The Department of Education is certainly keeping parents—and schools—on their toes this year: Families of children born in 2011 will apply to kindergarten between Dec. 7 and Jan. 15, with notifications set to come out in mid-March, a month earlier than last year.

The takeaway for parents is simple: Start your research now, and if you happen to be in the midst of middle school or high school applications season too … well, we don’t envy you. Earlier kindergarten applications means parents will have less time to read up on schools and visit them before ranking and submitting their options. (Note that this year’s week-and-a-half-long public school winter break comes in the midst of this.)

Otherwise, the Kindergarten Connect process will remain the same as the past few years. Families may apply online, over the phone, or in person at a Family Welcome Center with a single application. Parents can apply to up to 12 schools, ranking them in order of preference.

To guide families through the admissions process, the DOE will host information sessions in each borough staring in early December. Kindergarten handbooks will be available online and in hard copy at schools "soon." The DOE website has a list of individual school open houses and tours that will continue to be updated. Turning Five orientation sessions for families of students with disabilities will be held in every borough between Nov. 16 and Dec. 10. See the schedule here.

At press time, however, the list was sparse, with many well-known schools notably absent and several tours listed after the application period ends. Keep checking back and contact schools about tours directly. Look at school websites (linked on our school profile pages) or call the parent coordinator. Some schools don't organize group tours but may offer a one-on-one tour if you ask.

On the school level, the kindergarten application deadline news still seems to be trickling in. While some schools already have the information posted on their websites, Madeleine Seide, parent coordinator at the popular PS 10 in Park Slope just learned of the changes yesterday. She said that in short holiday months like November and December, it will be a scramble to schedule tours before the application deadline. “Three months, three tours,” she said. “That’ll be it.” She still plans to hold tours in the spring.

At PS 290 on the Upper East Side, Parent Coordinator Sally Mason has her first tour scheduled for next Monday, when she will start telling parents about the new time frame. She found out herself only last week through a DOE e-mail blast intended for families. “I feel badly because so many parents have been saying, ‘I have until February to move,’ [to the PS 290 zone] and I didn’t know yet that wasn’t true,’” she said.

So what’s the reasoning behind the changes? Offering “more transparency” around contentious zoned waitlists, and easing the transition from pre-k to kindergarten were some of the reasons cited in a DOE press release. “This is a common-sense approach to helping our families and students,” the release quoted Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña as saying. 

While earlier notifications may give families more time to get to know their school, how exactly the changes will affect stubborn waitlists—other than give parents more time to fret—is unclear. Charter school applications and gifted and talented admissions—two big draws for families that often ease waitlists at zoned schools—remain unchanged. While charter lotteries are mandated by state law and won't happen until April, the G&T process can drag on until June and beyond by the time all students are placed. 

There are no plans to change the admissions timeline for G&T, said DOE spokesperson Harry Hartfield.

To start your research on elementary schools, watch our video, What to Look for on a School Tour and read our tips on what to look for in a school, posted on the elementary page. Read our school profiles and look at the InsideStats. Start with your zoned school. If you're not happy with what you see, look beyond it. See something you like? Share in the comments. It's time to dig in ... your adventure in NYC public schools is about to begin!

(updated Nov. 17 with information about Turning Five orientations for families of students with disabilities)