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Step One School (Berkeley, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > Preschools & Daycare > Step One School (Berkeley, CA)



Oct 2013

We are considering sending our son to Step One's Bridge K program becasuse of the wonderful things we've read and heard about it. My son will have had two years at another local preschool, but because of his late Fall birthday, we'd like to enroll him in a Bridge K program. I'm curious to know if most kids in the Step One Bridge K program have already been at Step One for a couple years, or are there a lot of new kids coming just for Bridge K? My son is a little shy, and I'm nervous about him making friends with a bunch of kids who have already been together for a couple years. Also, what is the typical age range of kids in Step One's Bridge program? Are they mostly kids turning 5 in the fall? Any perspective much appreciated! New to the Bridge K concept


My son was in Step One's Bridge K program 2 years ago and he was very happy there. We came from another preschool, and I'd say about half (or even more) of the families in his class were new to Step One. I found the Step One community very welcoming, and the Bridge K teachers particularly good at helping with social interactions among the kids. On one of the visiting days at the beginning of the school year, my son and another boy were both interested in a mailbox in the classroom. Steve (one of the Bridge K teachers) encouraged them to write letters to each other and put them in the mail box so they'd each get a letter. This sparked a friendship which lasted all year. I highly recommend the program and school--Step One is very play-based and developmentally appropriate, but my son was also well-prepared for an academic public kindergarten the next year. Step One Bridge K fan
My son, who had an excellent preschool experience, and is currently doing great in public school, is a graduate of the bridge K at Step One. Although the school has a good reputation, we had a mediocre to poor experience with the bridge K year there. The Step One program was just not as stimulating as we expected, and our son was not as happy or engaged as we had hoped. We had several meetings with staff, asking for a more engaging curriculum, but we were told our son was more advanced in certain areas than the remainder of the cohort, and so his needs couldn't be met. Simultaneously, he had weaknesses in areas such as impulse control and fine motor that weren't addressed adequately. In short, both his strengths and weaknesses were sort of pushed aside. There were definitely families in our year who were happier with the program than we were, and to answer your question specifically, there were lots of new families, and I think a shy child could certainly make friends. Tried and failed to drink the kool-aid
Hi -- My son is in the Step One Bridge K this year and I highly recommend it. I'm not exactly sure, but I'd say a little over half of the kids have had at least one year at Step One before (we were there last year as well) and about half are new this year. But I wouldn't worry at all about the new kids making friends, even a shy guy -- Step One excels at recognizing each kid as an individual and making sure that all the kids get what they need. The Bridge K teachers are excellent -- we love Steve and Tess. Actually, all of the Step One faculty are amazing -- they are real professionals and they really believe in early childhood education. I don't know if you'd be doing the afternoon or Late PM programs, but we also love those programs. I have to say, even if I didn't work full-time, I'd be tempted to keep my kids (I have a younger daughter there, too) in the afternoon and Late PM programs if I could afford it, because they are terrific programs.

You'd also asked about age range -- I do think most of the kids turn five in the late summer or fall but I'm not sure about everyone. I think some of the girls have slightly later birthdays. Speaking of girls, one good thing about the Step One Bridge K, at least this year, is that it's about 50/50 in terms of girls and boys. I've heard that Bridge K programs tend to get lopsided in terms of gender, with more boys than girls. I like having a balance.

What I really appreciate about the Bridge K program is that it does feel like it's different than preschool, but it doesn't feel at all like ''kindergarten-lite.'' I wasn't interested in a program that was doing a lot of strict academics -- I feel like he'll get enough of that soon enough. But I did want to feel like he's ready for kindergarten. I can already tell I'm going to feel that way. Steve and Tess are covering all kind of ''kindergarten-readiness'' things -- letters, numbers, science, history, plus lots of the ''social graces'' -- but all in a creative, active, playful way. And the kids get tons of outside time, tons of music, tons of love -- really, it's everything you could ask for. My only wish is that it was less expensive...I could dream, right? I do feel like we're getting excellence in exchange for the tuition and they do have some tuition assistance. Shannon


I could have written your post two years ago. My son is shy, extremely cautious and prefers to observe for a long time before joining activities. He attended a highly regarded, small pre-school for two years. Though he seemed happy enough he never really came out of his shell in the classroom. His birthday is at the end of the summer so he was one of the youngest in his class. Also his class was full of exuberant, strong personalities who often ended up excluding him due to his quiet nature. The teachers suggested he attend a bridge kindergarten, even though he would turn 5 during the summer and could go on to kindergarten. I observed many programs around town, but most seemed to be be just one more year of pre-school. Step One clearly stood out in that they have had a bridge kindergarten program for decades, long before bridge kindergarten became so common place. Like you, I was worried that the class would be full of Step One pre-school alumni and my son might feel might feel excluded. But, in fact, over half the class came from other pre-schools. The kids were aged from 4-5, some turning 5 in the fall, some in the spring. There were a few that had already turned 5 when school started. My shy son had a fabulous year. I think this is due to the way Step One encourages social and emotional development so effectively. During class, kids work collaboratively in groups, which are changed every month so that cliques don't seem to form. Diversity is explored and truly embraced. The kids learn to name and discuss their feelings and listen to their peers -- Steve's ''mindful minute'' at circle time is amazing. I SO wish they did this in kindergarten! Every child in my son's class knew all about the other students, what they were passionate about, the members of their families and what made each child special. Kids learned how to resolve conflicts effectively. Watching the teachers work with the students was inspiring. Step One provided a fun, stimulating and safe place where my son felt valued and could finally spread his wings in the classroom. As my husband and I watch him in kindergarten this year, we know that giving him that year at Step One was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made. Feel free to Email me if you have further questions. cynthia b
July 2013

Step One School is an exception environment for a pre school. My child has been going there since age 2. It has been a wonderful experience in transitioning from the home environment at age 2 into a nurturing and developmental class room. The best part has been watching my child growth, mature, learn and socialize, over the past three years. The teachers are top quality, both personally and professionally. They have great curriculums and round out with fun activities. There is also strong parent involvement and other events to foster a good community. The high level of communication and feedback between teachers and parents has also been impressive. It is a true partnership in the best interest of the children - both as individuals and part of a group. I would highly recommend step one to any one. Its been an amazing journey and we will be sorry to graduate! It sets the highest standard! am553


June 2013

My daughter is currently enrolled full-time in the 3-5 year old program at Step One. She started in the 2s program 2 years ago. This is our last year at Step One and we will truly miss this school. We researched and toured several schools but felt this was the school for us and we have never regretted our decision. My once shy daughter is now a confident outgoing participant who loves her school, her teachers and all her little friends. All the teachers are wonderful and bring something unique and valuable to the curriculum. They truly care about the kids and each other and even spend their time off doing things together. The teachers have a lot of experience and it shows in the way they interact with the children, their creativity, and ability to stimulate and engage the kids. In fact, one of my daughter's teachers, Charlie has been teaching at the school for 30 years which is close to the schools inception (1981). Just some of the school's features include: recently remodeled class restrooms, large well-equipped play yard, edible garden, chicken coop, water features and constant rotating supply of classroom materials. My daughter never wants to leave at pick-up. She is off to private Kindergarten in the Fall (accepted to all the schools we applied to) and I believe the school has done an excellent job in preparing her. I have also met a lot of wonderful friends and feel a real sense of community. We recently had a baby that had special needs & the school truly rallied around our family. We are not the exception. It is truly the spirit of the school to love and support those that are in need. I could go on and on but you should check out the school for yourself. I will be forever grateful for the memories and magic at Step One! Thanks for reading. Cindy


June 2013

BEST.SCHOOL.EVER.

We love Step One. Our daughter has been there for two years now and we have watched her grow and learn and become this amazing imaginative, self confident child ready to take on anything. We feel very confident that when she leaves in August that she will be more than prepared for Kindergarten.

She spent her two years in Room Five with Aaron, Charlie, TT and Jane. I can not say enough about these wonderful teachers. Art projects, cooking projects, hammering nails into pumpkins, learning about life cycles, stars, planets, letters, numbers...they hit it all. The teachers are all so warm and nuturing. The outside play space is hands down better than any school. It's huge. Lots of scooters, trikes, digging tools and CHICKENS!

Your child will love it. You will wish you were in preschool again. Anna's Mom


Feb 2013

Re: Three years of preschool for fall birthday baby?
Step One sounds like it fits the bill...Your little one could do two years in the nursery school and then one year in the Bridge K. We'll just be starting the Bridge K next year, so I don't have first hand experience in that room, but our experience in the nursery school has been fantastic and the Bridge K teachers are great. There are lots of rave reviews of Step One on BPN and you can visit and see for yourself what a special place it is, so I won't go on and on. But look into it -- it's a great little school, if the Berkeley Hills location will work for you... Step One parent


Aug 2012

Re: Preschool for VERY ACTIVE and energetic boy?
You should take a look at Step One. It is located in the Berkeley Hills and has a reputation of being hard to get into (they don't interview or look for a ''certain'' kid) but I have heard people put an application in after first learning they are pregnant! I didn't do that and happened to get offered a spot. They have a fair number of male teachers and they don't require kids to nap. My son doesn't nap and I didn't like the idea of having him stay late to stare at walls on a cot! They are very good with active kids. Once you take a tour and see their outside space you will see quite clearly that they let kids be kids (and even enjoy the active ones!) Good luck with your search! Been There and Found That


Feb 2012

My daughter just got a space at step one in the fall for the 3-4yr classroom. I just was wondering any reviews positive and negative to help me make this decision i know there are 23 kids in the classroom, does that seem too big or they handle it well? can you tell me a little about the teachers there? any info would be great thanks anon


Our child went to Step One; he was in Room 2, a mixed 3 - 4 year old class. I don't think I have ever seen a happier bunch of children than I saw at Step One. We had Zeena, Amelie and Anthony as the teachers -- they were outstanding. Our son remembers them still, and he is nearly 7 now. The school teaches through play and through love. It really does, it doesn't just say it. I saw the teachers greet every child every day as if each kid just lit up their day. I saw the children disciplined -- effectively but with great gentleness -- when they'd bitten or kicked anyone. I saw them learn through nature and through art. The aftercare program is also excellent, it is a real program and not just a way for kids to pass the time till their parents come to get them. It is an exceptional school. I have only one complaint: our son stopped thinking I was the best cook in the world because my dinners didn't come close to the quality of Anthony's fresh-cooked mid-morning snacks. Isha
I'm sure you will receive a multitude of responses about Step One, but I have to chime in. This will be the first time I have ever responded to a question on BPN. I honestly can't recommend Step One more highly. At first we were turned off by all the hype about the school thinking it just can't be that good. But when our child got a spot, we did a second tour, decided to move our child from another school, and it was 200% the right decision. The teachers are absolutely incredible and they just know their magic. Our child is more engaged, brings home artwork & writing samples, never ever objects to going in the morning, loves the teachers in the classroom and on the playground. I honestly can't recommend it more highly: the hype is warranted and I feel incredibly fortunate to have found this school for our child. anon
My kid attended Step One for 3 years, starting in the 2's program. I was drawn to the outdoor space, the diversity, and the very engaged teachers. I did not think much about the class size or relative chaos, but I wish I had. My son was very stressed by the school - it is big, and thus quite loud and chaotic (even for a preschool), and the layout is such that incidents of physically inappropriate behavior (what I would term bullying -- in preschool!) went on seemingly without teachers being aware. (One example -- several years later my son still remembers a day when another boy had pulled down his pants, and told my son to pull down his pants as well and touch his genitals). When I brought these complaints to the teachers, they usually responded that they encouraged kids to work things out themselves. I have some friends who really liked it there, and there were great aspects, including all the things that drew me in initially (and kept me from switching for 3 years -- which I now mostly chalk up to my own inexperience). In retrospect there was not enough structure for us, nor was there enough oversight and communication for our family. Younger child went to a different, smaller and perhaps less exciting school, but the calm, the oversight, and the nurturing was a much better experience for all of us. parent of two
We are on our 5th of 8 projected years at Step One (three kids) and we LOVE it. For us, the best part of the school is the teachers - they are all so different and loving and caring. They are an example of one of the main principles the school espouses: diversity. I am so happy that my children are exposed to a variety of people and personalities in a supportive and nurturing environment. The teachers are completely nonjudgmental and accept different parenting styles but can also provide information and advice to parents who ask. I have learned so much from them and continue to learn. Also, the turnover is extremely low which says a lot. It makes the environment very stable and the teachers work together seamlessly like well-oiled machinery.

Even though 23 children are enrolled in a class, not all of them are there on any given day. The teachers definitely make an effort to include all kids (my first one is more solitary), they do not get lost in the crowd at all.

Some negative things I have heard other people say are that it is too play-based or too unstructured. For our family, this has not been the case. The children learn to take care of themselves (hygiene, changing clothes/shoes), put stuff away, sit and pay attention during circle time, follow directions, and still have FUN. They also learn a lot of interpersonal skills and conflict mediation.

No school is perfect but Step One is pretty darn close! Shirley


My daughter is in her third year of Step One (1 year in 2s program, 2 years in 3-4s) and we have been extremely happy with our experience throughout. Step One is truly an amazing place with the teachers, staff and administration being at the top of the list for why it is so special.

Every teacher our daughter has had has been so impressive-smart, sensitive, experienced, savvy, and FUN-in dealing with both the kids AND the parents. Our daughter is fairly outgoing and also somewhat sensitive (e.g. big crocodile tears when sad and thrives with regular hugs) and she gets a great balance of both encouragement of her independence and support when she needs it, throughout her day.

Additionally, the school truly is a community and all of the teachers, administration and staff know all of the kids, so there are adults everywhere on the grounds that know her personally. We've never had the feeling that there were too many kids for the number of teachers because the teachers miraculously have time to support more than just their ''own'' students.

Our daughter is in room 4 with Angie, Ika, and Tim and you'd never know you were surrounded by 23 3-4 year olds when you're in the classroom. Each of the three teachers have their own ''small groups'' (our daughter is a ''rainbow whaleshark'' this year) so all children are part of a smaller (7-8 student) group within the big group at certain times of the day and they rotate through different activities with each teacher, in addition to activities that include the entire class.

We are SO happy with our experience in room 4 and our whole family will miss the teachers a ton when our daughter goes to kindergarten next year. Angie, Ika and Tim have worked together for many years-they bring very unique assets to the program and complement each other so well. They have very different personalities but they all connect with the kids in such a special way. At different times, each of them has been our daughter's self-stated ''very best favorite'' she can't really pick just one.

We both work full-time so our daughter is also part of the afternoon program (she stays until 5:30 4x per week) and the PM program is like it's own intimate group where different friendships and connections foster because it's made up of kids across all of the classrooms. Our daughter LOVES the afternoon program which is a huge emotional benefit for us- it helps with mommy/daddy guilt in a big way. Cynthia does an amazing job of creating a special sense of community in the afternoon programs. There are new afternoon teachers this year (one of whom has returned to Step One) and our daughter has also regularly told us that ''Kevin and Amber are both the very best teachers at Step One,'' clearly a great thing for us to hear, In the past 2 weeks, they have had ''magic week'' including amazing homemade magic tricks and elaborate magician hats, as well as pirate week which included treasure maps each child made. One day a few weeks ago I arrived early to pick up my daughter excited to have some extra time with her and she told me I needed to leave and come back at the regular time because she was having too much fun.

Please feel free to contact me directly with any additional specific questions. We have been very happy with our Step One experience and we also feel very comfortable that our daughter is more than ready for Kindergarten next year. Step One is a special place; for us, it was the kind of preschool we had imagined in our minds, and amazingly, it lived up to our parental ''fantasies'' for what a preschool could be. Carly


I have a 3 year old in the nursery school. This is his second year at Step One. We couldn't be happier with the teachers and care he gets everyday at school. The teachers are like an extended family to us and are so amazing at meeting the needs of our child and every child in his class. I love that at the end of each day when asked how his day was at school, he responds with a big smile and says that he had a wonderful day. steve
Your daughter is so fortunate to have been offered a space at Step One. It is such a loving and nurturing environment. Our kids LOVED Step One. Many of the teachers have been there for 20+ years. They LOVE the kids and treat them with great respect as well as discipline (in a fair manner) when needed. Bullying is not even an issue as it is simply not tolerated in the least (from day one). In regard to your question, yes there may be about 23 kids in the classroom, however, they are divided into 3 groups. There are 3 teachers so each ''manages'' ~ 8 children. The small group time is with the group of 8, however, Circle Time includes all the children (as does much of the playtime). This provides a wonderful opportunity for older kids to mentor younger kids. Children LOVE and thrive at Step One. They LOVE the teachers and my children consider them their favorite teachers of all time. Consider this a blessing you can give your daughter. It truly is. Anon
I have had two daughters attend Step One Preschool and I have been extremely happy with the school throughout my daughters' time there. My older daughter started at Step One when she was three. She was in the mixed age preschool room. There are 3 teachers in the room at all times which works well in a classroom of about 22-24. The ratio always felt right to me. My younger daughter started in the toddler room when she was 2 and is now in one of the mixed age preschool rooms (she just turned 4.) There are two things I love most about Step One. One is the love, warmth, and attention paid to the children and the respect given to them in terms of creating an enviornment for them to truly grow in in so many areas - artistically, socially, musically, academically. The second thing I love the most is the outdoor play area, which is rich with ways for children to explore the science of water and gardening (there is an outdoor kitchen) as well as a very fun place for kids to play! I highly recommend the school! Madeleine Rogin
My third child is now at Step One in the mixed-age rooms, and I must say that although each child has different temperments, they have all thrived at Step One. Each room has 3 teachers, and although the number of children may seem large, they are all divided into smaller groups. I have seen the magic these warm and experienced teachers foster in these small groups, and my older children still wax nostalgic about ''Step One.'' They have also perfected the art of staggering outside times with each of the classrooms as well so that the day inside and out seems smoothless and engaging. And for parents and caretakers, Step One is a wonderful place to learn about how to parent a whole spectrum of children. The faculty and staff themselves are not only diverse but are also supportive of the ''infinite diversity'' of Bay Area children and families. Step One Fan
Step One is an excellent school, and highly recommend it. I have kids who have gone through both the 2s and 3/4s program (specifically Room 5 and Room 4).

The class size has not been an issue for my kids at all. They were able to spend time in their small groups (8 or so kids), as well as establish friendships with their other classmates (both older and younger).

The teachers are true professionals, ensuring that the kids are surrounded by love, friendship, diversity, and learning through play, all in a safe environment. The teachers are very approachable and really partner with you to help your child succeed. I love how they all share their talents with the class and the rest of the school, whether its capoeira dancing, gardening, singing, playing the guitar, art, cooking yummy organic black beans, etc.

In a nutshell, I want my kids to have a childhood that is safe, happy, innocent, and to understand that they are part of a family/community. I truly believe they experienced this at Step One. Happy Step One Parent


Both of our children attended Step One; one has graduated, one is currently enrolled. It is a superb program, with incredible understanding of each child's personality, needs, and development. Our children are quite different from one another, yet Step One has been the perfect place for each of them--it really shows how they teach to the child and not just to the age. The size of the class is not an issue at all-it has been a plus for both of our boys, with enough children for them to find many friendships and to experience a range of children so that they are comfortable in any group. The teachers are truly extraordinary, and they have time and attention for all of the kids, as well as directing a multi-faceted curriculum of art, music, learning, and social skills. It has been the best possible experience I could have hoped for our children. We attribute so much of our children's skills, ability to form friendships, focus, and communication to 'the Step One way'. They have taught us as well as our kids! Feel free to get in touch with any questions at all. Barbara
I have had 2 kids at Step One, and will have had a total of 5 different classroom experiences there. While I assume it's obvious from the really long waiting list and the laudatory reviews on BPN, I just want to assure you that everything is top notch at this school - the attention to your children, the quality of the teachers, the organization of the faculty, and most importantly, the spirit of togetherness, play, love, and true respect for the world your children will walk out into the world with once they are done here. My boys love this school. I can't imagine any other place in the world I would have rather had them go to preschool. Kristen
Our son is thriving at Step One School! This is his second year in their Nursery School program and we couldn't be happier. What makes Step One so special? Here are a few reasons: Step One hires and retains some of the most amazing teachers you will ever meet. Some have been there almost 30 years and others are newer. Each teacher brings his/her unique gifts to the program and they all work together incredibly well. Unlike other schools that have a hierarchy of one ''lead teacher'' and two ''assistants'', at Step One these roles are less apparent and the way the classroom teaching team works together feels very seamless and collaborative. We were concerned about the large classroom size when we transferred from a smaller school. It turned out to be more intimate because the classrooms are divided into smaller groups and every child gets a lot of love and attention. I speak to at least one of my son's teachers every day--usually before and after school--about how his day was, etc. Some of the things they do in class are: singing (alot!) art, story dictations, story acting, games, ''circle person'', jobs, special class private jokes, sharing, and snacks that often seem like a second lunch. You can see from the playground that the kids get a lot of good outdoor play time, with special appealing activities rotating within the regular playground. When we parents drop off our kids at Step One, there's this palpable happy feeling in the air (from kids, teachers and parents alike). Step One teachers really celebrate each child for who they are and help them to reach their best potential. It continues to amaze me how they make meaning in everyday things from gardening to watching a butterfly hatch to food preparation to circle time to birthdays. Everything is thoughtfully planned and joyfully facilitated. Each classroom has it's own unique personality, but Step One is truly a family. While my son has a special bond with his room teachers, he has also bonded with teachers and kids throughout the school. Communications from the teachers and administration are outstanding. Sue Britson is a solid, intelligent, competent and caring Director. We've never needed to go to her for anything because the classroom is run so smoothly, but feel comfortable that we could talk to her if we ever had the need. It is rare to find an organization whose members all fully understand it's mission, culture and approach. Step One is just such an organization. You will not find a finer preschool anywhere. A Happy Step One Parent
July 2011

Re: Seeking excellent Pre K program with 2011 openings
My 5 1/2 year old son is currently in the Bridge K program at Step One School in Berkeley and I can honestly say deciding to enroll him in their amazing program has been the best decision I have made thus far! This is our third year at Step One School and last year I was faced with deciding to enroll him in public school kindergarten, or enrolling him in Step One's Bridge Kindergarten program. I just didn't feel he was emotionally or socially ready for kindergarten and thus chose Step One. My son is also very bright and quite painfully shy and the personal attention he and all the bridge k kids receive from the Step One teachers helped foster in him an amazing sense of self confidence. Over the past year I have watched him come into his own. Now, as he faces entering kindergarten in Public School this fall, I am fully confident that he has the social and emotional skills needed to flourish!

Although, leaving the warm, nurturing, diverse, rich Step One family will be very difficult for my son and I ....we do so knowing that our lives (and specifically my son's life) will forever be shaped by the love and dedication of the entire Step One faculty.

Step One is everything you are looking for and so much more! I encourage you to call them and arrange for a tour, I do believe they still have an opening for next fall. Their number is 510-527-9021 www.steponeschool.org good luck!! Cindy


June 2011

I want to strongly recommend Step One in Berkeley. I've had 6 wonderful years with both my children attending and Step One provided an excellent foundation and fostered their love of learning in academics and socialization. My children were very different and my son did have some special needs, Step One teacher's and administration supported my entire family and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. The teacher's are wonderful, each one has their own unique style and passion they enrich the program with, anywhere from art, music, dance and gardening are woven throughout the curriculum daily. The late afternoon program is also very special, and it was difficult getting my children to leave b/c they loved Step One so much! love Step One


March 2011

Re: Need rec's for bridge or pre-K for 2012
Step One Nursery School in Berkeley has openings for their Bridge-K program. We have really loved it for our child. It is 5 mornings a week (with an option to do afternoons as well). I would definitely recommend you contact them and go and visit. Their website is steponeschool.org. Or you can call them 510 527 9021. Good luck Step One parent


March 2011

Re: Need rec's for bridge or pre-K for 2012
We sent our oldest daughter to the bridge K program at Step One School in Berkeley. Her birthday is in October and we felt as though she would benefit from an extra year in a pre-K program before elementary school. She thrived in that environment and was so well prepared for her first year at our local public school. The learning was so thoughtful and infused with play that she didn't even realize she was ''working''. Time and time again during her first year at elementary school (she's in first grade now) she would say, ''Oh, we did that at Step One''. I would highly recommend the program, and specifically the brilliant teachers Steve and Gege. Please feel free to contact me if you want to talk more. Sarah


March 2011

I've noticed a few posts recently about Step One, and wanted to add another perspective -- my child attended Step One for 3 years, and I really tried to love the school. It offers so much for parents to admire -- great facilities, cool teachers, lovely community. And yet, now that my child is happily off in elementary school that is a *much* better fit, I have to say, Step One has some serious flaws. My experience there was that it was extremely chaotic. I saw them take a ''let boys be boys'' adage to an extreme, such that wild, sometimes aggressive behavior was actually somewhat encouraged. My anxious, easily overwhelmed kid learned a lot about hitting, biting, and how to use force to get your way on the backs of those big, beautiful hills (where the teachers can't always see what is going on). I loved the teachers as people, but they were sometimes incredibly hard for me to get in touch with. When I voiced concerns about some of the approaches they took, I was made to feel like I was overreacting, and when I tried to talk about the behaviors happening at school, I was usually made to feel that my child's subsequent issues were probably due to my faulty parenting. Now that we're out of that environment and the behaviors in question have ceased, and I have had the experience of teacher conferences where collaboration actually occurs, I can see more clearly the ways in which the school was a bad fit for my kid. To be fair, the teachers at Step One are a highly educated lot, they are fantastic people, and it always seemed like a great place for an adult to spend time. For my child, however, who needed a little more peace and quiet, more structure, more support -- I think Step One was not such a great place. former step one parent


March 2011

I'd like to offer a review of Step one Preschool. Recently, a father reviewed this school unfavorably based on his experience, and I want to give another viewpoint. I am always sad when I hear about children being asked to leave a school because the school couldn't handle that child's behavioral issues, but my experience at Step One was quite the opposite. We left our previous co-op preschool because our daughter was one of those kids who had behavioral/social problems, and the teachers and parents at that school couldn't help her. When we found Step One, our lives changed! First, Step One is not one of those schools that screens kids to make sure that they only get the ones who behave all the time; they take everyone. Second, we were offered financial aid, which was the only reason we could afford to attend. Third, we were never made to feel as if the teachers at Step One couldn't handle our daughter's issues. She was easily one of the 2 most challenging kids in her class, but all of the staff at S.O. worked as team to help her learn appropriate behavior. we brought in our own professionals to observe and work with our child, and Step one not only welcomed this input, but the school offered to pay for some of the therapies! My daughter grew so much at S.O. and still wants to visit (3 yrs later)! If they had decided to open an elementary school, we would have done anything to send her there! I am in no way trying to challenge the experience of the previous reviewer; I only wanted to present my own experience in support of the school. dawn


March 2011

I am writing to share my honest/sincere review with all prospective step one parents. I was a very involved parent in the step one community but was crushed as Step One made my child find another preschool during their second year there with virtually no warning. For a preschool of this stature which costs so much, I expected much better communication from the Directors and Teachers. I was left high and dry to scamper to find a new preschool for my child. They also provided no support in such a difficult transition and presented their decision in a harsh and cold manner. It was a very difficult and stressful situation! For the child who is well adjusted and doesn't have much difficulty functioning in the classroom this is a great school. There are tons of interesting ways to be involved in the step one community as a parent, a multitude of different child and parental events, and even a campout where food is provided. For the sprited child who has more of a difficult time with participating in a group or classroom, then, it may not be the best place for them. They let the children dictate things as if the ''child knows best'', but some children need a bit more structure, especially if they aren't as well adjusted. Since there are a lot of children in the classroom, at times it can be chaotic, so children needing a bit more attention may have difficulties. The classrooms are mixed with older and younger children(3, 4 and 5 year olds), and while this sounds like this could be a good mix, the younger children need a bit more help so it takes away from some of the older children's needs, as the older children are expected to be very well adjusted by this time. If your younger child makes good friends with an older child, chances are they will not be together in the same school next year. There is quite a bit of turnover as well, as at least 5-6 children left the program for different reasons during the middle of the school year, and one head teacher went on maternity leave which required various ''substitutes'' and a new head room teacher change. Your child will also have two different teachers in the same classroom if they go there as a 3 and 4 year old. We thought step one was the best preschool at first, but it turned out that my child had difficulties that they couldn't deal with and unfortunately they gave up on them instead of helping them. Super Daddy


Jan 2011

Hi! I would appreciate any current feedback on the Twos programs at Centro Vida and Step One. We are trying to decide between the two programs and would love to hear any feedback from parents that currently have a child in these programs (especially Centro Vida, as the reviews are older). Also, did you find the Twos program at Centro Vida sufficiently play-based? And, how was music and/or art there?

My 19 month old toddler is currently in a happy nanny share which I'm reluctant to disrupt, but she's social and I feel she would also benefit from a pre-school environment for next fall. She's being raised bilingual Spanish (dad is a native Spanish speaker), hence the interest in Centro Vida).

I'm nervous about the transition to preschool! If any of you transitioned a two-year old to one of these programs, how did it go? Did you feel like the schools handled the transition well? Were the schools open to parent involvement during the transition? My daughter would have to attend full-time, as my husband and I both work. Thank you in advance!


I am a parent of a current Step One 3 1/2 year old and she started in the twos program in the 2009-10 school year. I was also anxious about the transition from a nanny share (this was her care situation from 6 months-2.5 years) to a preschool but, like you, we felt that given her personality (outgoing!) she would definitely benefit from and enjoy a preschool setting.

The Step One teachers and staff have proactive transition plans and strategies, including a parent meeting prior to the start of the school year to get everyone ready. Both Alexis and Eric (two of the 2s program teachers) have many years of experience in the 2s program so they have many tools and use them with impressive confidence. They took care of us as much as our daughter! They were extremely involved in developing the right transition approach for each child and also very welcoming of parent involvement. Our daughter ended up being one of the children that had the hardest time with the transition and they offered all of us (daughter, mom & dad) so much support, it really helped us get through it and it forged a great connection for all of us with her teachers early on.

Alexis and Eric are phenomenal: we continued to be impressed with them (and so grateful to them) throughout the year. We continue to feel that they helped create the ''magic'' of the Step One experience for our daughter which is one of great community, awesome teachers, lots of fun play, music, gardening, and of course, great strides in development!

Our son will be starting in the 2s program this Fall and we're super excited to have him experience the magic of Room 3 with Alexis and Eric. I highly recommend Step One and the 2s program-we've loved the school and all of our teachers so far!

Both of our children are also full-time. If you'd like to talk in more detail or ask more questions about our experience with Step One, feel free to email me. carly


The Two's Program at Step One is truly wonderful. I have one child currently in the program and a 4 year old who is a graduate of the program. I can say with all sincerity that you will be hard-pressed to find a warmer, more nurturing, or more exciting place for your 2 year old to be. First, the curriculum of the two's program focuses on helping your child become autonomous and independent, ''I can.'' The classroom is vibrant and filled with wonderful areas for all types of play/learning from blocks/manipulatives, to art, to gross motor play (mattress for jumping and swings), imaginative play, reading, etc. It makes me smile every time I go in. Secondly, you are not going to find better teachers. To be able to handle with humor and patience the tasks of helping the kids do for themselves (shoes, lunch, potty, etc) to hugging/holding in times of need (separation or ouchies), to facilitating the new waters of social interaction and to deftly handling the inevitably worried parent (2 is STILL little) - the teachers ARE the program. And many of the teachers are bilingual English/Spanish! In fact, currently there is a child in the 2's program who solely speaks Spanish and as far as I can tell, is thriving. Finally, separation (or ''transition'') is hard; there is a workshop on it with parents and teachers, and the process itself is loving, warm, and nurturing (you will worry no matter what, but both my children made it through with flying colors). Hope this helps - the Two's Program at Step One is truly special! Happy Step One Parent
Feb 2009

Re: Daughter not ready for K or is it just the wrong school?
My daughter, a September birthday, went to Step One's pre-K program a few years back. It was really really terrific. According to the newsletter, they still have openings. Ann


July 2008

Re: Preschool where my son won't be the token black kid
Check out Step One School in North Berkeley. The school is committed to diversity. This is reflected in the families attending, the teachers and the curriculum. www.steponeschool.org Another mom of a mixed race son


Feb 2008

Hi, I have an application in at Step One for our son, but am having doubts about the distance. We live in Montclair and would have to do the daily drive to Berkeley. I LOVE the school, but am wondering if there are other Step One families who do this and/or if the distance impacts playdates with classmates. Also, I was wondering if there are any recommendations for similar programs in Oakland/Piedmont Area. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


We did this commute for a year, for an absolutely wonderful year at Gege and Steve's K class at Step One. The drive was peaceful (along Skyline and Grizzly Peak, alas, now that is closed off...); we were able to set up playdates after school; even carpooled together with another family later in the year. However, I was losing 2 hours off my day to just driving, and we were spending a fortune on gas. Still, we may send our third one there, as it is hard to find a similar program. Look into Duck's Nest on Piedmont, but be warned - it may be more $ than Step One, which already is up there (deservingly so). anon
I agree with you that the commute from Montclair to Step One may be challenging. Have you seen the morning traffic going from the Claremont over to campus? Oh my goodness, it is absolutely horrible, as is the return trip in the afternoon. And using Grizzly Peak wouldn't be better (Less crowded but scarrier drivers on curvey roads with sheer drop offs). Step One is very good and very pricey, but it is not the only good (or pricey) preschool out there. I do hope you get some wonderful recommendations in Montclair or nearby, or in a neighborhood that is easy for you to do your commute from. It will save you and your child much morning and afternoon stress during pre-school years ... and that is worth quite a lot. Mom
Jan 2008

Step One School hardly needs another laudatory review but my husband and I want to state our delight at having our daughter at this preschool. The director, Sue, has to be one of the most thoughtful and even-tempered women I have ever met. In a world where many directors tend to be a bit temperamental and/or defensive, she is a breath of fresh air. The co-director, Eric, is eloquent and funny while being very salt of the earth. The three teachers of our daughter's class Charlie, Aaron and Jane, are sweetly alive, motivated and lovely to watch with the kids. We get weekly notices of snacks provided (mostly organic,) and of activities that are happening (many and varied.) We get almost daily notices of what has happened with our child in particular. It is surely a swell place to be if you are young and in need of place to call your pre-school. Thank you again, Step One. Elizabeth


Nov 2007

Re: Preschools with Male Teachers
Step One in Berkeley has multiple WONDERFUL male teachers. Four of the 5 classrooms have a male teacher, and one classroom has 2 men. As a group they are exceptionally caring and gentle. Two of the three male teachers my children have had are literally among the best people I've ever met (I really like the third one too!). The down side is that if you aren't already on their waiting list it will be hard to get in for next year. Still get yourself on the list. If your child can spend any time at Step One, it would be worth switching preschools in the future. anon


Step One in the Berkeley hills prides itself on having at least one male teacher in each classroom. It's one of the (many) things I have loved about this school, which my son has attended for 2 yrs. It's a popular choice, however, and can be hard to get a space, especially if you are not looking for full time. happy Step One parent
I can highly recommend Step One in the Berkeley Hills. Every classroom has at least 1 male teacher, and they are all fantastic! The co-director is a man,too, as are some of the regular substitutes and administrative staff. It's also just a great school overall! dawn
The preschool my daughter attends, Step One School in north Berkeley, has a male teacher in each classroom (each class has two or three teachers)and there are several other male teachers among the rotating substitutes. So there are many positive male role models there. The school is fairly hard to get into, apply as soon as you can to possibly get a spot. Good luck! Mollie
Jan 2007

Re: Looking for a good preschool in Berkeley
Both our children went to Step One, from 2000-2005. It was just terrific! The teachers are wonderful and the community is warm and supportive. We made some great friends there too. Ann


Re: Pre-K Programs for two 4-year-old boys (June 2005)
Our daughter went to Step One's Pre-K program and it was just terrific for her. I don't know if they have any openings left for the fall, but it's certainly worth a phone call. ad
January 2005

Re: Preschools with Male Teachers (Jan 2005)

Step One School on Spruce Street in the Berkeley Hills has a really diverse staff -- including men. It's a WONDERFUL preschool, thoughtful, responsive, attentive. Your child can sign up for mornings only and they may offer a several-days-a-week option. Sign up NOW ... even if your child is young. Sometimes there aren't openings for girls or boys, depending on current enrollment. Step One School 499 Spruce St, Berkeley, 94708 - (510) 527-9021 appreciative mom


Step One has several male teachers and is a terrific place. My son is in his second year there and is thriving. My daughter went there before him and returns whenever she can. Step One is in the North Berkeley hills at 499 Spruce St. Feel free to call me for more information. ad
Step One school in Berkeley is age 2 through DK(5yrs)and is an excellent school. Every classroom has a male as well as a female teacher. Their telephone number is 527-9021. Daniella
Nov 2003

I have my child on the waiting list for kindergarten, starting in Sept 2004. Two questions for the group. First, any recent impressions from parents that could help me decide if we should actually get in? Second, I've noticed that they have several kindergarten spaces still open for the Kindergarten class that began this year (2003). Is this a bad sign? Thanks in advance. Starting to Decide


This is in response to ''Starting to Decide's'' question regarding Step One for Kindergarten. My daughter was in their kindergarten program last year and had a great experience. The teachers are wonderful and the kids get amples quantities of love and learning. I wouldn't attach any importance to the vacancies. Other schools had them this year too. It might just be a fluke or a sign that the number of kids in the appropriate age group dipped. But it's not a reason to be wary of the program -- it's just terrific!
First of all : in my opinion Step One is a creative,fun school for kids. The Kindergarten has often had more openings than the Pre-K. Generally people who graduate the Step One K redo kindergarten at another school. Out of our graduating class, I think three or four went on to first grade and one of them was home schooled . Most went to K at a public or private K-6 or K-8. That being said all of the kids I have kept aware of have done very well in school. Step One is great at developmental eduation. My daughter drew all day, now she is a natural artist and is a very organized thinker, When we were there Step One did not emphasize academics like reading, writing words or advanced counting. Instead they developed the pre-reading and pre-math skills such as following multi-step directions, social responsibility, asking questions, fine motor skills, lots of music, singing, poems, stories, lots of art, tons of listening skills, lots and lots of physical and creative activity. It was great for kids who needed a little socialization experience, were very creative or free wheeling, or were a little too young for Kindergarten but were ready for more structure than Pre-K - those summer and winter babies.

We needed to decide to apply to first grade after Step One, we thought she was ready. We had our choice of several independent schools' first grades so it is not impossible - but she was disappointed not to be going to a K with her friends.


My older child (now 7 and a summer birthday) went to the Step One Kindergarten and my 5 yr old (a fall birthday) is currently enrolled there.

I am responding to the posting expressing concern about the current openings. Step One does an amazing job of balancing the class for gender even with the current trend for boys to attend pre-K. I think it is a testament to the quality of the Step One program that they will not weigh the class too heavily toward one gender and are willing to wait.

As for the program itself, the proof is in the elementary school pudding. When my oldest went on to kindergarten at an elementary school, we got nothing but glowing remarks from his teacher about his ability to concentrate for schoolwork, make friends, transition easily and his general ability ''to hold it together for the whole day.'' Who wouldn't want to give their child every advantage...if you (or your child's preschool teacher) think your child can benefit from another year, you can't go wrong with Step One.

P.S. Step One has great parent resources for the whole school choice process, too, so it's a wonderful community to be in during the ''application'' year.


May 2003

Re: Elementary Schools with Pre-K Programs
Step One preschool in Berkeley has an excellent pre-k, and I just heard this week that they have two openings.


March 2002

RE: Kindergarten Programs

All the programs you are asking about are great, but since I am not certain what kind of program you are looking for, I'm having trouble responding. Are you looking for more of a bridge program? Are you looking for something for the next six years? Step One was great for my child who needed an extra year in a more preschool like setting. He went on to private kinder garten afterward and really did well. Berkeley Mom


My daughter was in Step One last year for kindergarten and was also there the year before. It is a fabulous place and my daughter and I both really miss it. The teachers are fantastic. I have nothing but praise for the whole place; the teachers, office staff, curriculum, etc. nt
Feb. 2002

Re: preschool recommendations
Step One is wonderful. Several years ago when we adopted our daughter at age 4 months, friends suggested that we should immediately get on "The List" for Step One. One friend-of-a-friend was particularly insistent that Step One was the *only* place for us. Perhaps because I bristled at the notion that an acquaintance would know what was best for us, and because I hoped to find a school that was within walking distance of our home, I didn't even visit Step One until we had some rather disappointing experiences at a couple of small, neighborhood home-based schools. When I finally did visit Step One, I was smitten--I wished I was 3 years old! The teachers and staff are wonderful and smart and caring, and everyone gives a lot of thought and attention to everything--especially to the children, of course. I feel very fortunate that we were able to spend this one pre-K year at Step One, and I wish I had heeded the advice we were given when our daughter was a baby--get on the list now! (If you have specific questions or want to know more, feel free to contact me.) Lori


Jan. 2002

Regarding Preschool for child with developmental delays
I'd suggest calling Step One Pre-School in Berkeley (527-9021), and talking to the directors, Eric and Sue. It's a wonderful school with a rich and diverse program, and it was great for both of my children (now 10 and 13). I'm sure that Eric and Sue will talk with you about how they might work with your child, and suggest additional resources to you. Merry


Jan. 2002

Re: Preschools
Step One is a fabulous preschool, that, I think, meets the qualifications you listed in your posting. The teachers are caring and capable, the kids and parents are diverse culturally and economically, the school is fun and challenging, and the staff are good at working with different kinds of kids. My son is an inward child nd can have difficulty warming up to new situations. He has blossomed at Step One, in my opinion because of the excellence of the teachers at drawing him out and capitalizing on his talents. I couldn't be happier with the school.


September 2001

Re: Child with severe food allergies

My childrens' preschool, Step One in Berkeley, has banned all peanuts and peanut products and several other nuts and related products due to severe nut allergies. Mpbannett


My daughter is at Step One School, where all peanut and tree nut products (and sunflower seeds, chocolate, and various other foods) have been banned because several children are seriously allergic (i.e., contact with the allergen could require hospitalization and could be life threatening). Perhaps this is the school you have heard of.

My feeling is that a ban is the only responsible thing a school can do if it knows that seriously allergic children attend. I also think that any school would be required by law (under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law) to make such a reasonable accommodation.

So I think you should consider all the schools which are otherwise available to you and take an assertive approach to arranging accommodation of your child's serious medical needs. All preschools hold themselves out as valuing inclusiveness and diversity and this issue gives a good chance for schools to show it. Karen


I'm sure you have already heard about Step One School, which is on Spruce in the Berkeley hills. They have put an impressive amount of thought and energy into how to handle food allergies. (They put a lot of thought and energy into everything else, too, which is why they are so wonderful.) This year for the first time, all Step One parents are asked not to have any nuts in kids' lunches, or for birthday snacks. They have had educational meetings about food allergies, handed out written guides for lunch preparations, and offered "tastings" of alternatives to peanut butter and nuts in general. They sell--at cost--soynut butter for sandwiches. Teachers check lunch boxes, parents of kids with allergies serve as resources. Staff are trained to recognize allergic reactions, and to use epi-pens or whatever else is required. Teachers keep track of all food allergies and dietary preferences, and are very careful in buying and preparing snacks. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep kids safe, and to educate the community about the seriousness of some food allergies. Although my daughter does not have life-threatening allergies herself, I very much appreciate Step One's knowledge and concern, and I have learned a lot from the discussions and handouts. Lori

May 2000

Re: Culturally Diverse Preschools
I am Chinese American educator and have just finished selecting a preschool for my 2 and 1/2 year old son so I recently visited the schools I will suggest. Although I did not pick either of these school, I thought they might be possible for your daughter. When I toured Step One (with its infamous long waiting list) in Berkeley, I was favorably impressed with one of the teachers in particular who had activities and images throughout her classroom of racially diverse people. Also, Step One has a small scholarship fund and likes to recruit children and families of diverse background. You seem to fit.

1998

As my daughter approached two, we looked for a preschool that could fufill some of ours family needs. Daycare, so we could work and love, support, play,learning, developmentally appropiate sitmulation and caring for our daughter. Each family has it's own needs and before looking at preschools (or others) some of those ideas should be outlined within each family. We looked at three schools, one was too structured and one too loose. When we arrived at STEP ONE we were overjoyed to find the children happy at play; caring teachers and a developed early childhood educational program. The kids had a large & small group time inside the classroom and out. A caring staff that has a history with the school, project to inspire little minds, guidance for conflicts and much love. There aren't many openings in the two's program because many are filled by siblings but the 3's & 4's program and the pre-K have more space avaialble. Get on the list early.
My 4 1/2 yr old granddaughter, Daria, is in her 3rd & final year at Step One and I have nothing but praise for the school. The kids are socialized to be decent human beings and also to stand up for themselves in non-agressive ways. I am very impressed with the commitment to diversity in all forms, from color to alternative family options to nationalities represented. My granddaughter is mixed and both her hue and her pride as an African-American/Jewish girl is constantly affirmed. There is universally a wonderful, supportive attitude toward the kids: the boys are encouraged to have feelings and the girls are encouraged to be strong. And, of course, vice versa. The staff is diverse, loving, educated and conscious of themselves as important community workers. There is very little turn-over. A problem with Step One is that it is usually hard to get in as demand is very high. Andrea
We have our two year old son at Step One and he loves it, as do we! We had put him in daycare at 4 months due to my husbands' and my working full-time. He was in the same daycare center for almost two years, which was a small group of 8 children (6 boys and 2 girls). My husband and I were afraid that Step One may be too much of a change for him, but after the first few weeks, he was definitely in his element. I looked at 13 preschools in the Berkeley area, and Step One is by far the best, in my mind. The facility can't be beat, nor can the daily interaction the children receive from very experienced staff and other children from many di fferent backgrounds. We couldn't be happier with Step One and will keep our son there until age 5. We also look forward to having our second son attend when he is two. Our first son is a very social, aggressive, and physical little boy, and Step One's curriculm and teachers keep him from getting out of line and teach him how to respect others.
Our daughter Callie is currently in the pre-K program at Step One and she started there in the two year old program.M- She started just before she turned two and has had a wonderful four years there.M- We will be starting our younger daughter there in the fall and she will turn two in May.

The two's program is now headed by Margaret who substituted when Callie was in the room.M- Callie just loved her.M- She has a way with the children that is nurturing and allows them to explore their potential.M- Callie talked early and I would consider her a spirited child.M- The teachers at Step One have been great at allowing her to be who she is.

The 2's start out playing in their own yard space and after a few months they can play in the big yard.M- As the year progresses the older kids play around the 2's.M- They know that they are the room 3 kids and that they are the little ones.


When I decided my daughter, who has an October birthday, would benefit from one more year in a small setting before launching into elementary school, we enrolled her in Step One's kindergarten program this year, and it has been a wonderful experience for her, as well as for us. >From the time I've spent at Step One, I think it is a top-notch nursery school, with very talented, professional teachers. Our daughter has thrived there. I specifically recommend a consideration for the kindergarten program for "fall children" who (I think) almost always benefit from the extra year of preschool. Denise

1996

My daughter currently attends Step One School here in Berkeley and we just received the year end newsletter that mentioned there were a few openings in the nursery school program.

>From the newsletter: "At this time we still have a few openings in the mixed age 3/4's nursery school program. In particular, a younger 3-year-old and a 4 year-old, boy or girl, will help us achieve the balance we like to have in these classrooms. Because many families in the community tell us that they don't apply to Step One because they think they can't get in, we'd appreciate it if you could help us spread the word."

The phone number is 527-9021 and ask to speak to Erika or Sue.

Denise


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