Understanding the different types of programs is an important first step.
Head Start is a federally funded program that promotes school readiness through high quality programming and serves children ages three to five. Priority enrollment is given to low-income families. Head Start offers comprehensive services including early childhood education, health, nutrition, parent involvement and support services to families. Head Start programs are licensed by DCFS. The majority of Head Start programs are offered half day, although some full day “slots” may be available. The traditionally follow school calendars.and most offer transportation. No fees are charged for Head Start services.
State- funded Pre-Kindergarten programs (also known as Preschool for All) brings together qualified staff, a proven curriculum and parent involvement to help prepare children for success in school. High quality PreK programs are offered in participating public and private schools and also located within some child care centers. Enrollment is open to children ages three to five and priority is given to children with the greatest need based on a number of risk factors. There are no fees charged to the family. State funded PreK programs programs are typically half day (although some full day PreK programs are now available in some communities) and follow school calendars.
Private PreK preschool programs are also an option for families. They offer similar programming but do not receive state or federal funds. These programs are part day and follow the school calendar. Fees are charged to families for participation.
Licensed Child Care Centers offers full day, full year quality programming that supports young children and their working families. Child care offers preschool and child care in one setting which is important to working parents who can't transport their child from setting to setting during the day. Child care centers are individually operated, licensed by DCFS, and most do not receive any outside funding. The state funds a Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) that helps eligible families pay their child care fees. If smaller child care settings are a better match for your child, information about licensed Family Child Care Homes and Group Homes is available through CCR&R at 1-800-548-5563.
ExceleRate Illinois is the state’s quality recognition system awarding Circle of Quality designations to programs for their efforts. The higher the awarded designation, the more each provider makes meaningful improvements to their program that better prepare children for school and life. All three types of programs listed above are eligible to participate in this voluntary system.
CCR&R at John A Logan College has trained early childhood specialists who can answer your questions about the different preschool options and provide resource lists of programs in your community.