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Through Chicago Early Learning, all of our families—no matter their needs—will be able to find and secure a quality early learning program.

“Every child in every neighborhood deserves a quality education and that must begin in their earliest years.”

– Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

What early learning program should your child be enrolling in?

Enter a birthdate. The result will reflect what you should enroll in Fall 2017.

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Your little one is the perfect age to start learning in our infant and toddler programs.

Wow! Your child is ready for preschool.

Believe it or not, it’s already time for Kindergarten!

Looks like your child is ready for elementary school! The Chicago Public Schools website has more information about what learning is like across the city.


Infants and Toddlers

Ages Birth to 2

These programs may also be referred to as Early Head Start, Prevention Initiative, or Early Intervention.

Who do they serve?

Children aged birth to three years old from qualifying families

What do they provide?

  • Educational and social development activities.
  • Programs may include free health services (medical, dental, mental health), nutritious meals, as well as parent education and training.
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Ages 3 and 4

Preschool programs may be referred to as Head Start or Preschool for All.

Who do they serve?

3- and 4-year-old children from qualifying families.

What do they provide?

  • Educational and social development activities that promote school readiness.
  • Either a half-day or a full-day of instruction.
  • Programs may include free health services (medical, dental, mental health), nutritious meals, as well as parent education and training.
Find Sites


Age 5

Children who are 5 years old by September 1st of the current school year should enroll in kindergarten at a CPS preschool. Visit the CPS website to enroll a child in kindergarten.

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Types of Programs

The early education programs at the City of Chicago are available in a number of settings:

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Programs

Age Group: 3 and 4

Many CPS elementary schools offer early learning programs as a part of their services.

Community Based Programs

Age Group: Birth to 4

Neighborhood locations provide early childhood education and infant and toddler care. Hours vary by site.

Home Visiting Care is also available for qualifying families, for children between the ages of birth to 3. Visiting coaches provide early care and consulting in the family’s home to qualifying families.

Note: Chicago Public Schools and community-based sites are not able to provide transportation to all early learning programs across the city. However, Chicago Early Learning encourages families to take advantage of public transit opportunities. Learn more at the CTA website.

Choosing the Right Program

Quality ratings for Chicago Early Learning programs, and programs across Illinois and the country, offer families more insight before they make final choices about a program for their child.

What does “Quality Rating” (QRIS) mean?

Quality Ratings are assessments of early learning programs used by Excelerate Illinois to help families understand program quality and help providers prioritize improvements. Excelerate Illinois, the state’s rating and improvement system, sets a research-based standard for early learning and development providers, reflected in its tiered Circles of Quality. The higher the tier, the more the program has made meaningful improvements that better the child for school and life. Reviewing a potential preschool program’s rating in Excelerate’s Circles of Quality can help Illinois families make a more informed decision for their child. More information can be found at

What does "Accreditation" mean?

Accreditation is another way of measuring and understanding early learning program quality; accredited status 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). These quality standards measure areas such as teaching, curriculum, learning assessments, health, community relationships, physical environment, and management.

To learn more about accreditation of early learning programs and how such standards can help guide families searching for early learning programs, click on one of the following links:

National Association for the Education of Young Children

National Early Childhood Program Accreditation

Council on Accreditation

What Makes a Great Program?

Visit your top choice early learning programs in person, if you can.

You will know it’s a strong program when you see the following:

Apple with text Created with Sketch. A safe, child-friendly space for 20 preschoolers at most, with toys and materials indoors and outdoors Variety in 1-1, small and full group age appropriate activities, with meals and naptime offered Visitors welcomed with required safety measures, frequent handwashing by children and adults Attentive, engaged teachers with 4-year degrees and training; 1:10 teacher: child ratios for pre-K Child-Friendly Spaces Engaged Students And So Much More… Top-notch Teachers

Other Local Activities and Resources

See our Resources page to learn more about programs for young children throughout the city that are not part of Chicago Early Learning.

Learn More