Noe Valley Voice September 2012

Choosing the Right Preschool for Your Child — It’s an Education!

By Rhiana Maidenberg

Friendly Birds: Social skills take wing at St. Paul’s Littlest Angel Preschool, one of dozens of top-flight preschools available to families in the area.

Every fall, parents of toddlers all over San Francisco start burning the midnight oil—tackling those preschool applications.

While the city does have a few preschools that require adding your child’s name to the waiting list before you have left the maternity ward, the admission process for most Noe Valley preschools is much less demanding—the majority do not accept applications until the year prior to schooling.

Still, most parents are pondering what type of school will best fit their child as soon as she blows out her first birthday candle.

Jennifer Katz, a speech pathologist whose practice is located in the heart of Noe Valley, works closely with many of the area preschools. She suggests that parents begin their search by touring the schools and, more importantly, by talking with families whose kids are currently enrolled. While most school tours understandably will highlight the positive aspects of their school, parents often will be more frank, divulging both pros and cons.

Katz also stresses the importance of knowing your own child, and what will work for him. Here are a few questions Katz recommends parents ask themselves before making their final pick:

• Does your child need a consistent teacher presence, or would a changing ­rotation of teachers/parents fit well with her personality?

• Would a small, intimate classroom environment or a large open space with multiple ages suit his needs?

• Does your family need half-day or full-day schooling?

• Would your child function better in a play-based or structured setting?

• What importance does outdoor education play in your child’s needs?

Tug of Love: Kids have fun learning the ropes at Littlest Angel Preschool.    Photos courtesy St. Paul’s Littlest Angel Preparatory Preschool

A Plethora of Preschools

We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood with many great preschools. From Spanish-immersion programs to Jewish and parochial preschools to parent-run cooperatives, the diversity of choices in or near Noe Valley meets the needs and desires of the community.


Spanish-immersion programs offer children a unique opportunity to learn a second language during a time when young brains are eager to absorb new words and sounds.

Centro Las Olas, located on 26th Street near Dolores, is a play-based cooperative immersion program that admits children starting at age 2. While most of the students have had previous exposure to Spanish, the school reserves two spots a year for children brand new to the language.

Buen Dia Family School, on Guerrero near 18th Street, has been a magnet for Noe Valley residents since 1977. Thirty percent of the families at the school have at least one parent who is a native speaker, and over half of the staff are native speakers. Roxanna Aliaga’s son Leo, now 4, has been attending Buen Dia for the past year. Aliaga said that when she first toured the school, she found “an immediate sense of warmth and happiness from the teachers and the children.”

In September, Language in Action will open its fourth preschool location in the Bay Area, this time in Noe Valley on Eureka Street near 23rd. The school, called ŃHolaKids!, promotes a mixed-age environment, with activities tailored for each age group. The new site will host 15 children ranging in age from 2 to 5.

For Families on a Budget

The typical cost for a half-day preschool program (five days a week) in San Francisco is around $10,000 per year. For many families this is undoable. Thankfully, there are a few lower-cost alternatives in and around the neighborhood.

Noe Valley Nursery School was started by a group of local parents in 1969. Although the school recently relocated to the Christopher Playground Clubhouse in Diamond Heights, it is still a fundamental part of the Noe community. Tuition in the parent-participation co-op is $361 per month for five days a week. For 5-year-old student Caitlin Dowd, the preschool experience has been all about nature. Last year, she especially liked the school’s walks through Glen Canyon, where she explored native plants and habitats. However, her favorite part of the day was when “my friend turned on the music and we all danced.”

Theresa S. Mahler Early Education School, located on Church Street near 22nd, is part of the San Francisco Unified School District. It offers both tuition-based schooling as well as state-subsidized education for low-income families. In addition to two regular child-development classes, Mahler also has one special-education class for preschoolers.

Neighborhood Play Garden, on Grand View Avenue near 21st Street, is a San Francisco “First 5 Preschool for All” program site. With state and city funding, the tuition for 4-year-olds can be reduced by approximately 50 percent.

Transitional Kindergarten

Beginning this year, California is pushing back the date/age requirement for kindergarten admittance, and by the 2014-15 school year, children must turn 5 by Sept. 1 to enroll in public schools. This has resulted in the need for transitional kindergarten programs for those students graduating out of preschool while still too young for kindergarten.

This year, the venerable Eureka Learning Center, on Diamond near 22nd Street, will offer just a transitional kindergarten program. With its small class size and experienced teaching staff, ELC received an outstanding review from student Shayna Blum, 5. She said the highlight of last year was attending field trips with her class, such as visits to the Japanese Tea Garden and the San Francisco Symphony, and a class at Wonderbugs Adventures. However, for her mom, Hillary Blum, ELC scores in art, science, and math, creating the “perfect balance between play and structured learning.”

Treehouse Pre-K, on Fountain Street near 25th Street, is both a preschool and a transitional kindergarten. Through its thematic curriculum, Treehouse emphasizes play-based and hands-on learning.

Religious and Parochial Schools

For those families interested in a more faith-based program, Noe Valley is home to an array of religious and parochial preschools.

Gan Noe, which is part of Chabad of Noe Valley, is one of the only Jewish preschools in the southern half of the city. It utilizes a play-based curriculum and also celebrates Jewish culture and holidays. While the 2’s and 3’s programs are located at Gan Noe’s Cesar Chavez Street site, the pre-K class is one block from St. Mary’s Park playground in Bernal Heights. The most memorable part of 5-year-old Cole Kurin’s day at Gan Noe was picking fresh fruit and berries (“and squeezing out the juice”) in the school’s large backyard garden.

There are two main church-based preschools in Noe Valley: Littlest Angel Preparatory Preschool in St. Paul’s Catholic Church at Valley and Church streets and St. Philip Preschool at St. Philip Church on Diamond near 24th Street.

Littlest Angel offers three programs: preschool for children 2 years 9 months to 3 years 5 months, a pre-K for children 3 years 6 months to 4 years 5 months, and a junior kindergarten (similar to transitional kindergarten) for those 4 years 6 months to 6 years old. Clementine Harvey, 5, loved the cooking lessons with Ms. Jacobson at St. Paul’s, but her “favorite, favorite part was when we went to the zoo and my daddy came.” 

St. Philip Preschool divides the children by age, and invites young 3-year-olds (“Petit Picassos”) to attend Tuesday and Thursday and older 3-year-olds (“Mini Monets”) to come Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The “Whirling Van Goghs” (fulltime 3s and 4s) attend Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Although the school does not accept children under the age of 3, it does offer a parent-participation 2’s program on Tuesday or Wednesday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Not far away in Diamond Heights, St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church also hosts a large preschool and daycare. The program is known for its long hours and luxurious naptime.

Even though these preschools are located in churches, a religious affiliation is not necessary. In addition, both St. Paul’s and St. Philip’s preschools are feeder programs to the elementary schools at each parish.

More to Come

Finally, there’s one more application that Noe Valley parents might want to fill out. Next fall, a private preschool with roots in Sonoma—Moldovan Academy—is moving into the freshly renovated Bethany United Methodist Church at Sanchez and Clipper streets.



A Directory of Noe Valley Preschools

For more information on neighborhood preschools, visit Savvy Source ( This site provides general information about the schools’ environment, enrollment, and teaching philosophies, and also includes parents’ ratings.




Buen Dia Family School

589 Guerrero St.



Centro Las Olas

3739 26th St.



ŃHolaKids! Noe Valley Campus

551 Eureka St.



For Families on a Budget


Neighborhood Play Garden

59 Grand View Ave.



Noe Valley Nursery School

5210 Diamond Heights Blvd.



Theresa S. Mahler Early Education School

990 Church St.


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Transitional Kindergarten Programs


Eureka Learning Center

464 Diamond St.



Treehouse Pre-K

75 Fountain St.



Religious and Parochial Schools


Gan Noe Preschool

3771 Cesar Chavez St.



St. Nicholas Day Care & Preschool

5200 Diamond Heights Blvd.



St. Paul’s Littlest Angel Preparatory Preschool

221 Valley St.



St. Philip Preschool

725 Diamond St.



Other Neighborhood Schools


Children’s Day School

333 Dolores St.



Denise Guerin Family Child Care

3825 26th St.



Growing Up Two


The Hummingbirds

601 Diamond St.



Kangaroos Preschool Center at Noe Valley

816 Diamond St.



The Katherine Michiels School

1335 Guerrero St.



Kelly’s Family Daycare

Church and Whitney streets



Moldovan Academy

(Coming to Bethany United Methodist Church for 2013-14 school year)



Pixie Hall Studios

649 Diamond St.



The Preschool 


Preschool Preview Night Oct. 17

Parents Place will host its 20th annual Preschool Preview Night on Wednesday, Oct. 17, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., at the San Francisco County Fair Building, located at the Ninth and Lincoln Avenue entrance to Golden Gate Park. With over 100 booths representing the city’s preschools and child-related services, this event provides parents an excellent opportunity to survey the preschool scene all in one evening. For more information, visit