How to find free pre-K in Philadelphia


Pre-K is a bit different than child care or day care. You may be asking, “Isn’t pre-K just child care? Why not place my kid in a local day care or child care center?” Well, there’s a slight difference.

While pre-K provides a safe and supportive environment for kids to learn and socialize with others just like day care, child care, or preschool — pre-K provides additional education on top of what is offered at other care providers and can help develop children much-needed skills for life.

The first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial to their development. This is when their brains are rapidly creating the foundations for the future of their heath, education, and behavior. As we grow older, our rapid brain development slows down and the building blocks that were put in place as children guide us through life.

This is why the school district’s administrator for pre-K programming, Diane Castelbuono, believes that families should take advantage of the city’s free pre-K programs.

“Plenty of research shows that pre-K is really important to kids’ development,“ said Castelbuono. “High quality pre-K has benefits for years and years.”

If your child is between ages three and five and lives in Philly, pre-K programs in the city provided through the government are free.

If your child is under three years old and your family meets income limits, you may be eligible for Early Head Start. This program is free, but there are strict income limits.

Many of these programs also offer before or after school care for an additional cost for parents who need child care outside of school hours. (Here’s how to find before or after school care in Philly.)

More about all of these programs below.

Ages: 3-4

PHLpreK is a pre-kindergarten program provided through the city, largely funded through the city’s “Soda Tax”. It’s free for anyone in Philly, with no income limits. Parents or children without U.S. citizenship can also receive free pre-K without having to prove citizenship or provide Social Security numbers. Children must be age three or four years old on Sept. 1 to be eligible.

For more information, call 844-745-7735 or sign-up for the PHLpreK newsletter for updates.

You can find a program near you on the map below:

How to apply:

🌐, 📞 844-745-7735, ✉️ [email protected]

“[A PHLpreK site] was recommended to us through word of mouth in the parenting group, Fishtown Mamas. It being a soda tax pre-K and their all-day hours really sealed the deal.”

Clare Dych, Philly mother of two

Ages: 3-5

The Philly school district provides free pre-K to children ages three to five through public programs like the city’s PHLpreK, the state’s PreK Counts, or the federal Head Start program. Children must be at least three years old on Sept. 1, and five years old after Sept. 1. If a child turns five years old before Sept. 1, they have to apply to kindergarten.

Pre-K providers are spread all throughout the city, located in district schools or child care centers in the community. While the district’s pre-K programming has a variety of funding sources, children receive the same pre-K education experience across the board.

Because you apply through one general application, you don’t have to apply to different programs, figure out if you meet income limits, or worry about which location is the best (they all meet the same standards). Instead, you provide family information, income, and your preferred provider locations (if you have one in mind or got a recommendation), and the district will pair you with an available spot depending on your needs.

Some providers offer before and after school care, as well.

To apply:

🌐, 📞 215-400-4270

“A lot of those programs are income dependent but accept kids over the income limits. So, don’t believe everything you hear, just be open to learning new information.”

Clare Dych, Philly mother of two

Ages: Under age 3

Early Head Start is a free child care program for children under age three provided by the federal government. It’s meant to provide child care for kids before they age into preschool, pre-K, and other child care facilities. There are income limits for this program — up to $55,094 for a family of 8, as of 2018 — check online to see if you qualify.

To apply:

🌐, 📞 1-866-763-6481

Contact the programs directly first. However, if you’re looking for another place that can help or would like in-person assistance try the Early Learning Resource Center.

The ELRC in Philly is a one-stop-shop for finding child care services in the region. Here you can get referrals and apply to any of the child care programs listed in this guide and also ones that aren’t. You’ll find out if you are eligible for financial assistance or public child care programs, and get connected with a child care provider that fits your needs. Call or visit an ELRC in-person.

ELRC Locations (Open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.):

  • Northwest Philly: 2361-2373 Welsh Rd.

  • North Philly: 2816 Germantown Ave.

  • West Philly: 5548 Chestnut St., Second Floor

🌐 📞 1-888-461-KIDS (5437)

» READ MORE: A parent’s guide to finding childcare in Philadelphia

» READ MORE: How to find before and after school care for kids in Philadelphia

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