How a New Florida Momma Navigates Free VPK, It’s Quick and Easy

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A few short years ago in 2015, my family of five, soon to be six moved from Southern Alabama to the Tampa Bay Area. My three girls are all on the autism spectrum. I was early in my pregnancy, still getting that lovely sickness. It was already hot out in April. My then three-and five-year-old girls were lined up to immediately enter Pasco County’s school year interventional pre-kindergarten classes because they already had IEP’s (Individualized Educational Plans) prepared for them in Alabama. IEP’s, to put it super simply, are a legal guide for the school system to follow that is made for a child with a disability that sets out specific goals to be met. 

So my little three-year-old would be staying home with me over the summer. However, my five-year-old has a late September birthday and could go to VPK. Her pre-kindergarten teacher was more than confident my daughter would be able to handle, and would actually do very well in the typical class setting of the summer VPK. So, I set off to sign her up — and to my surprise, it wasn’t all that difficult. Most of the legwork was online, some on the phone, since she was an ESE student to explain that my daughter was potty trained, could handle loud noises, can follow general directions, etc. By mid-May my gorgeous five-year-old was on her was to the VPK that was held just down the street at the local elementary school. 

…And she loved it. Yes, she struggled a little bit with some of the communication. But she still does and she is in the second grade now. But we are making our way to all mainstream classes, right now we are in two mainstream classes and doing great. What I was surprised by was the long hours of summer VPK. But, she learned a great deal and was super-ready for Kindergarten.

The next year came along, and my once-three-year-old was four and growing up fast. She was finishing off another year of interventional prekindergarten and I was weighing my options for summer. My precious girl was in no way ready for any type of “typical” class. We were still working on potty training (a must for VPK), were basically non-verbal (and still are). But thankfully, there’s a VPK option out there, in our case, one-to-one VPK Specialized Instructional Services for kiddos with IEPs. Perfect! And guess what?!? Her pre-kindergarten teacher was becoming a provider! Even more perfect! My little girl did amazingly well during her VPK sessions, and even better, her Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) at school has her VPK SLP as her mentor!!!

So, there are my VPK stories. And here’s all the essential information you really need to know when looking to sign your little one up for a VPK program:

Well, first, a tidbit of history…Did you know that the State of Florida was one of the very first states in the entire country to offer a completely FREE voluntary pre-kindergarten program to ALL four-year-olds? I think that’s pretty awesome, don’t you!?! The VPK program is designed to help kiddos get ready for kindergarten and beyond by building a strong educational foundation for school.

In order for your little one to be eligible, you must live in Florida, and they must be four years old on/before Sept. 1 of the current school year. And applying for VPK is super easy! All you have to do is go to the Florida Early Learning Website (www.familyservices.floridaearlylearning.com) and have an email address, proof of FL residency, and proof of your kiddo’s age (see the website for all fine details). Your local early learning coalition reviews and approves the application and will send you a certificate of eligibility which is what you take to your VPK provider of choice. It’s like the VPK golden ticket!

There are three different programs for VPK:

  1. During the school year, where there will be a total of 540 instructional hours
  2. Over summer just prior to the child’s kindergarten, with a total of 300 hours
  3. Specialized Instructional Services for ESE students with IEPs.

 

Oh, and there are some essential things your kiddo needs to know before entering into VPK.                                             

Do you know what they are?

  • Hold a pencil
  • Sort objects by shape and color
  • Count up to five objects
  • Draw a person with two to four body parts
  • Use scissors
  • Properly match an object in their hand to a picture or object in the room
  • Complete a puzzle with at least four pieces
  • Participate in cooperative play with others
  • Dress and undress themselves without assistance

And did you know — research shows that kids who participate in VPK are much better prepared for school, perform better on standardized tests, have better school attendance, develop better lifelong social and emotional skills and are less likely to drop out of school?!? Whoa, if those are great reasons for every child to attend VPK!!!