A Mom’s Guide to Preschool, VPK, and Kindergarten

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In February 2008, my twins had just turned two years old. As a stay-at-home mom, preschool had not even yet crossed my mind. We were in a good place. The kids would play all morning and seemed to nap endlessly in the afternoon. It wasn’t until early that summer, I began to realize my need for a break, and so I began my search for a preschool. I very quickly found out that all the schools I loved had WAITING LISTS! WHAT?

Yep, all the parents that knew to register in February got the spots…probably one of the craziest parenthood lessons up until that point. So much so that I made a point to let as many other moms as possible know the scoop! And here I am again letting all you Jacksonville moms know, it begins NOW!

Registering for Preschool and VPK

Most of the preschools I am comfortable with all have registrations starting at the end of January or beginning of February (some have already opened enrollment). I have a relatively large list of preschools that I am OK with. Really I think most of the preschools close to me are great, and I could see my kids going to any of them. In the end, there is a perfect school for my kid; it just depends on what our priorities are.

What, as a mom, is important to me? Where do these priorities rank? I think my main goal initially was to find a place where my children were getting socialization (as opposed to staying at home with a sitter). I just needed a safe, happy environment for my kids to be around other kids while I got a break. My priorities NOW involve preparing the kids for Kindergarten in a nurturing environment –  it is important to find a preschool that will help your child gain the skills needed to be successful in Kindergarten!

Mothers Day to Graduation 005What Are They Learning

Academics – How will your child gain the knowledge that will have him ready for Kindergarten? There are many different methods to teach children basic colors, letters, and other academic knowledge.

Social Skills – Will your child learn to play well with other children, follow directions, and take turns?

Communication Skills – Listening and speaking are important skills for learning to read.

Independence – What basic skills will your child be able to complete by herself? Zipping her coat, tying her shoes, dressing herself?

Mothers Day to Graduation 091

Other Factors that are Important to Me

Schedule – How many days a week do you want your child in school? Half days or full days? One of the schools I liked required my children to attend four days. I was just not ready for that when they were two years old. Recently I have learned of some VPK programs that are two full days instead of five mornings, a nice option for some. Also, the time of drop-off and pickup can differ at schools and some just work better logistically for certain families. For example, a 9 A.M. start is pushing it for some families so a 7:45 A.M. start might not be a good idea!

Cost – As a single income family with tuition to pay for multiple kids, we needed a program that was reasonably priced.

Proximity to Home – By the time VPK rolls around, how far do I really want to drive every day? Some schools are worth it to drive the extra mile or the extra fifteen miles.

Full-Time/Part-Time, Wrap Around Care – It is important to me to have a flexible, wrap-around care option. I have taken advantage of drop-in care on occasion to go on field trips, attend early doctor appointments, have a late lunch, and to volunteer in the community past the hours my children are in school. Working parents obviously would need wrap around care. Some schools end wrap around care at 3 P.M. or simply do not offer it.

Security – Make sure you are comfortable with the way the school handles pick-up, door locking, etc. Some schools have higher technology video surveillance or strict visitation policies. It is important that you as a parent feel safe and that your child feels safe in his learning environment.

Free VPK – Even though my two-year-old is not eligible for VPK now, will there be a program available when she is ready? If you are putting your child in a program now that does not offer free VPK, would you be able to pay tuition for that year or would you consider switching programs to get free VPK?  We do not have it factored into our budget to pay for the VPK year!

Other Random Things I Did Not Realize Would Matter – Does the school have a one-year-old program when my infant will be ready next year? How does the school handle food allergies? Does the Potty Training Policy work for me? Are there scholarships available? Do we have friends there to arrange a carpool? Can I walk my child into the classroom?

What You Should Do:

  • Attend an informational session. Listing of VPK providers by Zip (Remember there are many great schools that do not offer VPK! Be sure to check out our Guide to Schools).
  • Tour the school yourself (during school hours to see teachers interacting with students).
  • Talk to other parents.
  • TRUST YOUR GUT!
  • Don’t stress – The year that my twins were on waiting lists, we ended up getting into a wonderful school!

VPK Info for Duval County – There is a single point of entry for registration for everyone in the state of Florida. You scan and submit documents, complete the application, and once everything is reviewed, you receive the certificate by email. Even if you pop into an Early Learning Coalition office, they direct you to a computer where you can generate your VPK certificate online! You will need:

  • Proof of residency
  • Proof of child’s age
  • Your child’s SSN

VPK Info for St. Johns, Putnam, Nassau, Baker, Bradford, and Clay Counties

**Note:  Your child is eligible for VPK even if the provider is not in the same county where you reside!

And Then Comes Kindergarten

After preschool, we then have to decide where we want our children to go for Kindergarten (unless you are redshirting like Jessica did)! Public school, private or homeschooling? My kids are in public school, so as a bonus I am listing pertinent information for registering your children!

Similar to preschool most schools offer informational sessions and tours in January and February, and most schools will allow you to schedule a time to visit if you miss their open sessions. I personally suggest allowing your future Kindergartner to come along, too. It may be difficult to keep him in line, but it will help make him feel more comfortable when school begins in the Fall! To register you will need:

  • A birth certificate or valid evidence of date of birth
  • A Florida certification of immunization or exemption
  • A physical examination (physical must be no more than 12 months old at the time of the student’s enrollment)
  • Proof of residence

To find your school:

Plug in your address and your school pops up. You can register directly at the school you are zoned for and online or by mail for magnet and choice schools. Please note that charter schools have different applications and deadlines. If you are looking for Early Education Centers and private schools, check out Jacksonville Mom’s Guide to Child Care, Preschools, & Schools in Jacksonville.

Duval County School Finder

Duval County Magnet Application– Due February 28!

St. Johns County School Finder

Clay County School Finder

Technically there is not a deadline to register, but it will be easier for administration to register prior to class placement. At our school, this happens in July! Another tip: extended day programs fill up fast, especially for Kindergarten, so try to secure spots as soon as possible.

Kathy Waller
Kathy is a Georgia girl who followed her surfer husband Chuck to the beaches of Jacksonville where she became mom to elementary-aged twins Sophie and Will, preschooler Lainey, and baby Henry! Stay at home mom and avid volunteer, Kathy truly believes in teaching her children to embrace the community, to depend on each other, and to serve one another. Kathy served for a decade in the Junior League of Jax and is in her third year serving on the executive board of the PTA where her children attend school. She is very active in her church, Neptune Baptist and has been involved in the MOMS Club of Jax Beach for over eight years. Kathy has learned so much in her career as a software consultant for Oracle, but is always amazed at the skills she has acquired as a mom and community volunteer. Kathy also enjoys running and completed her last marathon (#9) in 2011, but always wonders if she shouldn't just do another to have a good even 10 under her belt!

15 COMMENTS

  1. My daughter is starting kindergarten at a magnet school in duval county but her physical for her immunizations isnt until August 18th! I was waiting on that to register because the school requests all forms be turned in at the same time. Does she risk losing her spot in the magnet school if she has not been registered yet?

    • If your child does not have an IEP yet in PK they can start speech and language services as soon as a evaluation is done. If your child needs language in kindergarten there is a 3 month rti process wait. In pk there is no 3 month rti, they get started as soon as an IEP meeting takes place.

  2. I am new to the area and want to find a great preschool for my 3 year old daughter that really focuses on education and social skills. Can you please recommend your top schools

  3. Do any of the public kindergartens that you know have a more old fashioned play based curriculum? I’ve been terribly disappointed with kindergartens not having recess til end of the day, no play centers, no naps, spending a lot of time doing seat work.. ADHD kids of mine do not fair well at all with them.

  4. I like your breakdown of notable skills children should learn. Academics is just as important as social and self care skills. A child will eventually have to be an adult that takes care of themselves and it’s our job as parents to put them in a position where they will be prepared for that.

  5. I am doubt about my daughter she is 2 years and half old. she will turn 3 on August 8 this year.
    She is in daycare I need to know what age I have to apply for early school?

  6. hi! loved this article! thank you for sharing. I was a teacher for four years in elementary school and have also worked in the administration of a pre-school. I think one thing that’s vital is the teacher’s training requirements. Teachers in daycare/preschool settings are required to complete hours of training by the department of children and families and public school teachers teaching VPK are required to have a bachelors and be certified teachers in their respective states.

  7. You’ve got some helpful information here about kindergarten. My son is about at the age where he can start going, so this is all good for me to know. I like how you said that we need to find a place that teaches him social skills, like following directions and playing with others. That’s important!

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