Frequently Asked Questions

Applying for Programs

How do I apply to a program?

Do I need to apply online?

How many sites can I apply to?

Can I submit more than one application?

How do I know what sites I’m eligible for?

How do I know if my child is preschool-aged?

Where can I receive support completing the application and enrollment process?

What should I do if I am looking to enroll my child immediately?

Returning Students and Families with Multiple Children

Do I need to apply if my child is already enrolled?

What should I do if I’d like to transfer my child’s site?

What should I do if I have more than one child applying?

If I have multiple children that I would like to enroll in early learning programs, how can I ensure that they are placed in the same site?

Placement and Registration

When will I know if I am placed at my desired site?

After receiving site placement, what do I have to do in order to finish enrolling my child?

What documents will I need to provide in order to complete the confirmation process?

How long do I have to confirm placement?

What does it mean to be on the waitlist for a site?

How can I get off of a site’s waitlist?

How can I change something on my submitted application?

General Questions

Why should I enroll my child in an early childhood program?

What programs are available for my child?

What programs are included on the website?

Will I have to pay anything to enroll my child?

What is CCAP?

What does “Quality Rating” mean?

How do I know what a high quality early learning program looks like?

What questions should I ask the program staff?

What should I do if my child has an Individual Education Program (IEP)?

What should I do if I suspect my child needs special education services?

I am not sure what programs fit my family’s needs. Is there someone I can call?

What does "accreditation" mean?

How do I find learning and enrichment opportunities for children over the age of 5?

Applying for Programs

How do I apply to a program?

Please note: applications are being accepted for the current school year only. The application for Fall 2017 will be available in Spring 2017.

Families with preschool-aged children can submit a single application for any preschool program funded by the City of Chicago. The application can be completed online at apply.chicagoearlylearning.org or submitted with assistance at Colman, 4655 S. Dearborn St, or Hall Mall, 4638 W. Diversey Ave. Parents may also visit any community-based preschool program to which they wish to apply (call (312) 229-1690 for details).

  • If you are interested in researching your options, search for programs on ChicagoEarlyLearning.org or call the Chicago Early Learning Hotline at (312) 229-1690.
  • Next, submit your application online at apply.chicagoearlylearning.org or visit Colman (CPS Central Office, 4655 S. Dearborn) or Hall Mall (4638 W. Diversey) or any community-based preschool program to which you would like to apply (call (312) 229-1690 for details).

If you are looking to enroll your child in a birth to three year old program or home visiting services, please contact your preferred sites directly or call the Hotline for assistance. If you are looking to enroll your child in a program immediately, please call the Hotline or inquire with your provider directly.

Watch the How to Apply video to learn more on how to fill out the online application form. The video will begin to download to your computer as soon as you click this link.

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Do I need to apply online?

It is not necessary to complete the application online; families have many choices for completing and submitting an application for preschool.

  1. Complete and submit an application at apply.chicagoearlylearning.org.
  2. Call the Chicago Early Learning Hotline at (312) 229-1690 to complete the application with assistance over the phone.
  3. Visit Colman (CPS Central Office, 4655 S. Dearborn St) or Hall Mall (4638 W. Diversey Ave) or any community-based preschool program (call (312) 229-1690 for details) to review your options and submit an application with an application support representative.

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How many sites can I apply to?

Families can apply for up to two different sites in the application. In order to match as many families as possible with their preferred programs, we have limited our opportunities to evaluate your preference on the application to two sites. Parents and families can compare the over 600 sites supported by CPS and DFSS on chicagoearlylearning.org or with assistance on the phone at (312) 229-1690.

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Can I submit more than one application?

Each each preschool-aged child that is seeking to enroll in a new program is allowed only one application with two preferences. If you have multiple children that are applying for preschool, you may submit one application for each child.

If you wish to alter information on a previously submitted application please call (312) 229-1690 to speak with a Family Resource Specialist directly.

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How do I know what sites I’m eligible for?

Different programs serve children of different ages and are funded in a variety of ways. Many sites have more than one type of program supported by a combination of local, state, and federal funding sources with different eligibility requirements.

Starting this summer, the city and its partners are employing a unified strategy to identify preliminary eligibility online. Using the online application you will be able to identify if your placement status is likely to be placed or waitlisted while you explore programs. You will then verify your placement by providing documentation to the site to which you are applying (if you are applying to a community-based preschool) or at Colman – CPS Central Office (4655 S. Dearborn St) or Hall Mall (4638 W. Diversey Ave) if you are applying to a school-based preschool.

As we learn from the new system, there are a number of factors, including information quality as well as availability and special needs that may influence this preliminary placement.

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How do I know if my child is preschool-aged?

Generally, preschool-aged children are children that will be 3 or 4 on September 1 of the current year. Older children should be enrolling in kindergarten during the fall of the current year and younger children may participate in other opportunities for infants and toddlers. Some children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and some children that are enrolling during the middle of a program year may also be considered preschool-aged depending on the provider and the child’s needs.

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Where can I receive support completing the application and enrollment process?

Parents with questions or needing support completing the application can call (312) 229-1690 for assistance with applications for both schools and community-based providers.

Our Family Resource Centers at Chicago Public Libraries are now closed for the 2016-2017 school year. Parents who need personalized assistance and support can visit Hall Mall, 4638 W. Diversey Ave, open M-F: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm or Colman-CPS Central Office, 4655 S. Dearborn St, open M-F: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Parents may also visit any community-based preschool program to which they wish to apply (call (312) 229-1690 for details).

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What should I do if I am looking to enroll my child immediately?

Parents or guardians seeking to enroll their child immediately should call the Chicago Early Learning Hotline at (312) 229-1690for guidance or contact their preferred provider directly to inquire about availability. They may instruct you to complete the application if space is available immediately.

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Returning Students and Families with Multiple Children

Do I need to apply if my child is already enrolled?

Students that are currently in a preschool program and will not be entering kindergarten in the Fall are not required to re-apply if they wish to continue in that program.

Students who wish to transfer to a program at another site may submit an application but will need to call a Family Resource Specialist for assistance with the transfer process. Parents will be referred to a Specialist from the Chicago Early Learning Hotline at (312) 229-1690 who will help determine availability and eligibility for the desired site and work with your existing provider to process the transfer. After you have confirmed your application for transfer, you will not be guaranteed a spot at your previous provider.

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What should I do if I’d like to transfer my child’s site?

Students who wish to transfer to a program at another site should call a family hotline specialist for assistance with the transfer process. Parents will be referred to a Specialist from the Chicago Early Learning Hotline at (312) 229-1690 who will help determine availability and eligibility for the desired site and work with your existing provider to process the transfer. After you have confirmed your application for transfer, you will not be guaranteed a spot at your previous provider.

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What should I do if I have more than one child applying?

If you are a parent or guardian with multiple children, you may create separate applications for each child in your family account and profile. If you are looking for services for a younger child, please verify with your provider first that programs for children younger than 3 years old are available.

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If I have multiple children that I would like to enroll in early learning programs, 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 same age and old/younger preschool-aged siblings together, but factors such as space, age, and individual needs may prevent us from guaranteeing placement with siblings.

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Placement and Registration

When will I know if I am placed at my desired site?

Families that submitted an early bird application online or at a Family Resource Center between May 16 and June 10, 2016, should have already received their preliminary notice of placement. If you have not received notice, please call the Chicago Early Learning Hotline.

Families that apply on or after June 20, 2016, will be able to receive a preliminary placement immediately.

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After receiving site placement, what do I have to do in order to finish enrolling my child?

Within two weeks of receiving a preliminary placement, a family member must visit a specified site (the site to which you have applied for community-based programs, and either Colman or Hall Mall for CPS programs) to verify the information listed on the application that may determine program eligibility (e.g. income, address, etc.).

If you are unable to visit a site within two weeks of receiving your placement,please call the Chicago Early Learning Hotline to reschedule.

Children in temporary living situations will not be required to present any documentation verifying eligibility but will need to confirm their placement as indicated with a placement notice.

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What documents will I need to provide in order to complete the confirmation process?

Families will be required to provide proof of a student’s age, address, and family income. Students in temporary living situations will be enrolled without any required documentation. Individual sites may request additional documentation prior to full enrollment.

  • Proof of child’s age
    • Original birth certificate
    • Passport
  • Proof of address
    • Driver’s license/ID card
    • Utility bill
    • Lease agreement/mortgage statement
    • Current voter’s registration card
  • Proof of income
    • Current paystub
    • 1040/W-2
    • SSI Letter
    • Unemployment letter/stub
    • Workers’ compensation letter/stub
    • Retirement or pension stub/letter
    • Alimony
    • Official child support letter
    • TANF
    • Income verification form
    • Failure to prevent documentation that confirms the information provided on your application may alter your placement.

      If you need assistance identifying the correct documentation or finding substitute documentation, please call your provider or a Family Resource Center.

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How long do I have to confirm placement?

Families will have two weeks from receiving their preliminary placement to confirm their interest and begin the registration process by visiting a site (indicated with your placement notification) to verify their eligibility information. If you are unable to visit a site within two weeks of receiving your placement, please call the Chicago Early Learning Hotline to reschedule.

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What does it mean to be on the waitlist for a site?

Students are allowed to remain on one waitlist of a more preferred provider than their offered preliminary placement. Remaining on a waitlist means that a child will be offered a placement if a spot becomes available and certain eligibility criteria are met.

The City of Chicago prioritizes eligibility based on factors such as age, income, and child or family history. Students may not be offered a placement from a waitlist on a first come first serve basis. Because participation in early learning programs is an invaluable resource for your child, we encourage families that are on a waitlist to find a provider with availability that may also suit their needs.

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How can I get off of a site’s waitlist?

Students will be offered a preliminary placement from a waitlist if a spot becomes available and certain eligibility criteria are met. If your child is on a waitlist, no additional action is necessary. If a spot becomes available, you will be notified via mail, email and phone.

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How can I change something on my submitted application?

To change information that has been submitted on a child’s application, please call the family support hotline at (312) 229-1690.

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General Questions

Why should I enroll my child in an early childhood program?

Early childhood programs provide the foundation for your child to learn, grow, and succeed on a path of lifetime learning. Please visit our page for parents and families that describes the benefits of sharing early learning experiences with your child.

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What programs are available for my child?

The City of Chicago offers programs at over 600 school and community-based sites. Our parent and family information page describes the types of programs that are available.

The Chicago Early Learning Portal includes early learning programs that receive City funding, an easy-to-use interactive map, basic information about the programs available at every site order to determine if that location is right for their child.

Other early childhood activities available throughout the city are included on our City Resources page.

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What programs are included on the website?

The Chicago Early Learning Portal includes programs that receive funds administered by the City of Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) or Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

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Will I have to pay anything to enroll my child?

The best way to find out whether you will have to pay anything is to call the center or program and ask. Some locations receive funding from the government so that families who cannot afford to pay can still benefit from early learning programs. Other programs accept child care assistance payments (CCAP) or base the amount your family owes on your income. Many programs have a combination of funding sources. Because every family and program is different, it is very important to call the programs you are interested in to talk about payment options.

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What is CCAP?

CCAP stands for Child Care Assistance Program. The program helps low-income, working families pay for quality child care. Your child care provider will help determine if your family qualifies for CCAP.

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What does “Quality Rating” mean?

Quality Rating indicates the quality of a site based on the Excelerate Illinois system. Excelerate Illinois is the new quality rating and improvement system for Illinois. It has been designed to rate the quality of early learning programs and to set a research based standard for early learning and development providers. There are tiered Circles of Quality in Excelerate and the higher the awarded tier, the more the program has made meaningful improvements that better the child for school and life. More information about Excelerate can be found at ExcelerateIllinois.com.

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How do I know what a high quality early learning program looks like?

Please review our information for parents and families for suggested tips for identifying high quality early learning programs.

Some examples include:

  • Educated, attentive, and engaged teachers and staff
  • Teachers who speak to children at eye-level and speak directly to infants and toddlers
  • A safe, healthy, and child-friendly environment
  • A well-equipped room with accessible materials and toys
  • Stimulating activities and appropriately structured routines

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What questions should I ask the program staff?

It is a good idea to write down a list of questions before calling a program. Here are a few suggestions of things to ask, in addition to your own specific questions:

  • What will my child do each day?
  • What makes your program special?
  • How do you include parents in the classroom?
  • How long has the preschool been in business?
  • What kind of accreditations or certifications do you and your staff have?
  • Can I volunteer and visit my child’s classroom?
  • How can I help in my child’s program?
  • How do I apply to enroll my child?
  • Will I have to pay anything?
  • What are the eligibility criteria for this program?
  • What are the hours for pick-up and drop-off?
  • What kind of information or documents will you need for my child (birth certificate, immunization records, etc.)?
  • Will my child need a physical exam before enrolling?
  • Is there a wait list for this program? How long is it?
  • Are there any additional fees I should know about?
  • Are there requirements for parent/family involvement? What are they?
  • Do I have to have a job in order to send my child to this program?
  • What are the attendance policies?
  • On what days or weeks is the program closed?

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What should I do if my child has an Individual Education Program (IEP)?

If your child already has been enrolled in a CPS school, please take a copy of the IEP and enrollment documentation to the school. The school's IEP team will review the IEP and determine if it can be implemented. If your child is not enrolled in a CPS school and you have questions about services and / or enrollment, please contact the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services at 773-553-1800.

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What should I do if I suspect my child needs special education services?

Please attend a Child Find Team Screening Site to obtain a free developmental screening. 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. If a screening indicates a need for further evaluation then you will be referred to the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services (ODLSS). Please contact ODLSS at 773-553-1800 for Child Find Screening locations and dates/times.

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I am not sure what programs fit my family’s needs. Is there someone I can call?

There are several local organizations that can help you think about your options for early childhood education. In some cases, they may be able to help you figure out if you qualify for childcare assistance payments (CCAP) and how to sign up.
Illinois Action for Children
(312) 823-1100
Chicago Public Schools Office of Early Childhood Education
(773) 553-2010
City of Chicago Department of Family and Support Services
(866) 647-2489

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What does "accreditation" mean?

Accreditation means that a program has met high standards of excellence determined by a national organization such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NEPCA), or the Council on Accreditation (COA). Programs that receive national accreditation have demonstrated quality in areas such as teaching, curriculum, learning assessments, health, community relationships, physical environment, and management. To learn more about accreditation of early learning programs, click on one of the following links:

To learn more about accreditation of early learning programs, click on one of the following links:

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How do I find learning and enrichment opportunities for children over the age of 5?

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 at www.ChicagoCityofLearning.org.

Other early learning resources are available on our City Resources page.

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