Chicago Public Schools funds early childhood education programs through both schools and community-based organizations. The key to choosing the right program is determining what works for your family.
Things to consider when choosing a program:
- Your Child's Age
- Location (Age eligible residents of Chicago may apply to any program)
- Program Hours
- Services for Diverse Learners
- Language Preference
Chicago: Ready to Learn! Programs…
- Have half day (2.5 to 3 hours long) and full day options.
- Are school based.
- Have a standardized curriculum: Creative Curriculum Literacy Approach is used in all classrooms, providing a research-based structure to support student growth and learning.
- Are offered free of charge for children with special needs, children in temporary living situations, and income-eligible families.
- May have a required fee based on the income of the parents or legal guardians. Use the calculator to determine your fee.
Tuition-Based Preschool Programs
- Are offered to children ages 3 and 4 years old.
- Are full day models that provide childcare in addition to preschool.
- Are offered in a limited number of elementary schools. Registration for these programs occurs at the school building. View the Tuition-based Programs.
Child Parent Centers
- Focus on the needs of the entire family and emphasize the importance of continuity from preschool through 3rd Grade. View the Child Parent Center Programs.
Selective Enrollment & Montessori
Please note: Transportation will be provided for children whose Individualized Education Plan (IEP) states the provision of transportation.
Community Based Partnership Programs
Community Based Partnership Programs
Provide preschool services and developmentally appropriate experiences to children enrolled in childcare facilities. Community-based early childhood programs are open to children birth to 5 years old.
- Hours vary by program
- Non-school-based, community-based programs
- Standardized Curriculum: Creative Curriculum Literacy Approach to promote school readiness
- Eligible children enrolled in participating childcare centers receive an enhanced educational program
- Program is targeted to working parents in need of childcare
For a Complete List of Programs in Your Area
Please visit chicagoearlylearning.org. You can also text your zip code to (773) 886-1819, or call the Chicago: Ready to Learn! Hotline at (312) 229-1690 to find out more information about programs that best meet your family's needs.
How to Apply to School-Based Programs
Upcoming School Year (2015 – 2016)
Chicago: Ready to Learn! Applications will be accepted for School Year 2015-2016 from March 2, 2015 – May 1, 2015.
To apply, please visit one of our centralized application sites. Click below to see a full list of sites.
English | Spanish
If you are applying for a child who has a sibling already in a Chicago: Ready to Learn! program, and this sibling will be at the same school next year, the new applicant can apply under the sibling priority during this application period.
- Required documentation (This is applicable both to School Year 2015-2016, and 2014-2015. Please note, only one item in each category is necessary.)
- Chicago: Ready to Learn! application
- Applications are available at all sites and can also be obtained below.
English | Spanish
- Proof of child’s age*
- Original birth certificate
- State-issued medical card
- Proof of residency*
- Driver’s license/ID card
- Utility bill
- Lease agreement/mortgage statement
- Current voter’s registration card
- Proof of income*
- Current paystub
- SSI Letter
- Unemployment letter/stub
- Workers’ compensation letter/stub
- Retirement or pension stub/letter
- Official child support letter
- Income verification form
- Proof of active military service of parent/guardian
- Families of Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) are exempt from the supplemental documentation requirements.
Please click below for more information.
English | Spanish
Please note: applications are only accepted for school-based preschool programs. To enroll in a community-based preschool program, please contact the agency directly.
Current School Year (2014 – 2015)
Applications are still being accepted with immediate placements available at some schools. In order to be eligible for the current school year, children must have been born on or before September 1, 2011. For an application, please click here English | Spanish
To apply, visit one of our centralized applications sites. Click below to see a full list of sites.
English | Spanish
What do you need to apply? (Please refer to the required documents section under School Year 2015-2016)
Prekindergarten is a major milestone in the life of a child! Help your child prepare by talking about what school might be like. Ask your child what they are thinking and feeling about going to school. Remember, what seems normal to adults may seem very overwhelming or frightening to a child at first. Feeling nervous, scared, excited, or unsure are all normal feelings. Be positive and supportive - prekindergarten will start you’re student on the path to becoming a lifelong learner!
Consider checking out a few of these books from the library:
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
- David Goes to School by David Shannon
- Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen
- First Day of School by Anne Rockwell
- Take a Kiss to School by Angela McAllister
- It’s Time for Preschool by Esme Raj Codell
For more ideas, read this great article on starting preschool from National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Preparing to Meet with Your Child's Teacher
Meeting with your child’s teacher will be a two way conversation—you and the teacher will talk and listen. As the parent, you have valuable information about your child that can allow the teacher to better help your child. Your child's education is a partnership between home and school. Follow these tips for a successful meeting with your child's teacher:
- Write down any questions you would like know about your child at school. Some questions might include:
- What are the expectations for my child?
- How is my child doing at school? What do you see as his/her strengths? Challenges?
- Can you show me data about how my child is doing?
- How can I support my child’s learning at home?
- How can I be involved in the classroom (even if I work during the day or have other commitments)?
- Are there other resources at school I should be aware of that can help my child?
- Decide on a plan together. As you discuss your questions and the teacher’s questions, decide what you will both do to support your child’s continual growth and learning. Write down what you and the teacher will each do.
- Make a plan to stay in touch. Share which mode of communication is best for you—phone calls, texting, email, notes home, etc.
- Afterwards, talk to your child about what you learned. The meeting was all about your child! Don’t forget to share with them about what you learned (including their strengths) and what you plan to do to help them keep growing and learning.
For more tips, read this article from the Minnesota Parent Center or this tip sheet from the Harvard Family Research Project.
Supporting My Child’s Learning and Development at Home
Your child’s education is a partnership between home and school. Here are some important things you can do to support your child’s learning at home:
- Talk to your child and listen to their responses. Ask them questions about what they are thinking and feeling and respond supportively.
- Answer their questions. Young children ask a LOT of questions. It can be overwhelming! However, asking questions is how young children learn. Always acknowledge their questions (“wow, great question”), even if you don’t know the answer—it’s ok to say “I don’t know”! Look up the answer together online or in a book or even talk about what your best guess might be.
- Read aloud to your child.
- Encourage your child to draw and write—in a journal, on scrap paper, anywhere!
- Share your interests with your child and encourage them to tell you about what they are interested in.
- Go to the library together, or to play at the local park. Chicago Public Library and Chicago Park District both offer a lot of free events.
- Attend meetings with your child’s teacher and follow through on the teacher’s suggestions for how to support academic development at home.
- Praise your child for hard work and trying again—this teaches your child to keep going, even when they are faced with a challenge.
For more tips, check out this article from Parents magazine: 20 Tips for Parents from Preschool Teachers.
Other Resources for Parents of Preschoolers
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)'s Family Resources
How to Get Your Library Card from Chicago Public Libraries
Head Start Resources on Parenting