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Griffin Nursery School (Berkeley, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > Preschools & Daycare > Griffin Nursery School

Feb 2014

I often get asked where my son goes to preschool and have come to realise that Griffin has to be one of the best kept pre-school secrets in the Bay Area because very often parents have not heard of it. If they have we spend 10 minutes raving about how wonderful Betsy and her team are. There is a tendency, regardless of the subject, to like the thing you chose and to feel that you must have made the best choice, but in the case of Griffin it really is one of those special places where I feel that objectively it just is the best. The school is small, but that means that children (particularly boys) don't get sent outside to burn off energy for the sake of it. Instead the teachers use the smallish space they have brilliantly and creatively. Compared to the other program we have experienced (ECEP at UC Berkeley) there is no staff turnover, no massive bureaucracy in which your child gets lost, and a small group of children whom your child can get to know.

When I drop my son off in the morning (who by the way loves to go, wants to rush out the door), I want to stay myself because Betsy, Tina and Doris are so calm and sweet, listening to the ramblings of my son and finding something he wants to do rather than trying to fit him into something that they want him to do!

Anyway, I obviously can't recommend it highly enough. Don't be put off because it's not big and fancy. It is awesome.

Oh, one other thing, at ECEP we had to pay an additional $120 per program for music lessons, where someone from Music together came and played a guitar and sung songs. Guess what? Betsy plays the guitar and sings songs and you don't pay extra - cause that's one of the things that good pre-school teachers do right? Make music with kids! Griffin convert

Dec 2013

Re: Preschool near Albany for highly sensitive child
As a parent of a child who was highly-sensitive/extremely shy in preschool and elementary school, I know what you are experiencing. I had to pull my daughter out of her first preschool because it was overwhelming to her. What I found very frustrating about her first preschool is that the teachers didn't do anything to help her adjust. They just let her stand there. I eventually put her in the Griffin School, which is on Prince Street in Berkeley. It's very small, and and old-school type nursery school. It was all about social interactions. The teachers were great in terms of supporting my daughter socially. She's now a thriving middle schooler. Anonymous

Dec 2013

Re: Recently moved and no space in preschool!
Welcome to Berkeley! Have you had a look at Griffin Nursery School? If not, I highly recommend it. My first born, now a first grader went there and I can not even begin to tell you what a wonderful foundation it was for him. It is a child-led, play-based gem that has been around since the 50's and few people know about it. The classroom is calm and you'll notice that there is no shouting or chaos. The teachers physically kneel down to the children's level when speaking to them and they speak to them with respect and genuine concern. At Griffin, children aren't told that they have to share. They are instead fed the social cues, ''Who had the toy first''? ''Well Thomas, why don't you ask Jenny if you can play with it when she is finished using it''? ''Is that alright with you, Jenny? What would you like to say to Thomas''? You get the picture.

At Griffin the teachers play more of a role of facilitators. Deacon and Jeffrey will find Rose (who is the outdoor teacher) to ask her for bungee cord to make their water tubes channel the water under the sand tunnels. It is just a fabulous learning environment. The children learn how to relate to one another, they learn by doing and they determine how. If the children want to ''write'' books, a teacher will set up a workstation and help the children sort out what supplies would work best. The children determine which room they'd like to play in and they can go outside at any time (even on rainy days). Children are allowed to just imagine, create, and relate on a very human level. I strongly recommend looking into Griffin for your little girl if you haven't already. Mama to a Griffinite

July 2013

My second son will be entering his second year at Griffin in the fall. His older brother also attended Griffin 2 years from 2010-2012. We could not be happier with Griffin. My first son was introverted, very unassertive and quiet before he started pre-school. He blossomed beautifully at Griffin socially and artistically in their play-based, unstructured creative curriculum. He loved going to school; he gained confidence, leadership skills, self-direction and made great friends there. My younger son, with a much different personality, is also thriving. While he is much more social, he is learning boundaries, resolving conflicts, and learning empathy and compassion. He, too, loves his days there. The intimate facility size, the lovely teachers, and resources are just right for little ones, and we especially loved the free access to the exterior for our boys. My only comments, while I do not see them necessarily as negative, are that the lack of much structure (other than circle time) made the kindergarten transition a little difficult for our older son; and since there doesn't seem to be much of a track record for kids going to private schools afterwards, we had mixed luck getting our son accepted into private schools even with Betsy's glowing recommendation. Ultimately, however, my older son was accepted into what was probably our first choice private school (a Spanish immersion school) and did do well his kindergarten year. Even with that, we really value that kids should play as much as possible at that age and we wouldn't have changed a thing about his pre-school experience. happy Griffin parents of 2

May 2013

Re: Preschools in Southeast Berkeley
Welcome to the East Bay! The Le Conte/South Berkeley/Elmwood neighborhood is lovely. There are 5 pre-schools that I know about in our neighborhood: Sheffield Preschool, Model School, Higher Reach Learning, Heart's Leap and Griffin Nursery School. My son attended Griffin which is a sweet, little pre-school that is playbased and outdoor oriented (children have access to a outdoor space year round). The teachers are excellent, caring, and emotionally supportive of the children's growth and unfoldment. From your description of what you are wanting, Griffin would be an excellent match. You can read reviews on Berkeley Parents network and find out more or better yet just call Betsy Nachman the Director/Teacher who is awesome. Susan

June 2013

I noticed that there are not a lot of recent reviews of Griffin Nursery School and I am writing to wholeheartedly recommend it! It's a true gem of a school in Berkeley. The lead teacher, Betsy, has a true gift with children. It's a peaceful, joyous place - kids are so happy, nurtured, and loved there. It's a play based program with an emphasis on social and emotional growth - so kids are learning to play together with gentle guidance and support. And, the kids just love it. The play is so imaginative and full. I could see my son's whole body getting totally into the world they were creating. It was a joy to be there and we miss it. I highly recommend checking it out - it's a special place. There are not many others like it. missing Griffin

March 2013

Re: Griffin Preschool vs. Heart's Leap
I can only speak to Griffin preschool which was wonderful for all three of my children. There is structure to the day and the kids do need to change activities and transition at certain points during the morning or afternoon schedule. My son often had a difficult time with transitions and the Griffin staff were thoughtful about working with him and helping him (and me!) identify that this was his challenge. He often had a hard time giving up the fun he was having (usually legos or outside digging and sand play) to come in, but with their help he learned to do it smoothly and without a fuss. I can't say enough good things about Betsy and all of the staff we have known and loved at Griffin. It is a truly wonderful and special place for children. All three of my children have beloved memories of Griffin.

Jan 2013

My 2.5 year old will be starting preschool next fall and we love The Griffin Preschool (and Monteverde and Hearts Leap). My only concern is that my child is a big napper and I can't imagine that she won't be at age 4. Have any other parents had to figure this out at The Griffin Preschool? Since the 3's go in the morning, it won't be an issue for another year, but I don't want to commit for two years if the schedule won't work in the second year. My other question for you Griffin parents is how it felt to have your 4's go in the afternoon? Any thoughts/feelings/advice about Griffin (or preschool in general) is welcome! Thanks so much. Mom of napper

My daughter now, 4.5 will graduate Griffin and enter K this year and my second daughter will be entering Griffin this fall. I had the same worries you did about napping. My first daughter was an avid napper (so is my 2nd for that matter) and I worried about losing this nap her second year. It, however, was a total non issue. She was really ready at that time to drop her nap. I could tell because if she did nap, she'd stay up waaaaay past her bedtime because she just simply wasn't tired. At the beginning of the year I used to nap her on Fridays or the weekend if I needed a break or thought she needed it, but we've dropped that altogether. I love the schedule and it completely makes sense for the age, although it may seem hard now to see how it could work, it will
Happy Griffin Mommy (and kid)- maybe we'll see you there in the fall!
My 4 year old daughter is thriving at Griffin Nursery School and I highly recommend it. The environment there is nurturing and supportive. Betsy really has a knack for hiring caring and sensitive staff. They all seem to know just when to give support without overwhelming the kids. The kids are given the tools to learn how to interact and deal with themselves as well as others. There is a strong emphasis on social skills and a sense of freedom to expand themselves. They have the best wooden toys and they make great use of the space. All the children seem at home there. They are given time and space, and the love and direction to bloom. Betsy has a knowledgeable and sensitive approach to parenting that is inspiring. Magali
Nov 2012

Hello, I've checked the archives and haven't found any recent reviews of Griffin Nursery School in Berkeley. Does anyone have any feedback, both positive and negative? Thanks! alex

Hi, I just looked at the most recent reviews for Griffin Nursery School (2011), and I would say they are still relevant and current, thoughtful and accurate. In fact, the school is one of the most established, consistently excellent early childhood programs around. I have a 10 year old and a 5 year old who both went to Griffin (as recently as 8/12), so we have enjoyed a number of years at this very special school. I feel so fortunate that my children got to experience such a nurturing environment that also challenged them to grow and thrive socially, emotionally and intellectually. Many educators and psychologists send their children to Griffin, which is testimony to their deep understanding of early childhood development and the respect they receive in the professional community. When I first saw the school I wondered if the physical space was too small, but it turned out to be just right. The spaces are beautifully designed and allow children to explore while at the same time feeling safe and secure. I was also always impressed at how tidy everything is kept--it's visually calming for the children that things are kept neat, but the space is also kept clean and hygienic--important for little ones (these things can't be taken for granted)! Betsy is a blessing, and all the teachers we have known there have been highly skilled, emotionally astute, kind individuals. It's idyllic, really. (If you couldn't find the 2011 reviews: Grateful Griffin Alum Family
Oct 2011

Re: intimate play-based preschool
Look at Griffin nursery school in south Berkeley. It's a very sweet place all of your criteria would be met I think except that they don't do a lot of community building. But my son was very peaceful and happy there. It's very special! Kelley

Sept 2011

Re: Relocating to the Bay Area, looking for a walkable neighborhood
If you are still looking for a preschool you should definitely be in touch with Betsy at Griffin Nursery School. I just saw on the website that she's still looking for girls in the morning program. We've been delighted by Griffin in the year that we've been there. The teachers at Griffin are warm and deeply experienced. I feel like I learn from them all the time (and I've spent a good chunk of my adulthood studying how kids learn!) When I share a behavior that I am trying to resolve with my son, their answers often surprise me (in a good way!), and help me think about the issue from his perspective in ways I could not have otherwise. It's such a safe and sweet setting, really very charming. We found it easily, since our close friends had sent their kids there and were very happy with it, but some of the parents of our son's Griffin-friends checked out many other preschools and at least two of them have emphasized to me how lucky we were to find our way to this special place. The big trick is that kids only go for half a day the first year, and in the second year you can add extra hours, but I think it's worth it to figure out other childcare for the rest of the time you need. And yes it's not the co-op I'd always hoped we'd join once we had kids (we're in South Berkeley and I didn't want to spend so much time commuting to preschool, but I can understand your interest!), and I don't know what being in a co-op is like, but I think this is as close as you are going to get outside of a co-op. Maminka

August 2011

Griffin Nursery School is an excellent preschool. Betsy, the director and head teacher, has a rare and wonderful ability to communicate and facilitate interactions with young children. Both my boys have attended the school. They have been nurtured, honored, challenged, and engaged by the entire staff. The facility is also quite special: it is a house transformed into a school layout with a gorgeous backyard (with play structures, gardens, swings, etc). I feel very lucky to have found this school and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a traditional, play-based preschool. Robyn

July 2011

Our son is finishing his first year at Griffin Nursery School in south Berkeley. We looked at a number of preschools very carefully before deciding on Griffin and we are extremely happy with our choice. I (mom) am a child psychologist and had heard from colleagues over the years that Griffin was a very special place, and this has proven to be true. Griffin excels at understanding and supporting preschoolers' emotional and social growth and development. From our first visits to Griffin, the director's sensitivity and attunement to our son's emotional state enabled her to respond to him in a very nuanced way, knowing when to move back a few steps, when he needed a transitional object to help him leave, helping him put words to his feelings, etc. In terms of socialization, the focus seems to go way beyond turn taking and conflict resolution to helping the children relate in a way that fosters the building of friendships.

Many schools purport to have an emergent curriculum, and my sense is that Griffin had one before that term was even around. The school is small enough and well staffed enough with talented and creative teachers that they can really elaborate the children's interests. For example, our son had a particular interest in music and instruments; many times when I picked him from school up I learned that one of the teachers had either brought in unusual instruments from home, had worked with the children to "build" a piano using a painted standard board and black tape for the keys, or had worked on a rap song following a child's initiation. And that was on top of the regular music curriculum offered by the school. Another example of the school's sensitivity and individualized attention: At one parent-teacher conference we were given a transcription one teacher had made of conversations between our son and his friend, in order to give us a sense of his language development and a window into what he had been working on at school. In addition, the staff was very sensitive and responsive when our son had a medical issue which required intervention during school hours. The teachers came early to school one day to be trained by a medical professional and then carried out the treatment once per nursery school day for many weeks.

Betsy Nachman, the Director, is a gem. She has tremendous expertise and experience with early childhood development. She has a very warm, calm, patient, and caring presence and is always available to parents. When I had some concerns about my son's development early on she listened carefully, did not dismiss my concerns but was also very containing, gave me her perspective on what might be going on, invited me to come in and observe, etc. All of the teachers are wonderful and have their own strengths. Our son has formed a relationship with each of them. We can't recommend Griffin highly enough. Happy Griffin parents

June 2011

I am a parent of a five-year-old who is finishing her second year at Griffin Nursery School. My husband and I have been delighted with this play-based school. What stands out the most to us about it is the way it teaches children about relationships with their peers. The staff excels at giving the children both the space and support they need to learn about how to express themselves and also listen to others, how to be flexible in their friendships. We have also felt supported and guided in our development as parents at Griffin. All of the teachers at the school have modeled for us helpful tools, such as fostering dialogue between children if a conflict emerges so they can begin to find their own solutions, setting healthy limits in a loving, firm way, and setting up a system in which children's innate quest for independence is supported (for example, I have seen my daughter find a sign to put by her food when stepping away for a moment to let others know she was not yet done eating). We have always appreciated how our daughter has been seen for who she is as an individual by all the staff members, and supported just where she is and in the unique ways she needs to grow. This attentiveness to each individual child begins even before the first day of school when Betsy Nachman, the director, visits each family's home. Betsy has the rare gift of being an excellent communicator with both children and adults, and she is a thoughtful liaison between the children, the staff, and the parents. We cannot recommend Griffin highly enough. Krista

Feb 2011

Re: Oakland/Berkeley Preschools with Caring Teachers
I have had three children attend Griffin Nursery School in Berkeley. The staff there is outstanding and they have had very little teacher turnover in the eight(!) years that we have been attending. Parents drive there from as far as Lafayette and Kensington because the director, Betsy Nachmann is so warm and caring. Teacher Rose is fantastic. All three of my kids have very different personalities and each had a super experience. I have looked at other nursery schools over the past few years (seeking something closer to home) but realized I wouldn't change if you covered our tuition somewhere else. Happy mama

Oct 2008

Re: Afternoon Preschool Programs
Griffin Nursery School in Berkeley has an afternoon program for the 4 year olds. Three year olds attend mornings. 4 year olds have the option of attending all day. A handful attend full days 1-2 days/week. Very few attend full time every day. A great place. Happy Griffin parent

Sept 2008

Re: Any openings at your kid's great preschool?
Try giving Griffin Nursery School a call. I believe there might be a last minute spot available. South of Cal campus. Great place. In our second year

July 2008

Re: need a preschool for my twins
Hi My daughter spent two years at Griffin nursery school. She is now starting second grade. I think Griffin is a wonderful place. The teachers are well trained, smart, thoughtful and kind. There is minimal scheduling and regimentation. The children have access to both inside play areas and outside play areas at all times. There is always at least one teacher inside and another outside to welcome the children and engage them. The kids have a lot of autonomy to pick what interests them. They have free access to their lunch boxes throughout the day and a teacher available to invite their friends to join them at the table. My daughter loved Griffin and still remembers it fondly. When I was choosing a preschool I remember thinking that it was the only preschool that I personally would have wanted to stay and spend the day in. The children seem focused, engaged, (mostly) calm and happy. I'm sure your kids will love Griffin if you can make their schedule work for you. It is a classic nursery school with a morning schedule for the younger ones and an afternoon schedule for four year olds. If you are wondering specifically about how the school would handle separation, I suggest you call the director, Betsy, and ask her directly. I think you will find the school to be as she describes it. Good luck. nostalgic Griffin parent

January 2006

Re: Preschools that value guidance and humor

Hello, I would definitely visit Griffin Preschool in Berkeley, South of Campus on Prince Street, just off Telegraph Avenue. Wonderful teachers. Play based, but the curriculum is socialization which is so important. It is play based but the children are directed in their play and negotiation skills day to day. The environment is calming for parents as well as children. They are empowered knowing they have choices in their day at school, a very special place away from home. They are listened to and known as little people, not merely shuttled from project to project in a day. Call to schedule a visit, you will surely be impressed. A very happy Griffin parent

Feb 2005

I was looking for some feedback on Griffin preschool. Specifically what the transition from such a play-based program to a more academic Kindergarten program, like Bentley, was like. Thank you.

Griffin is a wonderful preschool. I think it prepares children to enter any type of kindergarten program. At Griffin the teachers respect each child's own learning process and believe that children learn through playing. But, my child frequently writes length books as part of her playing! I believe that preschool is a time for children to explore, play and form friendships. The teachers at Griffin are wonderful at supporting a child in these endeavors. It's a warm, safe school with wonderful materials for children.

I can't comment firsthand on how a child from Griffin might transfer to a school such as Bentley since my child is still attending Griffin, but I think the transition would be smooth. I would just make sure that you are comfortable with a program which allows children to direct their own play and learning (as Griffin does). If that is what you are looking for, then Griffin is an amazing place for preschool! A Happy Griffin Parent

Sept 2004

Anyone interested in an outstanding traditional nursery school program should look no further than Griffin Nursery School. My daughter just finished two years there and I just learned that they have two openings in their morning program. Located in Berkeley (Prince St.), Griffin has been providing child care services for over 30 years. The program is child-centered, rich with materials for exploration, and marvelous, caring staff. I highly recommend it! Contact Betsy Nachman, Director at 845-2025.

March 2004

I am looking for current thoughts on Griffin preschool in Berkeley. I checked the archives, but the postings were older. Has anyone been involved with the school since the interim director (Carlyn) has been there? Thank you for your input.

I can highly recommend Griffin Preschool under the interim director, Karlyn Scott. Our three-year old daughter attended Griffin last year and she loved it, as did we. The teachers were very warm, caring and provided endless support to her during her transition period (she was having significant separation problems) and she loved the flexible schedule--the kids decide what they want to do, when they want to eat their lunch, etc. She did some amazing art projects and went from screaming when I left in the morning to begging me to sign her up for more school time there. We left when we needed full-day care, as their current program only allows half-days for kids under age 4. Karen
We have been a Griffin School family for the past five years-- our second child is finishing up this spring/summer. We are very, very happy there. We love the size of the school, its rich history and sound progressive philosophy. When I was looking for a preschool, someone told me that ''Griffin School raises good people,'' and I found that very powerful. As a Griffin School parent, I would agree. Their focus is very much on helping children develop their interests and passions, balanced with helping them navigate the world of social interaction and emotions. My kids have both emerged confident, happy people who are interested in the world and other people and comfortable with themselves.

The current staff is incredibly well-calibrated. The teachers are experienced, loving and deeply knowledgeable about children and committed to the ethos of the school without being preachy or overbearing. Betsy Nachman, the director, is a very special person and teacher, and she is away on a leave, but Karlyn Scott, the acting director, is strong, kind, responsive and wonderful in her own ways. And Rose Gilles, the director of the afternoon program, has been at Griffin for years and is one of the most wise and emotionally intelligent teachers I know. We are devoted to Betsy, but have been very, very happy the past two years despite her absence.

Be aware that the school is a play-based preschool, which means that there is no introduction of worksheets or other paper/pencil tasks. There's lots of learning and stimulation, but it emerges out of the kids' interests. Good luck in your search. lm

Hi, My daughter has been at Griffin for over a year now. We are all very pleased with it. The kids get a lot of individual attention, and the focus is on socialization, building community and creativity. The school has great indoor/outdoor space and an extensive and eclectic collection of toys and activities. The (temporary) change in director occurred just weeks after we signed up, so we have only really known the school under Carlyn's leadership. We think she and the other teachers (several of whom have been at Griffin for many years) are wonderful. Feel free to email me if you want specifics. Dana
Jan. 2004

Hi, I am looking at Griffin and am a little hesitant because of their apparent lack of structure could anyone please share some current thoughts on this. Also we will want our daughter to go to private like Head Royce and curious if anyone from there has found that a hard transition from no structure to Kindergarten at a private school. megan

Hi, My daughter has been at Griffin for about a year now, and we are all quite happy with it. When she started, I wondered about the lack of structure too. But now I see it more as a child-driven structure rather than a lack of structure. The kids tend to have their own routines and habits (when they like to eat, when they go outside, etc.) within the open school schedule.

In terms of curriculum (if you can use that word with preschools!), the only thing the school consistently puts forward is a focus on interpersonal relations: how to make and keep friends, how to get your needs met in a group, how to resolve conflicts, etc. They are very focused and adept at teaching these skills.

Beyond that, the kids bring their own interests into the classroom, and the teachers support those through their choice of available books, toys, and activities. They're able to do this because it's a small place. Having watched this in action for a while, I think the approach is effective because it recognizes that you can't really teach a four-year-old about something that doesn't interest them. I find it refreshing that Griffin doesn't adhere to a pre-planned program of seasonal content that may not be relevant to their students.

I don't yet have experience with the transition to kindergarten, but I am hoping that kindergartens are by their nature designed to help kids make the transition from self-driven activities to the more formal expectations that school will place on them. Feel free to email me if you have want more information. Dana


Regarding Griffin Pre-School. My daughter attended the Griffin School ten years ago so my comments may not be accurate for today. However, it was great. The school concentrated on socialization. There were no real academics. Mrs. Griffin knew each child, their particulars, academic prowess, etc. Many of the children who attended the school are now very successful individuals/highschoolers. Carol

I had two wonderful experiences at Griffin. Two daughters (now 12 and 6) each went there for two years and loved it. The director (Betsy Nachman) takes great pains to know each child as an inividual and to bring out the best in them. What I enjoyed most is that it was not "teacher driven". The adults are there to help the kids work/play with each other and develop real social skills. They can be inside all day or oustide all day, they can eat when they want (big hit with alot of kids). There is limited "must do" activities. I highly recommend this sort of free play environment
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