How to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten

Why is Early Education Important?

Did you know that the first 5 years of a child’s life are the most important in brain development? During this time, the brain grows to 80-85% of its full adult size. Children learn at a much faster rate during these first few years than at any other time in their lives.
Stressful experiences during the first few years of life can slow a child’s brain growth and development. Sometimes these stressful situations are not in your control, but you can try to give your child a safe, supportive environment that promotes learning. You can help your child by having meaningful interactions and conversations with them during these early years. You can also make sure they have strong relationships with caring, encouraging adults like grandparents, child care teachers, and yourself!
Another way to provide this type of environment for your child is by enrolling them in high-quality early education programs from birth to age 5.

These programs are more likely to help kids:

• Be ready for learning at school
• Be successful readers in 3rd grade and beyond
• Graduate from high school
• Have better career as adults
• Have fewer behavior problems
• Have less chance of smoking, drug use, or depression
High-quality early education programs are an important part of helping kids be ready for school!

Types of Early Education Programs

There are many early education options for your child and your family.

Child Care

Child care programs are available for children from birth through Kindergarten, and up to age 12 for after-school programs. Child care can be offered at a center or in a home. All centers and homes must follow minimum expectations set by the state, but these do not indicate whether the program is quality.
Centers and homes follow different minimum state standards and serve different numbers of children. Government programs are required to meet certain national standards. Families can qualify based on their income levels, or if they are facing certain hardships such as homelessness.
To find an Early Head Start or Head Start location, call 1-866-763-6481 or visit: eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/center-locator. To see if you qualify, you must follow the income guidelines below. You can find more information here: hbenefits.gov
Child care can be subsidized or paid for privately. With subsidized child care, you can get financial aid to help pay for childcare if you meet certain income requirements, and you are working, in training or in school. Compare your household income below to see if you qualify for subsidized child care. To apply, call Workforce Solutions at 214-630-5949 or visit: cca.childcaregroup.org/ccg/cacp/ CCAParentApplication.
Private pay child care is offered through licensed child care centers, local community centers like the YMCA, and faith-based locations such as a church. The fees and program rules vary by location.

Early Head Start & Head Start

Early Head Start (for children 0-3) and Head Start (for 4-year-old children) are free programs that offer a variety of services for pregnant women and children from birth to age 5, such as education, health, nutrition, and social services. Each Early Head Start and Head Start programs are regulated by the U.S.

Public Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) 

If your child meets one of the guidelines below, they can attend a public Pre-K program for free.
• Qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch (see income eligibility table)
• Are homeless
• Do not speak English
• Are in foster care
• Have a parent in the military or had a parent in the military that was injured or died
• Have had a parent die in the line of duty that was a police officer, firefighter, or emergency responder
If your child does not meet one of the above requirements, they can still participate in the program for a fee of $5,250 per year ($525 per month for 10-months).

Public Kindergarten

Full-day kindergarten is available for free to all children who turn five by September 1st of that school year and is offered on the campus of local elementary schools.

Private Pre-K or Kindergarten

A Private School is a school that is not funded by the government. Private schools receive funding from individuals or a private organization. They usually require students to:
• Pay tuition
• Complete an application process that may include applications, tests, interviews, and financial aid applications
Private schools can have a religious affiliation or be independent. Although TexasSchoolGuide.org does not contain profiles for private schools, they are an available option for parents.

Choosing the Best Option

The first thing to do is to explore all of your options based on what programs you qualify for and the needs of your family and your child or children. Then you can decide which option is best for you. There are several different things to look for in a program.
1. Program Quality: It is important to try to find a program that meets a set of quality standards, not just minimum state standards. Programs that meet quality standards go above safety standards and assist your child in development and learning.
To find a child care program that meets quality standards the first thing you can look for is an accreditation (there are several). If you qualify for subsidized child care through Workforce Solutions, quality providers are certified as Texas Rising Star (TRS).To find TRS providers in your area visit: texasrisingstar.org. Other national quality certifications  include:
•National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
• National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA)
• National Accreditation Commission for Early Child Care and Education (NAC)
• Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI)
• Council of Accreditation (COA)
• National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
• AdvancED Quality Early Learning System (QELS)
Early Head Start and Head Start programs are required to meet high-quality standards to receive grant money from the federal government.
 2. Climate and Environment: Another important part of a program is the climate and environment. This includes things such as the number of children per teacher in a classroom, how friendly people are to you, your children, and each other.
3. Availability: Most programs have a limited number of children they can serve to have enough teachers for the children. You should call the programs you are interested in to find out if there are spots available for your child.
4. Location & Hours: Many parents consider the hours the program is open and where the program is located. For example, do they open early enough that you can get to work on time or do they stay open late enough that you can get there after work? Is it at a place that is convenient to your home or your job?
5. Cost: The cost of early education can be expensive unless you qualify for financial aid. Be sure to explore your options outlined in this section to see if you qualify for financial assistance. If you do not qualify, call the early education provider of your choice to find out their prices.

What to Look For in Early-Ed Programs

Once you start to narrow down your choices for an early education program, visiting in person is always helpful to better understand the quality of the program and how teachers interact with the children.
You might consider visiting a program without calling ahead. This gives you a better understanding of how the program operates day-to-day. When you visit a program, spend a few minutes walking around the building and talking to the teachers. You should spend time observing classroom routines and how teachers interact with children. Download our Child Care Checklist for a convenient way to take notes on visits and reminders of what to look for. You may also consider the following questions when looking for the right early education program.

Things to look for in the program:

• Do the teachers follow a curriculum?
• Are infants’ activities based on the needs of the children (napping, meals, or play time)?
• Is music ever played?
• Are there different types of age-appropriate toys?
• Are there goals set for each of the children?
• Do teachers encourage the children to try things on their own?
• Are there opportunities for children to work in groups and on their own?
• Are the children read to by adults?
• Is there a daily lesson plan posted in the room that includes planned activities?

Things to look for in a healthy and safe space:

• Do they offer healthy snacks that are limited in sugar?
• Are menus posted for parents?
• Are food, drinks, and medicines labeled with the child’s name and date, and stored in a safe place?
• Are the toys cleaned daily or as needed?
• Are the bathrooms clean and easily available to the children?
• Are there fire drills?
• Are there working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?
• Are there safety gates?
• How often do the teachers wash their hands?
• Are children taught proper hand-washing?
• Is there a teacher trained in CPR?
• Is there a first aid kit?
• How do the teachers handle potty training?
• What happens when a child is bitten by another child?
• Do the teachers have paid sick days?

Things to look for in the teachers:

• Does a teacher greet children warmly when they arrive?
• Do teachers welcome questions and visits from parents?
• Do teachers use a warm and pleasant tone when talking to children?
• Do teachers encourage children to talk to other children and the teachers?
• Do teachers discipline the children in a caring, consistent, and calm manner?
• Has your child’s teacher been there for more than 2 years?
• Does the teacher have a certification or degree from a college or university?
• Does the teacher have formal training in child growth and development?
• How often and for what subjects do the teachers have professional training throughout the year? (Examples include safety practices, curriculum, and first aid.)
There are many factors to consider as you are determining early education programs for your child. As a parent, you need to be able to make a decision that works best for your family and will support the growth and learning of your child in the best way.

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