Drive anywhere in the Tampa Bay suburbs and you’ll see signs advertising free VPK at many daycare centers. If you’re new to Florida schools, you’ve probably noticed the signs and wondered, what’s that?
Years ago before I had kids, these signs caught my eye and I was curious about this VPK thing. But it wasn’t until I had a child and decided to enroll him in preschool that I learned about this elusive free VPK program. And let me tell you, Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten was an exciting discovery for our family.
My son didn’t go to daycare but when he was turning two, a friend told me about a nearby church preschool that offered a two-year-old program two mornings a week. It sounded like a good opportunity to let my son spread his wings a little and start socializing, and it was pretty affordable.
He absolutely loved it and grew a lot that year, and I loved the free mornings to work or run errands child-free. When summer break came, we couldn’t wait to return for the three-year-old preschool class in September.
During the three-year-old school year, I became more aware of the four-year-old program, VPK, that offered double the amount of school days. By this time, I was completely on board with more school time because I saw how much my son loved it and how curious and eager to learn he’d become. Plus, he was socializing and sharing so much better.
Needless to say, I was stoked to learn that VPK was completely FREE thanks to the State of Florida! All I had to do was send him with a backpack, lunch and snack.
VPK Eligibility and Options
According to the Office of Early Learning at the Florida Department of Education, VPK eligibility and options include:
- Children must live in Florida and be 4 years old on or before Sept. 1 of the current school year to be eligible.
- If your child’s 4th birthday falls Feb. 2 through Sept. 1 in a calendar year, you have the option to postpone VPK until the following year when your child is 5, if you prefer.
- Parents can choose from a school year program (540 hours with class sizes of no more than 20, and one instructor to every 11 children) or a summer program (300 hours with class sizes of no more than 12).
- School days and hours vary by school/child care provider.
- Some providers offer extended day or wraparound care in addition to the regular, free VPK hours.
- Parents can choose from private child care centers, faith-based providers and public schools that offer VPK programs. You can search for providers in your area here.
- Make sure to apply online for your child’s VPK voucher here and provide it to your chosen provider. The application requires proof of the child’s age and Florida residency.
For more on VPK eligibility, options and requirements, visit the Florida Office of Early Learning’s website.
Making the Transition to School
For our family, the transition to VPK has been smooth and exciting because we’re already familiar with our preschool.
If VPK will be your child’s first school experience, there may be some tears involved but don’t get discouraged. Don’t let your child see you worried or upset. Show them that you’re excited and proud of them.
Before you know it, they will be waking up on the weekends asking to go to school. And when it comes time for Kindergarten, the transition to elementary school will be that much easier because pre-kindergarten helped build a foundation.
Who else is excited about VPK?