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Growing Light Montessori (Kensington & Oakland, CA)

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Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > Preschools & Daycare > Growing Light Montessori


Kensington Site
  • Owner: Surya Voinar Fowler & Rachel La Field
  • Phone: (510)527-1278
  • Email:
  • Neighborhood: Arlington Av
  • Zip: 94707
  • License #: 073405631 (view)
  • Capacity: 68
  • Website: www.growinglight.net
  • Bilingual:
  • Ages: 2 years - 2nd grade
Oakland Site
  • Owner: Rachel La Field
  • Phone: (510)336-9897
  • Email:
  • Neighborhood: Lincoln Av, near Mormon Temple
  • Zip: 94602
  • License #: 013415884 (view)
  • Capacity: 64
  • Website: www.growinglight.net
  • Bilingual: Spanish
  • Ages: 2 years - 2nd grade

March 2014

Re: Bright Star (or other Montessori) for May
Hi- Welcome to the East Bay! We were in your shoes about three years ago. I'd like to recommend Growing Light Montessori School. My older kid transitioned there from his SF Montessori school and now my three year old is in the toddler room. Although it is in Kensington, that's not too far from Albany. Check it out. Montessori Mama


Dec 2013

Re: Recently moved and no space in preschool!
HI, we had both our kids at Growing Light Montessori when they were 2.5 until Kindergarten and we loved it. If you haven't checked there for availability, we'd recommend it. It is a Montessori school without being ''too'' Montessori.http://www.growinglight.net/enrollment/kensington-application/ It is in the church across from Kens Library and there are several schools that lease space there. Good luck! Luisa


July 2013

After successfully enrolling our son in Transitional Kindergarten in Piedmont we will no longer be taking our spot at Growing Light Montessori in Oakland so they have a spot open in their Wizards PreK/K Class that I would like to help them fill.

Growing Light is a charming preschool and on all our visits we have been impressed with the warm, friendly, respectful and fun - yet calm - environment. The teachers and children all seem very engaged and happy to be there. Some part of every day is Spanish immersion which drew us to the school in the first place. The school campus is on the site of the Greek Orthodox church and is a lovely, large, well organized site. The Wizards class runs from 8.45am-3pm however they also offered extended care for parents needing full day care.

If you are still looking for a school this fall for your 4-6year old I strongly suggest visiting Growing Light Montessori.


May 2013

I wanted to share the amazing experience that I had with Growing Light Montessori School of Kensington. All three of my children graduated from the program not only ready for elementary school but ready to be amazing citizens of the world. The way the teachers implement the Montessori Curriculum is very holistic and true to the philosophy. The kind teachers set examples for the children of how to treat others and solve problems in a powerful way. Many of the teachers have been teaching at the school for more than 10 years some even close to 20. My children learned the basics and were ahead of their peers. They weren't pressured, only inspired to learn and discover new ideas and concepts.

The best thing we got from the school was the community. My kids have all remained friends with their classmates from preschool. As a parent, I made great relationships too and I still see many of the other parents and even the teachers. We loved our experience and highly recommend this school to everyone. They have now added an early elementary program which is great for kids who are not able to attend Kindergarten due to the new age requirements. If you have any questions or want a tour just call Surya. 510-527-1278. She is wonderful . Margaret


April 2013

I am a Mom of two girls ages 5 and 7. And our family has been with Growing Light Montessori School for over 5 yrs. I am happy to say that we have been and continue to be extremely grateful for their nurturing and skilled teaching environment. The administrators as well as the teachers are all keen communicators in keeping us informed on a daily basis. I find Growing light is a very diverse community where families become life long friends. My 7 yr. old still keeps in touch with her friends that she made in the toddler program. Both of my girls are enthusiastic about school with a love for learning that I credit to all the teachers here at Growing Light. I highly recommend Growing light Montessori School to whoever is looking for a perfect spot for their child. A Very Happy Parent


Feb 2013

I was wondering if any current or recent parents could share their experience with Growing Light Montessori School in Oakland? I'm looking to start my toddler there just after he turns two. The teachers seemed loving and I liked the student-to-teacher ratio seemed very good. How has your young child settled? Do the children actually learn any Spanish (I saw all of the Spanish-speaking teachers speaking English)? How ''montessori'' is it and how are the academics--are children well-prepared for kindergarten by the time they leave (counting, reading, etc.)? Do you kids look forward to going to ''school'' most days? What do you like or dislike about the school? Soon-to-be mom of a preschooler


My son is in the Honeybees class class at Growing Light and absolutely adores his teachers. He loves school and looks forward to going almost everyday. As for Spanish he knows some really basic stuff like numbers, songs, colors, days of the week, etc. Email me directly if you have more questions.
Both of my sons attended Growing Light Montessori School in Oakland. My oldest is now thriving at a well regarded private school and my youngest is in the Lovebirds classroom. GLMS is the perfect combination of Montessori, with each child choosing their jobs and really diving into the learning at their own pace, and play. The teachers are absolutely wonderful, very warm, nurturing, and excellent at communicating with families regularly. I receive emails probably several times a month from my son's teacher and she is always happy to check in with me when I drop off in the mornings. My older son left GLMS writing, reading short books, and knowing simple addition as well as integers....incredibly well prepared for Kindergarten and most importantly, loving school. The curriculum and the Montessori method really builds on children's natural curiosity, and the multi-age classrooms not only allow children to challenge themselves with more advanced materials, but also lets them be the teachers for younger children, which has been a lovely benefit for my younger son. The office is organized and the administration has an open door policy and there is an active PTO at the school. In terms of Spanish, my kids both benefitted from their introduction to the language at GLMS and are able to converse with me and others but are not fluent. My older son has a gorgeous accent though, which was lovingly instilled by his preschool teachers. It is a special place, and I heartily recommend it. Mom of GLMS boys
Aug 2012

I am interested in hearing from parents whose children attend Growing Light Montessori. We are looking into local Montessoris and are considering Growing Light for our toddler. Thoughts? oakparent


Our son is about to start his third year at GLMS and we couldn't be happier with the place. The teachers are top-notch; very loving, attentive, imaginative. The school is administratively run very well, which makes life a little easier on the parents.

The school has a great parent community, the kids all seem to thrive and learn, and it's all done in a very nurturing environment. Our son's social and academic development has been really amazing to watch over the last couple of years. If I could keep him there until he was 18 I would. Feel free to email me if you have more questions. leslie


Sept 2011

I wanted to respond to a posting asking about Montessori Schools in the area. I used to teach at Montessori Schools and I am teaching First Grade in Oakland.

I am currently a parent of a 2.5 year old at Growing Light Montessori School in Oakland. I am well versed in all three campuses and have nothing but wonderful things to say about the staff, environment and heart of the place. GLMS is a community. You are not just buying into a school but a group of like minded people. GLMS is open and accepting. It is incredibly diverse and meets the needs of all learners.

They are rooted in caring and the school exudes a warmth that I am comfortable and impressed by. The teachers are Montessori trained, communicate well with parents and ensure that the children are safe, loved, happy and thriving. I work many hours and my son's teachers have helped make the transition easy for both myself and my son.

I'd highly recommend taking a tour and checking things out for yourself. Debra


Feb 2011

I am looking for more recent comments on Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. The last posting was in 2009. anon


Our daughter has been at Growing Light for about 6 months and we are VERY pleased with the school and program. The school is VERY well run and organized. Teachers are excellent with the kids, accessible to parents and seem to be on top of everything. The schedule offers a good balance between Montessori work time, free play time outside and optional classes like cooking, creative movement and science. We have no complaints and would recommend without reservation. Mary
July 2009

Re: Pre-K programs with shorter day
Growing Light Montessori school (with campuses in Oakland and Kensington) has a 1/2 day option. It is a wonderful Montessori with well trained teachers, and a warm, caring environment. Both my children went there, and we highly recommend it. A happy parent


June 2009

Re: Year-round all day preschool in Berkeley/Albany
Check out Growing Light Montessori school, which is right on the Arlington, 5 min. away from Berkeley. It is a very established Montessori school with well trained teachers, a warm environment, and a good balance between academics and freedom. My children went to school there, and really blossomed. The school is year-round with extended care until 6pm. It is a wonderful place. Happy mom


April 2009

Re: Looking 4 preschool for 4 yr twins w/kindergarten
Check out Growing Light Montessori, which has campuses in Kensington (10 min. drive from Berkeley, 5 min. from Albany), and in Oakland. The school goes from toddler classroom through kindergarten. There's no parent participation requirement. More over, it is an authentic Montessori school, a warm community with well trained staff members and teachers who have a remarkably low turn-over, and also, it has a low teacher/student ratio. My older daughter graduated from there last year, and the younger one is still happily thriving there. The school works wonders. Katrine


Dec 2008

I wanted to post a glowing recommendation for Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. It is a fantastic place for children to learn, to grow and to explore. Our son is in the toddler program and has been since the beginning of September. He is thriving--learning all sorts of things and making wonderful new friends under the tutelage of two gifted, loving and talented teachers, Hannah and Jason. The director, Surya, is wonderful--hands-on, aware of happenings in all of the classrooms and always available with a kind word for children and parents. Our son was ill this week and came back to find a handwritten card from his class wishing him well. Contrast this to our cooperative preschool last year where, when he was hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery, we heard not even a single expression of concern or support from the teachers or director. Our son is an asthmatic and the staff at the school is on top of his condition--we really feel safe having him in their care. Enrichment activities and special programs are constantly offered, as is childcare during days that the campus is not normally in session. If there is a better place for a child to thrive, we haven't heard of it! Happy Parent


Nov 2008

Re: Looking for a Small Size, Structured Preschool
I highly recommend Growing Light Montessori. My older child just graduated from there, and my second one is currently in its preschool. It is a very well run, authentic montessori school, stuctured though by no means rigid, with a developmentally approriate approach. The teachers are skilled, compassionate, intuitive, and appreciate each student's personality and learning style. Because of its low student/ teacher ratio (roughly 7 to 1), the children do receive individual attention. Please feel free to contact me with futher questions. katibet


Nov 2007

Re: Preschools with Male Teachers
my daughter went to Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. there are two wonderful male teachers-- Jason in the toddler room & Nobu in the primary class. they are kind, fun, silly & gentle men who truly love children. there are also 2 male subs. Virginia


Nov 2007

Re: Seeking preschool with working mom's hours!
Growing Light Preschool in Kensington has working parent hours. They also provide childcare (at an additional cost) during the school breaks. You noted that you are on the wait list for Via Nova. Just thought I would mention that VN closes for about 5 weeks out of the year (Christmas, Summer and Spring vacations) and DOES NOT provide any additional childcare. -working single mom


June 2007

Re: Day camp for 5 year old
Check out Growing Light Montessori on Lincoln Ave (near the Mormon Temple). Summer camp is open to the public for kids as young as entering K (my daughter is also 5). Camp has different fun themes each week and swimming lessons are at Head Royce school each day for the first six weeks of camp. I don't know if there are still spots or not but it's a great place.


May 2007

Re: Montessori Preschools in Kensington/El Cerrito
My son has attended GLMS for a year now, and his dad and I are really really happy with the school, but it depends on what you want. My son had a rough adjustment period and the admin took the time to meet with us multiple times and give us ideas on how to help the transition. I feel that more than just learning stuff, I really feel like my son is learning to be a good person. They talk a lot about respecting the environment, learning about other cultures, feelings, etc. I like the other parents. I don't find it snobby. I can't speak about Keystone since my son never went there, but I think the parents of children that attend there like it too. I think either would be a good choice. Happy GLMS parent


Feb 2007

I am looking at Growing Light Montessori for the toddler program. When I toured, I did not see many toys or activities in the toddler room. I was wondering if someone could tell me about their experience there. I know there will be a new director -- will this be a positive change? Thank you


I have a son now at GLMS that started out in the toddler/2-yo classroom. Jason, who is still in that classroom, was one of my child's teachers. We have been very pleased with all the teachers at GLMS, and our children have thrived in the environment at GLMS. I never thought about the ''amount'' of toys available to the kids in the classrooms-- it never seemed to be an issue-- all kids always found something to do (indeed that is part of the Montessori philosophy-- to have the kids be able to follow up a particular interest) and that was the case for the 2yo's too-- plenty of group and individual play interspersed with teacher-led activity. I hope you find it to your family's liking. luisa
Perhaps a little more understanding of the Montessori method would help. 1) There are not many ''toys'' in the classroom because it is indeed a school, where students, no matter how young, do ''work,'' mostly individually on ''materials'' at each station. 2) Not sure what you meant by ''not much activities.'' No, you will mostly likely not see much rote, top-down ''teaching,'' per se -- at least I hope not. The activities are motivated by each individual child's choice -- i.e. developmental needs -- at any given time, and the teacher facilitates and guides the process. And the result is a civilized little human being who has a firm grasp on his/her own internal rythm, thriving in a calm environment. Our older child is currently at Growing Light, and the younger one will start in the fall. Both my husband and I hold master's degrees in elementary school education, and after visiting about a dozen schools, we chose Growing Light -- our answer for you? ''Go for it.'' Growing Light is a wonderful school, and in the toddler room, both teachers are exceptionally talented in what they do. Happy Parents
Our daughter went to Growing Light Montessori in Kensington from age 2 thru age 6, and we loved it. In the toddler program, you mention that there aren't a lot of toys out. They actually have many toys and activities, but carefully set up the classroom with a reasonable amount displayed, with items at the correct developmental level for the individual kids. They then swap out the activities continuously throughout the year. One thing I loved, especially about the toddler program, was that the activities were teaching important skills and concepts, but were done in such a way that our daughter felt like she was playing the whole time. There were interesting motor skills activities, early number and learning activities, and other things as well, all done in a wonderful, fun, nurturing environment. I also liked the fact that they took the best ideas of Montessori, but were not overly dogmatic about it. We're definitely fans! Marilyn
Our nearly 3 year old boy/girl twins are currently enrolled in the Toddler Room at Growing Light in Kensington. Here are a few thoughts in response to your question about the toys and activities in the toddler room, and about our experience at Growing Light more generally. First about our experiences in general: We (parents and each child) have been very happy at Growing Light. Our kids are very different from each other (one is more physical/tactile and socially-driven, the other is more verbal and self-driven), and each has gotten a lot out of the program. Our tactile/social kid ADORES the Montessori toys/materials, which often involve manipilating objects with his hands, and te seems to love the social environment of being around other children at preschool -- he talks about his school friends constantly. Our verbal/self-driven kid loves singing at home all of the songs she has learned in school and since starting school seems to thrive on chosing to focus her attention for a relatively long time on a given activity (e.g., play dough, building with train tracks). The teachers in the toddler room are terrific at respecting the needs of each individual child, and creating a fun/nurturing environment. Both of our kids have just blossemed, in their own way, since starting at the school last Fall and each has developed strong self confidence. They are thrilled to go to school every Monday when a new week begins. As parents, we recommend the program without reservation, and as they will soon outgrow the toddler room, didn't think twice about signing them up for the 3-5 year old room upstairs for next year. As to your question about the toys and activities..... I suspect that you might be reacting to the look and feel of the Montessori-based materials, which are often made if wood and/or modelled on everyday practical objects, as opposed to looking like brightly colored ''toys''. Also, in the room the materials are all geared literally at the children's level (so they are 1-2 feet off the ground on low shelves as opposed to being at adult height). I guess all I can say is that our kids seem very well-stimulated by the materials. When we get to school in the morning, they run in and pick up something to play with, often before taking off their coats, and as best as we can tell are never bored (though we are not there during the day to observe them directly). The teachers seem to be thoughtful about switching the materials/toys/books around pretty frequently as well. As for group activities, our kids talk enthusiastically about cicle time, tea time, and playing outside, and they talk about the books at school and sing new songs from school all the time too. I hope this helps to answer your questions! Carolyn -- Growing Light parent
My son is currently enrolled in the toddler room at Growing Light, and is thriving. It's a warm and caring environment. I have never felt there weren't enough toys, in fact, it seems that the teachers spend a lot of time choosing toys to put out for the kids to work and play with, based on where they are developmentally. My son walks in and gets busy. Children are guided through a process at GLM that focuses on how to respect themselves, each other, and their environment. As such, each child plays with a toy on his or her own rug, and can work alone or with a friend, and must put the toy away once done with it (cleaning up!). That may be why you sensed a dearth of toys. There are a multitude of other ways the teachers, Jason and Hannah, engage the children, through art projects, song, puppet shows, yoga (''reach for the apple''), face painting, etc. Regarding Surya, the new director, she's actually not new, just new to the position, and she's a wonderful asset to GLM, in my opinion. She has worked there for over six years, so knows how it's run. She's been working side by side with Maggie for awhile now. She is approachable, and really good with the kids. When they're down a teacher, she goes into the classroom. I wouldn't worry about poor leadership under Surya, she's up for the job. Am happy to talk more offline about GLM or to answer other questions you may have, just let me know. Sara
Jan 2007

Re: Opening in any montessori preschool?
You might contact Growing Light Montessori. The school has had 2 campuses for years (Kensington and Oakland), and has just opened up a new campus in Lamorinda (Orinda I think). While the programs in Kensington and Oakland are probably full for 4 year olds, the Lamorinda location may have openings, since it is brand new (www.growinglight.net for more info). Our twins attend the two-year-old class in Kensington, and so far our family (kids and parents) have been very pleased with the school. Good luck! Best, Carolyn


June 2006

I would like feedback on people's experience at Growing Light Montessori in Kensington. Most of the feedback is either old or about the GL campus in Oakland. I am thinking about applying for my son who will be 3 in 2007.
Thank you


Growing Light is fabulous. The director and all of the teachers are just wonderful. We have been at the school for the past year and a half and will be there for another year. We can't wait to send our younger child there too. There are many positive things about Growing Light but if I had to mention one thing it would be that the teachers have a plan for each individual child. If there are things that your child lacks (mine was social skills) they will work with the family and the child on developing these skill sets and keep the family posted on the progress. I think we had at least 2-3 regular teacher/parent conferences and if we requested one, it was always scheduled. I recommend Growing Light without any reservations. smaa
January 2006

Re: Preschools that value guidance and humor

You should check out Growing Light Montessori School on Lincoln near Hwy 13. We chose it a few years ago for our then 2.5 year old daughter because it has just what you're describing. The preschool is calm and structured and somewhat ''academic'' while being also a lot of fun and very oriented toward each kid's needs. It's definately worth a tour.
was happy there for 3 years


The description of what you are looking for truly sounds like Growing Light Montessori School where my child has attended for about a year now. She loves it and we also want her to have the freedom to express herself in many ways. It is montessori but not strict- they bring in a lot of the teacher's own cultures, passions and desires of the children. It is warm, fun, engaging and developmentally appropriate. I know they have spaces in the toddler program for the summer/fall but the preschool/prek is pretty much filled up. Their website is www.growinglight.net and number is 336-9897x2 for admissions. They are off of Lincoln Ave (Fruitvale exit of 580) not far from Grand/Lake. Wendy
Sept 2005

I highly recommend Growing Light Montessori located at the Greek Church on Lincoln Ave. in Oakland. My 6 year old twins just started their 2nd year there, and I have been incredibly impressed with the care, attention and education that they've received--academic, social, emotional, physical, etc. The teachers are all phenomenal, and it's a wonderful, diverse and involved community. Unlike traditional montessori schools, GLMS has a 2-year old class, a 3-year old class, a 4-year old/pre-k class, a kindergarten, a first grade, and a lower elementary (2nd-4th). Although the classes are separated, there is a lot of opportunity for formal and informal interaction between children of different ages/grades. They currently have space in the Kindergarten, 1st grade and lower elementary classes. For more information,! contact the school at 336-9897. Also feel free to contact me with any questions. Amy


Feb. 2005

I noticed their ad in the last Schools newsletter and thought I would chip in with my 2 cents.

We transferred our then-3-year-old to their Kensington campus for preschool after discovering that the preschool he was in was physically abusing him (among other problems).

He loved Growing Light Montessori. They had wonderful toys which were also (of course) great learning tools; teachers who were loving, patient, creative, and attentive; really nice classroom layout; and a huge play area, with a separate smaller area for the younger children.

Connor was very happy there. Some of the things I remember most fondly:
* That there was always a teacher ready with some awesome art project or game in the mornings, as an alternative to just running around in the playground before school;
* That the teachers, and especially Maggie who is the director of that campus, were always willing to stop and talk to us parents about anything, and could do it while still being there for the kids;
* That they had really wonderful conflict resolution skills, and helped the children deal with their problems and come up with solutions without blaming or punishing anyone;
* That they had a good variety of very healthy snacks;
* That they were concerned with the quality of the children's food in general, with clear guidelines like ''no snacks that have sugar in the first three ingredients,'' and would tactfully bring it up with us if the lunches we sent were too small for him or weren't in line with the rules - they put the children's needs first rather than just kissing up to the adults as some schools do;
* That if our child had problems at school, they were eager to meet with us whenever was convenient to work out a mutual solution;
* That they had great, enriching activities in all areas and offered several extra activities like dance and Spanish for a fee that we could manage;
* That they were open to all suggestions and requests from the parents;
* That they had a really, really, really good school photographer who included candid shots of the children as well as a formal class photo, and black and white as well as color shots - his school photo from this year is still my favorite picture of him!;
* That they had a variety of community events throughout the year, like a ''celebrate your heritage'' potluck, that were interesting and exciting for the kids and let the families mingle and meet;
* That they have campuses in Oakland as well as Kensington;
* That they have after-school education so that (if necessary) a child can be in their supportive and loving environment from 8-6, and that they have excellent boundaries so that parents actually get their children by or before 6;
* That they were very willing to work with us when our finances shrank in the Great Dot-Com Bust -- we ended up doing a work-exchange for the fees and some of the tuition, and talked about scholarship possibilities for the future.

Personally, the thing I valued most about Growing Light is that when our child's emotional problems became too much for them, they were willing first to work with us to find a solution, and finally to honestly say that they did not have the resources to help him, and to recommend several therapeutic preschools that could better support his needs. They were willing to put our child's needs above their own and be totally clear about what problems they saw and what kind of attention and resources he needed.

I cannot think of a higher recommendation for a school than that, and I hope that someday he will be able to return to Growing Light and to Montessori education in general as an older and emotionally healthier elementary school student. And for his part, Connor has always rated Growing Light at the very top of the six schools he has attended in his short life, tied for first with Building Blocks (the wonderful therapeutic preschool he subsequently attended). Aidan


Growing Light is currently accepting applications for kindergarten through 4th grade, as well as preschool for ages 2- 5. This fabulous school, located on the site of the Greek church on Lincoln Ave., may be one of the best kept secrets in Oakland. The teachers are all extremely bright, creative, nurturing people who stimulate the children academically while encouraging and supporting their physical, social and emotional development. In addition to a rigorous, stimulating and integrated curriculum, starting in K, all children have physical education 2 times per week, and 1 or 2 enrichment classes such as music, art, gymnastics, etc. Each child also has an individualized work plan and is equally respected, encouraged and celebrated. The Kindergarten and elementary classes have monthly field trips that are educational and/or cultural. On a personal note, I have had the opportunity to go on most of the field trips with the K class this year and am continually impressed with how bright, well-behaved and respectful the children are. The school also has a wonderful sense of community with an incredibly committed director, numerous community activities planned throughout the year, and a newly formed and very active PTA. Finally, the director makes a concerted effort to keep the tuition among the lowest of private schools in the Bay area. In sum, I am, obviously, incredibly impressed with this school, which is in the process of expanding its elementary program. As a mom of 5 year old twins who started in the K class this year, I am happy to answer any questions. You can also call the school directly to ask questions or schedule a tour. The school's number is 336- 9897. Amy
Feb. 2004

Re: Montessori schools
Another good Montessori program is Growing Light Montessori. It has a Pre K/Kindergarten class at both of their locations - one of which is in Kensington. Their Kindergarten teacher, Deborah Carr, is the best! Call Maggie Scheving at 527-1278.


Jan 2004

Hi, I am interested in the Oakland campus of Growing Light Montessori prescool. There are many recommendations about the Kennsington Campus but very few about the Oakland one. I'd like to hear anything positive or negative about it as we are trying to narrow down preschool options for next year that are near my workplace which is in the Dimond district.... Thank you, Renee


My 3 year old son goes to Growing Light in Oakland and we love it. The preschool teacher, Tew, is an amazing person and cares for each of the kids as if they were her own. She is very sensitive to the fact that each child is an individual and is always striving to find the right key to open them up. I am constantly amazed by things my son is learning and the projects she has them doing, from learning the continents to making soap. If you want more information, I would be happy to email or talk to you. Natalie
Nov 2003

We found a fabulous pre-k program for our child at Growing Light in Oakland. It is a Montessori based school with a lot of developmental and other strengths. They now have a pre-k class and an ''expanded'' kindergarten that is roughly 4.9 to 6.0. The beauty is that the classroom structure allows for each child to progress and develop at their own natural pace. There is no template to either hold the child back or push them beyond their readiness. The focus is on the love of learning and deveolping the social and emotional tools that are so essential. The teachers are truly exceptional. It is not unusual for children to spend 2 years in the kindergarten class, without any stigma. I see a huge shift in my daughter, now 6 and in her second year with the kindergarten teacher. Having the extra year and the continuity with the teacher and classroom has made a real difference. Also, if you are on the fence about kindergarten readiness, with this kind of classroom you have the flexibility to later decide what is the best progression. There can be real growth spurts at this time and for some children, the ''readiness'' can really change between 5 and 6. If you are interested in learning more I recommend you call or visit the school and see if it is a fit for you and your child. A good pre-k year can be a great gift to your child. Growing Light is on Lincoln Ave. in Oakland. Feel free to email me directly if you would like. Claudia


Aug 2003

Re: Urgent Need for Preschool
Growing Light Montessori in Kensington had spots as of a couple of weeks ago. They have a very gentle, Montessori inspired curriculum, large outdoor area, lots of great indoor activities, and extra classes and they serve organic snacks. You can contact Maggie. Good Luck!

Jan 2003

Our son is in first grade at Growing Light Montessori at the Oakland Lincoln campus. My husband and I are very pleased with the school. The teachers are first rate; they are caring, experienced, creative, and very in tune with their students. The school currently offers a preschool, a kindergarten class, and an elementary program. The elementary children work independently or in small groups with a concentration and focus that is impressive. The Oakland campus is establishing itself at the Lincoln site after moving from Berkeley. The school is relatively small but growing. At the moment, the elementary program is 1-3rd grade but the school plans to include a 4-6 class next year. The head of the school, Rachel LaField, does a great job of creating a wonderful and inclusive school community. Jean

October 2002

What you are looking for can be found at Growing Light Montessori in Kensington.

GLM has a toddler program for 2-3 years old. My daughter is attending that class for her second year (she will be 3 in December). Jessica and Surya are both excellent, imaginative, caring, sweet, creative and smart teachers; Jessica has been with the school for several years. Maggie, the director, has been with the school for 7 years, has 2 toddler in class herself, and is very responsive to parents concerns. My daughter loves it, we love it, and recommend it warmly.

I know they have openings in the toddler class. The current fee is $960 month for a full day/5 days + material fees.

The school also has shorter days with pick up at 12.30pm and 3.00pm. Maggie phone is 510 527 1278 Silvia


August 2002

Many Montessori schools don't take kids under 3. Growing Light does take them at 2. Our daughter just spent a year in the Toddler classroom, which she loved. I have raved about this school, and especially the teacher Jessica, on this forum before so you can check the archives, but my opinion got even stronger as the year progressed. It was a magical year for our daughter. She will be starting Berkeley Montessori next week, as it is much closer to our house and she would have been changing classrooms anyway, so I can let me know how that goes. Feel free to contact me offline about GLMS, and I could also give you some other names of parents to contact. nancy

October 2001

My daughter who is now 2.6 is at Growing Light Montessori in Kensington (about 3 miles north of the Marin circle on Arlington) and we are all totally in love with the place. She is in a toddler program with other 2 year olds and the teacher, Jessica, is one of the most intuitive, nurturing, gifted, and creative people I've ever witnessed with dealing with 2 year olds. It's my daughter's first preschool experience and she is thriving -- comes home just glowing. It is the perfect mix of free time and "work" and circle time, mixed in with very original group projects. She is forming some good friendships with the other 7 kids in the class. (There are 2 teachers for around 8 kids, which feels right.) They do mix a bit with the older preschoolers, but it is nice to have the toddlers kept slightly more protected -- they even have there own playground. The two women who run the school, Maggie and Rachel, are also extraordinary. Their insight and sensitivity has floored me, around topics like Sept. 11th, separation anxiety, etc. (I posted the things I learned from them about how to handle Sept 11th on the advice newsgroup topic.) We drive from south berkeley, which takes about 20 minutes, but it is very worth it. I couldn't imagine a more nurturing, fun, supportive, respectful place for our daughter. Good luck with your search! Their phone number is 510/527-1278. Nancy
Our three and a half year old son recently (two weeks ago) enrolled in Growing Light Montessori, which is in Kensington not far from Berkeley (and accessible by AC Transit via the H and 7 lines). When he enrolled they had four or so spaces available in the preschool class, and some in the toddler (2-3 years) class, I think. They also just opened an Oakland canpus off of Highway 13, but I haven't visited that one. The teachers at the Kensington campus are all extremely wonderful kind loving people who pay a LOT of attention to what the children are saying and doing, and who really communicate to the parents. They really encourage parent involvement, and seem to also be very respectful of each family's ability to be involved outside of just taking their child to and from school and preparing lunches and so on. It's a great environment: it's Montessori so everything is at the child's level and they get a lot of leeway in choosing what to work on and learn; they go on walks and field trips in small groups; the staff serves healthy and often organic snacks every day; the kids get picked up and get hugs and lots of other safe, loving, and appropriate touch.... We enrolled our child there in sort of a hurried emergency state after finding out (from him) that his previous preschool was doing things like grabbing him by the ear if he tried to escape from time out - the last in a long, long series of problems we had with them. So we're very happy to find that (on top of all their other good points and glowing recommendations on the website) they're kind and gentle with the children and have great discipline rules. (just confirmed this morning - they do still have openings.)
2001

We're looking for parents who can tell us about their children's experience at the Growing Light Montessori School. In particular we're interested in the Pre-Kindergarten/Kindergarten program at the Kensington campus. (I think the teacher's name is Pam?) Recommendations on the website seem to date from 1998 and earlier, when the school was located in Berkeley; it now has spaces in Kensington and Oakland. I don't know how much the staff is the same, except that Maggie, who was a teacher at the time of the recommendations on the website, is now the director at Kensington site.

Also, if anyone has any insight or experience on how appropriate it would be for a 5-year-old to start in that program - or any new preschool program; he's a little behind many agemates in certain motor skills and we don't think he'll be quite ready for a large kindergarten setting. My concerns are: How difficult would it be for him to adjust to the school given that most of the other children in his class would be moving up from the 3-4 room? Is it a good decision to put him in a school where he'll probably only be able to stay for one year? (Commuting to the Oakland campus to continue in elementary school does not seem like an option to us at this point.) Thanks. Deborah


It seems like you are in the situation my family was in last year. I had a 5 year old (in Sept.)daughter that I didn't feel was ready for a big kindergarten setting. Academicaly she could have handled it but emotionally and socially she was less mature than her peers. WE stumbled on Growing Light Montessori and were very unsure how it would all play out, the same issues were on our minds, going to a new school for just one year, being the oldest in the class, being the new kid on the block.

It has turned out to be a wonderful experience for my daughter. I feel like we gave her a gift by giving her this year. It has been great for her self esteem and confidence. Being the oldest in the class has helped her so much. She gets to feel proud of herself that she can do some things that the other kids are not able to do yet, and she actually helps the other children in learning some activities. She is not bored since it is a Montessori school and she can go at her own level.

The small class size is wonderful and consequently everyone plays together. Up until this year my daughter never played with a boy, but this year a couple of her best buddies are boys. It really is a sweet environment. The head teacher Pam knows her stuff, she has been a teacher for many, many years. Since the class size is so small she gets to know each child well, and works with their personalities to get the best out of each of them. I would highly recommend the Pre-Kindergarten/Kindergarten classroom at Growing Light in Kensington! Good Luck in your decision!


1998

My daughter, who is three and a half, started attending Growing Light Montessori School in July. So far I like it very much.

I like the general Montessori philosophy, but NOT in it's strictest form, e.g. in some schools learning materials are to be used ONLY in their "correct," prescribed Montessori way. Growing Light has the teachers PRESENT the materials in the "correct, prescribed" way but if the kids themselves come up with a new way to use the materials, that is considered fine and appropriate. As they say, after all, Dr. Montessori figured this stuff out by observing what actual children actually did ... paying attention to kids ... and that has great value.

In addition, G.L. has a very large fine playground with permanent structures (tree house, swings, wooden boat) and a garden ... some schools have only black tops with trikes and balls ... to me, very young children need a fair amount of outdoor time with good equipment as well as indoor time.

In addition, at G.L. snack is a communal activity where children are taught to serve each other food, and to say "yes please" or "no thank you" when offered food. My understanding of very traditional Montessori is that snack is entirely selfserve, complete with little signs, to teach premath (e..g "you may have TWO crackers and one-half cup juice.") My personal bias is that giving and accepting food in a gracious manner in a communal setting is a much more important skill for a young child than learning the concept of "one-half cup."

The learning materials are nicely presented, and grouped in areas, and children are taught to use one thing and put it away before moving on to the next thing. The preschool ages run from just 3 to 4 and 3/4s ... a typical Montessori strategy is to mix ages, which I also find quite helpful. Mary Carol


From: Alessandra (12/98)

I wrote already about our experience with GLMS back in March (Digest March 7, 1998). Our first child (now a second grader at Windrush) spent 3 years at GLMS starting at age 2 (from 1993 until the summer of 1996). And last September we enrolled our second child, age 2, who is happily attending now the toddler class and she is there for the full day.

It a great school! From the staff, all very experienced and loving, to the enviroment, clean, large, colorful. They have a great playgroung and the kids have a lot of fun also playing outdoor.

Their interpretation of the Montessori method is the best I have seen so far. While following a certain structure, and emphasizing respect for others and indipendence, they also provide a fun environment and they are very good on helping kids to develop their social skills.

heir curriculum is very reach. They read a lot, kids experience math with fun material, they sing, perform drama, learn about animals, the rainforest...These are just a few examples of what they do. Our first kid has been very happy there. The little one seems very happy too and she very enthusiastic every morning about going to school (this evening, when I went to pick her up, she didn't want to leave the school).

This year they opened a second "branch" of the school in Kensington. The main teacher of the toddler class, Julie, and co-founder of GLMS, is the director of the new site, therefore she is at the Eunice site only in the morning. We are kind of disappointed, mainly because, Julie, who is a great teacher, was always there when our first kid was attending GLMS, and we would have liked to have the same pattern with the second one. On the other end, we like very much also the other teacher of the toddler class, George, who is a lot of fun for the kids and I think does a great job.

The main preschool teacher, Maggie, is very good too, and we also know her from being the teacher of our first child. The rest of the staff, helping with the morning activities, and mainly there in the afternoon, consists mostly of the same people we know from the past experience, and they are all very loving, caring and creative people.

This year they are clearly going through a period of adjustment due, I think, to the extra work with the additional site, and also because of some changes in the staff. But, in spite of some occasional difficulties, at the organizational level, they are doing their very best to keep their high standards in the care for the children as they always had.

I'm confident that our experience with GLSM for the next three years will be as great as it has been in the past.


From: Mary Carol (3/98)

My daughter (who will be 3 in July) is scheduled to start at Growing Light in June. I looked at a half-dozen schools, including 3 Montessori-based schools, and picked Growing Light for a few reasons. The staff seem well-trained, responsive, kind. I went once during "class time," so I could observe the kids ... including my daughter ... interacting with materials, but once at playground time so that I could see how the kids functioned in a less structured time. One of the things that impressed me was that on the playground the children often ran up to one of the teacher/co-directors (the one who happened to be on yard duty that day) to talk with her, get hugs, whatever. Administrators can make any kind of clever verbal presentations to other adults, but if you just sit quietly on the yard for an hour and WATCH ... well, no one can get kids who are 2, 3, 4 to fake running up and showing affection in an unstructured setting. Such affection and trust is *earned* by adults, and it is real.

The outside space is large so there is lots of room for exercise and outside imaginative play. Inside seems well-equipped with age-appropriate Montessori learning materials. One thing I *didn't* like about the Oakland Montessori School, which is much more traditional Montessori, is that snacks are all self-serve. I am a person who believes in the value of collective eating; at Growing Light, snacks are served to the kids and eaten all at the same time. There are also regular story-reading times which is not part of real strict Montessori ... so Growing Light is a more "modified" program.

They have a philosophy of being committed to diversity, both in terms of racial/ethnic backgrounds of kids and teachers, and also family-types: heterosexual couples, gay couples and single parents all have kids at Growing Light.


From: Alessandra (3/98)

My first child spent 3 years at GLMS starting at age 2 (from 1993 until the summer of 1996).

Everything about that school is great! From the staff, all very experienced and loving, to the enviroment, clean, large, colorful. They have a great playgroung and kids have a lot of fun playing outside. Their interpretation of the Montessori method is the best I have seen so far. While following a certain structure, and emphasizing respect for others and indipendence, they also provide a fun environment and they are very good on helping kids to develop their social skills.

Their curriculum is very reach. They read a lot, kids experience math with fun material, they sing, perform drama, learn about animals, the rainforest...These are just a few examples of what they do. Kids are very happy there. My girl (now almost 7 year old - first grader at Windrush) still feels great affection for all the teachers of GLMS.

In fact, just recently we went to visit them again and found they have even improuved a few things (remodelled rooms and furniture). And the staff is unchanged which is great! We will enroll our second child (19 months old girl) for next fall when she'll be 2 years old. She will spend at least 3 years there, and I'm sure, as her big sister, she'll also have a wonderful time.


1997

In answer to your question about Growing Light Montessori School, my daughter, Sofie, who is now almost 5 1/2, has been at GLMS since she was 20 months old. I did not know much about Montessori education before she was enrolled there (and it can certainly be argued that I still don't know that much about it!), but I did take a trip down to the public library to do some research. Unfortunately, Maria Montessori's writings have either been poorly translated, or her writing style is very dated. They were difficult to get through. I solved this problem by picking up a fairly recent overview book about Montessori education. This seemed to answer most of my questions. (I think it was called "The Essential Montessori", or something along those lines.) One of the main tenets of Montessori education is that it focuses on what Montessori termed children's "sensitive periods" for building learning in a sequential fashion. Montessori thought that the urge for learning in children is a strong one, and that it is more worthwhile to give children activities to do that help them to focus on whatever that urge is within a particular sensitive period than simply allowing children to play aimlessly. Therefore, the education process focuses on the use of what are referred to as "materials" for learning which children have available to them (they are not forced to use them), in order to stimulate them at their own level.

At GLMS, they have materials set up at bookcases at the child's height (another thing about Montessori - everything is at the child's level --not the adults!). Some examples might be matching objects (like a piece of plastic fruit to a piece of fruit painted on a piece of wood, for example), or fitting objects into like-shaped slots, and so on. The methods have changed as my daughter has gotten older. I guess critics of the method might see them as rigid, but I don't, precisely because I have noted that the children seem drawn to the activities naturally. I was rather surprised to come in to class when my daughter was about two, and watch her calmly and methodically begin an activity using the materials and work her way through it and then put everything back as she found it. (This was when she was not even able to sit still, so I was pretty impressed to see her so focused and careful.) A sort of bonus out of all this is that I have noticed my daughter has an incredible respect for books (she chastises me if I fold a bookmark into a book I am reading!) and other learning materials.

Music and art are also widely used as part of the curriculum at GLMS. Jim Beatty of "Ha Ha This Away" does music and movement classes once a week during school (for what I see as I small charge), and the classes do performances for parents 2-3 times a year. They have also had Jennifer Berezan come and do music classes (singing along to a guitar with fun songs) with the kids, and recently they did clay classes, also at what I would consider a reasonable fee. When the children get into the pre-school program, they have the option of doing swimming lessons through the city of Berkeley during the summer. It has really helped my daughter get over her fear of the water.

One thing I have noticed as a parent is that structure is very important to both of my children. I think that the Montessori learning method provides a structure the same way rules, love and consistency of behavior provide structure to a child's life. It offers security and consistency without forcing the child to become engaged by allowing them to engage in the learning activities THEY feel drawn to.

What I have seen at GLMS is a loving and encouraging atmosphere for children. Ultimate respect for the child seems to be the abiding philosophy. My daughter has really flourished there. At age five, she is upstairs in the K-3 class (merged), and is reading very well already and doing 2nd grade math. It is not my sense that this is because she is being hurried but rather because she is being allowed to follow her own cravings for learning. Of course, no situation is perfect, but we have always felt free to bring any concerns to the Director and have always been met with openness and respect. Sarah


1996

Hi folks! I'm new to the list too. I couldn't resist a daycare recommendation, as I really like where my soon to be 6 yr old son is. Growing Light Montessori is on Eunice Street in Berkeley and has kids from 18 mos to 3rd grade. My son has been there for 3 1/2 yrs now. They're open from 8 am to 6 pm and cost in the range of $600 to $650/month. It's a large, bright, cheerful place located in a church although it is not affiliated with the church. They emphasize diversity in ALL of its concepts. Last year they had an International Day potluck with parents bringing dishes from their native or ancestral countries (for those who had been in the US for several generations). The atmosphere of acceptance and care is almost tangible. They offer extras such as movement and music classes, sometimes sculpting classes, swim classes -- these are extra costs but are minimal and the kids love the special activites.
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