Free preschool programs for Michigan children

Free quality preschool programs help the whole family travel the road to success.

We know that the early years are one of the most important periods of a child’s life. Children learn so much in the years between birth and 5 years old and this early learning sets a child up for a healthy, successful life right from the start. Early education and care programs are specially designed to help children learn the skills, attitudes and knowledge that allows them to thrive throughout their lives.

"There's increasing evidence that children gain a lot from going to preschool," says Parents advisor Kathleen McCartney, dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

However, in Michigan, a little less than half of preschool children (ages 3 and 4) are enrolled in a preschool program according to Kids Count Data Book 2016. One of the most common reasons is that many young families cannot afford the cost of preschool.

Fortunately for Michigan residents, low-income families have the option to send their children to one of two free preschool programs that operate throughout the state: Head Start and the Great Start Readiness Program.

Head Start

Head Start, a federally-funded program, is a preschool program for 3- and 4-year-old children. Depending on the program in your area, parents have access to full-day or part-day programs. They also provide transportation to and from Head Start classrooms. Children are supervised by trained early childhood professionals who plan engaging learning activities that help children prepare for kindergarten and beyond. Head Start is also committed to helping families get access to community services for education, health, housing and other needs.

To qualify for Head Start, families need to meet specified household size and income guidelines, which can be found at Michigan Head Start. To find a Head Start program in your area, go to Michigan Head Start Program Locator. To complete a Head Start application, call your local Head Start office or look for an online application on the homepage of your local Head Start office. For example, to fill out an application for Head Start in the Ingham County area, go to Capital Area Community Services, Inc.

Great Start Readiness Program

The Michigan Department of Education also offers a free preschool program for 4-year-old children from low-income families called the Great Start Readiness Program. It is similar to Head Start programs in that it helps prepare children for kindergarten. The family size and income guidelines are similar to those for Head Start. Great Start Readiness Program is managed by your local intermediate school district.

To find the Great Start Readiness Program classrooms in your area, go to Great Start Readiness Program and click on the GSRP Map. Once you find the contact information for your local intermediate school district office, you can find out how to fill out an application, but there is also an application on the website.

Both of these programs have a long-standing commitment to quality preschool education that includes developing relationships with children and their families. Michigan State University Extension encourages parents or other family members to become involved in the programs in a partnership with the teachers and staff.

These two free quality preschool programs help the whole family travel the road to success. Most classrooms begin their programs in the fall, so summertime is a good time to explore your preschool program options.

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