Okay…I am in dire need of a breather right about now. Do you know how stressful registering your 4 year old for VPK (voluntary pre-kindergarten) for the upcoming school year is? I mean, honestly!
This is our first child to be entering school and up until now he has stayed home with me. As a working stay at home mom, we really haven’t had a need for him to be in a daycare or school setting. But now that he’s old enough for a pre-kindergarten program, we thought it would be a good idea to get him signed up so that he could start preparing for kindergarten by having a more structured and set schedule.
And not only that, but he could use some regular socialization with other kids his age. We go to the park and he also plays soccer 3 days per week, but he literally craves socialization with other children. So, a pre-kindergarten program it is! Plus, I get a few hours a day to myself. Well, myself and the baby, but it’s still a break nonetheless.
The registration process has been – well – a tiresome one. Here are four things I’ve learned through the long-going process of getting our son signed up.
1. Do not wait!
I debated putting this towards the end of my list because it makes more sense chronologically, but in my opinion it’s the most important. So if you don’t read anything else, I want you to read this one!
Do not wait! I cannot stress this enough! It’s the end of the current school year and I had noticed while driving around that schools were advertising registration for kindergarten for the next school year. Does this mean I need to start looking now at registering my son for pre-kindergarten, or is that something that’s done a few weeks before the start of the new school year? Is the process for pre-K different from kindergarten?
I had no idea! Being that this is our first child to enter school, we had absolutely no clue how any of the process worked. Once I did my research and figured out the basics, but still not knowing if different places would have different requirements, I started calling schools to find out what I needed to do to get my son registered.
Me: Hi, I’m calling to get some information on the process for registering my son for your pre-K program for the upcoming school year.
School Admin: I would be happy to give you the information, but our pre-K class is already full and there are 24 children on the waiting list.
What?! Already?! So I thought to myself – okay, I’ll just go down our list of preferred schools. They certainly can’t all be full, right? Needless to say, there were very few options to choose from when it came down to it because classes were already full. Most places only offer one pre-K class and they fill up quickly. So again, I can’t stress it enough – DO NOT WAIT!
2. Be Prepared.
Being prepared is also something that came in handy. What I learned as far as requirements in Florida, is that I had to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for my son. To get the certificate I had to submit proof of residency and also proof of age (my son’s birth certificate). After the provided documentation was reviewed, I received and was able to print the COE.
Wherever we decided we wanted our son to attend a pre-K program, we had to show administration the COE as proof that he was of appropriate age and that the state had approved for him to enroll in a pre-K program. When we did make our final decision on where to enroll our son, I had the COE in hand and was prepared to complete his registration that same day.
Some locations only required the COE for registration, but to register for the pre-K class at an elementary school, there were additional requirements such as two proofs of residency and the child’s immunization and health records.
3. Not all pre-K programs are created equal.
There’s actually a few things that go into this. First, I want to point out that there is a difference between a pre-kindergarten program at an actual elementary school and a VPK program at a pre-school/learning center type of location. I’m not talking about a difference as far as curriculum and what the children learn, but more so in what’s offered and how long your child is there each day.
School associated pre-K classes run like a full day of school. Here in Florida, children in the pre-K class at an elementary school start their day at 8:20 am and end their day at 1:50 pm.
However, many pre-school and learning centers in Florida offer all 4 year old’s a free three hour voluntary pre-K (VPK) program, and the times those three hours vary according to location. From calling around, I spoke to some places who did the free three hour VPK program from 9 am to 12 pm, and there was one in particular that offered the same program from 2 pm to 5 pm.
And not only is this a difference between school associated and learning center associated programs, but even the same learning center in different locations can offer different things.
For example, we have a learning center that has two locations that are both within decent driving distance from our home. One of them does not offer the free VPK program because the administrator doesn’t believe three hours per day is enough time to prepare children for kindergarten. So that particular location only offers a full day and you have to pay tuition, basically. So there is no free three hour VPK program there.
But on the flip side, the other location does offer the free VPK program and instead of just three hours, they offer up to six hours. We were told we could take our son in as early as 7 am and no later than 9 am because that’s when the core learning begins, and the free portion ends at 1 pm. This is the same learning center as I just mentioned, but simply a different location. Not only that, but this other location provides the kids with breakfast, snack and lunch; whereas many places that offer the free three hour VPK program do not include any meals or snacks.
So just know that all pre-kindergarten programs are not created equal.
4. First-hand research goes a long way.
This should probably be a no-brainer, especially considering you’re leaving your child with complete strangers for an extended period of time. At least for us, since our son is always home with me, leaving him with strangers and in a completely different environment is very new to both him and us.
We knew from the jump that we wanted to visit any place that we were even considering registering him at. We want to make sure the environment is clean and nicely kept, and that the staff/teachers are nice and courteous. We set up appointments to stop by and tour a few different places, and this was also a great time to catch up on any minor details and ask any questions we had about the program or the school. I’ll definitely say there were some that after touring, were completely taken off our list of possibilities.
And one of the things we looked for while doing tours, was how our son acted and reacted to different things like the actual environment, the staff/teachers on site, the other kids already attending (since we toured during school hours), etc. There was one place in particular that my son didn’t want to leave, so we took that as a sign that he’d probably enjoy being there.
In the end, we found what we believe to be a great learning center that has a very productive VPK program. I just wish we had started looking much sooner than we actually did. If we had, I think we would have been able to visit and tour many more places and would have had more options to choose from. Now that we’ve gone through the experience once and learned everything we need to, it should be smooth sailing for our other children when they’re ready for pre-K.