The Complete List of Free and Low-Cost Preschool Education Resources for Low-Income Families
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In This Guide
- Preschool savings through Head Start
- Preschool savings through state-funded preschool
- Preschool savings for low-income federal employees
- Preschool savings for low-income military families
- Preschool tax breaks for low-income families
- Preschool savings for low-income college professors, employees, and students
- Savings on local recreational centers, community centers, and churches for low-income families
- Preschool co-ops, homeschooling, and Joy Schools for low-income families
- Cooperative preschools
- Homeschooling your preschooler
- Joy Schools
- Low-cost online preschool programs for low-income families
- Free and low-cost educational apps for low-income preschoolers
Although the topic has long been hotly debated, studies in the last few years have shown that giving your child a preschool education can set them up for greater success down the line.
In fact, according to the National Head Start Association, children who attend Head Start’s pre-K programs are 31 percent less likely to be held back a grade than their peers who did not have access to preschool. Many more studies confirm the long-term and long-ranging effects of preschool education including improvements in literacy, an increased likelihood of graduating high school, and much more.
Unfortunately, the costs of preschool education have skyrocketed, making early education a luxury many families simply can’t afford. In fact, a 2016 report from the Economic Policy Institute found that there are 23 states in which pre-K education and childcare is more expensive than in-state college tuition.
For those living in states without free or subsidized preschool programs, there aren’t many options for ensuring your child gets the head start they need to succeed at school.
Still, with a little creativity and some research, preschool education could be in reach for your child. That’s why we’ve put together this guide for low-income families for finding free, affordable, and subsidized options for early childhood education.
Here’s what you’ll get in this guide:
Tips for finding and accessing public preschool programs
Creative ideas for educating your child when preschool is financially out of reach
A list of free and low-cost websites and apps that can help your child learn the basics to be ready for kindergarten
Preschool savings through Head Start
Head Start is a public program that started in 1965 and is funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
They offer grants, funding, and oversight to state and local governments, nonprofits and faith-based organizations, and small businesses and other for-profit groups that provide or wish to provide early education services to low income families, particularly those living at or below the federal poverty line.
As of their last report, Head Start programs provided services to over one million families in 2016.
Regulations require that at least 10 percent of children enrolled in Head Start programs are children with disabilities, so families of children with disabilities may qualify even if their income is above the poverty line.
Programs encompass a range of services for children from birth to age five including early childhood education, health and nutrition services, and education and assistance to parents to ensure a healthy environment for their child’s development. These services can be provided at a designated center or, in some cases, a teacher may be assigned to make weekly visits to spend time with your child.
They also offer specific programming for Indigenous folks in both urban settings and on reservations. These programs aim to provide early childhood education as well as curriculum to teach Indigenous kids traditional languages and cultural practices. In addition, they offer programming tailored to the needs of families of migrant and seasonal workers in the agriculture industry.
The benefits of Head Start programs are innumerable. According to the National Head Start Association, children who are involved in Head Start programs reduce their vocabulary deficit by 38 percent in a program year and are 19 percent less likely to smoke as adults.
Head Start is available at over 1,600 locations across the country. Click here to find out where there are programs near you.
Preschool savings through state-funded preschool
In recent decades, many states have expanded their publicly-funded preschool programs. Today, 43 states and the District of Columbia offer pre-kindergarten education for families with children under five.
The only states that don’t offer this service at all currently are Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
Only some states offer preschool programming for three year-olds as well as four year-olds. Those states that don’t provide preschool classes for three year olds are those listed above as well as Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.
It’s important to note, however, that enrollment, quality, and class sizes vary. The National Institute for Early Education Research offers their state rankings in this report, with the District of Columbia topping the charts and Minnesota coming in last of those states that offer preschool programs.
Many publicly-funded preschools are offered free of charge, however some may have a fee attached. Check out Freepreschools.org to find a free preschool near you.
Additionally, many states that don’t offer free public preschool and some that do have subsidies for child care available for low-income families. For instance, Washington state offers a child care subsidy for families based on their income in which you simply pay a small co-pay for child care each month. You can use those funds towards services at a child-care facility or even for relatives or other adults who provide child care in their homes.
Other states that don’t offer public preschool may have alternatives available. One example is the UPSTART program in Utah which provides its residents with a software program that parents can use with their kids for 15 minutes each day to teach them critical reading and math skills.
Check out this useful article which offers seven tips for finding child care subsidies as well as a complete state-by-state list of child care and early education programs offered by each state.
Preschool savings for low-income federal employees
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers child care subsidies to employees of a number of federal agencies including the General Services Administration, the National Park Service, the US Coast Guard, and US Customs and Border Protection. Check here for more information on these subsidies.
Preschool savings for low-income military families
Those currently enlisted in the military and living on base camps can access one of the Defense Department’s 800 Child Development Centers (CDCs). Some are free while others may require a small fee for participation. Check here to find a CDC near you.
The Child Care Aware of America program also offers fee assistance for child care to military families. They’ve partnered with a few different national preschool programs including Kindercare and Bright Horizons to offer special discounts to military families to make their services more accessible.
Preschool tax breaks for low-income families
Working families are eligible to deduct up to $3,000 for one child or up to $6,000 for two or more children in child care expenses annually, meaning that if you do have to spend a substantial amount on preschool tuition, you should be able to get a tax break on it.
Some employers may also offer you the option to set up a flexible Dependent Care Flexible Savings Account (FSA) of up to $5,000 pre-tax dollars where you can set aside some of your check to put towards child care and early education for your child. The money set aside won’t be subject to income tax. This option isn’t especially common, but check with your employer to see if they offer something like it.
Preschool savings for low-income college professors, employees, and students
If you’re a student, your college or university may have a program that provides free or low-cost child care. Some of these schools may also extend those services to faculty and staff as well.
Check out this map to see colleges and universities near you that offer these services, this list from Bestcolleges.com of colleges that are best for students with children, or this US News and World Report article on finding child care at community colleges for more information.
Savings on local recreational centers, community centers, and churches for low-income families
Private, for-profit preschools can come with an incredibly steep price tag, while free public school programs and Head Start programs might just not exist in your area.
However, in many places around the country you’ll find that local recreational centers, community centers, or churches step in to fill the gap in early education at a much more affordable rate than a private program.
For example, as the largest provider of childcare services in the country, many YMCA branches across the country provides childcare and early education programs to their communities.
One of the Y’s main focuses is closing the achievement gap between low-income kids and those who have access to more financial resources, particularly through early childhood education. While most of these programs aren’t free, many of them offer financial assistance to low-income families to curb the tuition costs. You can find your local Y here.
Preschool co-ops, homeschooling, and Joy Schools for low-income families
Cooperative preschools are a good model for parents who want to pool their resources in order to provide free or low-cost education for their preschool-age children.
Essentially, a group of families gets together and agrees to rotate hosting and teaching their children either at their own home or another designated location. In order to make this type of model work, you’ll need to be able to give up a weekday every so often which may be challenging for people with full-time jobs.
But, if you can swing it, it’s a great option for teaching your kids and giving them the chance to have healthy social interaction while you’re at work that’s likely less pricey than having a nanny or sending them to a private preschool.
Homeschooling your preschooler
If you’re a stay-at-home parent or someone who has the ability to work from home, you could also opt to homeschool your preschool-age child or children.
You could also offer daycare and early learning services to a few other families as well to offset the costs and earn some money for yourself as well. It will, of course, require some extra work on your part, but you can save tons on preschool tuition costs.
These websites offer free or low-cost lesson plans and sample curriculum that can help you figure out what to teach your kiddos at a cooperative preschool or in a homeschool setting:
Success for All. Sign up for their mailing list to receive downloads for free sample lesson plans.
Read Right From the Start. Offers free courses for early educators and parents to help you teach your child critical skills.
LeVar Burton’s Skybrary School. The Reading Rainbow host has a preschool curriculum program that offers a free trial option. If you choose to sign up for the one classroom program, you’ll get individual access for 35 students at an annual cost starting at $179.
Pre-K Pages. Offers a selection of free lesson plans, plus a free ebook Pre-K teaching hacks when you sign up for their mailing list.
First School. Has a series of free plans for main and mini themes to teach kids throughout the year, as well as printable worksheets and activities.
This Reading Mama. This blogger and educator created a free 31-week curriculum for emerging readers.
Tot School. Offers a bunch of free printable worksheets as well as relatively affordable lesson plan bundles.
HS Printables. They provide a selection of lessons and printables for each letter of the alphabet.
Joy Schools are a specific cooperative preschooling model based on the New York Times’ bestseller Teaching Your Children Joy by Richard and Linda Eyres. They base their methods on promoting joy in various aspects of children’s lives including family, their bodies, nature, sharing, creativity, uniqueness, and more.
In order to access all of their benefits you need to purchase a $50 membership and pay for sets of lesson plans on top of that. However, they do offer a number of free sample lesson plans as well as a bunch of free ebooks, plus you can get half off of their seven most recent books using the code: EYREFRIEND.
Low-cost online preschool programs for low-income families
Educational services have slowly been shifting online over the last several years, and it turns out that this extends to preschool and early education options as well.
There are a number of different programs that you can now purchase that will provide your child with computer-based software, games, and online applications that can help them develop the skills they need to succeed once they get to kindergarten. Check out these programs:
K12. They offer the EmbarK12 Comprehensive preschool program for just $99/year. Your membership includes access to over 1,200 games and activities that tackle literacy, mathematics, investigative skills, and scientific reasoning. Try their program for 30-days risk free.
ABC Mouse. Has a range of online lessons on reading, math, science, art, and colors for kids ages 2-8. You can get a free 30-day trial of their lessons when you sign up, and subscriptions are just $9.95 per month. Save nearly 50% off by purchasing an annual membership at just $59.95.
Time4Learning. While they do have a range of free demo lessons, you can get access to all of their online lesson plans and printable worksheets for $19.95 per month for your first child, and $14.95 per month for each additional student.
Free and low-cost educational apps for low-income preschoolers
There are plenty of free apps out there that can also help your pre-K child learn valuable skills including reading, math, and much more. Swap out some TV or game time into every day to have your kid work through the games and lessons on these fun, free, and easy-to-use apps:
Homer. Offers a digital library of over 400 digital stories and 1,000 phonics, alphabet, and sight words lessons for kids ages two through eight that increases in difficulty as they improve their reading skills. According to Homer, use of their app improves reading scores as much as 74%.
Moose Math. This app has five different math activities to help your child with counting up to 100, learning to count by twos, fives, and tens, and more. The app is available for $1.99.
Grasshopper Apps. Sign up for their mailing list to get access to their Free Apps club. Their apps including phonics, sight word, and spelling games to help your child learn their reading basics.
Writing Wizard. Helps kids to learn basic handwriting skills by having them trace the letters of the alphabet and play games with those letters. The starter version of the app is available for free, while the full version costs $4.99.
Animatch. Kids can work on their memory skills with this matching game that has you find pairs of animals that match one another. It’s just $0.99 in the app store.
Daniel Tiger. A free website and $1.99 app that has kids follow the PBS cartoon character Daniel Tiger in order to learn the basics of having a daily routine.
Alphatots Alphabet. This flash card app teaches kids letters using different action verbs that start with each letter of the alphabet. It’s available for $2.99.
Monkey’s Preschool Lunchbox. Helps kids learn shapes, letters, and numbers with various games meant to help the main character, Monkey, fill his lunchbox for school. The app costs $1.99.
Peg + Cat Big Gig. Teaches kids math through lessons based around music. The app also allows kids to create and record their own songs, develop their own dance routines, and practice their math skills while they do it.
Wheels on the Bus. This free app is an interactive version of the classic children’s song where kids can learn the song in five different languages, read the lyrics and sing along, and play 12 different learning games.
Access to early childhood education is not only proven to adequately prepare your kiddo for kindergarten and beyond, but is also a critical stepping stone towards future success for your child. In the absence of universal free pre-K programs, we hope these tips have helped you to find creative ways to make early education a reality for your child and an affordable option for you.