Got a 4-year-old? Now's the time to apply to pre-kindergarten. We've compiled a list of best bets, based on our visits and intel on schools most likely to have space. Before reading on, see more details about the process on our post, Pre-k picks: Manhattan & the Bronx
Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Vinegar Hill
In District 13, in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant, PS 3, a school noted for its dedication to the arts, has five pre-kindergartens and even had space for out-of-district students last year. It has a great outdoor play area, a garden and it offers after school until 6 pm. We can recommend PS 54, an up-and-comer with space that has a great STEM curriculum. Kids run their own composting program. Just a block from Fort Greene Park, PS 67 has a vibrant, play-based program in a school that's on the upswing. A few blocks away in the DUMBO–Vinegar Hill area, PS 307 has some great perks, including a STEM magnet grant and a Mandarin Chinese teacher. The sparkling new pre-k center at Dock Street has 72 seats, and all did not fill in its first year: on a recent visit there were only 55 children enrolled. Consider PS 133, a lottery school which offers Spanish dual language in pre-k. It's also open to residents of District 15, but priority goes to low-income students and to those learning to speak English.
Williamsburg and Bushwick
Many small neighborhood schools in District 14 have expanded pre-k offerings and are worth a look. PS 120 has a robust arts program and established pre-k classrooms. PS 157 strikes a balance between play and reading, writing and math, according to a parent. Small, safe PS 319 serves only pre-k through 1st grade, so teachers have honed their expertise in early childhood education. PS 380 has an organized and supportive atmosphere where no child falls through the cracks. Another good bet is diverse, well-run PS 132, which took some in-district kids after taking siblings last year, as did PS 31 and PS 34. PS 147 has many seats.
Park Slope, Boerum Hill and Red Hook
District 15 covers many neighborhoods but only a few public schools have pre-k slots available. We found two that are good bets. In Red Hook, PS 15 has a dual language—Spanish-English—class in pre-k, a rarity for this age group. Boerum Hill parents praise the pre-k program at PS 38, a spacious building with large, airy classrooms and entire rooms for block and LEGO play plus an amazing new STEM lab. There are seven classrooms and class size is small. District 15 is home to several top-notch pre-k centers. One, located inside the PS 118 Maurice Sendak Community School building, is called The Little Brooklyn Pre-K Center. Another by the same name is located at 4222 4th Avenue and shares a building with PS 516. Trips and activities are important at the Little Brooklyn Pre-K Centers. Children study Hermit crabs, grow lima beans and make their own recycling containers out of boxes and paint. And we loved the progressive, discovery-based Pre-k center at Bishop Ford.
Consider PS 309 in District 16. The large pre-k classrooms have their own bathrooms and open out to a small, inviting play yard for little ones only. Pre-kindergarten has lots of space for dress-up and make-believe. Academics begin early at Brooklyn Brownstone School with its no-nonsense atmosphere, high expectations and involved parents. PS 21, one of the highest performing schools in the district, had many seats available for kids outside its zone. Pre-k classrooms are lively and inviting at Brighter Choice, a school that has attracted parents from the Bed-Stuy Parents Committee, who are working with the district to improve neighborhood schools.
Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and East Flatbush
In District 17's Prospect Heights, the pre-k classrooms at PS 138 have dramatic play corners, academics and experienced teachers. The PS 241 program has its own early childhood mini-building, behind a renovated playground. New Bridges Elementary in Crown Heights has five pre-k classrooms "bursting with tools and toys," according to our reviewer. Arts are a big focus at the school. PS 375, also in Crown Heights, has a principal who favors the Reggio Emilia Approach, which encourages exploration and discovery. In East Flatbush we liked PS 770 New American Academy, an innovative model that draws inspiration from the open classrooms of the 1970s.
Canarsie and Flatbush
Only a handful of public schools had openings for pre-k after accommodating siblings and zoned applicants in District 18. Of those, PS 233 is a good bet, with some of the highest teacher satisfaction ratings in the district. No pre-k centers here, unfortunately.
East New York and Cypress Hills
One of the most respected Head Start programs in Brooklyn is in District 19. Cypress Hills Child Care Center has a joyful environment and teachers who love their work and stay for years. The program is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)—a sign of high quality. On our visit, we saw happy children building with blocks, splashing at a water table, or singing and dancing as their teachers encouraged them to talk about their projects. Low-income families have preference in admission; there may be a wait list, however. Another option is PS 108, which has a positive climate according to school surveys, and is "well developed," the highest rating, on city report cards.
Bay Ridge, Borough Park and Dyker Heights
Southern Brooklyn's District 20 boasts many great neighborhood schools, but there is severe overcrowding. The DOE has added nine pre-k centers, most of which had empty seats last year. The pre-k quality snapshots for those look fine. If your child speaks Italian or wants to learn it, the Italian-English dual language program at PS 112 in Bensonhurst begins in pre-k. Also recommended: Happy Dragon of New York, Inc. The center serves mostly children who speak Cantonese or Mandarin, does a good job hiring teachers and teaches children to be independent, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said after visiting.
Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island and Flatlands
Our pick in southern Brooklyn's District 21 is diverse, safe PS 212, which had room for some children in the district who were not siblings of older students last year, according to the DOE's directory. There are four pre-k centers, all called Brooklyn's Daily Discovery Pre-K Center followed by the center's address. Quality snapshots are positive.
Flatbush, Ditmas Park and Mill Basin
Schools vary greatly from one end of the district to another in District 22. The northernmost schools tend to fill with zoned students. Several schools have expanded in the southern areas and you can try getting on a waitlist. One safe and well-organized school in Mill Basin that took some non-sibling pre-kindergartners in the district last year is PS 236. Three pre-k centers in various locations are called The Joan Snow Pre-K Center followed by each center's address.
Ocean Hill and Brownsville
We like Riverdale Avenue Community School in tiny, unzoned District 23. Our reviewer found lively pre-kindergartens with art, hatching chicks, block-building and fun-to-read books. There is a lovely pre-k program at FirstStep NYC housed in the PS 41 building (it's listed under the name SCO Family of Services on our website). It is the first education program for babies and toddlers, serving children as young as 6 weeks. Teachers are unusually attentive and the classrooms are well supplied with books and toys.
Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant
Bushwick United Head Start in District 32 has several locations. Its website is filled with photos of children poring over subway maps, singing to guitar music, and building with blocks and Lincoln Logs. It has accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. St. Brigid Catholic Academy is a new program opening in Bushwick. PS 145 had seats last year. Teachers like the principal and report the school is safe, according to school-wide surveys and the pre-k quality snapshot.
Corona, Glendale and Elmhurst
In District 24, most neighborhood school pre-kindergarten seats fill up with siblings and children living in the school zone. The Department of Education has opened 15 pre-k centers to alleviate crowding. As noted, pre-k centers are a good alternative to crowded neighborhood schools.
Flushing and Whitestone
District 25 has many good zoned schools but the competition for pre-k is fierce. PS 201 has four pre-k classrooms and a magnet program in inquiry and research. The Active Learning Elementary School has a rare, all-vegetarian menu for lunch. It's open districtwide and last year had some space for non-siblings.
Enrollment is tight in District 26 in northeast Queens, long the city's highest achieving district. Most public school pre-k seats fill from within the zone only. With 72 seats, PS 213 is an exception. Also consider the Lutheran School of Flushing and Bayside, voted "Best of the Boro," by Queens Courier in 2015.
South Ozone Park and the Rockaways
On the farthest seashores of Far Rockaway, in District 27, take a look at racially diverse Queens Explorer's Elementary, and Wave Preparatory Elementary. There is also a pre-k center at PS 223 called Curious Young Learners.
Central Queens: Forest Hills, Jamaica, Rego Park and Kew Gardens
Overcrowding is a problem in schools across District 28. PS 160, which we visited in 2015, is improving under Principal Tiffany Hicks, who is adding more arts programs and stronger social studies. The pre-k's are in cramped but tidy portables and kids have easy access to a safe playground with sparkling climbing equipment right outside the door. Parents should also look at the new pre-k centers in the area.
In District 29, in the southeast corner of Queens, teachers and parents are pleased with PS 132 Ralph Bunche, according to school surveys. PS 181 is a small school with a positive vibe and a good attendance rate. And we can recommend PS 176, a well-run neighborhood school that had space for out-of-zone students in recent years. Also consider two pre-k centers: on Jamaica Avenue and Springfield Boulevard.
Astoria and Long Island City
Zoned schools in District 30 are crowded and many do not offer pre-kindergarten. PS 112 in Long Island City is an option: it is racially diverse, has good attendance and there are five pre-k classes. PS 85 has 72 pre-k slots, and there are six pre-k centers in District 30. Here's one in Astoria.
The Harbor View School offers hands-on math and science. Teachers say the school is safe and orderly on school surveys and 100 percent would recommend the school to other parents. It opened in 2013 in the St. George neighborhood. Naples Street School, with an arts focus, is open district-wide. It has two pre-k classrooms and a small ASD Nest program for children with autism. PS 53 had some seats after taking siblings last year. It gets high marks from both teachers and parents on the annual school surveys. Also check out the three Richmond Pre-K centers.
More questions? Reach the Pre-K for All outreach team at the Department of Education: (212) 637-8000. They are offering one-on-one help, but be prepared to wait.
This list is only a start. Give a shout out to great programs you know about in the comments!