Karen Lee founded Karen’s Kiddos in 1980. She grew up in the Seattle area and graduated from the University of Washington in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree (majoring in Asian Studies) and a Washington State Teaching Credential.

Shortly thereafter she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, married her long time boyfriend, Roddy (who grew up in Kensington), completed requirements for a California State Teaching Credential at Hayward State, and started teaching in the Richmond Unified School District (now the West Contra Costa USD). They settled in El Cerrito and their first child, Adam, was born in 1979.

Karen soon discovered that finding good childcare was difficult. The choices included family day care, mostly consisting of “group babysitting,” or larger preschools with little one to one interaction, inadequate supervision, little or no planned curriculum, and employees who rotated in and out of the schools with great frequency. Other teacher friends were expressing the same frustrations with those choices so Karen decided to stay home with Adam, get a childcare license for six children, and set up her own program. Her spaces filled quickly.

After five years she expanded her license to accommodate twelve children and hired some assistant teachers. By then she and Roddy had a three year old daughter, Jessica, to round out their family nest.

Their children are now grown. Adam lived in China for almost 9 years.  He taught English, was the Secretary of Performing Arts at the International School of Beijing, started a swing dance business (China Swings), and organized a big band.    Upon his return to the US he earned his Master’s of Music Education Degree at NYU and is now the Music Director at the Brooklyn Institute for Liberal Arts.   Jessica has been teaching for the West Contra Costa USD for the past eight years and recently earned her Master’s in Teaching Leadership.  Roddy has retired after teaching high school in the WCCUSD for 38 years.

Christina Johansen Pollack joined the staff in 1990 when she was a senior at El Cerrito High School. She worked her way through college as a part time teaching assistant, graduating from Hayward State with a degree in Early Childhood Education and has subsequently earned a State of California Child Development Teacher Permit.  She is married and has a four year old son, Erik.  When Karen retires in June of 2013 Christina will continue operating the preschool at the current site.

Our newest employee, Alexis Salonen, started working at Karen’s Kiddos in January of 2010. She graduated from the University of Southern California in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater and plans to get a teaching credential with an emphasis on RSP (Resource Specialist Program) and work with special needs children.


Our goal is to help children become prepared socially, emotionally, artistically, physically, and academically for happy and successful experiences in school and life. This includes teaching them to be a valued part of a group while respecting and meeting their needs as an individual.

Social and Emotional Growth:

In order to be a valued, well liked part of a social group, children need to learn to respect each other and be respected. This includes learning to share, take turns, cooperate, communicate, assert their rights in a fair and civil manner, and seek help from others when needed. Learning good manners is also an integral part of being liked and respected.

Artistic Growth:

Music and art are essential components of emotional growth. We will not all become famous artists but we can certainly learn to enjoy art in many forms. Researchers have confirmed that babies respond to music before they respond to the human voice and I have yet to find a child who doesn’t enjoy music. Even profoundly deaf children are very attentive to the beat when they “feel” music.

It is important that children learn to use art materials and to explore their own creativity. We try to impress upon them that it is the process that is important and that whatever they create is of value.

Physical Growth:

Children without disabilities find it natural and pleasurable to move their bodies. This can be encouraged by providing opportunities for free play, as well as organized games and activities.  It is increasingly important to teach children about nutrition and making good decisions when choosing the foods they eat.

Academic Growth:

The foundation of learning is the development of an attention span and a love for the process. Learning to “focus” is a developmental skill, gradually improving with age and experience. An interest in learning depends on the presentation of the subject matter being taught and on the readiness of the individual child.

In a multi age group the younger children learn from the older and the older learn to nurture the younger, but their ability and readiness are not defined by age. When children are grouped by age they often compare strengths and weaknesses, sometimes leading to a low self-esteem on the part of the less mature child(ren). When grouped by readiness they tend to accept each other without being judgmental.

We place a strong emphasis on language arts including vocabulary, phonics, grammar, listening skills, and conversation. For more information please see “curriculum”.