Elementary School Guided Search
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How to Enroll
Who may attend
Kindergarten is a right. Children who turn 5 before Dec. 31 the year they start school are entitled to attend. This includes undocumented immigrants, children with disabilities, children who do not speak English and homeless children.
School officials must find a space for your child without delay. If there is no room in your neighborhood school, your child may be assigned to another school.
You do not need a green card or a Social Security number to register your child. However, you must have proof of address. Your child must live in the city before you can register.
Starting in kindergarten, your child is eligible to attend a school based on your home address, often referred to as your "zoned" school. The city is divided into 32 school districts, and most districts are divided into several dozen individual school zones. (Three districts, District 1 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in the East New York section of Brooklyn, have no school zones; children may apply to any school in these districts.)
To find your zoned school, type your address into the search bar at the top of this page. You may also call the City of New York at 311 or (212) NEW-YORK.
If your zoned school is satisfactory, then usually you can relax. Your child is guaranteed a seat except in unusual circumstances such as in the event that the school is so overcrowded that it cannot admit every child who lives in its zone. In this case, a few children may be assigned to nearby schools. If you move within the city after your child is enrolled in a school, she may continue to attend her old school through its highest grade or transfer to an elementary school in her new neighborhood.
If your child is entering an elementary grade other than kindergarten, you may register directly at your zoned school. If you live in a district that doesn't have zoned schools or you want your child to attend a school other than your zoned option, you will need to go to a Family Welcome Center to enroll your child.
Tip: Before you head to the Family Welcome center, do some research on InsideSchools to identify schools that both you like and your child is eligible to attend. Also, contact each school you're interested in to see if they have space.
Apply to kindergarten
The Department of Education has a centralized kindergarten enrollment system. It allows you to apply to up to 12 schools and gives the impression that there is more school choice than, in fact, is available. Nothing can stop you from putting a very popular school on your list, but don’t get your hopes up. Nonetheless, there are options beyond your zoned school.
About 60 percent of elementary school children attend their zoned option. However, if your zoned school is unsatisfactory, you live in a district that does not have zoned schools (Districts 1, 7 and 23), you're interested in alternative schools or specialized programs that accept children from outside their immediate neighborhoods or you simply want to visit several schools before deciding, you should start your search the fall before your child enters school. Many schools offer tours in the fall and winter.
There are three ways you can apply to kindergarten: online, by calling 718-935-2009 or at a Family Welcome Center.
The deadline for applying to kindergarten is typically in January. You will find out where your child is assigned by April. If he isn’t placed in your first choice, he will automatically be put on a waitlist at all the schools you ranked higher than the one he got. To register, bring your child, proof of residence (a lease or electric bill), your child's birth certificate and immunization records.
If you move to the city after the application process is completed, you may register directly at your zoned neighborhood school. You may also contact other schools that interest you but there's no guarantee the school will have space, especially the very popular ones, though sometimes they have seats open up in late summer, early fall, or even in the winter.
A word about waitlists: If there's a school that you like, but didn't apply to before the January deadline, you may apply after the application deadline and be placed on its waitlist. Some seats open up in September and October when, for example, a family moves. Schools receive budgets according to how many children are enrolled on October 31, so the staff is eager to fill any empty seats. Make sure your preferred school knows you still want a seat.
For more information and the timeline, see the DOE's website or call (718) 935-2009 to speak to a representative about kindergarten admissions.
What To Look For
It’s important to visit a school to get a sense of its atmosphere, tone and philosophy. Call the parent coordinator to find out when there are tours. Download and print our handy checklist to take with you on your tours, and watch our video for more ideas.
Close to home or far away?
Little kids tire easily, and a long commute to school may be difficult, particularly in the winter. If they get sick during the day, who will take them home? What about playdates after school, or on the weekend? That said, many parents are willing to trade a short commute for a superior education. For information about transportation, see the Department of Education Office of Pupil Transportation.
Are the children happy?
You want a school where children love to spend their days. The nicest schools make you slightly envious of your child. You'll wish you were 5 years old again so you could start kindergarten. The physical look of the classroom will tell you a lot. And so will the sounds.
Culture and tone
You don’t want a police state and you don't want anarchy. You don’t want total silence and you don’t want constant noise and distractions. Look for classrooms where kids are engaged in their work—not staring out the window or wandering aimlessly.
The principal is the most important person in the building. The philosophy may be traditional, progressive, or a mixture of the two, but the best schools have teachers and a principal with similar goals and a common vision of how to reach them. Avoid schools with warring factions, or a mishmash of ideologies where teachers shift for themselves and don't plan lessons with their colleagues. What good principals have in common is an abiding respect for the students in their care.
Good schools don’t rely exclusively on textbooks to teach reading, math, history and science. They use “real” books you might read for pleasure including picture books, novels, books about historical events, biographies and science discovery books. In the classrooms, each child may well be reading a different book, depending on his or her ability and interest. If everyone in a class spends most of the day reading the same textbook, a lot of kids may be bored.
You should see examples of children’s writing in the very youngest grades. Good schools ask children to keep journals and to write their own stories using their experiences and their imagination. Watch out for schools where most of the writing is material copied from the blackboard, or where every child’s essay is almost exactly the same.
Little kids have trouble with the abstract concepts of mathematics. They need something concrete they can see and hold. Good schools provide children with small objects to count with, called manipulatives, such as specially designed small blocks or rods. Little kids use them to learn how to add and subtract; older kids use them to calculate decimals or multiply fractions. To get a better feel for what good math instruction looks like, read our Parent's Guide to Math and Science.
History, geography and science
Look for evidence of history, geography and science. It may include classrooms with live animals, plants, fish tanks, and materials such as magnets and electric motors. Look for globes, maps and atlases; timelines with dates in history; and projects such as a study of the Brooklyn Bridge that may combine lessons in engineering and history.
Concerts, museums, the zoo, the beach—all can be incorporated into what children are studying in the classroom. Trips expand children’s general knowledge of the world, build their vocabularies by showing them new things, and indirectly improve their reading skills.
Playground and cafeteria
Many schools that are good in other respects give up the cafeteria and playground as lost causes. The noise is deafening and the playground is chaotic. Some schools manage to rein in the bedlam. They have children eat family-style in their classrooms, or recess can be a time for organized games. Very few schools manage this, so don’t get frazzled trying to find one. And perhaps noisy lunchrooms are preferable to the gloomy silent lunches that some schools insist upon. But we wish more schools would let children out to play in cold weather instead of having them watch videos in the auditorium.
Besides your zoned neighborhood school, you may want to consider gifted programs, unzoned schools, dual language programs and charter schools. You may also want to consider neighborhood schools that have extra space and routinely admit children from outside their attendance zone. Apply to these schools on your regular Kindergarten Connect application, except for charters which have their own application process.
If your child has a disability, visit our Special Education page to learn more.
If your child speaks a language at home other than English, see our page on Students Learning English.
Parents may ask to have their children tested for gifted programs in early November the year before they start kindergarten; the tests are given in January and February. There are five gifted and talented (G&T) schools open to children citywide:
- Manhattan: NEST+M is a k–12 school on the Lower East Side. Manhattan's two k–8 G&T schools are the Anderson School on the Upper West Side, and the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars (TAG) in East Harlem.
- Brooklyn: Brooklyn School of Inquiry is a k–8 school in Bensonhurst.
- Queens: Q300, The 30th Avenue School, serves grades k–8 and is phasing in over a few years at two locations: PS 17 for grades k–4 and IS 126 for grades 5–8.
Children must score at least in the 97th percentile on the gifted exam to be considered for a citywide G&T program; several of these schools limit admissions to children who score in the 99th percentile.
Most of the city’s 32 districts have gifted programs open to children who score in the 90th percentile or above. These programs mostly consist of one class in a neighborhood school. Learn more about Gifted and Talented here.
Two other gifted programs of note: the Special Music School open to children citywide and Hunter College Elementary School on the Upper East Side, open to children living in Manhattan only. These two schools have their own admissions procedures.
Some schools admit children from a whole district or occasionally from the whole city. Many were designed as an alternative to traditional neighborhood schools and have a progressive philosophy, with lots of projects, field trips and hands-on activities. Some are simply created to ease overcrowding at zoned schools. The city publishes lists of unzoned schools in its kindergarten directories. They are also sometimes called option schools or choice schools.
First established by state law in 1998, charters are tuition free and operate independently of the city’s Department of Education. There are more than 200 charter schools in New York City serving 95,000 pupils or nearly 9 percent of the city’s school population. A few begin in pre-kindergarten but most begin in kindergarten; some serve grades k–8, others grades k–12. Some begin in middle school and a few begin in high school. Admission is by lottery held in April. Most give priority to children who live in the school district in which the school is located. You may apply online, through a common application on the Charter School Center website, or directly to the school that interests you. If you arrive in the city after the lottery has been held, your child may be placed on a waitlist. Some schools admit children in upper grades; some do not.
Learn more about the different kinds of charter schools and networks in New York City here.
Dual language programs
Dual language programs offer instruction in two languages and are designed to make children fluent speakers, readers and writers in both. Typically, classes mix native speakers of both languages; the language of instruction alternates. Some of these programs give preference to children who live in the attendance zone, but some have room for children outside the attendance zone. Dual language programs are offered in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Hebrew and Italian. A complete list is available in the city’s elementary school directories. Apply on your Kindergarten Connect application or contact the school directly.
You may search for dual language programs by the language of your choice in our Elementary School Guided Search.
Read more about services for Students Learning English here.
Magnets are designed to foster racial integration. They receive federal or state funding for three years for special programs (such as art, science, drama or law), making the school more attractive in order to draw—like a magnet—children of different races who might not otherwise attend. These schools admit children from outside their immediate neighborhood. Call your district office to find out if there are any magnet programs in your area, but visit first and see if they still receive the extra teacher support magnets get, or are now “magnet” in name only.
Educating your child at home is an option for parents unhappy with the public school choices in their neighborhood. You must notify the Department of Education of your intention, and submit a plan for what you (or a tutor you hire) will teach. The New York State Education Department website has a useful question and answer section for parents. To learn more visit the DOE's website, call the Office of Homeschooling at (917) 339-1793, or email [email protected].
Tuition schools are beyond the scope of InsideSchools. We cover only New York City’s public schools. Here's a list of websites with information about private and parochial schools:
- Diocese of Brooklyn and the New York Archdiocese operate Roman Catholic schools in New York City and upstate New York and have a searchable school database.
- Greatschools offers information on public, private and charter schools in all 50 states, with detailed school profiles for California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Washington.
- The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York offers a directory of independent schools.
- The Parents League provides information and advice on private school admissions in New York City to parents who pay an annual membership fee. Advice on summer camps and after-school programs are also available.
- Early Steps gives financial assistance to children of color to attend private elementary schools.