Early Childhood Programs
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
- Cost (Tuition-Based Programs and CBOs only)
- Language Preference
Chicago Early Learning 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 estimate your families co-pay.
- To learn how to apply for a Chicago Early Learning program, click here.
Tuition-Based Preschool Program
- 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.
- To learn how to apply for a tuition based program, click here.
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.
- To apply for a Child Parent Center through the Chicago Early Learning process, click here.
Selective Enrollment & Montessori
Please note: Transportation will be provided for children whose Individualized Education Plan (IEP) states the provision of transportation.
Community Partnership Program
Community Partnership Program
The Office of Early Childhood Education (OECE) collaborates with the Department of
Family and Support Services (DFSS) to provide services birth to 5 years old in child care
in communities across the city to provide high quality environments where certified
early childhood educators support children's health and development.
- 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 more information, contact the Department of Family and Support Services at
For a Complete List of Programs in Your Area
Please visit chicagoearlylearning.org . You can also call the Chicago Early Learning
Hotline at (312) 229-1690 t o find out more information about programs that best meet
your family's needs.
How to Apply to School-Based Programs
School Year (2016 – 2017)
Please Note: The application process for School Year 2016-2017 has changed.
For more information on how and where to apply for the upcoming school year, please visit chicagoearlylearning.org .
Applications for School Year 2016-2017 can now be submitted online or at one of the City's Family Resource Centers .
School Year (2015 – 2016)
Step 1: Gather three documents, one from each category below*:
Please note: Students in temporary living situations will be enrolled without the documents listed below
- Proof of child’s age*
- Original birth certificate
- State-issued medical card
- Proof of address*
- 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
Step 2: Visit an application site near you to complete an application in person.
Printed application forms ( English | Spanish) are available at all sites
|CPS Loop Office
42 West Madison St. Chicago, IL 60602
4655 S. Dearborn St. Chicago, IL 60609
4638 W. Diversey Ave. Chicago, IL 60639
Additional opportunities to submit applications are available throughout the year. For more information on this, please check the CPS calendar or call 312-229-1690.
Step 4: Complete registration at your accepted school.
Once you have accepted a placement at a school, a visit to complete the registration packet should be scheduled between you and the school. This provides you an opportunity to not only complete additional required forms but also familiarize yourself with the classroom environment and school culture.
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 your 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
Frequently Asked Questions
A. You may apply to a Chicago: Ready to Learn! program in person, at an authorized application site or at an authorized application event. For a list of these events, please call the CRTL Hotline (312) 229-1690. Paper applications will be available at the application sites or can be downloaded. Please note that income, address, and proof of birth documents are required for all application submissions except for students in temporary living situations.
Tuition-Based Preschool Programs
For more information on Tuition Based Programs and how to apply, please visit the Tuition Based Preschool Programs website.
Selective Enrollment & Montessori
For more information on how to apply, please visit the Office of Access and Enrollment website.
Community Based Partnership Program
For more information, please visit the Community Based Partnership Programs website.
To search for Community Based Partnerships programs visit chicagoearlylearning.org.
To enroll in a community-based preschool program, please contact the agency directly.
The Chicago: Ready to Learn!
program takes a variety of factors into consideration when placing a child, such as a family's income, a child's age, housing type, sibling status, and other factors. For a comprehensive list of entrance priorities, please visit our programs
A. Yes, children placed on a waitlist must re-apply. Each year, all students are given equal opportunity to apply for seats at the upcoming grade level to which they are entering. Students who were placed on a waitlist for the 2014-2015 School Year must re-apply for entrance into a Chicago: Ready to Learn! program for 2015-2016. If your child is on a waitlist for this current school year, and you would like to find out more information about this or to check the status of availability for schools this year, contact (773) 553-2010.
No, you do not need an appointment to apply at one of the application sites. Please visit our how to apply
section for a listing of sites and hours of operation.
A. No, only the child's legal guardian can complete an application on his/her behalf. This requirement is only waived for students living in temporary living situations.
A. For the Chicago: Ready to Learn! program, parents of twins, triplets and other higher order multiple births have the option of linking their applications together so that the students are either admitted together or placed next to each other on the waitlist. Please inform the associate when you are applying for multiples.
A. Students in temporary living situations generally follow the same application procedures as everyone else, but are exempt from supplemental documentation requirements. Additionally, students in temporary living situations who are unable to submit the application at a designated site, may receive assistance from a local school staff person in order to submit the application. Please be sure to enter an address on the application where you will be able to receive mail.
A. Once you receive a placement letter you must contact the school for a registration date. You will be asked to complete a registration packet.
Enrollment in a school’s preschool program does not establish eligibility or priority enrollment in a school’s Kindergarten program. Click here
to learn more about cps kindergarten enrollment.