Stories from Sea Crest School

The official blog of Sea Crest School in Half Moon Bay, California.

How to Choose a Kindergarten that Works for the Whole Family

By Natasha Loeffler-Little

As parents, we feel a real sense of excitement when our children say their first words, take their first steps and begin to draw their first real pictures. When they start preschool we’re nervous about leaving them with new people, schedules and social situations and relieved when we realize it passes so quickly. When it comes to starting kindergarten however a spiral of emotions begins.

There is the element of adding up the number of years our children will spend at a given school and the number of hours with after care. It also draws up memories of our own elementary school experiences – despite the fact that the options for programs and education approaches today are vastly different from those we may have experienced. Changing schedules, physical locations and people is a lot to think about.

Kindergarten prompts us to look beyond the play and social skill development we scoped a preschool for, but also we begin to ask big life questions like: how prepared will my child be for life and working skills like reading, math and everything in between? Research has shown that when we approach making decisions – like selecting a kindergarten and elementary school – by relying on our gut feelings instead of having a systematic approach we may be steering in the wrong direction.

In this series of articles, I suggest anchoring the big emotional question of, “Which kindergarten and elementary school is right for my child?” first in basic family logistics, factor in family goals and values and then layer in a Q&A methodology that asks relevant 21st century questions to help you make the best decision.


Step 1: Family Logistics

There are three family logistic categories to look at when prioritizing which school options in your community would be a fit which includes: proximity, special needs, and schedules.

Proximity: where the school is located. If your commute to work is North but the school you think you want to go to is South, think about whether this is feasible. If the school is 90 minutes away, think about the impact to the family sleep and stress levels if you were to make that commute.

Special needs: include anything from learning needs to food allergies. If your child has special learning or development needs and the school doesn’t offer support for this, that is an immediate disqualification. If your child has severe food allergies and the school does not have the policy to manage this, I would recommend that this is also an immediate disqualification. You may also be concerned about exposure to dust, mold or chemical sensitivities. Seeking out the options that provide the support your child needs to have basic safety or learning support is critical.

Schedules: involves taking a look at what the average daily routine is and what capacity each family member has. This is looking at work schedules for the adult family members – when they start and end work. It’s looking at when after-school activities begin and end. It should include how much time the adult family members want to volunteer at the school. Looking at the schedules for the end of the day will require looking at who will take care of your child after school gets out. Some examples include: If you have conference calls until 8 a.m. every morning then a 7:45 a.m. start for school will be tough to coordinate. If you don’t end work until 6 p.m. every day and the school gets out at 11:30 a.m., you have to think about how long and where your child will receive after-school care.

Another element of schedules is to think about how much time you’ll have to sleep and decompress. One thing we didn’t account for originally is how tired kindergarteners are the first few months. This is developmental, as well as part of a major life transition to learning and growing each day. Another is that new and sometimes complicated social issues come up and it takes time to sit and talk them out and let your child process these issues. Looking at how you as a family can support one another through these changes will help keep the peace and everyone thriving.


Step 2: Family Values and Goals

There are six categories of family values and goals to level set on with regards to elementary schools. They are religious (or not) affiliation, work/life balance, community, academic achievements, communication, and financial commitments.

Religious (or not): If having a specific religious foundation to your child’s education is important, then narrowing your search to a school that meets your family logistic needs and religious preferences is in order. The more indifferent you are to religious or not – the more options you have – but it should align with what is important to your family.

Work/Life Balance: This is for you as a family and mainly your child. Looking at the family logistics and understanding how many hours your child will be able to sleep and what time will be spent in a car driving to school is one part of this. If you’re an active family that wants to walk or bike to school then re-visit the proximity question to see which schools meet that requirement. Also, take a look at how much of school is focused on serious academic topics and what the homework requirements and policies are in later grades. If you want your child to have more of a play-based childhood but are looking at competitively academic schools this may be a mismatch. Ask yourself how much free time you want your child to have and how you want them to spend that free time.

Neighborhood Study Half Moon BayAcademic Achievements: You may be prepping your child to be the first to go to college or you may have a PhD yourself and be aiming for your child to do the same. How aggressive you get about what they should be able to do at each phase of development and their age is important in deciding which school they go to. How a school can evaluate getting your child on track or accelerating their strengths is also important. Ask yourself – and ask your child- what their hopes and dreams are for how they use their education. Think about the spectrum of skills from reading, writing, math, language, history, science, art and physical education achievements they’re interested in. It may also help to ask your preschool how your child is thriving and where they need additional support. One story a parent shared with me is her daughter did really well with station work but struggled to focus in drawn-out activities. This led her to select a school that had a rotation of programs and rooms throughout the day to match her child’s learning style (and it worked out incredibly well!).

Communication: There are two things to consider with communication and your child’s elementary education. The first is how you want the school to communicate with you and the second is how you want your child to be able to communicate to the world. Take a look at what your day-to-day communication as a family is like or how you operate at work. Ask yourself if you’re ok with official quarterly updates or require at least a weekly reminder and update on what’s happening around your child and what’s coming up for events. Think about what works at your current preschool and at work when there is a problem and how that gets solved and who gets involved.

For your own child think about how you want to prepare them to communicate as an adult. They will spend the majority of their day at school and be learning from other kids and their teachers when they aren’t with you. Think about what kind of support would help your child achieve being a strong communicator and whether the school(s) you’re looking at share the same goals and have an infrastructure in place to make it happen.

Child Care: Depending on what your work situation is and if you have family close by, there’s a strong chance someone is going to be taking care of your child some or all of the time when school gets out. The first question you have to think about is safety. This is about the staff and space where the care is provided. If it’s on campus your child stays in the same place whereas off-campus care requires someone else to transport your child. Stop and think about how comfortable you are with that.

Next, think about whether you just need a babysitter or someone for your child to play with or someone to stretch his/her mind. Look for programs or people that meet those needs. Child care may also be looking at live-in care or nannies. There are sites like that allow you to set up interviews and background checks. If you’re thinking about a student or part-time flexible help consider how reliable you need your care to be (for example, if they have overdue homework and have to cancel on you last minute will you be ok with that?).

Comparing costs in dollars and time in these different situations is also recommended. A highly qualified nanny runs $20-25 per hour where a high school student may be closer to $15 per hour. However, the reliability of the high schooler to drive, be consistent and follow directions is lower than that of a career nanny. Look at what you need to manage your own stress as well as what your child needs up front.

Financial Commitments: When I say the words “financial” and “school” it elicits a variety of responses but what is consistent is that it’s a charged conversation – happy, frustrated or passionate – but always emotional. For this exercise, it is not how you feel about money but about personal priorities. The two basic financial commitment angles are looking at what you can afford and what your family wants to do with money. The piece often missed is how else you plan to spend your money to provide support for the other values listed in this section.

For example, if you want your child to be bilingual but don’t want to be in a public immersion program – look into the cost of tutoring and how often language tutors are used in a week (typically it runs $25 an hour and should be at least twice a week plus working on the homework together in between). If your school doesn’t offer PE every day or year round you will want to look into other sport activities and how they align with your schedule (for example dance ranges from $75 a month to $130 a month; jiu-jitsu runs $75 a month; soccer is around $50 for 4-5 week programs). If being a strong reader is a family goal for your child then looking at library access and reading programs or on-going reading support at your school or off-campus options would be in order.

If you haven’t already – do the math and compare costs. If your family values and goals are only available at a fee-based independent school or achieved by piecing together a free public school with extracurricular activities and aftercare – add them up to see what makes sense. From personal experience, I can tell you that even when a family member is firm against having to pay for school – if you’re paying to achieve your family goals one way or another – when you write it down and add it up it becomes a very logical decision.


Step 3: 21st Century Elementary School Q&A

The final step is to bring your vetted list of family logistics and values to the prospective schools you’ve prioritized. Below is a recommended list of questions to ask and evaluate. With this I have two specific recommendations to help you make a grounded decision:

First, tour the school and ask your questions when your child is not present. As discussed in the introduction the goal is to make a grounded decision and not one from a “gut feeling” or emotional place. A friend gave me this advice when looking for preschools and it’s held true in other settings. If your child is sick, having a bad day or did not get enough sleep – they won’t be in the best spot to evaluate a new situation themselves. If the school meets all logical family needs but your child is having a bad day and says they don’t like it – you’re apt to not choose based on guilt for a place your child doesn’t seem to have a positive reaction to. Spare yourself the first time around and make it an adult only evaluation.

When asking friends for recommendations get the context as well. You’re not going to only do this Q&A process with the school. Chances are extremely high that you’ll ask a friend or neighbor what their experience was and what they would do in your situation. Some of the best feedback I had about schools in our community were from friends. However, I was careful to ask about overly positive or overly negative feedback and what else was going on. I had someone share that they felt the school was behind in teaching math skills. I then checked the Common Core curriculum and realized that the school was on target. In that case, the individual just had different academic goal expectations and they didn’t align with the Common Core. In another case I had someone who was really optimistic about how much parents were volunteering at their local public school, but found out that because she didn’t work she was in the classroom two to three times a week herself but other classes didn’t have enough parents with that schedule and her situation made her uniquely optimistic.


Questions to Ask


  1. How does the school fund itself?
  2. How many times a year are funding events held?
  3. What is the average class size?
  4. Are there aides available in the classroom?
  5. How does the school communicate with parents? How often?
  6. How do teachers communicate with parents? How often?
  7. If there is a problem at school with my child, how is it handled and communicated to me? Is just the teacher responsible for this or are there other staff available to manage issues when they happen?
  8. How does the school work to empower children to resolve conflicts?
  9. Do you offer enrichment opportunities for parents and families as well as the students during instruction? For example parent education in transitioning to kindergarten or handling tough topics?
  10. What is the seating arrangement and options for flexibility when working with students?
  11. How is technology embedded in the classroom? What technology access or programs are available to students at the school?
  12. Are there learning buddy or reading partner programs available? How does that work?
  13. Where do students eat?
  14. Is there a cafeteria?
  15. How are food allergies handled?


  1. How does the school measure student progress?
  2. What is the homework policy? What is the average hours of homework by grade level?
  3. How does the school identify if my child is struggling? Or ahead?
  4. Are standardized tests used? How are the results used? How do you interpret them at the administrative and classroom levels?
  5. What support is available for a struggling student? For an advanced student? Can you provide examples?
  6. Is there a way for my child to map out the school and meet their peers before the first day of kindergarten?
  7. What type of physical education is offered?
  8. What art, drama, music, or other enrichment programs are offered?
  9. What language programs do you offer? How often is the language offered? If it is an immersion program, what is the success rate and how long are children expected to remain in the program to be successful?

Parent Association:

  1. How does the PTO/PTA fund itself?
  2. How much money has the PTA brought in the past 3 years on average?
  3. Who runs the PTA?
  4. What does the PTA fund and is it shared across the school? How often is each project
  5. offered and how long are they sponsored? For example is the music class funded by the PTA and only available to a certain grade and only from September to January? Is PE offered once a week does this funding only last until March?
  6. What ways can and do parents volunteer?

Diversity and Inclusion: You mention “diversity” and often people just think of race. A modern approach is to think about a broader definition that includes socio-economic, gender, race, identity and more and how the school handles making it an inclusive environment.

  1. How many children have attended a preschool before starting kindergarten here?
  2. What is the split of the gender and race of the school?
  3. How is the leadership, staff and teacher race and gender split?
  4. How many parents are available to volunteer on a regular basis in each classroom?
  5. What is the school policy on the whole family being involved in events and volunteering from parents to grandparents?
  6. What types of community projects is the school working on to volunteer or build?
  7. How is bullying handled? Physical, emotional and social media?
  8. Does the school have values that are aligned for a modern diversity and inclusion program that will help my child thrive?

Before and After Care Options:

  1. What time does school start?
  2. What time does school end?
  3. How many minimum days are there in a year?
  4. Is there after-care offered on minimum days and parent-teacher conference or teacher workdays?
  5. Do you offer before school care and what time does it start?
  6. Do you offer after-school care and how late does it go?
  7. Does the school manage the before and after school care program or is it another company? If managed by another company make sure you ask the same questions about discipline, food, food allergy handling, time for homework, time for play, staff certifications and emergency preparedness that you would ask of the school.
  8. How are children signed in and out of the care program?
  9. How much does before and after school care cost?
  10. What other options are there for after-school care available nearby? How far are they?
  11. What do they cost?
  12. What enrichment does the aftercare program offer?
  13. Do the children get fed at the aftercare program?

Health and Safety

  1. What immunizations required?
  2. Do you have lockdown safety mechanisms and processes in place?
  3. What has the school done for emergency prep from earthquakes to tsunami to other natural disasters?
  4. Are the facilities professionally cleaned?
  5. What is the formal illness policy for the school?



While our babies’ growing up and becoming more independent is full of exciting and somber emotions, making the decision about where they begin their elementary experience can be systematic. By outlining specific needs or logistic constraints and then solidifying the family values you can ask the right questions and process the information to make the best decision.

Best of luck in kindergarten hunting!


About Natasha Loeffler-Little

A Sea Crest School parent and lifelong resident of a small community which her own daughter is now a part of – she’s seen a micro-ecosystem of public and private education change over the years. In the past year, she also had to make the decision about where her daughter would go to kindergarten. Initially, she was the emotional mom basing it on her own experience. What she found was the old adage “but we want better for our children”. As an executive at a leading provider of software in Silicon Valley, she had a firm understanding of what space, communication, and goals worked best for her, what was trending for our future work environments and what she wanted for her daughter. Looking at which school to pick based on this lens instead of “what worked for me will work for her” led her to advise friends and neighbors of her approach which are outlined in this article.

To learn more about admissions at Sea Crest School, please visit:

Raising Inclusive Children

Aligned to the school’s mission, our 2018-19 Parent Education Series was designed to provide Sea Crest families with the resources for raising inclusive children. Here are some of the take-away resources from the workshops:

Sea Crest School is nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices and all other operations. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, citizenship, national or ethnic origin gender, sexual orientation, or gender identification in the administration of our educational policies, admission policies, tuition assistance programs and athletic or other school-administered programs.



Farm to Market with First Grade

Where does our food come from? How do vegetables and fruits grow? Who makes our food?

These are questions that first-grade students explore each spring at Sea Crest. In one of the major project units of the year, students tour several local farms and ranches from Pescadero to Pacifica and even visit the Daly City Farmer’s Market to learn about the science of food production. Students also get their hands dirty in their own produce garden on our campus. The unit culminates in a farmer’s market each spring.

Complemented by a variety of local farms and ranches, the HEAL Project is one of Sea Crest’s most significant partners for the farming unit. Students take two field trips to HEAL where they first plant and then maintain plants as a part of HEAL’s garden. Those vegetables and others from HEAL are available at the Farmer’s Market at the end of the unit and all proceeds from the market go back to HEAL to be invested in the local market match program. This program supplements funds for coastside residents to shop at the farmer’s market who otherwise might not be able to afford fresh produce in their diets.

The farms’ project is one of many project-based units that students take on in First Grade to develop a deeper understanding of the world around them. Following their neighborhood study in the winter, the project weaves science, reading, writing, and even math into understanding our food sources and basic nutrition. Students delight in the opportunity to learn in hands-on ways from petting goats to planting and nurturing fresh produce. This year, students even had the chance to explore cooking with the creation of “plant part soup”.

First graders take particular delight in caring for the Sea Crest Garden. Each spring, students plant their “babies”; tiny starting plant and seeds, and spend the next eight weeks watering, weeding, and protecting the plants as they grow. Everything that grows is harvested for the Farmer’s Market which was held on Friday, June 7th this year. Seeing everything from their unit come together in this final project makes all of the learning feel more relevant and “sticky” for students; the primary goal of project-based learning.


— Innovation Lab & Design Thinking

Innovation Design ThinkingThe Design and Innovation Program at Sea Crest is building up steam! There are students coming in all day to create a huge range of projects. While they are having a blast creating, it’s important to point out how the program impacts children in the long run.

Many of the jobs that exist today did not exist twenty, ten or even five years ago. If current trends continue, it’s likely that many of our children will go into careers that don’t yet exist and demand a great deal of adaptability.

We can prepare them for this shifting landscape with two essential problem-solving skills: empathy and grit.

Innovation Design ThinkingThese two skills are the backbone of our innovation program and design thinking. Each of the students’ projects begin with a challenge that needs solving. Next, they go through the design process, which consists of four steps: find it (research), sketch it (brainstorming), build it (prototyping), and share it (gathering feedback).

As students go through these steps, they learn to see things from another person’s perspective and to adapt ideas to fix complex problems. Below are some examples of the challenges they are solving:

Kindergarten & 1st Grade
How might we use simple machines? [Experiment with simple machine combinations to solve problems]

Innovation Design Innovation Design Thinking

2nd & 3rd Grade
How might we keep better track of our things in class? [Create custom logo stickers for your things]

Innovation & Design Thinking

4th & 5th Grade
How can we address small inconveniences around the school? [Add plants to the garden area, reduce noise in the locker area, and more]

Innovation Lab Design Thinking Innovation Lab Design Thinking

Middle School
How might we help teachers have more functional classrooms? [Build storage, adjust lighting, add plants, etc.]

Innovation Lab Design Thinking Innovation Lab Design Thinking

How might we give the kindergartners more choice time options? [Build and donate a variety of toys]

Innovation Lab Design Thinking Innovation Lab Design Thinking

Coast Weeks 2019: Deep Diving Into our Local EcoSystems

Every year at Sea Crest, the Lower School takes Earth Day to the next level by celebrating “Coast Weeks” an exploration of Coastside environments, their needs and challenges. The annual unit includes grade- specific learning projects, community speakers, and field trips, culminating in a morning of sharing across grades at the end.

This year, teachers started planning early to ensure students had a rich learning experience. Each grade level exploration builds on the Sea Crest commitment to project based learning, an interdisciplinary approach that creates authentic learning outcomes for students. This year, the projects took place the week before and after spring break, with the school-wide learning celebration the final Friday morning. That celebration was a chance for students to be experts to their peers in other grades and share what they had learned, amplifying the learning of each grade.

In Kindergarten, Coast Weeks is the culmination of a longer unit on Trout where students raise trout in the classroom and watch them grow from eggs to alvin to fry to adults at which point the class takes a field trip to Lake Mead to release the trout into the while. The students shared a song about their journey with the school community at last Friday’s learning celebration.

In First and Second Grades, students studied particular animals and got hands on in creating replicas of their own. First Grade focused on Tide Pools,each creating a box of different animals found in the Tide Pools and exploring how they help each other. Second Grade dove into the Kelp Forest, developing a keen understanding of this vibrant eco-system and the importance of Kelp for oxygen production and sustaining these animals. Both classes had a chance to present their projects and leanings to their learning buddies on Friday.

Continuing a developing understanding of h

ow ecosystems work, Third Grade turned to the Wetlands, reading and researching how different plants an animals sustain each other with a deep understanding of food chains and how pollution put them at risk. Each student developed a poem about a preferred wetlands animal in their writer’s workshop and created an illustration in art class. To share the fruits of their explorations with the rest of the Lower School, the classes worked with our music teacher Marcus Cooper to develop a “Wetlands Rap” performed with supporting posters at the Friday assembly.

Fourth Grade similarly explored marine animals. After a presentation from the Marine Mammal Center, students chose a Half Moon Bay animal to research in science as a way to launch their animal life science unit from a student driven perspective. The classes also individually chose a marine animal and poem type for a creative writing project accompanied by a collage.

Fifth Grade prodded deeply into the issue of plastics in our ocean. Using student-driven research and building on presentations from community members, each student developed poems about our responsibility to protect the environment which they shared in a beatnik-inspired poetry cafe. Students also worked in pairs to repurpose trash and disposed plastic into apparel showcased in a “Trashion Show” at Friday’s assembly.

Supplementing the classroom activities, students participated in assemblies and webinars from Sea Hugger, The Marine Mammal Center, the Pacific Beach Coalition and the Marine Science Institute which gave students additional perspectives and showed them people in our own community who are actively working to protect our local environment.

Sea Crest Athletics: Building character one game at a time

In the gym of the Kohrs Family Center, right by the main door, you may see “CREST” spelled out. As a school, we are proud to be the Sea Crest Seals and this sign gives a sense of what that means. In our Physic

al Education/Health & Wellness program, which all grades participate in daily, CREST is an acronym for:

  • Come into the gym ready to perform your personal best.
  • Respect yourself, others, the space and all equipment.
  • Exercise Kind Manners & Good Sportsmanship.
  • Stay Safe on your feet while controlling your body.
  • Take Responsibility in what you say and do.

Students are taught to practice empathy in being good winners and losers. This spirit carries over into our competitive athletics as well. Our school does not have “try-outs” for sports; everyone who wishes to participate on a team is a part of that team, and the athletes are coached to improve their personal skill level. We still play to win, and have won many championships in the process, but our focus is on the team

, sportsmanship, and individual growth. Sportsmanship extends to the other team

. At a recent Seventh Grade Basketball game, a player paused mid-play to make sure an opponent who had fallen was ok, offering her assistance. At a soccer game, after a 4-0 win against another team

, Coach Emig reminded the team to be gracious winners and to be careful of what they said within earshot of the other team with the challenge to “win with humility, lose with grace, and do both with dignity.”

These lessons are critical for children to learn teamwork and positive competition and also to build the sense of community they feel with their peers, complementing those taught in the classroom. Ensuring that children are all having positive experiences is also important to maintain their interest in athletic activity, ensuring the wellness component of our athletics program. In these ways, having a strong athletic program that focuses not just on scores but also on character development is highly valued at our school and continues to build our strong Sea Crest community.

Footer background
Sea Crest School is nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices and all other operations. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, citizenship, national or ethnic origin gender, sexual orientation, or gender identification in the administration of our educational policies, admission policies, tuition assistance programs and athletic or other school-administered programs. © 2018 SEA CREST SCHOOL