Stepping Stones Preschool is one of the best preschools in all of San Francisco.
It is located at 1329 7th Avenue, San Francisco in the Inner Sunset district where there is a concentration of single family homes. Their website address is: steppingstonessf.com
Stepping Stones educates 2.5 – 5 year olds in English and has been around for over 40 years. They were founded by two mothers who believed in the balance between work and childcare.
This is Stepping Stone's philosophy:
We believe that early childhood is a time of natural exploration and discovery. We know that young children learn by “hands on” experiences.
Our teachers are highly qualified to scaffold each child’s growth and development in a natural way to help them discover answers to their curiosities about the world around them. Children come into our world eager to learn and discover and the teachers want to support and engage them in a way that will turn them into lifelong learners.
We have a multi-cultural play-based curriculum that encourages learning through art, language, music, pre-math, pre-reading, science, and socialization. Although we prepare children for kindergarten, we do so in a way that makes learning a more natural and fun experience and focus more on the children’s interests when we build our emergent curriculum.
I have visited Stepping Stones five times and have spent a total of 4.5 hours speaking to the admissions director and teachers and observing the students. Here is my feedback as a parent of a son who applied and got in.
Stepping Stones Preschool Review
Facilities 4/5 stars: Stepping Stones is located in a church, like many other preschools. The school does not have a religious denomination and is open to all faiths. They have a wonderful open area and four separate classrooms separated by age groups.
Location 5/5 stars: Stepping Stones is in one of the best locations in all of San Francisco given its walking proximity to Golden Gate Park, the largest and most family friendly park in the city
The Inner Sunset neighborhood is one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco for raising a family due to the concentration of single family homes, unlike most of the city. The neighborhood is diverse, affordable, and friendly.
The people who live in the Stepping Stones neighborhood feel like your middle class, salt of the earth people from yesteryear. There is no snobbery like you might experience in the Pacific Heights, Marina, Presidio Heights, or Cow Hollow neighborhoods where the demographic is extremely homogenous.
Further, if you are financially savvy, Stepping Stones is near Golden Gate Heights, Redfin's top 5 neighborhoods in the entire country for property price appreciation.
More single family homes means more family and family friendly activities in the neighborhood.
Diversity 5/5 stars: Unlike other top-ranked preschools who consist of mostly caucasian kids, Stepping Stones is incredibly diverse and reflective of the diversity of the city. San Francisco, after all, is a minority majority city. For all the kids to come from rich and white backgrounds is unfortunate to prepare your child for the real world.
Teaching 5/5: All teachers are required to have Bachelor of Arts degrees. Stepping Stones also has a great male preschool teacher named Andrew, who I've seen at the California Academy Of Science's every week when his son was 0-2 years old.
The teachers back each other up and are great based on my four hours of observation. Feedback from parents has been universally positive.
Stepping stones also has a low child-teacher ratio of 6:1 (2 teachers per class of 12) which is better than a lot of other schools in SF. There has been some teacher turnover, which was partially due to the pandemic and the notably high cost of living in San Francisco. However, some teachers have been there for many years and their process for selecting teachers is very thorough. The director is phenomenal and genuinely cares so much about the kids and the school.
Overall, they truly hire teachers who love and enjoy teaching children. And they've always had a tight-knit team that's really fun for the kids and each other.
Schedule 5/5: For working parents, Stepping Stones has the ideal schedule. You can drop your kids off at 7:30am free of charge and pick them up as late as 5:30pm, also free of charge. The founders of Stepping Stones were both working parents, hence this focus on schedule flexibility.
Tuition 4/5: Preschool is not cheap anywhere in San Francisco, and Stepping Stones is no exception. For full-time enrollment, the cost is about $1,800 a month. For part-time enrollment, the cost is around $1,400 a month. The school is year around.
Curriculum 5/5: Here is Stepping Stone's curriculum in their words: Our main teaching philosophy is focused on the concept of community. We want the children to learn what it is like to be a part of the community and how they can contribute to the community.
We take daily walks in the Inner Sunset community and we know all of the surrounding businesses where we also take mini field trips.
For example, Easy Breezy and Hometown Creamery open their doors for us before their business hours to allow the children to take a tour, and Park Smile welcomes us to visit and chat about dental hygiene.
For Halloween, we go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. And as a way to say thank you and to give back to our neighbors, we take the children caroling in December. We also visit and invite SFFD and SFPD into our school every year to talk to the children about different ways to be safe.
In addition to teaching the children about our neighborhood community, we also teach the children how to be a part of their school community. We encourage the older children to help out in the younger classrooms, and we also teach children to ask their fellow classmates for a helping hand to see if they can solve the problem together before asking a teacher. Our end goal is to mold our children into kind tiny humans who know how to navigate living in a city.
Our Pre-Kindergarten class takes monthly field trips to the California Academy of Sciences. We are taking advantage of our close proximity to the museum. We take the children to document in their science journals – explore, observe, document, and label. And then we take them back every month to observe and document any changes. At the end of the year, parents can see the fine motor development in their journals as well as the growth in their observations (teachers write down their words for their observations).
Parental involvement 5/5: Because Stepping Stones is located in a family friendly, mostly single family neighborhood, parental involvement is much higher than other neighborhoods.
It's extremely easy to get to know other parents, build friendships, organize playdates, and feel apart of a community. This community feeling is huge for especially stay at home parents who need a social outlet.
Stepping Stones Overall Score: 4.8/5
Stepping Stones is one of the best preschools in San Francisco. It is a true reflection of the spirt of San Francisco given its location and diversity.
If you are rich, white and want to start your kids down the pressure cooker road that resulted in 33 parents getting prosecuted by the Department of Justice, Stepping Stones preschool is not for you.
See: The Wide Implications Of The College Admissions Scandal
But if you want a diverse, loving, and wonderful environment in a family-friendly neighborhood, Stepping Stones is a fantastic option.
Just be forewarned that Stepping Stones receives 4-5 applications a week, or 250 applications a year for a class size of 12. Out of the 12, about 3-4 are reserved for siblings.
Therefore, make sure to apply at least one year in advance to give your child the best possible chance of entrance.
At the end of the day, all your little one needs is a lot of love and attention. Stepping Stones gave the biggest amount of love I have ever experienced each time I visited.
If you don't get into Stepping Stones, don't worry. There are 356 preschools in San Francisco. Of course not all are amazing, but you will find one that is. Just keep looking and applying.
About the author: Sam is a father to a two year old boy and has lived in San Francisco since 2001. He runs one of the largest independently own personal finance sites in the world with over 1.5 million pageviews a month.