the evaluation process can be very helpful to help parents and teachers get a kid social supports they need. And the report would be useful to you a future private school if he transfers.

    We have a very similar child and have him at St. Paul's in Oakland specifically because we think they excel in this area. The school uses the Responsive Classroom model and has everyone from administrators to classroom teachers to after school staff trained in the approach so that kids are hearing consistent messages and language around social-emotional skills throughout the day and across the grades. That's not to say that there is no social conflict--but in our experience staff are quick to see and use these moments as teaching opportunities, lifting up the particular strategies kids can use. In these crazy times, social-emotional learning is a hugely challenging space for schools to hold, but I've been impressed with how St. Paul's has continued to integrate the "People Power" skills into their distance learning model, helping kids name and navigate their emotions. We very much preferred to have our child in public school, but found very few schools where we could see a clear approach to social-emotional skill building across grade levels, particularly in the classroom vs. in a pull-out group. (Several identified SEL curricula that they used, but how well this was held in the classroom seemed to vary hugely by teacher.) The consistency on social-emotional supports between the school day and aftercare program was also hugely important to us--our child spends several hours each day in aftercare in normal times, and that time tends to be less structured so it's when social issues seem most likely to bubble up--and that was very tough to find. Good luck with the search!

    Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley!!!

    We're also at Crestmont School in Richmond.  We picked it because of it's social-emotional focus years ago for our oldest (now in 4th grade) and we couldn't be happier after all of these years.  Its built into every aspect of the curriculum, so all the kids pick it up.  It gets worked into how the play on the playground as well with how they talk to each other and react when someone is hurt (physically or emotionally).  The teachers there are some of the best trained and most qualified I've ever met.  They spent the summer doing courses about "teaching through trauma" to help the kids deal with all that 2020 has brought so far.  Amazing.

    We've been at The Berkeley School for the several years and social/emotional learning is great. I have an extroverted/sensitive kiddo and I've appreciated how much the teachers and staff have understood what he needs emotionally and have helped him grow. I'm really proud when I hear him talk about treating others with respect and how we're all different and special. Smaller schools have an advantage in this area. The Berkeley School are other great attributes and it shines particularly well in this area.

  • Hi parents, I have a 4-year old girl. She is bright, curious, artistic and enjoys the companionship of her friends.  She is, however, also tends to be very nervous outside home -- extremely quiet during circle time, rarely initiates a conversation, and can't properly respond to adults' questions. We are trying to encourage her speaking out and be more adaptive, but of course it takes time and efforts. 

    She will start K next fall, can anyone recommend a private school for reserved, nervous, and neurotic kids?  Thanks in advance. 

    Is it possible your child suffers from an anxiety disorder called selective mutism?  This causes children to be unable to talk to people/adults. A friend's child could have been described the same way as yours, and therapy and medication have helped her immensely - just a thought.

    H there,

    I would urge you to check out Berkwood Hedge school (berkwood.org). It is a lovely, small community (100 kids total, 1 class for each grade). And I have especially seen shy kids blossom there. The classes are small (up to 19 kids) and the teachers are extraordinary.  Our son is graduating this year from Berkwood Hedge. Please ping me if you'd like details. 

    Check out The Academy on Benvenue in Berkeley. It is a very small but academic school. I know of a few very shy kids that started in K and really bloomed at The Academy. The class size is small, so she will get a lot of attention.

  • We're trying to figure out which high school community would be a good fit for my son who's kinda shy.  He's thinking about Head Royce, CPS, Oakland Tech, Bishop O'Dowd and Bentley.  We've heard about each school's reputation and read some older posts, but would love to hear more recent stories about how shy kids do at these schools (especially when they didn't start in Kindergarten or MS).  

    I've had one child at Bishop O'Dowd and one at CPS. My sense is that BOD might seem a bit overwhelming at first to a shy Freshman, but once he finds his place in one of the many clubs or music or debate or a sport, he will be fine. They have a fun orientation week for Freshman to make the transition easier. There's something for everyone at that school and generally it's a great community. Shy kids at CPS would be just fine as long as the school is a good fit. It's a small and extremely welcoming school, but the most important factor at that school is that your child is academically suited to it. It's not for everyone, but the kids who love it really have a great experience there.

    Both of these very different schools start in 9th grade so everyone is "new." That was a draw for both of my kids.

    Head Royce was amazing for my daughter,changed her outlook on life. She went there in 11th grade, moved cross country from high powered Washington DC private school. At HRS, she realized she was smart, confident, etc. This was 2011-12.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Public school for a shy kid

Nov 2015

My daughter will start kindergarten next year and her dad and I are having the public/private debate. She'll be on the younger side (5 in August) and is pretty shy. My main concern about the public schools is the large class size and worrying about my shy kid getting lost in the crowd and feeling overwhelmed by all the other kids. I'd appreciate any thoughts or advice from other parents of shy kids. Thanks

One thing I want to tell you is that my younger daughter was painfully, terrifyingly shy before she started kindergarten. When she was with kids she knew she was gregarious and adventurous, but it took months of being at her preschool for her to open up, and that was with the teacher for the younger kids almost constantly being in contact with her during the ''school'' day. As we got closer to the start of kindergarten I was losing sleep and panicking. Her teachers assured me she was ready but I flat-out didn't believe them.

Welp, about a month before kindergarten started, she just -- changed. I dunno if it was because she finally weaned (shut up! I know! it was not my choice!) or because we had monthly play-dates with her soon-to-be classmates, but she had a painless entry into public kindergarten. She has a wonderful teacher, too. So that helps. We are in a small school in the West Contra Costra district.

Not that you asked, but -- private schools count on your fear. And every private school is different. There are as many different private schools as public schools, and you have to do due diligence on every one of them. There was a private school I had my heart set on when my husband and I were having the same very tense discussion, and I just mooned over it and thought I would be doing my kid a terrible disservice not sending her there. Later, after the whole thing was over and my kid (the older one) was doing fine in public school, I happened to be back at that private school to pick up my friend's kid and frankly was stunned at the chaos -- and how spoiled and un-diverse the children were. I really think that if you find the right public school, you will find there are many, many advantages that you hadn't even dreamed of -- and that your child is stronger than you think, especially if you are there to help her along the path.

Ah, the eternal public vs. private conundrum... There are some great discussions in the BPN archive that help address the big picture. But you're asking about YOUR shy kid. Well, without knowing HOW shy or WHEN/WHY shy... some kids learn to be not-shy when they're in an atmosphere where they have to learn to advocate for themselves, or they find the right new friend/teacher that helps them, or they just happen to change for unknown reasons (they want to be a Big Kid or whatever) OR... they withdraw more, get bullied, don't like their teacher, etc. Both scenarios can occur in either public or private! There is NO guarantee for either choice!

So, best you can do is tour all the considered schools, talk to teachers, figure out best ways to support either choice, etc. It's scary and overwhelming when it's your first child - I do remember with mine. It'll all work out in the end. Another Mom

My husband and I had the exact same debate when our now third grader was entering Kindergarten. We live in an area known for its excellent public schools, but were quite concerned that our shy, smart, rule-following boy would fade into the background. We researched quite a few schools both public and private and eventually chose Aurora School which is a private school in Oakland. To say that it has worked well for our son is an understatement!

While he is still working on interacting with adults outside of the school environment, there is not one person in all of Aurora that he doesn't feel comfortable talking to. Everyone knows him and he knows everyone. He feels incredibly safe there.

One of many reasons I think it has worked so well for him is that students have the same teachers for two years. For example, his K/1 teacher and her teaching assistant got to know him so well when he was in Kindergarten that starting 1st grade was no big whoop. Another reason is that each classroom has two grades. So, when he was in Kindergarten half of his class was first graders who were there to show him the ropes. Then, when he was in first grade he had to step up to show the new Kindergarteners. This opportunity for leadership helped give him the confidence to find his voice and to use it (at least at school and certainly at home - maybe too much at home!) and that confidence continues to grow.

I encourage you to take a look and see if Aurora might be a good fit for your daughter. The Admissions Director's name is Lisa and you can reach her at 510-428-2606 x204. Good luck with your search! Happy at Aurora

You don't say what school your daughter would attend, or even which district, but here's my experience with OUSD. I've enrolled three shy kids in a highly-regarded OUSD elementary school, including a girl who is the youngest in her grade. All three have been absolutely fine and have made friends (in the case of my older kids, close, close friends). But like I said, their school is deservedly highly-regarded with talented teachers who are able to handle the large class size. So my shy children did not fall through the cracks. But your experience with your young shy child will depend on the specific school. There's a good chance your child will be fine. Oh, one other benefit of the larger class size is that there are more potential friends--more kids with a similar temperament to your child's who might be a great match. Mom of 3 shy kids

I didn't see the original listing and don't know which school district you're in, but many or all Berkeley public schools used Balanced Beginnings in Kindergarten, which can really help your situation. The first few days of school the kids are randomly placed into groups, and they rotate through a different classroom/teacher each day. At the end of the 3 days, the teaching team has a long meeting to discuss every child, in terms of academics, personalities, social situations, existing friends, even who has parent volunteers...and they create balanced classes. I know this year we have one class with many shy kids in it, and they have bonded and come out of their shells. Another class has many quiet boys and strong, assertive girls. It works. Somehow the personalities balance out. I highly recommend BUSD. BUSD mom

Shy daughter entering kindergarten

Nov 2004

My daughter, who is 4.5 years old, is extremely shy and sensitive. When she's in unfamiliar situations, she doesn't talk. I've set up play dates with other children, and she won't interact at all. She's been in preschool for 2 months, and has only talked to one other child. (I had her in preschool last year, but removed her and put her back in family daycare because she seemed so withdrawn and miserable at school). Now I'm trying to figure out what private school would be a good fit for her. I'm contemplating Archway, Aurora, Berkwood Hedge. I live in the Oakland area. Anyone with an extremely shy kid with recommendations? Mother of shy 4.5 year old

Wow sounds like me when I was that age...Until I was about 11 I refused to ever go to a playdate at anyone's house and generally was VERY quiet. Now I think I'm making up for it! My son was quite shy as well when he was 4 and we were deciding about schools. We looked seriously at public school but were concerned that he would ''disappear'' in the crowd. He likes other people, he just had a hard time speaking up and/or approaching them. He is now at Berkwood Hedge and we're very happy there. The school is small enough that there is no way for him to ''disappear'' and his kindergarten teacher, Hanan (who by the way is one of the most amazing teachers I have encountered) very gently but very persistently drew him out of his shell and made sure that there was room for him. He has made friends with a lovely group of other boys and seems to have found his social niche. He will always be somewhat shy I think but has learned (and I give Berkwood Hedge a lot of credit for this) to feel safe and content in his circle. I will also say that when we visited Berkwood Hedge, he immediately felt at home there--so there was some gut response on his part! Good luck with your choice. Formerly shy parent

My sister has two children at Archway school. I shared your concerns with her and she believes Archway would be a good match for a shy child. There are only 12 to 13 kids per class, only one class per grade, and everybody knows everybody. As an Archway ''aunt,'' and as a former shy child myself, I've seen the small community they have there and think it would be a school you should definitely visit and learn more about. Good luck. Liz

My daughter is a kindergardener at Aurora. I think you should definitely check it out for your daughter. Aurora is a warm, welcoming place where all different kinds of kids are fully appreciated. Social/emotional development (e.g. communication and conflict resolution skills) are incorporated into the curriculum. There is a small teacher:student ratio. In all grades (K-5) a teacher and full-time aide (sometimes 2 full-time teachers) is in each class of about 20-24 kids. There are LOTS of parent volunteers in the class, which means there is almost always 1-2 volunteers in the class as well. This means there is lots of small group work and individualized attention. For a shy kid, it means they won't get overlooked, and they will be in smaller groups where it is easier to speak up. We--and our child-- have been thrilled with Aurora academically and socially. The website is www.auroraschool.org. To schedule a tour contact Lisa Piccone, Admissions Director at 428-2606. Lori

This isn't exactly answering your questions about schools, but may be helpful otherwise.... I wonder if your daughter has a social anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism. Selectively Mute kids will talk to a few people, but not most people...it varies in different kids. They may have one or two special friends they talk to but no one else in the class. Often they talk to parents and siblings. My 9 year old son has SM. He has progressed over the years....he now talks to most kids, a handful of adults, but no one new, no teachers...etc. Essentially, they get so anxious when people talk to them that they simply close down...like stage fright. They become physically unable to speak. Pressuring them to speak just makes the anxiety worse. You can find out more about Selective Mutism at selectivemutismcenter.org
Feel free to e-mail me if this sounds like your daughter. I have lots of local resources June


Good Elem School(s) for Sensitive Boy?

March 2011

Our almost 5 YO son will be entering Kindergarten next year, and we've been searching for the right fit. He's a sensitive, bright, and delightfully intense boy who loves school. He sometimes gets overwhelmed in large or chaotic situations. He's in his second year at a small, nurturing preschool. We live in N. Berkeley and have entered the central zone lottery for BUSD (Oxford, Malcolm X, Washington, Cragmont, and BAM). We have also applied to some private schools -- Windrush, Berkwood Hedge, Park Day and Black Pine Circle. I was wondering if parents of other sensitive boys out there might be willing to share their experiences/advice/recommendations at any of the above schools? Or any other school recommendations? Thank you! Dizzy from the choices in the EB