When to Start Looking for a Preschool

See also: Applying to Preschool 


General Guidelines for Preschools

In general, the January before your child will be three, start researching preschools in your target area, and find out when you can tour the schools from their websites and/or from the BPN Announcements and Events.

  • Ages: Most preschools that are not in someone's home enroll children for the two years prior to kindergarten, so 3 and 4 year olds. Some also offer a bridge program for 5 years olds, which adds a third year. There are a few preschools that also have programs for toddlers and two-year-olds but this is rare because of licensing requirements for younger age groups. There are many home-based preschools that are flexible about ages.
  • Start Date: Most preschools form a new class of 3-year-olds each Fall. Openings for 4 year olds, or mid-year openings, may be rare, depending on the school.
  • Researching: Preschools hold open houses and tours from December through March. Check BPN for announcements, or check the school's website.
  • Applying: Applications are usually accepted beginning in January for the following Fall, for children who will be 3 by then. Very few preschools accept applications earlier than this.

Parent Q&A

New Parent/Preschool 101 Jul 31, 2019 (7 responses below)
When should we start looking for a pre-school? May 29, 2019 (4 responses below)
  • New Parent/Preschool 101

    (7 replies)

    Hello, I'm a new mom and new to the world of baby education.

    My kiddo is 8.5 months right now and we live in Temescal and folks told me already I'm late to the game of getting him enrolled for Preschool when he becomes 2.5/3 years old...(sort of freaking out). He was born in November which people say could be challenging too!???  Would anyone be able to give me the run-down on how the whole preschool research should ideally go? When should I start looking? Are there questions I should be considering (i.e. their hours for drop off, nutrition, etc)? How do I go about being added to waitlists? Do I just go online and email someone? Do they require to be potty trained by that time? What does the waitlist do if everyone's doing it... I'd love any insight because I'm so confused and there isn't really a one-stop shop of how to do this.

    RE: New Parent/Preschool 101 ()

    Don't freak out! Just google "preschools near me" and start looking a websites to get an idea of what is out there and what the ages/requirements/costs/hours are. You have plenty of time. When my daughter started preschool at age 20 months, I did not have a car so where ever she ended up had to be a reasonable walking distance to our apartment. This was actually great because it narrowed down my search to about four preschools. I choose the one that was full day and that I could afford, did not have a waiting list, and it was so great she stayed until she started kindergarten.

    RE: New Parent/Preschool 101 ()

    I put my kid on a prominent preschool's waiting list at age 1, and she never got accepted, up to age 4.  That said, there is always space in plenty of good, local preschools!  Pick a few that are near you, schedule a visit, and see how they feel to you.  It's an instinct thing, I think--watch the employees interacting with the kids.  Does everyone look happy?  Or at least being tended to if not?  Does the space seem inclusive and safe?  Are the caregivers involved, or sitting on their cell phones?  Does the space seem warm, clean, and well-equipped?  All three of my kids ended up going to different preschools, for different reasons.  They were all fine, and they all gave my kids school experience before Kindergarten.  Don't worry about the hype.  Just trust your gut.  

    RE: New Parent/Preschool 101 ()

    First of all, you're not too late. Many families I know started looking the year before desired start date. So you'd start touring schools this fall if you wanted your child enrolled next fall (2020). Even if you start later, it'll be ok. I started looking for schools in March 2018 with a somewhat flexible start date (Sept/Oct/Nov 2018), toured only three schools and got offered a space in each. So it's totally doable, though more stressful if you start later. 

    And yes, it's overwhelming! I'd start by defining some must haves and would be nice criteria. Do you want a year around program or do camps for the summer? Immersion? Mixed age classrooms? Do want to walk to school or drive? I used Winnie.com to find preschools that matched most of my criteria and then called/emailed only those schools for more infos and toured very few. Many preschools require your child to be potty trained, but there are a few that don't - I literally started with potty learning the day I got the call from our preschool; don't fret, you'll be fine. Feel free to send me a PM if you have more questions. 

  • Our son is only 3 months old, and we have daycare ironed out until 3-K begins, but we've heard all kinds of stories about the need to start looking for a pre-school VERY early.  Are these stories exaggerated? When should we dip our toes into the schooling pond? Thanks for your advice!

    Most preschools accept applications about a year in advance of your child’s start, and many preschools are on an academic schedule so usually the application process occurs in the fall for admission the following fall. I don’t think you have to worry about it this early but it can’t hurt to do some research now on which schools you might be interested in and confirm that this is their process. 

    I think that, at least in the East Bay, these accounts are exaggerated. When looking for preschools, you want to have an idea of your son's temperament, and what kind of preschool will suit him best. Would your son benefit from a mixed-age classroom common in a Montessori preschool, or would he benefit from a school with different rooms for each age group. Would he prefer more structure, or less? There's no way for you to know that with a 3 month-old, and you can't substitute your own preferences. I'm in North Oakland, and we started looking at preschools in North Oakland/Rockridge/south Berkeley area in the fall of 2017, for September 2018 start date (when our son was 3). We were offered spots at 3 great preschools, and are very happy. Take a breath. Don't let the hype stress you out! 

    I think it is worth looking the year before you plan to apply just to see what's out there and narrow your list. But the vast majority of preschools don't accept applications until the fall or winter before you plan to attend. The main thing you'll want to know is which schools you need to apply for when. Some might not start till age three, while others start at age two. Some might have fall application deadlines, while others might have rolling admissions or running waitlists. If you plan to keep your child where he is until age three (so intend to start preschool in Fall 2022) then I'd start your research in the summer of 2021. If you think you might reconsider and want to start him at age two, then just bump that back a year. Definitely don't worry about it now, or anytime soon--you'll want to know more about the person your child is growing into and what kind of a child care rhythm works for your family before getting your feet wet.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions  

When do you need to start looking for preschools?

Dec 2013

I'm a new parent and am just curious about how far in advance we need to start looking for a preschool. I've heard stories about needing to start a couple of years in advance but I'm not sure if the Bay Area is like that. Are there usually waitlists or is that only for certain preschools? We are interested in a Spanish bilingual preschool like La Plazita. Thanks! Anna


Here's what I wish I had known before Preschool. My child has a Feb Birthday, and I thought we would like to ideally start preschool somewhere close to his 3rd birthday. I assumed year round enrollment, but I was wrong. (though there are a very few that do enroll year round). As a result, I ended up paying for an extra year of infant child care which turned out fine, but was way expensive. Preschool enrollment follows the traditional academic year: Apply in about January for a spot that starts in September (this is due to the timing of the older ones moving on to Kindergarten). Many preschools have information available for prospective students in the Nov-Jan timeframe, so now is a good time to inquire and visit a few. Good preschools with low-to-moderate cost often have waiting lists. Some of the more expensive preschools seemed to have more openings and shorter wait lists. Granted my experience was in 2009 when employment was suffering, so an improving economy could change that dynamic somewhat. There are some very good preschools that you have not heard of because the spots are filled by great word of mouth, therefore they don't really need to advertise (for example in this BPN newsletter). Some good ways to learn about preschools near you are: On weekends, play at the park that is closest to your home, and talk to parents of kids that are preschool age and older. Talk to your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Look in BPN Marketplace newsletter and Announcements newsletter for preschool fundraisers such as fun fairs and yard sales. Patronize those events and learn a little about the school in the process. And, if you get on a waiting list for a preschool that you are excited about, check in regularly (every 1-2 months) to find out where you stand and let them know you are seriously interested.


When to start researching pre-schools?

Nov 2003

My first child just turned 1, and I'm wondering at what point do we begin researching pre-schools? Is it as crazy as everyone says it is - do we need to begin looking NOW if we want him to begin pre-school next year? His birthday is in October; how does that factor into it? Having never done this before, I'm welcome any advice as to how to initiate this daunting process! Thanks so much katie



I would start in January. However, you should know that most preschools require that your child be 2 years, 9 months to start. So, yours may not be ready until the following fall. In any case, I found it helpful to start making calls the January prior to the fall that my son began. Good Luck!


Some schools do have waiting lists, but we found that most local preschools enroll children in about December through March to begin attending in August/September. Larger schools, of course, will tend to have more openings than smaller ones, so it won't hurt you to start thinking early about where you'd like your child to go, but you won't be shut out of the process if you start later. Given your child's October birthday, you might want to wait another year (starting him when he is not-quite-3 rather than when he is not-quite-2) since most preschools will not enroll children younger than 2 (sometimes 2.5 or 3), or you could look for a spring opening instead of starting him in the fall. anon


Amazingly enough you really do have to start researching preschools now for next fall. Many schools will be full up by January. The Neighborhood Parent's Network does a preschool school fair that could help you get the lay of the land. They also publish a preschool guide you can purchase. Not all preschools in the area are listed. Check Parent's Press for info on Open Houses and school fair dates. Good luck!