Did you know all children may attend a free, full-day pre-kindergarten the year they turn 4? The window of time to apply in 2016 is from Jan. 25 to March 4. That's six weeks! Plenty of time to scroll our site and then tour your favorite pre-kindergarten classrooms in person.
Programs are scattered throughout the city: in public schools, charter schools, religious schools, private nursery schools, Head Start programs, child care centers and community organizations. It's a lot to take in. Many are good, some are not-so-good, but most look like lively hubs where 4-years-old can learn through play with blocks, puzzles, sand tables, Legos and toy kitchens.
Where to start?
Take five minutes to watch our video, "What to look for in a pre-kindergarten." Read about one parent's experience applying: "One mom's trek through the pre-k application maze."
Click on "PRE-KINDERGARTEN (4-year-olds)" on our homepage search box and type in your address for a list of pre-k programs near you. The results will show whether your "zoned" school offers pre-k and, if so, how many seats there are. (A "zoned" school gives priority to applicants who live in that catchment area.) If you live in districts 1 (Lower East Side), 7 (South Bronx) or 23 (East New York), there are no zoned schools, in which case a lottery determines admission.
Consider pre-k centers
Here's a tip: If your zoned school doesn't have pre-k or fills up with younger siblings of already enrolled kids, check out "pre-k centers," which are housed in a variety of locations including public schools.
We loved K280 @ PS10 in Brooklyn, and Manhattan parents rave about a handful of new pre-k centers there, such as The Pre-K Center at 1 Peck Slip. Staying close to home during a cold winter is a plus, one mom said.
Some working parents prefer early education centers because of the flexible and longer hours. And, writes one mom, there's something to be said for a whole building geared toward little kids.
How to apply
If you don't get your first choice, you'll be automatically placed on a waitlist for any programs you listed higher on your application. Don't worry if you don't get a match to any program immediately. There's lot of movement over the spring and summer. Make sure to stay in touch with your schools of interest. There will be a second round of applications, including more programs, announced in May.
The pre-kindergarten directories for each borough list all public school and early education center programs and spell out the admissions priorities in detail.
The Department of Education is offering information sessions in every borough beginning Jan. 27.
Want in-person help from Insideschools? Join us for "The Low-Down on Pre-K" here at the New School on Feb. 11 from 6-8 pm. Register here. Upper West Siders can learn more about their choices at Rutgers Presbyterian Church on West 73rd Street on February 8th at 6 pm. Sign up here.