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Old Firehouse School (Lafayette & Walnut Creek, CA)

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Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > Preschools & Daycare > Old Firehouse School

Lafayette Site
  • Owner: Alexander Soliven
  • Phone: (925) 284-4321
  • Email:
  • Neighborhood: Moraga Rd.
  • Zip:94549
  • License #: 073400474 (view)
  • Capacity: 81
  • Website:
  • Bilingual:
  • Ages: toddlers & preschoolers
Walnut Creek Site
  • Owner: Kimura Shigeko
  • Phone: (925) 934-1507
  • Email:
  • Neighborhood: Eckley Lane
  • Zip: 94596
  • License #: 073405625 (view)
  • Capacity: 45
  • Website:
  • Bilingual:
  • Ages: toddlers & preschoolers

Feb 2014

Hello! I would like to recommend my sons school, Old Firehouse in Lafayette. He has been at their program for 3 years. He will be participating in their Dev K program next year. This program is designed for those children who do not meet the cutoff date to attend kindergarten or for parents who feel their child needs an additional year prior to entering elementary school. The school has a warm environment, stimulating program and reliable, trusting, experienced and loving teachers. They have part time and full time schedules. I just wanted other families to know that there is an other option besides putting your child in TK. Please contact the school if interested at 925.284.4321 Monica G

Sept 2011

Re: Full-day but part-time preschool near Walnut Creek
My kids went to the Old Firehouse School in Lafayette (on Moraga Rd near Mt. Diablo Blvd) and they had part-time full day programs when we were there. It was a number of years ago, but you could choose M-W-F or T-Th or all 5 days. I believe they have another location in Walnut Creek, as well as Mill Valley. We absolutely loved the school, the director, Dorothy, and all her teachers. My daughter is in 7th grade now and my son is in 4th, but they still have very fond memories of their years there. Happy Former Old Firehouse Parent

August 2010

Re: Full Time Orinda Preschools?
Our daughter went to the Old Firehouse School in Lafayette, which we loved. She had a wonderful experience there. She is 10 now, but at the time, that was one of the few full time preschools we were able to find in the Lamorinda area. Happy Old Firehouse Mom

June 2009

Re: Suggestions for a preschool in Walnut Creek
I would recommend checking out The Old Firehouse School. The Old Firehouse school is a play based developmental preschool based on Emilio Reggiano. The Lafayette branch has a long wait list, but the Walnut Creek school is newer and more likely to have room, and has a larger outdoor space. I toured most of the preschools when we moved out to Lafayette and found their philosophy to be the most similar to our daughter's current program at the Child Study Center at UC Berkeley. We love the Child Study Center but wanted to have her closer to home, and the director of the Child Study Center also recommended Old Firehouse. Vali

Jan 2008

Re: Preschool that accommodates language delayed child
I would encourage you to check out Old Firehouse School in Walnut Creek. It opened just last year, and while growing (about 40 families right now, accommodating 2 - 5 YO) it is still very intimate. And while I'm not specifically aware of the school's approach toward language-delayed children, I do know of one student who was delayed and he has since thrived. The staff is incredible and works very hard to meet the needs of each student. I have seen them learn basic words in Farsi, Chinese, and Spanish - as well as sign language - in order to communicate with their students. You can learn more about the program itself at, or contact the WC school directly at 925.934.1507. good luck, OFS mom

June 2007

hi! i'm considering sending my toddler to either the old firehouse school or diablo valley montessori and would like candid opinions about either school. i know the old firehouse focuses on nurturing the emotional well being of the child and focuses on communication and the DVMS is more ''task oriented'' but i know those two aren't mutually exclusive. i'm sure kids at the old firehouse school learn and i'm sure at DVMS, they also nuture the emotional needs of the child as well. i went to both schools and they both seemed good. i've heard though that the old firehouse school can be viewied as just glorified daycare. they also are much more expensive. i just don't know what to do. he will be starting with the 2's and i wanted to make sure i make the right decision. i would love to hear any and all opinions anyone has had with these two schools. i'm mostly curious on how kids from both schools turn out when they enter kindergarden and what difference if any might be. thanks a lot! undecided parent

I assume you are looking for a full-time preschool. If only part-time then there are many more options than those two. I would recommend NOT choosing OFS. They are WAY more expensive than equivalent schools and do not live up to the costs. They will nickel and dime you for lots of things beyond tuition. I am sure you are aware of the pot of money to keep teachers at the school. That will set you back a pretty penny. Don't feel like going to the fundraiser? You will have to pay some kind of donation in lieu (which I would always do on my own, but don't want it to feel forced). Another ft option is White Pony, but I have heard nothing but great things about DVMS. Also, have you ever heard a preschool not described as ''nurturing''? Anon
Hi there, My child attends the Old Firehouse School in Walnut Creek and we absolutely adore it. I am honestly surprised to hear that some have called OFS ''glorified daycare''. This is the 3rd preschool for us, and I have definitely seen my share of glorified daycares. OFS is not one of them. Their holistic approach toward teaching and engaging the children is impressive and effective. Of course the students have tasks, whether they help prepare the fresh snacks served daily, water the plants they are growing, or pull out cots for naptime. The project-based curriculum engages the children far beyond any ''sit down and learn this'' curriculum. Not that Montessori is that way, but the Reggio Emilia-project approach really empowers the children to determine - as a group - the course of their learning, and in that way, encourages and sustains their interest in topics far beyond the scope of anything I've seen at other schools. In talking with a few local teachers, I've heard only great things about the students they get from OFS. These kids have, in essence, 'learned how to learn'. They are often socially developed beyond their peers, and generally right on par academically. There isn't an inordinate amount of focus on rote reading, writing, etc...but there is enough pre- reading and fine motor skill work that the kids are not behind in any way. What they have instead is a more sophisticated understanding on a range of topics (ie. the 3 y.o. class this year studied outer space; by the end of the project, these children could grasp this very abstract concept, could name and talk about all the planets, and discuss flying (rockets) in a way that showed they ''got it''...more than some parents!). I'll just add that the emotional connection that the teachers make with the children is incredible. They really work with the families and the children themselves on specific issues, and provide a genuine network of support. As for the 2s class, one thing you might be interested in knowing is the high number of students that are potty-trained; I've never seen so much progress made in one class in such a short time! I don't know anything about DVM, but I have considered other Montessoris. I am, however, grateful everyday that I pick my child up that we opted for OFS. She is benefitting tremendously from the nuturing atmosphere and impressing us constantly with her newly acquired knowledge. If you haven't yet, check out the OFS website ( perhaps visit the WC school. Happy OFS mom
A quick follow-up to my previous post, courtesy of my husband: The amount of work that goes into the Reggio Emilio project approach makes it hard to believe that anyone would call OFS ''glorified daycare''. Because the kids themselves are integral in shaping the content and direction and depth of their project, the teachers have to be genuinely resourceful, creative and energized. The teachers have no way of knowing at the beginning of the year what projects the class will be doing; there is no agenda they must adhere to...they just have to listen to what the children are asking for. Obviously we are having a strong reaction to this one term, but hopefully our reasons for disagreeing with it help answer some of your concerns. There will always be dissatisfied parents and legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction at every school. But I thought my husband's input was particularly insightful, especially as it took some time for him to come around to the less ''traditional'' approach toward learning. Once again, Happy OFS Mom & Dad...& Child!
I can only tell you about DVMS, as I have no experience with Old Firehouse. I don't know if you are looking for a full day 2's program or half-day 2's, but I do know that there are only 12 half-day 2's spaces, and most of those go to siblings, so the chances of getting into the half-day 2's program at DVMS is not great. I would apply to both schools and make the decision when you find out if they have spaces available. Good luck.
Jan 2006

I recently attended the open house at Old Firehouse School. Does anyone else have any comments positive or negative about OFS? Just wanting a reality check. I was happy with the building - it was large, clean and airy with little nooks and hiding places and lots of areas to explore. And the teachers were wonderful. But I was turned off by several things: it is so play- based and child directed (Reggio Emilio-style) that the director stated that the kindegartens complained that the graduates of OFS could not write their name. Also, I was not too keen on the annual $1000+ payment to a fund for the teachers that they receive for staying for several years. It helps to retain teachers. The school is already in the top for tuition, s o I feel a little put off by this. ALso, their policy is that the teachers move through the levels with the children, so your child will have the same teacher for 3 years. They say this aids attachment. But what if its not a good match. Are there any recent or past graduates who can provide more feedback on this school? Thanks. anon

My daughter attended OFS from when she was 2 until she started kindergarten last year (she's in 1st grade now) and we all absolutely loved it there. All the teachers are truly wonderful. The cost is a bit higher than other preschools in the area, but we felt that it was worth it for us. I think the extra $1000 you are asked to put in for the teachers fund really does help them hire and retain very high quality teachers. In addressing your academic concerns, she had no problem adjusting in kindergarten although she was one of the youngest kids in her class (she could write her name though, which she learned at OFS). Having the teacher move up with the child does aid attachment, and it was great to have the consistency of a teacher who really knows your child. It may have made the transition to kindergarten a bit harder (she initally kept asking to go back to OFS, as she knew some of her classmates were staying on for T-K) but she adapted after the first few months. But I looked at it from the perspective that the environment was so loving and supportive at OFS that it would have made it difficult for any child to leave. My younger child went there for a year as well, but we had to move him to a different school for other reasons. Although we are very happy with his new school, we still miss OFS and they still ask to drop by to visit their old teachers. Overall, we absolutely loved OFS. Hope this helps... Former OFS Family
I have a daughter at Old Firehouse and overall I would highly recommend the school. I think the teachers and staff are very committed to their jobs and the whole experience is very inviting, loving and every child is made to feel at home there. However I share the same feelings as you, towards a few aspects of the school. The Reggio-Emilia philosphy was one of the reasons why I chose the school, and I do stand by my choice, as I think play-based programs are very beneficial at the preschool level. I cannot attest to a child not being taught to write their name, as my daughter is not near ''graduation'' yet. However my concerns lie with how the school carries out a central part of the philosophy, which is having child-directed activities - an interesting idea that I think holds a lot of merit. My child 's class settled on their current topic sometime in October. It is January now, and they are still on the same topic. Every day, songs, stories, art and role-play revolve around the same topic. It has been about 3 months now and I am not sensing an end in sight. I'm not sure if I agree that so much time/such a large aspect of every day be put towards the same topic for months on end. I am familiar with other Reggio-Emilia based programs and in my experience, the time spent on one topic seems excessive.

Also I could not agree with you more about the hefty extra fee involved to put towards the teacher's fund. I truly do not agree that the children are benifitted by having the same teacher for 3 years. The director holds this idea in the highest esteem, saying that children need to feel that people don't ''abandon'' them. Personally I feel that this lesson is better grounded in each child's family experiences. Not only will your child experience only one teacher and one teaching style, but YOU will be stuck with the same teacher as well. If you and your child's teacher are ''not on the same page'' about particular issues, or are not able to communicate well, YOU are stuck with them for the entire duration of your child's preschool life!

Despite my reservations about these issues, I still think Old Firehouse School is an excellent choice. Now if there was a bit more ethnic diversity, that would be even better; but maybe that is just Lafayette... well, that is another topic. anon

You are certainly an astute shopper of preschools. My first suggestion is if you are only interested in part-time, I would definitely go elsewhere - you have alot of choices and OFS is primarily a full-time program.&n bsp; I never felt very satisfied with the bonus pot for the teachers. although I agree in principle with trying to pay teachers a good wage, it put the tuition quite a bit higher than other schools. In retrospect, my opinion is that the teachers were not of a higher caliber than others out there. If you had an unsatisfactory teacher, you would move with that teacher to the next year. When we decided to leave the school, I felt like a pariah, so you can only imagine what switching teachers would be like. If you are looking for full-time preschool I would research White Pony or Diablo Valley Montessori. As regards being able to write one's name, that is something that most parents work on with their child anyway I would think. However, they were decidedly anti- academic when we were there. Anon
I read your concerns about OFS and wanted to reply. First of all the kids do know how to write their names. The school has a writing program called Writing Without Tears. (Which, by the way, many local school districts use in their schools). My child, who has poor fine motor skills, has really come along because of it. Secondly, the school is play based. My feeling is that he will be in an academic setting for the next 16 years. Why worry about academics now. He needs social skills that will better serve him in the next few years. It all really comes down to what you want for your child. I wanted a wonderful nurturing atmosphere that would not focus on academics. He is growing and thriving and I could not ask for anything more. And yes, tuition is steep, but you get quality teachers who can stay in the profession they love and still make a decent living. Happy at OFS
I have two daughters currently in Old Firehouse (OFS) one child is in for her 3rd year and the second child is in it for the first year and love it. They both Go Fulltime however the other one went part time as well and loved it just as much then. It is a great school with a great teachers and the best play enviorment inside and out that I have seen in any daycare. The school also has many programs to educate parents about their children and the community. they also host some very fun Adult events a couple times a year as well. Important things to consider

1. The school hours are catered to Stay at home moms or people with more flexible schedules. Our Child's fulltime schedule is 8:00-4:30 so even if you had no commute you would be hard pressed to be able to drop off the kids put a full work day in and then pick them up.

2. The School takes off every holiday as well as most of the normal vacations that K-12 kids have. 2 weeks of Xmas, 1 week for easter, 1 week in August. Which adds up to over 5 weeks that you pay for but have to find other Daycare solutions for.

3. You have to pay the teacher stability fund although your child may not have the teacher in continuous classes. The notion of the Teacher Following the kid through all grades doesn't always apply. My older Daughter has had a different teacher for every class, so the extra money that we pay for Teacher Stability is not really true.

4. You have to pay extra for your kid to participate in special activities during the normal day care hours even if the person teaching that special activity is your childs assigned teacher. Like I said before its a great school, my main issue is the short fulltime hours and all the days off but we are lucky to have relatives close by to help us work around this. OFS parent

March 2005

If you are looking for full-time care for your infant, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Old Firehouse School in Lafayette on Moraga Rd. Both my kids attended preschool there and they had a wonderful experience. All the teachers are incredibly nurturing and are there because they seem to truly love children. The teachers all stay with the same class as they move up to the pre-K program, and they have an incredibly low staff turnover rate. Although OFS may be a little more expensive, if you can swing it, they are absolutely worth it. Linda

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