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Beth El Nursery School (Berkeley, CA)

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Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > Preschools & Daycare > Beth El Nursery School (Berkeley, CA)



Nov 2013

I was wondering whether any current or former parents at Beth El Nursery could comment on their experience with the school. I've heard so many things and am unsure which to believe. I'd particularly love to hear from the perspective of anyone who chose to leave the school. Incoming parent


My son was at Beth El Nursery School only for one year, the year before Kindergarten. Note that this was 4 years ago, under a different director. He had a hard time, as he was the only NEW boy in the class. The other boys never really accepted him, and several actively bullied and excluded him, even though he was kind, outgoing, and eager to make friends. We wrote our letter to withdraw from the school 3 months in, but were strongly advised by the director and by other childcare and teaching professionals not to do so, as starting over elsewhere would be even more difficult. He ended up having 3 very close friends (one boy who joined after him, and 2 girls), but had a very tough year. I felt not enough was done by the staff to integrate him into the very tight social network. HOWEVER, the kids who started there at age 2 or 3 seemed very happy, and the director and several teachers have moved on...JMHO. Berkeley mom
Our child was at BENS during the transition of directorship. While we were perfectly content with the previous director, the new one did bring in some very nice additions to the curriculum and structure of the preschool. I was not thrilled with her communication style but otherwise I felt it was an improvement. I do think the new director puts a strong emphasis on the social-emotional component.

At BENS, our child thrived and developed a strong Jewish identity, and I highly recommend it! I'm not sure what you're hearing that makes you not sure what to believe, but realize that complaints from parents who were there a few years ago may no longer be relevant. If your child has special needs (autism, ADD, social-behavioral issues), BENS might be better prepared, but I can't comment from personal experience. If your child is typically developing then I can say from our experience that we were very happy there. Happy at BENS


May 2013

Re: Jewish Preschools Non Synagogue Affiliated

I believe the daycare in the Jewish community center is quite good. I visited it and I liked it. I think they start with older kids though. I also visited the daycare in the Temple Beth-El and liked it a lot, but that's synagogue-affiliated. If I were you, I would check it out. I almost send my daughter there, and other moms have told me great things about this daycare. Hope that helps! Carolina. Carolina


JCC is the only one that comes to mind. Though not sure what the reasons are for wanting a nonaffiliated preschool... Is it level of religious instruction that is of concern? My daughters went to Beth El Nursery School, and although we are atheist we were very happy there. Happy with BENS
Feb 2013

Hi, we'll be moving to Berkeley this coming summer and we are thinking about enrolling our 3-year old daughter in the Bet-El nursery school. We spoke in the phone with the director, and we got a very good impression of the daycare, but we didn't have a chance to see the place in person. Do you have any comments/impressions/things to say? Any comments will be greatly appreciated!!!! Thanks very much!


We LOVE Beth El! Our son has been at BENS for three years now and we couldn't be happier. It is a structured play-based preschool with developmentally appropriate incorporation of Jewish traditions and themes into the everyday curriculum. The new director has brought in a few nice improvements, adding a strong emphasis of Reggio Emilia into the preschool. There is plenty of spontaneous opportunities for intellectual growth woven into the play and a strong emphasis on sociodevelopmental growth as well. The Jewish content is great and feels very inclusive for the diverse mix of families. Actually I feel as if we have ''relearned'' so much about our heritage through our son! The facility is very nice with a great outdoor space. You won't be disappointed if you send your daughter to BENS. Happy BENS Family
Feel free to contact me for a more personalized answer to your questions. K.
August 2010

A last minute opening for a 3+ year-old child is available at my children's nursery school. Beth El Nursery School, http://www.bethelberkeley.org/nurseryschool.html, has been my daughter's school since she was 2.5. My son will start in the fall. At this Jewish play-based school, my daughter has learned about the holidays and enjoyed a weekly shabbat musical celebration. There is a large outdoor playground and three separate classrooms for the three age groups. We have a close-knit community of families with patient, thoughtful, and creative teachers taking care of our children. For more information about this unique opportunity, contact Barbara Kanter, nursery school director. barbara@bethelberkeley.org
emily


Sept 2008

Re: Do I need to join a temple to get into preschool?
My kids went to the preschool at temple Beth-El. It is located on Oxford st. so it's as close to Albany as the JCC is. We did join the temple precisely because it turned out to be cheaper and really didn't attend any of the temple's events. My kids liked the preschool a lot, there seemed to be many families there who were dealing with the same issues that you raised, as i can recall there was much openness and discussion among parents and staff around those issues. I liked the way they celebrated most of the holidays too. orit


We have been extremely happy with Beth El Nursery School. The community is fabulous and the kids love celebrating Jewish holidays, making challah on Fridays, and celebrating Shabbat. Yes, it costs less if you are a member - but joining the temple has a lot of benefits - community, summer camp, High Holidays, and it is not as expensive as you might think. Definitely give the Nursery School director, Barbara Kanter, a call - her number is 848-9428. The Web site is www.bethelberkeley.org/nurseryschool. happy BENS parent
April 2006

We are considering sending our child to Beth El Nursery School. There are no reviews since the move. Anyone have experiences to share? Amy


We have 2 children at Beth El Preschool (age 2 and 4) and we absolutely love it. It is a wonderful play based preschool with great teachers and an excellent director who really cares about all of the children and families. It has been an amazing community. The new building is wonderful - it's great to be in a new place with brand new play equipment, lots of light etc. I recommend contacting the director Barbara Kanter to check it out. Tammy
We have 2 children at Beth El -- one about to graduate and one in the 2-year-old classroom. We intend to send our baby there when the time comes. That alone should tell you that we've been extremely pleased with Beth El Nursery School. The teachers there have done an excellent job of understanding and nurturing our children, allowing them to follow their interests and also guiding them in their social develpoment.

Our almost 5-year-old has been reading since age 3 1/2; his teachers have found a way to incorporate his skills and interests, allowing him to become a leader but not a freak amongst his peers. When he was younger, and had less interest in making friends, they made it possible for him to develop his talents and explore the social realm at his own pace. Our 2 1/2 year old has also blossomed there, bonding with several of her teachers and delving into the world of messy art projects and new friends. She comes home happy and exhausted every day.

Each classroom has its own tenor -- the 2 year-old room has a no- nonsense head teacher who works teriffically for some (my 2 kids have responded very well) but whom others find alienating. The co-teachers there complement her well, adding softness. The 3- year-old room has a great head teacher whose enthusiasm seems endless and who manages to find a niche for each child. All three teachers work well together. This year the head teacher was out for a time recuperating from a serious illness, and the staff pulled together very well and ran the classroom happily in her absence.

The 4-year-old room is flat out fabulous. Marlene, the head teacher, has been teaching for 25 years and knows all the tricks. She deftly weaves the children's interests into her time-tested curriculum, introducing elementary-school readiness (working at centers, following multi-part directions, dictating stories) to eager, receptive students. She takes her job seriously, and goes the extra mile to reach out to parents and to make the children feel welcome and special. All the teachers incorporate Jewish curriculum in the classroom, which has been a huge plus for us. Our children come home singing holiday and Shabbat songs, and help us remember when to prepare for upcoming holidays. Beth El now has a preschool admissions policy which heavily favors membership there, and recommends joining the synagogue before your child is admitted. We found this burdensome. It has the effect of encouraging families to be more involved at the synagogue, so you should consider if this is something that suits your family.

The new building is great -- big windows in the classrooms, easy access to bathrooms for the children, and a kitchen in the hallway. It has a few kinks, some of which will be worked out: the ventilation needs to be improved, the storage is limited, the entrance to the 2-year-old room is narrow, especially with the inevitable baby strollers that accompany the parents. The parking lot is difficult to navigate, and the building's security makes enterring cumbersome. Elisabeth


Hello Amy- My name is Julie Parker and I am co-chair of the parent organization at Beth El Nursery School. I have spent much of the past year working with Barbara Kanter, the school's director to transition to the new site. All of the issues we had moving in have been resolved or will be by the end of the school year. There was definately some adjustment. As a parent who was at the old site as well as the new I am very pleased with the new site. The bathrooms and layout of the classrooms are so much better. The children love the play yard. Parking is not a problem like we had anticipated and drop off and pick up are better after some adjustments. The best thing about the school in my opinion is the active parent community. We are also synagogue members and are very happy with the Beth El community. The executive director of the synagogue is very responsive to the nursery school parent's concerns and has done a fantastic job addressing and solving our issues.

As far as play time and art I am very satisfied. My daughter is extremely active and social and gets lots of stimulation at school. The teaching teams are wonderful. My daughter is in the Alef class and is learning so much this year. I like that there are native Hebrew speakers in two of the classes. I love the afternoon teacher Wendy and my daughter enjoys the activites throughout the day.

We feel very forutnate to have joined the synagogue when our daughter was 6 months old and spent the time to get to know the teachers and staff. Beth El is a second home to us so we are very comfortable leaving our daughter there each day. Julie


Hi Amy, Our daughter is currently in her third year at Beth El Nursery School. To address your questions, we feel that the only changes the school has gone through as a result of the move to the new site are the beautiful, new facility (with new furniture and new toys) and the enthusiasm that goes along with being in a brand new environment. There are three teachers in every classroom. Each teacher has her unique strengths, bringing a great deal of diverse activities into each classroom. The head teacher in the 2-year-old classroom plays guitar and sings daily with the children. Another teacher has an extensive background in gardening and does a lot of planting with the children. These are just two examples, but there are many others. In addition to the regular classroom teachers, there are also two specialists: a music teacher and a movement teacher. They are both very popular with the children and the parents! The school is play based, so at any given time the children can choose from a wide variety of activities that the teachers have set-up. Every day is slightly different, but there are always art activities, puzzles, dramatic play, floor activities (such as blocks and cars), books being read and much more. Naturally, each class has different activities based on the age of the children. Currently the 4-year-old classroom has a science table set-up with signs of spring that the children can add to, explore, discuss and observe. We have been so incredibly pleased with the school and feel very lucky that our daughter has had such a positive, first experience. We are also in awe of how much she learns; socially, emotionally and academically. Most importantly, she is enthusiastic about being at school and can't wait for the next school day. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to email us. Shoshana
March 2004

Hi, I'm looking for a more current recommendation than what's in the archives for Beth El preshcool. Specifically, I want to know about the 3 year old class. How did you like the teachers, the community, the playard (and amount of outdoor time the kids get), and what about teacher turn over. Thank you. anon


I can only answer some of your questions. The play yard at Beth El is one of the best I've seen, fully enclosed and safe, with a good lawn and a play structure. And the teachers use it well and about as often as possible. We loved the school, and my son made great friends there. One year removed
My daughter will be entering the 3 year old (Alef) class at Beth El Preschool this coming Fall. She's currently in the 2 year old room. Our older daughter also went to Beth El Nursery School for three years. Obviously, we've been happy there. Regarding your specific questions: The teaching staff is quite stable throughout the school and also quite wonderful. The yard area is fine-- not great -- though when they move to the new synagogue (hopefully early in '05) it should be much nicer. The level of community you'll find will depend to some extent on how much you reach out. Overall, we've found it to be welcoming. Lisa
I highly recommend Beth El Nursery School. My daughter is in the 3 year old class this year, and my older daughter went to Beth El for 2 years (4 yrs ago- when Jill Shugart was the director). The teachers in the ''Aleph'' class (3yr olds) are great. Alex just went on maternity leave, but is coming back in the fall (if not before). The three teachers work wonderfully as a team, and they are all nurtering, creative, wonderful people. I think the 3 of them have been working together for several years, and so ''turnover'' isn't really a problem. In addition to the usual fun stuff - art projects, circle time, dress up, outdoor play, etc - they have a music class and and a movement class once a week with different teachers. My daughter loves these classes. They also make Challah and have a Shabbat circle (parents welcome) on Fridays. Also, the afternoon program is really nice and my daughter is crazy about the cooking they do some afternoons. It is a nice, warm community and we have been really happy there. Feel free to contact me if you want more information or with any questions. Good luck with your decision! eno
My son is in Alef class (ages 3-4) at Beth El this year, and our whole family loves it! Here are some answers for your specific questions. The Alef class teachers are great as individuals and they work together so very well. I have heard from parents with older kids that the teachers for Bet class (ages 4-5) are also fantastic. One Alef teacher recently left for maternity leave, but the word is that she will be back. Most of the teachers there have been there for a long time, or have had experience with other preschools. They are remarkably warm, kind, good humored, intelligent and knowledgeable about early childhood education.

The play yard at the current beth El does not look like much and I was put off by it at first. But every time I have been there when the kids were playing in the yard, they seem to be having a blast. There is standard stuff--sand box, play structure, trikes etc.,--and the teachers put out a variety of different things every day. Most days, you can follow a glitter trail through the yard and into the classrooms and that to me is like the residue of magic that the kids create for themselves in that yard. Each class gets about an hour of ourdoor time each day, I think. And Beth El is constructing a new temple and school that should have newer play yard stuff.

The commmunity is wonderful. Perhaps it has something to do with being a part of a community where religion and spirit are important, perhaps it has to do with being a community of parents of young children, maybe it's singing the dinosaur song at Shabbat every Friday that keeps people in a good mood, but there seems to be a prevailing kindness among the families at Beth El that you don't find everywhere. I think the warmth that the families bring is evident in the kids as well. Feels like our whole family is thriving at Beth El. Carolyn


My son is now in kindergarten and was at Beth El from age 2 to 4. He had a wonderful experience in the Alef (3 year old) room. The teachers were wonderful and there is relatively little turn over. It was a lovely group of kids and parents and we still keep in touch with many of them. All in all a lovely experience. Feel free to email if you have other questions. Amy
We love Beth El Nursery School. There is a strong, supportive community of families. The teachers are energetic, loving and fun. Though based on play, our daughter comes home with tons of new knowledge. She is also given social tools that we value at home. Most importantly, she is eager to go to school every morning and comes home with a smile on her face at the end of the day. I'd be more than happy to answer any specific questions if you'd like to email me. Shoshana
November 2002

If you're looking for a nice Jewish pre-school, I recommend Congregation Beth El Nursery School. They had a hard patch transitioning to a new director in 2001 but are now back on track. Good diversity (Asian, Black, non-Jewish, Lesbian moms, etc) and wonderful caring teachers. My daughter's been there for 2 years and comes home speaking Hebrew and Spanish to me. RD


June 2002

Re: Preschools with good playgrounds
Beth El in Berkeley has everything except the open access. Their playground has a large grassy area, a large sand box, and a structure. Because there are different age groups they are given seperate times to be outside. As it fits so many of your other criteria it may be worth looking at. Kean


Our daughter is in her 2nd year at Beth El there and we've been very happy! We're very happy with the quality of the teachers and the programming. We have a new daughter (born in November) who we plan to send there in a few years as well.. Lisa
We sent our daughter to Beth El Nursery School and really loved it. The teachers were just wonderful - warm and nurturing, as well as engaging and encouraging to her creativity. It is a very friendly place and my daughter made many close friends there, as did we. It seemed to have a nice balance of structured activities, lots of singing and many nice art projects, and free play. I was very impressed with their "conflict resolution" - it was all done very calmly and quietly, facilitating a resolution between the children involved, and never humiliating or punishing. Also, I did love having her come home from school singing hebrew songs and talking about Jewish holidays. My daughter entered in the "Aleph" class, and so was not there for Gan Katan, the 2 year old program, so I can't really speak to that, but I think people really liked it. We had such a positive experience that I definitely plan to send my baby to Beth El (in fall of 2002). enozick
I don't think the fact that one is Jewish and the other is not is irrelevant. I am sending my child to another Jewish preschool and really love the way she is learning Jewish culture and traditions. I also enjoy the community, and it feels very comfortable to me. However, if this isn't important to you, a Jewish preschool may not be the right place -- it will be following a religious calendar (i.e. different days off than most workplaces), the holidays the kids learn about will be Jewish, and the art projects will often connect to Jewish holidays. In terms of diversity, there probably won't be that much difference in class or racial diversity, though obviously Berkeley Hills has more religious diversity. Good luck making a decision -- it might be a good idea to do a quick visit to both again to test out how you'd feel having your child at each one.
March 2002

I have checked the website but wondered if anyone had any updated feedback on Beth El Nursery School or Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center preschool. I know Beth El has a new director & had a lot of turnover in the past few years. I am interested in the two year old programs for both schools for next fall. Thanks for your feedback!!


I just joined this group but I was told that a few people have had questions about Beth El Nursery school, where my son has gone for the last two years. As those of you who have looked at Beth El know, we have a new director this year. The transistion has been a bit bumpy one but it has not effected the program. It's a great program - the kids are thriving - nice parent community, great teachers. My daughter, now 8, went to Step One, which was also great.. Both schools have similiar philosophies - they are play based programs that let the children take the lead and have lots of activities available for the kids - art, dress-up, outside play, etc. Of course one difference is the religious content at Beth El. The kids celebrate Shabbot, which my son really enjoys, and they celebrate the Jewish holidays throughout the year. Amy
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