Early Childhood Learning

We provide high-quality early childhood care and education to children from birth to five years old and beyond. Through a wide variety of programs across the city, 3-K for All and Pre-K for All provide high-quality early childhood education opportunities that offer all children and families a strong start in school and life.

What to Expect

Young children learn through play, experiences, and positive relationships. 3-K for All and Pre-K for All programs help children develop language, skills, and knowledge of the world.

In our early childhood classrooms, you can expect your child to:

  • Safely explore new ideas and materials to build knowledge about language, math, and scientific thinking.
A child plays with sand at sand box area for center time.

  • Begin to discover what makes them unique and learn to play with others.
Young children playing with pegs and board

  • Show curiosity, ask questions, and share creative ideas.
A child asks his teacher a question.
  • Learn and practice new concepts.
Young children doing dramatic play
  • Grow and become a member of the classroom community.
Children play together during outdoor recess.

In a typical classroom day, your child will learn in many different ways including:

  • Short whole group and small group activities
  • Choice time where they are able to work with a variety of materials
  • Outdoor playtime
  • Rest/naptime
  • Meal and snack time

These experiences lay the foundation for your child's future successes in school and life by building on the five key parts of a child's development:

  1. Pre-reading and writing skills, such as understanding that letters have meaning and can be combined to form words, and that reading and writing can be used to share information and ideas
  2. Early math skills, such as learning about numbers, shapes, sorting and patterns
  3. Early social and emotional skills such as sharing, solving social problems, and expressing and managing their feelings
  4. Physical strength and coordination skills, such as running and being able to use paint brushes and crayons
  5. Learning skills such as problem-solving, using their imagination, and persistence
Students listen to an audiobook together.

Find a Program

3-K for All and Pre-K for All programs are held in many different settings:

  • District Schools: programs located within public elementary schools and overseen by the school's principal.
  • Pre-K Centers: run by DOE staff but unlike district schools, they only offer 3-K and pre-K. They are located either in existing district school buildings or standalone DOE sites.
  • New York City Early Education Centers: NYCEECs are community-based organizations that contract with the DOE to provide 3-K and pre-K. These programs are selected through a rigorous evaluation process and are supported by the DOE Division of Early Childhood Education.
  • Charter Schools: Charter schools are free public schools that are open to all NYC students. Charter schools operate independently from the DOE. Instead, charter schools operate under a performance contract, or "charter" issued by New York State. Many charter schools have their own admissions process. If you are interested in a charter school, please contact the school directly to ask about 3-K and pre-K options.

Use these online tools to find a program that is right for your family:

Need help? Call 311 and ask for information about Early Childhood Education or use the online form  to request a call and someone on the Early Childhood enrollment team will reach out to you.

Visit Programs

Found a program that looks right to your family? Feel free to call and set up a visit.

When visiting a program, consider asking staff members questions about the program, such as:

  • How will the teachers learn about my child's interests, strengths, and needs?
  • How will your program help children get to know the teachers and the other staff?
  • How would you describe the community of teachers and families here?
  • How do teachers work with families?
  • How do teachers guide children's behavior?
  • How will staff members make sure my child feels safe and cared for?
  • What are your program's strengths? What are you working on improving?
  • How do teachers support children who speak a language other than English at home?
Children listening to audiobook

How to Apply

During the application period, you can apply for 3-K for All and Pre-K for All online, over the phone or at a Family Welcome Center! 

For the fall 2019 school year:

  • Children born in 2016 are eligible for 3-K for All
  • Children born in 2015 are eligible for Pre-K for All

3-K for All

This fall, 3-K for All will be available in:

  • District 4 (East Harlem)
  • District 5 (Harlem)
  • District 6 (Washington Heights)
  • District 7 (South Bronx)
  • District 8 (Throgs Neck, Country Club, Pelham Bay, Castle Hill, Soundview, Hunts Point)
  • District 9 (Highbridge, University Heights)
  • District 16 (Bedford-Stuyvesant)
  • District 19 (East New York)
  • District 23 (Brownsville)
  • District 27 (Rockaways, Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Broad Channel)
  • District 31 (Staten Island)
  • District 32 (Bushwick)

With this, 3-K for All will be in more than one-third of school districts citywide and will be serving 20,000 three-year-olds by the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

By fall 2020, 3-K for All will expand to serve children in a total of 14 school districts across all five boroughs.  The new districts that will be introduced for the 2020-2021 school year are:

  • District 12 (Central Bronx)
  • District 29 (Southeast Queens)

Apply to 3-K for All and Pre-K for All online during the application period:

Special Education in Early Education

The DOE is committed to providing every child with the opportunity to learn and explore in a safe, nurturing, and engaging environment. 

Teacher helps young child with shapes

To learn more about Special Education services in our early childhood programs, visit the Special Education page about Moving to Preschool:

Learning Together

Did you know that 92% of a child's brain growth occurs by the age of five? Research shows small things such as talking, reading, and playing with your child every day help build a solid foundation for success in school and life. Here are the things you can do at home to help your child's brain grow:

Talk with your child.

Mother reading with student

Every word your child hears builds their vocabulary and helps them to share their ideas through talking. This builds the foundation for later writing skills.

  • Talk about the things you notice around you such as:
    • Noises you hear while walking around the city together.
    • Colors, shares, and textures of the things you see around you such as the details in buildings, objects, and nature.
    • Symbols, letters, and words on signs or objects.
  • Have back and forth conversations with your child. Try asking, "How..." or "Why..." questions to keep the conversation going. For example, you might say, "Why do you think that happened?" or "How do you know that blue and red make purple?"
  • Help your child talk about feelings. For example, you might say, "You look frustrated, how do you feel?"

Read with your child.

A teacher reads aloud with young children.

Reading together every day strengthens your relationship and helps prepare your child to read and write.

  • Choose fun, engaging stories that are right for your family at your local library. Library staff can help you choose exciting books in a range of languages and topics. Many libraries have children's sections and special events for families. Click on your borough to find your local library:
  • After selecting a book, invite your child to read with you:
    • Before turning the page, ask your child to predict what will happen next.
    • Make the story come alive by acting out movements or noises as they happen in the story.
  • Make up stories with your child. Draw pictures of events in the story or act them out. Anytime your child makes a mark on a page---scribbles, pictures, letters---they are writing!
  • Look at the faces of people and characters in books or magazines and ask your child, "How is _____ feeling?" Describing how others feel helps children express their own emotions and builds vocabulary skills.

Play with your child.

Young children using magnifying glasses

Play is the work of young children. When children play, they explore their ideas and interests, gain knowledge about the world and build self-esteem. Make time for play, and when possible, play together!

  • Listen to your child play. Listening to your child play can tell you what your child finds important and what they are learning.
  • Play pretend! Children play pretend to make sense of recent experiences. Your child may do this on their own, but you can also join in the fun. Research has shown that dramatic play helps children develop empathy, understand math and reading, and find creative solutions to problems. Your child may choose to act out anything from family dinner to a trip to the zoo to a made up fairytale.
  • When you play together, follow your child's lead. Allow your child to explore various materials and use their imaginations to get the play started. Let your child be the star of the show and give yourself a supporting role. As you play together do what your child does and talk about what they are doing. For example, "All our cars were lined up racing, now they are stacked on top of each other in a tower."     
  • Go outside! In our busy city it can be a challenge to find the space or time to go outdoors and play. However, research shows that outdoor play is important to brain development. In addition to building muscle strength, coordination, and balance, playing outdoors encourages children to make predictions, take small risks, and cooperate with others. Not sure where to play? Visit NYC Parks or ask your child's teacher about outdoor spaces in the neighborhood.

Keep in touch with your child's school.

Read aloud teacher and students playing airplanes

You are your child's biggest fan and best supporter. You can help your child succeed in school by keeping in touch with your child's teacher.

  • Introduce yourself to your child's teachers. Ask about what your child is doing in the classroom.
  • Share information about your child and family with your child's teachers. This helps your child's teacher know how best to meet the needs of your child. General information as well as details about changes in your child's life are helpful.
  • Have a conversation with your child's teacher about how you might support the school. There are many ways to offer support:
    • Share some favorite songs you sing with your child, or other traditions that are important to your family.
    • Donate recycled (clean) containers or natural materials (twigs, pinecones, leaves, etc) for children to use in the classroom.
    • If you have time in your schedule, ask about volunteering in the classroom or at special events.


  • Early Literacy Resources is a DOE webpage that provides fun and easy ways to help your child build a lifelong love of learning:
  • Vroom is a website and app that helps turn everyday moments into fun brain-building experiences. Vroom can help turn mealtime, bath time, and commuting into learning opportunities.
  • Family Resources and Tools from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning has information on why it is important for young children to learn about social and emotional skills. This site provides many ideas and strategies for you to use as you support young children through managing emotions, creating caring relationships, and addressing challenging behavior.
  • Choose My Plate provides clear guidance on health eating at any age! With a page just for preschoolers, you can learn more about how what your child eats supports their body and mind. This site has articles and easy to use tools to help your child eat well, be active, and grow up healthy.
  • PBS Parents gives you tips and resources for bringing learning to life at home. With ideas for crafts, science experiments, recipes, and more, your family will love the adventures inspired by this site!
  • Dolly Parton's Imagination Library provides a free book each month to children 0-5 (may not be available in all areas).
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