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Our guide to pre-kindergarten

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that the city will add more than 4,200 new full-day pre-k seats at 140 public schools in September. The staff of Insideschools has developed this guide to help you find a high-quality pre-kindergarten program for your child.

We created an interactive map that illustrates where the pre-k programs are located around the city. It shows how many seats are available this year, and how many applicants each school had last year.

We also posted our recommendations for schools in Manhattan and the Bronx, for Brooklyn, and for Queens and Staten Island. (To see the full pre-k directory, including new programs opening in the fall, click here to download the PDF.)

These lists only include pre-kindergarten programs that are housed in ordinary public schools. That's because the deadline for applying for these programs is April 23. The city is also developing thousands of new pre-kindergarten seats in community based organizations, child care centers, libraries and public housing projects — not included here. When the city publishes a list of those programs, we'll let you know.

We recommend that you apply online to the pre-kindergarten programs based in schools. If you miss the April 23rd deadline, there will be other chances to apply, but the most popular programs fill up fast. If you need help on the telephone, we recommend you call the Center for Children's Initiatives, a referral and information service that's a great resource for parents: 212-929-6911. You can also use their website.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the new seats are in schools that have extra room — not in the overcrowded or super-popular schools that can barely fit all the kindergarten students who live in their attendance zones. Parents on the Upper West Side in Manhattan or in much of Brownstone Brooklyn face tough odds if they apply to a lottery for pre-k at their neighborhood schools. Some schools have no pre-kindergarten at all.

However, schools in Harlem and the Lower East Side have lots of pre-kindergarten seats. In Brooklyn, there are new seats in Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Crown Heights, East New York, Canarsie and Flatbush. In Queens, there are new seats in Astoria, Long Island City, Flushing and the Rockaways. There is a big expansion of seats in Staten Island. 

We drew up our lists of "best bets" based on visits to schools by the Insideschools staff over the past few years. We also recommended a few schools that we haven't visited recently, based on the results of the city's surveys of teachers and parents. We tried to identify promising schools that may have room, rather than schools that are hopelessly oversubscribed — like PS 9 Sarah Anderson on the Upper West Side, which received over 600 applications for 36 pre-k seats last year. 

On our visits, we found that schools that are solid overall tend to have good pre-kindergarten classes, too. But we also found that some schools have terrific pre-kindergarten classes, even if the rest of the school isn't great. Many pre-k programs have bathrooms right in the classroom, playgrounds just for the little kids, and lunch served in class. 

Included in this list are under-the-radar schools like PS 200 The James McCune Smith School in Harlem, where we saw elements that make for a solid pre-k program, including blocks, a fish tank, a safe outdoor play area, a bathroom inside the classroom, and a thoughtful mix of play and academic learning. Plus, the assistant principal is Montessori trained. The school will expand to five pre-k classrooms in the fall.

If you are uncertain about quality call the school and set up a visit. Seats continue to fill over the summer but those of you who meet the April 23 deadline are more likely to get what you want.

What to look for in a pre-kindergarten

NPR produced a great video called "What Exactly is High Quality Pre-school". Watch it on You Tube.


Here's what we look for on our visits:

—A neat and inviting classroom; not cluttered and messy

—Engaged children; every child should be busy with an activity

—Children should not have to sit still listening for more than 15-20 minutes

—Variety in the children’s art (not “cookie cutter” art)

—Plants and animals

—Plenty of books

—Labels and signs paired with pictures

—A play area where kids can pretend (kitchen, shoe store, wood shop)

—Puzzles, LEGOS, counters, art supplies, blocks, water table

—A bathroom in the classroom or no more than three doors away

—A safe, enclosed, outdoor play yard

—Lunch in the classroom

—A teacher who moves around, rather than sitting behind a desk

—A time to rest, but not enforced naptime

—Patient, caring teachers

—Welcoming to parents

For details on how to apply, see our post.

(updated  April 22,2014 with link to NPR video on quality pre-school)

Last modified on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 10:38

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