If your child has spent their early years at home or in a smaller daycare setting, you may want to consider enrolling them in preschool when they’re around three years old. If they’re already at a daycare center that includes a preschool classroom, you probably don’t need to think about choosing a school until your child is getting ready for kindergarten. Either way, it’s a good idea to plan ahead: In some areas, the school enrollment process starts almost an entire calendar year before your child will start school—which means at least getting the lay of the land sooner than later.
Here are some things to consider as you start choosing a school:
- What age will my child enter the local school system? Some districts offer universal pre-kindergarten for 4 year olds, others only offer a limited number of pre-K seats based on birthdate or by lottery, and others might not offer any at all. It’s a good idea to know ahead of time what year your child will be eligible to enter your local public schools. Your school district’s website will be able to tell you that (probably under a link for registration or family information).
- What are our biggest priorities as a family? Hours? Location? Cost? Type of program? What are the nearby options that meet those desires? What types of financial assistance are available to make these programs fit our budget if they are not part of the public school system?
- Does my child have particular needs that might not be addressed by every school, and where can we get those met? These might include exceptionalities that mean your child needs a higher adult-to-child ratio or other types of support to help them fully participate in school.
- What system does our district use to assign students to schools? This is a big question. Many districts assign school placement based on address. That makes things a little easier on you—it means you are “zoned” for a particular school, and your child will go there unless you opt not to enroll in the district, or your child has documented special needs that cannot be met there. (If that’s the case, consider connecting with one of our Navigators for help figuring out the right alternatives.) Other districts offer families school choice, usually via a lottery. If that’s the case for your town, it means you’ll need to do more legwork to understand the options, figure out which school or schools you prefer, and fill out the required lottery paperwork.
- What is the registration timeline and process for our preferred schools? When do you have to fill out student registration forms? What other forms are required (you’ll probably need a health form signed by your child’s pediatrician, for example).
- What are the options outside our district, if we choose to go that route? Are you considering local charter or private schools? The same questions apply: What age is your child eligible to enter these programs? What is the application process like? How can you apply for financial aid if you plan to?
There’s no single right answer here, and there’s no one BEST school.
What’s right for someone else’s family might not be right for yours. So it’s a great time to think about your child’s needs, your family’s priorities, and what’s available in your area.