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Early Learning

Washington, DC has a long history as a leader in providing early childhood education (ECE) and leads the nation in access to Pre-K for both 3- and 4-year old children. Access to high-quality, affordable childcare is a critical need for families across the District, and DCPS is proud to provide free, universal Pre-K in a school environment to ensure all of our young learners are ready for kindergarten. Many of the very best Pre-K classrooms in the region can be found in DCPS!

Pre-K Enrollment

To enroll new 3- and 4-year-olds in school, families must apply through the My School DC lottery. Families may enroll children in PK3 if the child is at least 3 years old and in PK4 if the child is at least 4 years old, respectively, by September 30. The DCPS Early Action Pre-Kindergarten program provides guaranteed access for in-boundary students applying to Pre-K at participating schools. Learn more here.

Head Start Enrollment

DCPS offers Head Start at six of our elementary schools in Wards 7 and 8 – CW Harris, Hendley, Kimball, King, Savoy and Stanton.  Families who are enrolled in PK at these schools are also eligible for Head Start services if they qualify.  Families must be income eligible (at or below 100% of the federal poverty guidelines), on TANF or SSI, in foster care or homeless.  Head Start services include intensive case management/support, mental health services, field trips, health services, parent education and support.

ECE Fast Facts

  • DCPS enrolls over 6,000 Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 students across all elementary schools.
  • DCPS enrolls 250 Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 students in Head Start.
  • More than 92 percent of early childhood students at DCPS are meeting or exceeding developmental expectations.
  • DCPS supports 63 Pre-K self-contained special education classrooms to meet the needs of all children’s developmental and learning differences.
  • Children who enroll in DCPS Pre-K programs outperform national literacy averages upon kindergarten entry.
  • DCPS is among the few jurisdictions that require our Pre-K teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many of our teachers exceed that minimum requirement. We are also among the few that pay our Pre-K teachers on the same salary scale as our K-12 educators and provide ongoing professional development for all teachers.
  • DCPS utilizes rigorous monthly data reviews and progress monitoring systems to identify bright spots and corrective actions or supports needed at specific schools. We will continue intensive supports in this area to ensure our commitment to our youngest learners is evident.
  • Washington, DC invested over $100 million to expand early childhood education opportunities – including opening the Stevens Early Learning Center in August 2020; renovating the Old Randle Highlands and Old Miner school buildings; as well as, new programming at Bunker Hill, Drew, King, Moten, and Wheatley – to offer more infant and toddler seats in the coming years. In August 2021, DCPS will open the Military Road Early Learning Center in the historic Brightwood neighborhood. The center will serve three- and four-year-old children in a high-quality Pre-Kindergarten program.

Program Overview

At DCPS we believe that all young children are capable and competent learners, and their voices and ideas are welcomed and valued in our classrooms. In DCPS’ early childhood classrooms children learn through a combination of play, teacher-led lessons, and engaging learning experiences. Classrooms are designed to promote children’s active engagement with the environment, and teachers design learning experiences to promote children’s language development, critical thinking skills, creativity, and early academic skills in order to ensure that children are well prepared for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Curriculum & Assessment

DCPS PreK classrooms utilize Creative Curriculum which includes developmentally appropriate goals and objectives for children within four areas of development: social/emotional, physical, cognitive and language and are aligned to the Kindergarten Readiness Standards.

Using the curriculum as a framework, teachers follow the lead of the children and pursue the questions and investigations within each study that are most interesting to the children in their classroom.  In addition to teacher planned learning experiences, everyday children engage in purposeful play, supporting relationship building, problem-solving, and critical thinking. 

Throughout the day, teachers are observing children and gathering information about their skills and understandings to guide their planning.  These observations, along with children’s work, are documented in our assessment platform GOLD.  Three times a year, using the information captured in GOLD, teachers determine where each child is in their development in a variety of objectives or standards and share the information with families. 

For Families

At DCPS we know that families are children’s first and most important teachers. Family engagement and well-being are essential to children’s success in school.

All Pre-K children have access to mental health support and social work services offered through the school community. Families can also receive support through case management, family engagement opportunities, and connections with community-based organizations to provide additional support.

Visit the DCPS Pre-Family Toolkit! This resource is for incoming and current DCPS Pre-K Families. Find information about what to expect in Pre-K, how to support your child’s learning and development at home, and ways to help your child transition into school.

Do you have a toddler or two-year-old? Join Ready for Pre-K! This exciting new initiative is dedicated to helping parents and caregivers of two-year-olds support their child’s development and learning at home! Each monthly, virtual learning session will focus on a different area of learning that is closely related to children’s success in Pre-Kindergarten and beyond. Gain insight into your child’s development, ask questions, access a variety of educational resources, and get to know DCPS! Learn more here!

Early Childhood Transition Week

DCPS Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 classrooms operate on the regular school system calendar, except for Early Childhood Transition Week. This special transition period occurs during the first week of the school year. To help ease the transition from home or daycare to school, Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 start with a shortened week. The first day of Pre-K for SY 21-22 is Thursday, September 2nd, 2021.

Before Care and Afterschool Services

Many schools offer before care and afterschool services. Children enrolled in afterschool programming receive a free supper as part of the program. Program costs are determined based on a sliding-fee scale. Visit our Afterschool Programs page for more information.

Support for Schools

Beginning in School Year 2020-2021 (SY20-21), DCPS’ ECE structure will align with the existing Cluster Support Model where each cluster of schools is led by an Instructional Superintendent and supported by a team of dedicated central office staff. Each cluster's central office support team includes, but is not limited to, staff with expertise in attendance, social-emotional learning, academic content areas, special education services, technology, language acquisition, school operations, and community and family engagement. This approach ensures that all efforts within a school are targeted and aligned.

Safety and Supervision

Student safety is paramount, and DCPS continues to focus on ensuring a strong culture of safety at every school. This includes the issuance of an ECE Supervision Policy; systemwide training for teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, and school leaders; prescribed student safety monitoring systems; and the creation of a Health and Safety Support team to monitor school practices and provide support, as needed.

We know active supervision during transition periods is critical, but also presents unique challenges. As such, DCPS is planning modifications to Pre-K schedules next school year to reduce student transitions. All teachers will also be provided with a limited choice of transition-related supervision systems (“scan and count” systems) to support effective practices when transitions are necessary (e.g. dismissal).  In addition, starting in SY 21-22, Pre-K students will receive inner core classes (art, music, library) in their classroom to avoid the transition to another part of the school.  Students will still participate in physical education outside the classrooms.

Kindergarten Readiness

Research shows that children who have attended our Pre-K programs are better prepared to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. In addition to our Pre-K curriculum being aligned to the Kindergarten Readiness Standards, each school intentionally creates a unique transition plan to ensure children and families  feel supported, prepared and confident about starting kindergarten.