Parent Advocacy Handbook: Getting Ready for Kindergarten

As your child’s first teacher, you help them get ready for kindergarten.

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As your child’s first teacher, you help them get ready for kindergarten by developing their intellectual, social, emotional, and physical skills. Children who have positive experiences with learning before starting in kindergarten are more ready for school.

FCPS offers preschool programs to help you prepare your child to be ready for kindergarten. In addition Fairfax County Government offers preschool as well. 

Be an Advocate

Build Awareness

  • Create an interesting and stimulating environment for your child.
  • Introduce them to new objects, events, and people.
  • Ask them questions and give them problems to solve
  • Encourage your child’s interests and share your experiences.

Encourage Exploration

  • Make play a learning opportunity.
  • Discuss your child’s activities with them.
  • Try to understand their thinking and how they learn.
  • Allow your child to make mistakes and learn from them.

Ask and Answer Questions

  • Help your child think through and understand questions.
  • Allow time for questions and answers.
  • Give answers when asked.
  • Ask specific questions, such as “What else works like this?” and “What happens if . . .?”
  • Guide and focus their attention.
  • Help them connect their ideas.

Build Language and Math Skills

  • Help your child learn about the letters and the sounds they make.
  • Read to your child and show enthusiasm for reading. Your local library can help.
  • Explore writing by drawing shapes, forming letters, and writing sentences.
  • Help your child copy, trace, and write letters.
  • Count and practice counting by asking “How many fingers do I have on this hand?” “How many pennies do I have?”
  • Help them learn to sort objects into groups by shape, color, or size. 


Fairfax County offers many programs for pre-school aged children. Some programs are free of charge while others are not. It is important to apply early and follow up to insure a place for your child. If a program is full, ask to be placed on a wait list and monitor your child’s position.

The Fairfax County Office for Children (OFC) offers many early education programs for children, including Healthy Families Fairfax and Infant and Toddler Connection. The Office also has information about programs and services:

  • Fairfax County Libraries
  • Fairfax County Parks Authority
  • Fairfax County Health
  • Fairfax County Human Services
  • Fairfax County Office of Housing and Community Development

Child Care Resources

Child Care Resource and Referral (CCRR)CCR promotes quality care for children by supporting families and providers, parents. If you need help paying for child care, the CCRR may provide financial help if your child attends a participating child care centers or family child care home.  Contact: Fairfax County Office for Children (703) 449-8484.  TTY (703) 324-3923) [email protected]

Programs for Children and Parents

Early Childhood Identification and Services (ECID&S). The ECID&S, or Child Find, identifies children with potential special education needs, and educates the community about child development and the importance of early identification. Child Find provides free screenings for children from 20 months to 5 years old.

Family and Early Childhood Education (FECEP/Head Start).   FECEP/Head Start is a full-day child development program that primarily serves income-eligible children who are 3 and 4 years old.  Head Start provides services that assist families with child education and development, health services (medical, dental, nutrition, and mental health), parent education, family literacy, and English for Speaks of Other Languages (ESOL).

OFC operates FECEP/Head Start in classrooms in many, but not all, FCPS elementary schools. If your school does not have a program, they may be assigned to another school. Spaces are very limited and based on income. Contact the Head Start Office at 703-208-7900 (English) or 703-208-7901Contact (703) 324-8290 (Spanish) to see if your child is eligible for FECEP/Head Start.

FCPS PreK and Early Head Start. Early Head Start is for children birth to 2 years old supporting pregnant women who live in the Reston, Herndon, and Springfield areas of Fairfax County. The application begins on January 1 each year for the coming school year. Apply as soon as possible because space is limited.

  • FCPS PreK and Early Head Start offers preschool and comprehensive services at no cost to qualifying families for children who will be age 3 or 4 by September 30 of the calendar year. The programs are managed by the FCPS Office of Early Childhood Curriculum and Grant Management. Contact the Head Start Office at 703-208-7900 (English) or 703-208-7901 (Spanish) for more information.

Family Literacy Program. The Family Literacy Program “supports residents with limited English skills, building literacy and community connections for students and their families.” This two-generation approach works with parents and children to get the children ready for kindergarten.

Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), HIPPY is a free program for parents of children ages 3 – 4 years old.  Parents are taught to be their child’s first teacher. HIPPY also strengthens parent-child relationship. HIPPY home visitors show parents how to teach: Shapes and Colors, Reading, Writing, Mathematics, Science and Language Development. Parents meet with a HIPPY-trained home instructor for an hour each week in the parent’s home or with a small group of parents at a central location.

Early Literacy Program (ELP). The ELP is a free program for parents of children ages birth – 5 years old. ELP helps parents learn to teach basic skills needed to be ready for kindergarten. The program is similar to HIPPY and provides workshops two times a week for diverse parent groups.

Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI). VPI supports quality early childhood education programs for children with special needs; foster children; children under a CPS order; children in families who receive TANF or families that are enrolled in the VIEW program; or children of teen parents.  There are VPI programs at many child development and learning centers in Northern Virginia.

Neighborhood School Readiness Teams NSRT is a collaboration of OFC, FCPS and Fairfax Futures. Learn more about school readiness by contacting the Office for Children, at 703-324-8100 TTY 711. The Office of Children is open 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday, at: 12011 Government Center Parkway, Suite 920, Fairfax, VA 22035. [email protected]

Other Opportunities for Children and Parents

Public Library: The Fairfax County Public Library offers special programs for children, including programs for infants and preschoolers. Many local libraries have regular story times for their visitors. You can borrow books from the Library to read and share with your child. 

Recreation Centers: Fairfax County’s Park Authority operates recreation centers throughout Fairfax County, which offer gym facilities, swimming pools, classes, and other recreational programs. You can find information about current classes and programs in Parktakes, a Parks Authority publication.

Parks: Fairfax County has many parks for play and exploration. Get to know the parks near you: Which ones have playgrounds, nature trails or Nature Centers?

Museums: There are many museums in the DC area. Some Smithsonian Museums that preschoolers might enjoy are:

  • National Zoo (live animals, including a petting zoo);
  • National Museum of Natural History (for dinosaurs and other exhibits about the natural world);
  • National Air and Space Museum (airplanes; space ships); 
  • National Museum of American History (trains; farm equipment; toys).

All of the Smithsonian Museums are free of charge and most are accessible by public transportation.

Playground Fun!

Visit the playground at your local elementary schools regularly (after school and on weekends or holidays). Playgrounds offer preschoolers the opportunity for:

  • Physical activities
  • Meeting other children and work on their social skills; and
  • Developing a sense of comfort at, and growing familiarity with, school.

Child Find

Help for Children Who Need Special Education or Related Services

Help for Parents:

  • If you are concerned about your child’s physical, intellectual, or emotional development, or
  • If you believe your child may need special education or related services, or they have a disability.

Preschool Child Find provides FREE screening for special education and related services for children 20 months through 5 years old. Child Find also provides liaison or referral services to community preschool, day care, Head Start, and FECEP programs.

  • For Children Ages Birth through Age 2: Contact the Infant and Toddler Connection (ITC) of Fairfax/Falls Church, (703) 246-7121 for information about a referral.
  • For Children Ages 2 through 4: Call 571-423-4121 for information about interventions, workshops, screening, and evaluations.

For School-Age Children and Young Adults with Disabilities (21 years or younger), contact your school’s Local Screening Chairperson.

Common Questions

What should you think about before sending your child to kindergarten?

Every family raises their children according to their cultural and parenting beliefs. For example, in some families, children spend almost all of their early years in the care of a parent, other close relative, or older siblings or grandparents). In other families, children spend more time with babysitters or daycare). In some families, caregivers are responsible for the needs of children for many years such as feeding, toileting, etc.) and others, children are taught to be more independent by feeding themselves and starting toilet training early.

All parents should know what schools expect from their children when they start kindergarten.

  • Dress his/ herself by putting on coats and shoes;
  • Eat without the help of an adult;
  • Use the toilet by his/herself;
  • Express their needs verbally; and
  • Having social and emotional skills such as taking turns, sharing toys and materials with other children.

When does my child start kindergarten? What do I need to do to get my child registered for kindergarten?

When your child is 4 years old, call or visit your neighborhood school to find out what programs are available and how your child can be screened for services he or she may need. If your child turns 5 years old on or before September 30, they may enter kindergarten that school year. The FCPS Boundary (Attendance Zone) Locator can help you find your neighborhood school.

Most families can register their child at their local elementary school. Registration usually begins early May for children starting Kindergarten in the Fall. Contact your local school to make an appointment to register. If you do not know the name and location of your assigned elementary school, use the FCPS Boundary Locater at:

Some families must register their child at a central student registration office, if:

  • You do not live in Fairfax County. (Non-residents may attend FCPS under limited circumstances. Those students must pay tuition.)
  • You are a foster parent of a child who was placed by a Virginia county other than Fairfax County, or by an out-of-state or federal agency.