Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between childcare (might also be called daycare) and preschool?
Child care is available to families with children of different ages (birth to 13 years old), including preschool, and in different types of settings (home-based or center-based). Preschool is specifically for children ages 3-4 years old. If the child care program is not part of Chicago Early Learning, we cannot guarantee that they meet the same high quality standards.
What are the similarities and differences between a CPS preschool and a Community Early Learning Program?
All Chicago Early Learning programs, CPS or Community Based Early Learning Program (also known as Community Programs), must meet rigorous state and federal standards. All Chicago Early Learning programs use evidence-based curriculum and assessments to ensure children are on track for kindergarten. All Chicago Early Learning programs have highly-qualified teachers and a minimum of two teachers in the classroom.
A Chicago Public Schools preschool site is affiliated with an elementary school run through CPS. A Community Based Program may be locally owned and operated. At this time, admission to a CPS preschool does not necessarily guarantee admission to kindergarten at that location. Hours may be longer than a traditional school day at a Community Based Program, often up to 10 hours, but they will vary location by location. Most Community Based Program settings have services for younger children, ages 0 – 3 years old. The verify and enroll steps of the preschool application process are a little bit different for CPS schools and Community Based Early Learning Programs. Learn more on our How to Apply page.
What are the characteristics of a high-quality early learning program?
Chicago Early Learning preschool programs all meet rigorous federal, state, and local standards. The Find and Compare Tool allows parents to view programs with specific early childhood accreditations and see each program’s quality rating. Please review our Programs Page with detailed information about types of programs and identifying characteristics of high quality early learning.
I am living in a UPK community, where can I send my four-year-old for Pre-K?
Families living in UPK communities can access Pre-K at a Chicago Public School or in a Community Based Early Learning Program. Visit the Find and Compare Tool to explore early learning sites that meet the particular needs of your family. Please note, Community Based Early Learning Programs may have specific eligibility requirements to enroll.
How do I find early learning opportunities for children under 3 years old?
Services for children birth to three-years-old are available through our Community Based Early Learning Programs. Please click here or call (312) 229-1690 to find a location that fits your family’s needs.
How do I find a preschool program for summer?
Summer hours for our Chicago Early Learning sites may vary. Many of our Community Based Early Learning Programs offer summer hours. Please contact the site of interest directly to learn more about the summer programs and hours offered. To explore what other summer activities are available citywide through other agencies and organizations, click here.
How do I find learning and enrichment opportunities for children over 5 years old?
The first effort of its kind to take place in a major city in the United States - Chicago City of Learning is a groundbreaking effort that joins together learning opportunities for young people in a way that allows them to think about, pursue, and develop their interests. Find 1000s of opportunities at parks, libraries, community- and faith-based programs, schools, museums and cultural institutions, colleges and universities, and more on our Resources page.
Is my child eligible for UPK?
Children who are four-years-old by September 1, 2020 are eligible for admittance into preschool programs in the UPK communities. If space becomes limited at specific schools, priority will be given to families residing in the community. Additional eligibility criteria may apply to Community Based Early Learning programs offering services throughout the City.
If I don’t live in Chicago, can I apply to a preschool program?
In general, Chicago Early Learning Preschool programs are for Chicago residents. Certain Community Based Early Learning Programs may take some children who reside outside the City of Chicago. Contact your preferred Community Based Early Learning Program directly for more information. Families applying to a Chicago Public School must be a resident of Chicago.
Where can I find early learning programs for my children who are younger than three-years-old?
Eligible children from birth through five can find services at a Community Based Early Learning Program. CPS serves primarily children who turn four on or before September 1 on the given school year in full-day programs, and has limited space in half-day programming for children who turn three by September 1 and for younger children with Individualized Education Programs (IEP's).
What is the application process?
Families with preschool-aged children can submit a single application for each child to any Chicago Early Learning program. Enrolling your 3 or 4 year-old child in an early learning program is easy and the application is open year-round. Follow these easy steps for your application:
- Click on "Apply", and create an online account for your family
- Fill in information on your family, such as employment and income, information on your child, and your top choice preschool sites
- If your child qualifies, you will be contacted with information on how to verify your child’s preschool seat
How can I change something on my submitted preschool application?
If you wish to alter information on a previously submitted application please call (312) 229-1690 to speak with an Application Specialist directly.
To what sites can I apply via chicagoearlylearning.org?
At chicagoearlylearning.org, you can apply for a Chicago Early Learning program for three and four-year-olds at Community Based Early Learning Programs funded by the City of Chicago or at most CPS schools. You cannot apply for magnet, Montessori, or tuition-based CPS programs via the website. To enroll in those programs, contact CPS’s Office of Access and Enrollment Office (773) 553-2060.
Can I submit more than one application?
Each preschool-aged child that is seeking to enroll in a new program is allowed only one application with two preferences of programs. If you have multiple children that are applying for preschool, you must submit one application for each child.
Does the application close?
No – if a child turned 3 or 4 by September 1st but did not apply before the beginning of the school year, families are still welcome to use the online application. However, availability may become increasingly limited and we encourage families to submit applications as early as possible for the most choices in program availability.
Does the online preschool application come in multiple languages?
Yes. You can click “Español” in the corner of any page of this site and within your application to change the language to Spanish. That is the only additional language available at this time.
Where can I receive support completing the preschool application and enrollment process?
Families with questions or needing support completing the application can call (312) 229-1690 for assistance with applications for both CPS schools and Community Based Early Learning Programs.
When will I know if my child is placed at our preferred preschool site?
For early bird applicants who applied in May, you will be notified of your placement status mid July. Starting in July, you will know whether your child is offered a seat or is on a site’s waitlist immediately after submitting the application on the next screen, and through an email notification.
If I have multiple children that I would like to enroll in preschool, how can I ensure that they are placed in the same site?
Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that siblings will be placed at the same site. We will make every effort to keep siblings of the same age together, but factors such as space, age, and individual needs may prevent us from ensuring placement with siblings. Preschool applicants whose older siblings will be attending grades kindergarten and above do not receive any priority placement into that preschool.
My child is two years old, but will be three by September 1st, and is already enrolled in a Community Based Early Learning Program. Do we need to apply for preschool if we want to continue at the same center?
No—the child will be grandfathered into their site’s 3 year-old program. They may need to provide additional information to the site. Please connect directly with your site.
What should I do if I want to enroll my child in preschool but the school year has already started?
If the beginning of the school year has already passed, families are still welcome to use the online application. However, availability may become increasingly limited.
What support can families in temporary living situations receive during the preschool application process?
Families in a temporary living situation who are interested in a CPS preschool can reach out directly to the school to contact the Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) Liaison or Clerk. The STLS liaison will be able to assist with providing the appropriate supports and services based on the families needs and circumstances.
Preschool students attending Community Based Early Learning Programs should check with the program to find out what supports are available specific to Students in Temporary Living Situations.
Do returning children have to re-apply for preschool?
Returning children actively enrolled in CPS by April 30, 2020 will be grandfathered to the same school and do not need to reenroll or re verify their information. Those enrolled after April 30 or those who wish to transfer schools need to complete a new application.
Returning children actively enrolled in a Community Based Early Learning Program do not need to re-apply.
My child was put on the waitlist in the 2019-2020 school year but they never received a seat. Do I need to reapply for the 2020 -2021 school year?
Yes, you must re-apply for the 2020-21 school year. Waitlist applications do not carry over to the next school year.
Does time matter when applying for my child? Is earlier better?
We encourage families to get their applications in as early as possible to have the best chance at a spot in your top choice school or community site.
Preschool applications are prioritized based on the child's age and family needs. Need indicators include: family income, students with disabilities, students in temporary living situations, foster children, children in need of language support, and additional demographic factors.
Some seats may be reserved at specific sites for families who can verify that they meet the criteria for "high need". Open seats may be flagged for families with certain eligibility factors, meaning some families may be admitted to a school while others are asked to remain on a waitlist. Waitlists and policies for placement into open seats will be continuously reviewed throughout the summer and families who are admitted in that review will be immediately notified via email.
I can't login to my Chicago Early Learning account. The system does not recognize my username.
Sorry for the technical difficulties. If you are still having trouble logging in, you'll need to create a new login username (not previously used) in order to fill out this year's application. The system resets each program year, so unfortunately any existing account that was made in prior program years will not be able to be used.
I am interested in a CPS school. Will my child be given priority for a spot if I live in the neighborhood?
If space becomes limited in specific schools in UPK communities, families on the waitlist who live in the community area will be prioritized.
In non-UPK communities, there is no preference given to those in the school's attendance boundary or to siblings of older children. All placement into CPS schools will be based on family need and availability of seats.
Can I apply to more than one site?
Yes, you can apply to up to two sites. We limit families to two site preferences in order to match as many families as possible with their preferred programs.You will only get one offer, however, and you cannot be waitlisted at more than one site.
I would like my child to attend a different program next year than they attended last year. How do I transfer programs?
Families who are enrolled for SY19-20 are welcome to submit an application for a new site for the Fall. Once the application is submitted, families must contact the CEL Hotline at (312) 229-1690 to request a transfer.
Please note, to transfer, a child must first give up the seat at the current school and must be offered a seat at the second school through the online application. Transfer students are not given priority at the new school and there is a chance that the child might go from a secured seat to a waiting list at the second site depending on seat availability. Please call the CEL Hotline at (312)229-1690 for more questions or to assess availability at your desired school.
If I don’t get an offer what do I do?
If you don’t get an offer, you should receive a notification that you are “waitlisted” at your desired school or community site. If a spot should open up that you are eligible for, you will be contacted either via email or phone. You don’t have to take any action until you are contacted. Applications are automatically processed from the waitlist based on need and availability.
Where can I go to complete an application if I don’t have access to the internet?
You can complete and application by calling the Chicago Early Learning hotline at (312) 229-1690.
What is CCAP?
Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) funding is provided by the state to ensure low-income working parents have access to full-day care. Many Community Based Early Learning Programs have reserved slots for low-income working families who qualify for CCAP. CCAP does not apply to CPS schools. Contact a provider directly to answer more specific questions about eligibility, verification and any associated co-pays.
What happens after I submit my application?
For those early bird applicants who applied in May, you will be notified of your placement status mid July. Starting in July, families will instantly learn whether their child is on the waitlist or has received an offer at the site to which they applied. Families that receive a waitlist status are encouraged to consider applying to alternate sites by calling the hotline at, (312) 229-1690.
Can I verify even if I don’t have an offer?
You will need to wait until you receive an offer before you verify. In the meantime, be sure you have proof of your child's age, your address, and your family's income.
What number am I on the waitlist?
There is no assigned number provided to people on the waitlist due to the ongoing process of prioritizing children with the highest need for preschool. Families are prioritized according to eligibility and available space. Our highest need families: low income families, students with disabilities, students in temporary living situations, foster children, etc. will be given priority in placement. Therefore, we cannot accurately predict whether a family will receive an offer off of the waitlist or what number you are on the waitlist in real time. Placement, open seats, and waitlists will be continuously reviewed throughout the summer to ensure we are maximizing access for families.
How can I get off of a preschool site’s waitlist?
If your child is waitlisted, an offer will be automatically generated once a space that your child qualifies for becomes available. You will be notified by email or phone (if email was not provided). If you would like to remove your child from the waitlist by changing your school choice or removing the waitlisted school from your application, contact our Family Support Hotline at (312) 229-1690.
I’m on a waitlist and I want to consider a different site for my child. How do I do that?
If your child is waitlisted, an offer will be automatically generated once a space that your child qualifies for becomes available. If you would like to remove your child from the waitlist by changing your school choice or removing the waitlisted school from your application, contact our Family Support Hotline at (312) 229-1690.
Can I verify my documents if I’m on a waitlist?
You will need to wait until you receive an offer before you verify the self-reported information in your application. In the meantime, be sure you have proof of your child's age, your address, and your family's income for when a placement is offered.
Why is my child on the waitlist?
Children are placed on the waitlist for a variety of reasons:
- No current availability at the desired Chicago Early Learning Site
- No seat is available that meets your child’s need profile. When space becomes available you will be contacted automatically via email or phone (if no email was provided).
My child is waitlisted for the first choice school. Is she waitlisted for the second choice school also?
A child can only be on the waitlist for one school at a time. If there is no immediate availability at either the first or second choice school provided on your application, your child will be waitlisted at their first choice school only. To change the school your child is waitlisted at, please call the CEL Hotline at (312) 229-1690.
What is Universal Pre-K (UPK)?
Universal Pre-K (UPK) is an initiative to provide all Chicago four-year-olds with access to free, full-day preschool. UPK will be implemented in a phased roll out on a community-by-community basis. Four-year-olds can access services in Chicago Public Schools or at a Community Based Early Learning Program (eligibility criteria may apply for community programs).
I live in a UPK targeted community. What if neither of my two selected schools has availability?
Families should call the CEL hotline (312) 229-1690 where trained Application Specialists will search within UPK targeted communities for schools or Community Based Early Learning Programs that have open seats. They will first work to find placement within the UPK community and will expand the search to surrounding communities if no acceptable seats are available within the community. Priority will be given to families who reside within the UPK community.
Will schools within the UPK communities have reserved seats for neighborhood kids?
Within the UPK communities, significant efforts have been made to project demand and ensure enough programs to accomodate all four-year-olds access to full-day preschool across CPS and Community Based Early Learning Programs. If space becomes limited, priority will be given to children who reside in the community, particularly in CPS Pre-K.
Can I take my four-year-old to a Community Based Early Learning Provider for UPK?
Four-year-olds can access UPK at a city-funded Community Based Early Learning Program, if they meet the eligibility requirements set by the provider. Because each Community Based Early Learning Program operates independently with the support of the City of Chicago, eligibility criteria may vary. To find out if a Community Based Early Learning Provider is participating, call the Chicago Early Learning hotline at (312) 229-1690, or talk with the Community Based Provider directly. Many Community Based Early Learning Providers also offer services for children under the age of four and extended day or year-round options. All Community Based Early Learning Providers meet high-quality standards set by the City of Chicago.
What if I end up on a waitlist when applying to a UPK community area?
If space is limited at both a family's first and second choice school, the CEL Hotline can help navigate alternative options.
Four-year-olds on a waitlist for a CPS program located within one of the UPK Communities will be provided an alternative CPS placement, prioritizing those children living within the community area.
Four-year-olds can access UPK at a city-funded Community Based Early Learning Provider, if they meet the eligibility requirements set by the provider. Because each Community Based Early Learning Provider operates independently with the support of the City of Chicago, eligibility criteria may vary. To find out if a Community Based Early Learning Program is participating, click here or call the Chicago Early Learning Hotline at (312) 229-1690, or talk with the program directly. Many Community Based Programs also offer services for children under the age of four and extended day or year-round options. All Community Based Early Learning Programs meet high-quality standards set by the City of Chicago.
Can I apply online if my child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP)?
If your child has an IEP and you have been directed by the CPS Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services (ODLSS) to complete the online application, you may apply online. If you were not directed to complete the application, please contact the ODLSS School Assignment hotline at (773) 553-1847 for assistance.
What should I do if I suspect my child needs special education services?
If you suspect that your child may need additional special education services, we encourage you to get a developmental screening to see if further evaluation is needed. Developmental screenings can tell you if your child is having any difficulties with: hearing/vision, speech/language, problem solving, social skills, fine/gross motor and/or listening/attending. Please attend a Child Find Team Screening Site to obtain a free developmental screening.
If a screening indicates a need for further evaluation then you will be referred to the CPS Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services (ODLSS). Please contact ODLSS at (773) 553-1800 for Child Find Screening locations and dates/times.