They show up with lunch sacks and stuffed bears, an occasional doll. On Wednesday morning, most simply walked up the sidewalk with their parents in tow to the green, wrought-iron gate.
One arrived in a shiny, black Audi SUV whose driver popped out to open the huge door for his charge. After a moment, a pair of tiny feet clad in hot-pink Crocs sandals dangled out and another youngster headed into the First Presbyterian Nursery School in Santa Monica.
They are preschoolers. They are not celebrities, and for the most part neither are their parents. But that hasn't kept them from becoming accidental players in the Hollywood tug of war between paparazzi and real celebrities, a handful of whom take their children to the school.
According to school parents, when actress Jennifer Garner and her husband, actor Ben Affleck, are in town and toting 3-year-old Violet to the school, paparazzi swoop down like crows, swarming the small sidewalk, the alley and wall alongside the school yard for a glimpse of the family.
Garner -- both when she was recently pregnant and then with her new baby, Seraphina -- was a favorite target, according to bystanders.
"There was one day when one of the little kids in the youngest room there -- one of the paparazzi guys almost trampled him," said Rachel Ronn, the parent of a 4-year-old. "If I hadn't screamed, 'Hey, there's a kid there!' he might have been run over."
Parents contend that the presence of aggressive, loud, celebrity photographers is robbing children of a peaceful walk into school and their parents of parking spaces and a sense of security.
"It's incredibly invasive," said Marshall Coben, a Malibu businessman who was dropping off his 5-year-old son. "It's like walking a gauntlet."
Coben recalled an incident a couple of months ago when a few dozen photographers stood near the entrance squabbling among themselves.
"I asked them to please be quiet," he said. When a photographer made a "rude gesture" to him, Coben grabbed his own camera and took a photo of the man. "He ran up to me with his camera and put it in my face and hit me with it," Coben said, adding that he filed a police report.
"I understand they have to make a living," Ronn said, "and I understand this is what the public wants -- to see these pictures -- but I think there should be certain parameters when it comes to kids."
So does Santa Monica City Councilman Richard Bloom, who contends that preschoolers are just a little too vulnerable to be collateral damage in the world of paparazzi.
After visiting the school about six weeks ago and seeing how chaotic the situation was firsthand, Bloom plans to ask the council staff to recommend a proposal to curb the frenzy.
"In my view, the best solution would be to create a buffer zone around nursery schools, certainly," he said.
Bloom, an attorney, said he would want any law to be as "constrained as possible" so as not to tread on 1st Amendment rights.
On Wednesday, however, there was nary a paparazzo in sight outside the school entrance. Bloom said he believed the media frenzy was not a daily occurrence, but a common one.
"If it were an isolated thing that had happened once or twice, I wouldn't be spending my time on it," he said.
Bloom said he has spoken with Garner and Affleck about their concerns. "They expressed to me that they understand this is a part of their lives that they have to accept, but it's not something that other people should have to experience," Bloom said.
The demand for such photos might lessen, said Frank Griffin, a partner in the photo agency Bauer-Griffin. He dismisses the paparazzi gathered outside the nursery school as freelancers desperate to get a picture that will bring them barely more than a hundred bucks in these recession-strapped days.
Griffin speculates that part of the intensity about Garner and Affleck is because "they won't play the game."
"If Affleck and Garner would go to one of these charity kid shows" and pose for pictures, he said, "it would get rid of a lot of this."
And how do the children of non-celebrities feel about the swarm of paparazzi?
Some are apprehensive at first, others oblivious, their parents report.
"A lot of them think they're there for them," Adam Pertofsky said after dropping off his 5-year-old daughter, who remarked, " 'Look, Daddy, they're here for me.' "
He said his daughter eyed the photographers with curiosity at the beginning of the school year. "Now she knows the word 'paparazzi,' " Ronn said. "Only an L.A. kid would know that at age 4."