Updated December 2019
“Sign up for VPK,” they said.
My son was 3.5 years old at the time. I’d been a stay-at-home-mom since the summer after his first birthday and was teaching him the things he needed to know: letters, numbers, colors, and how to socially interact with his peers. But I’d also heard from moms with older children about how challenging the kindergarten curriculum was. So, my husband and I decided to enroll him in VPK for the following year. But how exactly were we supposed to do that? Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the application and enrollment process for busy parents like us.
What is VPK?
VPK–or the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program–is a free pre-k program available to 4 and 5-year olds residing in Florida, regardless of household income. This means that there is funding set aside by the state for every child to receive either a full year or summer of pre-k education from a licensed provider of their parents’ choice. If you’re at all familiar with pre-school tuition rates here in Miami, you know this is a really huge deal. The only eligibility requirement is that the participating child must be at least 4 and no older than 5 on or before September 1st of the upcoming school year. That’s it!
The VPK enrollment and registration process begins on January 1st. If your child is eligible for VPK for the upcoming school year, you can begin the registration process then. Just go to the VPK Help website and click on the Registration button to get started. You will need one of the following documents to prove your child’s age and identity:
- their official birth certificate, passport or certificate of arrival in the United States
- an immunization record
- any other valid form of ID from this list
Parents must also provide a copy of either their utility bill, insurance policy, pay stubs, or related government documents (tax return, etc) to prove FL residency.
You can register your child for VPK even if you don’t have a specific school or program in mind. It takes several weeks to receive the VPK voucher, so getting things started right away will enable you to receive it sooner rather than later.
Visit & Select a VPK Provider
Because VPK is a voluntary program, public schools are not required to provide it. Some public elementary schools in Miami-Dade offer VPK programs, but children are not guaranteed a spot at their home school. Look through a list of VPK providers and narrow it down to schools you’d like to visit and consider. Once you have about a handful of schools to look into, start calling through the programs on your list to schedule tours and/or attend open houses. Ask about VPK enrollment dates, and find out how the enrollment or lottery system works at each school.
Then, go and see it for yourself! If they allow your child to come with you, I highly recommend bringing him or her along. I told my son that we were going on some adventures to visit some different schools. He loved it and it helped me to see how he responded to different environments. I was also able to observe how the principal and school administrators interacted with him.
Being able to visit a handful of different schools also helped me to learn more about each school’s educational philosophy and get answers to some of my questions.
Ann, one of our contributors, recently wrote a post about some of the questions she and her husband were asking as they searched for the right preschool for their daughter. You may also want to consider the answers to these questions as you determine which environment is best suited to the giftings and needs your child has:
- Class size: How large is the class, and what is the student to teacher ratio? Does the primary teacher have an assistant? Smaller class sizes aren’t always better!
- Half-day/full-day grouping: The VPK program voucher covers half-day programs. A recent trend is for half-day kids to be placed full-day classes, meaning they arrive at the same time but leave halfway through the school day. If your child will only be attending half-day pre-k, will they be placed a full-day class? If so, what activities/opportunities will they have access to (i.e. recess, time in the media center, music and art, etc)? What might they miss?
- Hands-on learning or table work: Does the school offer a more hands-on, activities-based learning curriculum? Or do children spend more time working at tables? What might better suit your child and his or her learning style?
- Educational services: If your child needs educational services (occupational, speech and language therapy), how can they be accessed at that particular school?
Once you’ve narrowed your options down, rank them in order of preference and enroll your child at your first choice school. Many schools do not need to have the VPK voucher at the time of enrollment, but they’ll need it as soon as it arrives. This is when you’ll be thankful you got the process started early 😉
Navigating the VPK enrollment and registration process doesn’t have to be tricky or stressful. Do your research and ask good questions. Taking the process one step at a time will give you confidence about the VPK program you select for your child. You can do this!