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Aquatic Park School (Berkeley, CA)
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I am hoping to get updated information about Duck's Nest Berkeley and Aquatic Park School. I read some reviews about Duck's Nest, but I think they refer to the Piedmont campus. I really love both schools and they have similar philosophies, so I imagine other parents have compared the two and would love to hear which you picked and why. Thanks! Prospective Parent
My daughter did attend Aquatic Park School (APS) a few years ago and it was just about the best decision I have made as a parent, here's why: APS has ''wheel days'' and ''barefoot days'' - On wheel days kids need to wear shoes, however on barefoot days kids can have the grass, sand, and dirt between their toes. They can hopscotch on the concrete barefoot. They can climb trees or the play structure. They swing in hammocks. Kids play basketball. Kids are outside a lot of the day playing. Anytime they are interested in having a book read, a teacher reads to them. There is a ''book pool'' - a blue plastic pool filled with books rather than water so kids can take a break. There's a garden. Okay, so many schools may be like that.
Here is the deal - there is an independent science station - this means that kids do experiments and track results. For example, do lemons turn yellow and ripen faster when on the table or in a paper bag. The kids look and fill in the graph on the wall for the number of days it takes to turn. This is where my incredible daughter learned to love science.
Kids learn through the rich atmosphere of the world around them including the teachers. However, teachers do not get in the way of learning as they did in the other programs I reviewed.
In summary - barefoot days, science and books ''on demand'' - it just doesn't get much better.
Oh, and have your child sent to school in stained clothes. They will get dirty, and stinky, from play. In the evening they're tired - good tired from a great play and learning day. Blythe's Mom
Our daughter has been at Aquatic Park for three years now and we want to put out a strong recommendation. We love the school and the teachers and our daughter has thrived while there. We love it and are sad to go as she moves on to Kindergarten.
One thing to note, APS is also putting together a Bridge K program which looks to be awesome. The teacher who will be leading it has been our daughter's teacher for the last three years and is amazing. I would highly recommend you look into the Bridge K program. They may have some spaces in an otherwise very high demand preschool. Happy APS parent
I'm interested in enrolling my son to Aquatic Park School. Does anyone have a more recent review about the school? The teachers in 3-4 year old class? Many thanks!
The school leadership is fantastic -- the owner/director Susan, the main on-site Director Anne, and the Infant Toddler program Director Rose. All 3 have been with APS for quite a long time. The teachers and staff are just terrific -- enthusiastic, smart, thoughtful, and always working to improve their craft. The kids move as a cohort through the program, their core teachers coming with them as they grow so that each group of kids, teachers, and parents becomes quite close through the years.
The school is very committed to professional development and nurturing teachers. They participate in the Innovative Teacher Project, which supports the development of teachers at a whole network of schools using Reggio-Emilia-inspired curricula. APS even periodically raises money to send teachers to Reggio Emilia in Italy to study those schools first-hand.
The program is essentially play-based, integrating academic topics along the way as they make sense within the context of whatever play or projects the kids are working on. So if you are interested in an explicit preschool program that focuses more on drilling pre-math and pre-literacy skills, APS is probably not the school for you. Also, the kids play a lot outside unless it is really raining, so you need to be comfortable with your kid getting a little messy and dirty and occasionally coming home in an outfit not his own from the wonderful closet of extra clothes that they keep. For us, this was the perfect place -- I wanted my kids to be playing in the sun and the water and dirt as much as possible (learning all sorts of things along the way, of course!) before they had to go to Kindergarten and sit at a desk.
When my daughter graduated a year and a half ago, I was only half joking when I told the school directors that I was so sad to be leaving, that we might just have to have a third kid so that we could come back to APS. Now we actually have a new baby and sure enough, she'll be starting at APS later this spring when she's about 6 months old. I can't wait to be back! Huge APS fan
And, at the time she was at APS, because of the staff's loving consistency, creativity, love for and respect of children, and I don't know what, our parenting for those APS years was absolutely care free. I never worried about my daughter's care and I feel APS actually taught me how to parent well. Happy APS mom, years later
Re: Midyear preschool change/relocation
Aquatic Park School in Berkeley fits the bill! Its program is Reggio-Emilia inspired and play-based, and offers Spanish once a week. My girls have thrived there, and are excited to go to school. They attend half-days, 3 days/week (but most kids are there for the entire day). My favorite thing about APS is how they encourage and teach the kids to work out conflicts on their own, and how accepting they are of kids' differences. It's also starting a Bridge K program in the fall, in case that's of interest to you. Another mom with two girls
Re: I'm thinking Montessori may not be right for my son
I have only one child, a daughter, who sounds similar to your son. She began talking early and often was speaking in complete sentences by the time she was 11 months old.
We looked at Montessori schools - one very, very popular school in Oakland. When my daughter went for her ''interview'' she went to a tray to get a job. She borrowed a cloth from one tray to wash the table containing the ''tea.'' The teacher politely explained that each tray is a ''job'' and that you keep all of the items together. My daughter responded, ''I'm improvising.'' To which the teacher explained that she still needed to use the items from one tray, put the tray away and then she could use the items from another tray for the job. To which my daughter asked the teacher, ''Do the kids at your school EVER improvise?'' The teacher repeated the mantra about the jobs. My daughter turned to us and said, ''It's a very pretty school, but not MY school.''
We then went to Aquatic Park School in Berkeley even though we lived and worked in Oakland. It was worth the drive, the time and the energy. The teachers have actually visited Italy and understand the Reggio Emilia philosophy and have seen it in action. Children have barefoot days and ''wheel'' days. Children improvise daily.
I tell this story because we have a confident, bright, curious, creative daughter who is now 10. I believe she is this way in part because of the support she received in 3 years of preschool. Aquatic Park School trusts children to know their bodies- when they are and are not cold or hot, they are not afraid of dirt and mud, and reading is done ''at the request of the child.''
Another thing is that she was very, very prepared for school. Not only in the ''learn it'' academics but in the ability to transition to eating in the cafeteria, sharing tables/desks and transitions. Reggio Emilia is the way to go
Does anyone have any current reviews of Aquatic Park School in Emeryville? We're looking for a place for both an infant and a very lively 3 yr old and it seems a great match. Any concerns or reservations? Thanks! Sarah
As a Mom - I loved the ability for every child to be read to ''on demand'' not just at storytime. My son had no fewer than 5 books a day read to him.
Two down sides: you MUST have two sets of clothes for your kids because ''school'' clothes become too stained with mud, paint, dirt, etc. to be used in ''public'' and two, your kid will be exhausted, in a good way, and sleep early.
One thing that did drive some parents CRAZY - Your kid gets to decide whether to wear shoes on bearfoot day and your kid gets to decide whether to wear a coat or jacket. Not you, not the teachers, but your kid. Some parents had a really hard time trusting their kids to know what was best for their own bodies. Found Heaven at APS
Re: Preschools with Male Teachers
Welcome to the area! (APS) has several male teachers. Men are in the minority on the staff, but that is true of every preschool I've seen. All the teachers, male and female, are excellent - caring and professional. There is a waiting list, but sometimes there are unexpected openings. Also, I think there used to be, or is still, a scholarship fund for children of single parents. Best of luck with your decision. Happy APS parent
We are considering sending our 2.5 year old to Aquatic Park Pre-School in Berkeley. I would greatly appreciate feedback from other parents about the school. I have visited the school a few times and I liked it very much. I like the fact that kids spend quality time outdoors because my son loves the outdoors. I also noticed that parent-teacher interaction is encouraged by the school. If you could talk about your and your kid's experience there, it would be great. I would appreciate your input on their curriculum and the classes they offer (on saturdays for example). Thanks -Paula
The school and its director are loved by the staff. They are paid relatively well and most of the staff have been there for years. I think this is one of the most important indicators of a great school.
I am constantly amazed by the thought and pedagogy behind every transition and activity. The school is play based and child directed, but it operates within the structure of a daily schedule that really makes the kids feel comfortable and secure. My kids have amazed me with their independence at school.
They do spend a lot of time outdoors in the 'yard'. Like the indoor 'stations', hte kids have a variety of outdoor spaces to accomodate whatever activities they dream up; APS has big plans for improvements to the yard in the coming year. They also go on many walking field trips, especially as the kids get older. The school is definately designed for working parents. The rates are pretty average or even good if you use a lot of the hours, but you don't get much of a break for going part time. There is usually a wait list, but if you have the right aged kid at the right time, you might get lucky.
Lastly, we are having a gala fundraiser on May 20. It will be an adults-only affair with small plates, cocktails and dancing. It would be a great way to meet the families of APS. E-mail me if you'd like to purchase tickets. Good Luck! Katie
You need to feel comfortable with dirt, mud and grime. You need to be ok with stained school clothes and other clothes for the weekend. You will have a kid who is thoroughly exhausted on most days, in a good way. My daughter is a taller than average kid who is physically active. She is a climber and dirt mountain was among her favorite places to be. Music and Movement were also great for her.
There are a number of extra curricular classes that my daughter took - some she loved: Spanish with Candida, dance, music. There were classes she didn't care for: martial arts, capoeira, yoga, music with Jon and dance with a different instructor. But the great thing is you had a choice and your child had a choice. Station time was the best. My daughter liked all of the stations and although APS is a play-based school, children learn a lot about art, science, math and writing. My daughter entered Kindergarten knowing how to set up a science expperiment and how to graph results. In addition she was reading by her 4th month of Kindergarten. I believe this is due to the great number of books available at APS, as well as the number of teachers who are willing to read to kids ''on demand.''
There is a ''walk day'' once per week with kids about 3 years and older. These walks were great for identifying signs, learning how BMWs were polished, sculptures made and plants grown. Most off all the children were accepted for the valuable person each child is. Some children were more strong-willed, some more talkative, some more creative - - - all were loved and care for in a way that was appropriate to each individual child. Do not worry about the 12 hours per school year (or whatever it is now). APS makes it pretty easy and your child will value the buy-in. The hours do not need to be done at school, they can be done at home, repairing books, sewing curtains, washing dress-up clothes, etc.
Observe the school several times before you enroll, each visit brings a beautiful new facet to your experience. Grateful Parent of a former APS kid
we are considering sending our son to Aquatic Park School's infant/toddler program and would love feedback from other parents about the school in general and about experiences in the infant/toddler program. We have been to the school several times and always had great interactions with staff and parents, philosophy fits with our parenting style and they seem to offer and emphasize creative arts, which is great! I have been a litle concerned about the size of the school and the space, although it seems like a wonderful, sunfilled space, i wonder about noise level and if it would be overwhelming for younger ones?? I appreciate the info, as there are not many recent postings, and none that address infant / toddler program issues. Thanks!!! Ruth
The toddler program is something special. 4 toddlers to one teacher and they are loved and taught how to express themselves in a way that I could never reproduce at home. He is now 4, still at APS and transitioned into the preschool. Like all of the children at APS, he communicates with words, doesn't strike or hit other kids and defends himself with the words and phrases he was taught way back in the toddler room. As babies and toddlers, the teachers begin to instill the notion that these kids are powerful. They empower each one by teaching them to communicate their feelings. They empower each one by respecting their feelings too.
I could go on and on about their philosophy and the unique and staff (with a long retention period). But the most fascinating thing to me about this place is the wonderful sense of community and belonging that everyone attached to it feels. The teachers and the parents and most of all the kids. Those kids feel so comfortable with their extended family that I never worry if my son is safe. I am sure this is in large part due to the fantastic owner and director: Susan Stevenson. She runs that place with such love and confidence and kindness that it is contagious. It can be difficult to get a hold of people when you are trying to enroll. This is because they are so engaged with their kids. Unlike many schools, the director is also a teacher. She is with kids and on the phone with parents a good deal.
While they don't have tours (because if they did, there would be people there every single day), they do have open houses. One is coming up in February and I suggest you attend, even if you have seen the place. Bring your child and see how s/he reacts. Are they comfortable? Are you?
We fell in love with APS and are still so happy and lucky to be a part of their community. Don't be put off by the lack of response by phone right now, come to the open house and speak with Susan in person. She has a great memory and will remember who you are. And when you become an APS family, you will be welcome to come and spend time with your kid any time you want. There are no particular visiting days, parents are always welcome. I am there all the time, learning more and more each day. Good luck with your decision! Molly
My kids (now 5 & 7) have now moved on to Berkeley Schools but we had been with APS for 4 years. To address your questions - the infant toddler group is a much smaller population of kids (10 max I think). They have a separate area for the little ones and they take them to play in the yard when the older kids are not around. So no- I don't think you child will be overwhelmed. Mine weren't even in the older kids groups.
Pros of this program - Real focus on conflict resolution. They empower the kids to stand up for themselves and work things out. They are so good at it, I found myself using their language at work!
Teachers are professionals - an invaluable resource for my husband and I on how kids at various stages of development typically act. Most of them have put in lots of continuing education hours on childhood development and have tons of experience. The teachers have chosen the profession of caring for children.
Director/ Owner Susan is a wonderful person - several of her staff told me she is one of the best people they have ever worked for. So she has loyal staff and low turnover.
Exercise and imaginative play - the playground is right there so they spend a majority of their time outside - doing all of the playing which makes them develop imagination, curiosity and learning.
Cons - if you are a neat clothes kind of person this is not a good place for you - this is a mudpie/ finger painting type of school. The kids are outside a lot and they thrive there. But if your kid doesn't like to be outside, they might not be as happy here as elsewhere.
At the graduating ceremony for our 5 year old, all of the parents were commenting on how the entire grad class were ''good kids'' - you liked all of them, not just your own, because they were good citizens, even though all very different.
APS was a special community for our family and I don't think you will be disappointed. Anonymous
Our son is nearly three and we are looking at East Bay preschools, including Aquatic Park. Does anyone have positive or negative experiences to share about this school? mom of energetic boy
Why APS might be a fit for your child (as it was for both of our
children for past 4 yrs)...
a) majority of time is spent outside - great playground and they are working to make it even better
b) no tv - instead there are areas for: blocks/puzzles, books, playhouse, music & movement, science & art. The kids can choose where they want to go.
c) teachers are professionals, ie they can explain your child's developmental stages and make sense of what your child is doing. For example, it was such a relief to hear that yes - 4 yrs old typically talk about & are interested in death.
d) Susan, the director, now has purchased the school. Her staff are fanatically loyal to her and she/they want to make it a superlative school in every way.
e) there is a huge commitment to empowering the kids - this extends to teaching them negotiating and conflict resolution skills. It also extends to letting the kids follow their own interests.
f) The childcare itself is located in a wonderful, open sunlit space - I fell in love with it the minute I stepped into it.
It is open from 7:30 - 6 pm. It is not the cheapest daycare you will find. But it sure does turn out respectful, polite, active bright eyed kids! Best of luck with your decision.
Our son attends Aquatic Park School in Berkeley and we think it is a most wonderful place. There are 50 some odd families there who I know will agree. We feel so fortunate to have found a place that is so thoughtful, caring and creative. They take the Reggio Emilia approach, for what it's worth. I think it's a sensible and respectful way to help young ones discover and learn. The staff is terrific and talented and they are paid a real salary so the turnover rate is quite low. Worth every penny! And I know there are some openings right now. Give them a call: 843-2273, you'll find them very responsive. And if you would like to talk to me about the place in greater detail, please feel free to email and we can exchange phone numbers. (I know Oakland was your first choice, but hey, maybe this will work for your family after all.) Best of luck in your search, Molly
We just looked at Aqautic Park School during their recent Open House and were very impressed. Then my husband and I read the postings on the Parent Web site and now we don't know what to think! The postings are all about a year old or more, but some of them were more than a little disturbing. We were so excited by the possibility of sending our child there, but now we are hoping to hear from some other parents about APS. What were your recent experiences? Were they positive or negative? What do you think of the postings on the web site (is the school still leaving 2 year olds outside in 50 degree weather in wet shorts and tee shirts?Is the staff turnover still a problem?) We would so appreciate any information you have to offer. Of course we plan to spend a good chunk of time there in the near future, to see how the place runs with lots of kids. We have an appointment to do this in a few weeks, but in the meantime, we are anxious to hear the advice and stories from experienced parents. Thanks to all. concerned parent
For example, they heartily believe that children should be outdoors as much as possible, and so ask parents to bring rainclothes when it's drizzling, and let the children play outside when it's winter. There is a layer box in the yard and, ideally, children would choose to have a layer on when they feel cold. Of course, they don't always get to the layer box when something more interesting is going on. After finding my son shivering one day, I asked about the policy (I'm sure a number of parents did), and, although there wasn't any formal change made, he usually had his jacket on when I picked him up after that.
As to staff turnover, there was quite a bit last summer and fall, right when we started. There wasn't one cause of this: each person that chose to leave had very different, personal reasons. However, the school's directors are actively pursing staff retention plans with the help of a very involved parents' group. Most of the core staff have been at APS for three+ years, now.
I also hesitated before bringing my son to APS -- I had a bad case of that everything-must-be-perfect-for-my-child mommy craziness; now I'm glad my much calmer partner talked me into it. My son just loves it there, and I know he's getting really respectful, stimulating, and fun care. Jodi
In reply to your request for Preschools with food allergy friendly policies. Our program at Aquatic Park School is very responsive to the specific food needs of our children. We also are currently 'peanut butter free' since we have enrolled a child with a severe peanut allergy. It means we also have to be determined label readers, since so many products have hidden allergens.
We serve families whose children are vegetarian or vegan and this presents a challenge too. We must be sure we are monitoring the children's food choices.
On party day, the one day a month when we allow sugar snacks, we encourage families who have children on restricted diets to bring in a 'special snack' for them that is in their permissible food program. This helps because we do not always know what ingredients may have been used in a homemade item.
Good luck. Hope you find a good match for your child. NPhilpot
I am going to visit Aquatic Park 'School in West Berkeley. Your preschool recomendation page has 3 varying recomdations. Can anyone give me info. I have an infant and a 4 year old. Thank you Edujoyce
My son has attended APS for a year, and my whole extended family has visited the school at various points to see just why we are so wildly enthusiastic about it. I have just interviewed each staff member for a parent handbook, and I am amazed at the depth of their collective early childhood education, their incredible commitment to the children, and the wonderful environment they create for learning and development. APS has a successful recipe of love, structure, choice, creativity, fun and education which draws children and parents into a really rewarding community. I literally have to catch my son to go home in the evenings sometimes. We find it one of the best things about life in the East Bay, and only hope that our kids can have as positive an educational experience beyond kindergarten elsewhere. Our second son, age 2 months, will join the baby program (only 4 slots), where the TLC is better than you can find anywhere except home. Eve 2000
I have responded to several people on a personal level, but felt that this information should also go out to the group. Over the past year or so, people have requested information on the Aquatic Park Preschool program. I had a child in this program until fairly recently, so I think I have a fair amount of experience with this school. After trying to resolve issues with the school directly over a several month period of time, we took our child out of this school. We are happy with the decision we made. Here are the concerns I would have as a parent considering this program.
1. Very high staff turnover in the past several years. Several key caregivers were "here today, gone tomorrow." This made it very difficult for my child to adjust.
2. Poor supervision in the playground, with a mixed age group of 2 - 5 year olds. My child was bullied, bit, or otherwise hurt on numerous occasions. I understand isolated incidents of this happening, but it did seem excessive to me.
3. Push to potty train at an early age in order to get "with the program." This was not beneficial for my child and has resulted in problems for us now.
4. Expectation of self-help skills beyond what I feel is reasonable for a two-year-old. I regularly (almost every day) picked up my child in wet and/or muddy clothes, barefoot, with just a T-shirt on in 50 degree weather. It was explained to me that it is up to the child to change clothes, get a jacket, put on shoes if he/she is wet and or muddy. I considered this outrageous and still do.
5. Annual price hikes of $100 without any corresponding benefits in terms of materials or student/teacher ratio.
6. Stated student/teacher ratio is not adhered to. This relates back to item #2. I witnessed many incidents of bullying which I personally intervened in, even if my child was not directly involved, because no one else was around to take care of this.
These are the most important points I wanted to get across. I also wanted to state that we were happy with the program initially and loved a couple of the caregivers in the infant/toddler program (neither of whom is still with the program), but started having problems when some staffing changes occurred and our child was being transistioned to the preschool program. Things can change, but I would very carefully look at all these things before I would put my child in this program. I hope this information helps someone else to not have to go through what we went through.
My son Aaron has been at APP since he was 3 months old and we've been very pleased with the whole school. The one bad note (that is often a point of discussion at parents' meetings) is the apparent high turn over rate of teachers--but we've found that a very basic core of teachers has remained, as well as the constant routine and surroundings, to allow a continuity that the kids need/appreciate. I like the wide range of age groups, too, so that now my 4 year old comes home with great pride about being the day's babyroom helper. Also have optional Computertots program.
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