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Early Childhood Education

How to find and pay for Preschool and make the transition to Kindergarten

Ensuring that your child’s needs are met is an essential component of your child’s growth, success, and happiness in school.  As a parent, we encourage you to explore the steps involved in finding an appropriate school for your child and to better understand the process and services that will be provided.

Find A Preschool Or Early Childhood Center In Tucson!

Here is an easy-to-use preschool and childcare locator where you can find and explore childcare and preschools near you.

Arizona Child Care Resources & Referral
Quality First Arizona

What Does Quality Child Care Look Like?

What is quality child care and preschool? There are many elements that make up quality early care and education programs, including:

  • Health and safety practices that promote children’s well-being
  • Skilled teachers who turn everyday experiences into learning moments and give children the individual attention they need
  • Learning environments that nurture emotional, social, language and cognitive development, including age-appropriate activities, books, toys and learning materials
  • Opportunities for active play and hands-on exploration throughout the day
  • Regular feedback to parents on the development of their child

Visiting A Preschool:

A tour of the school will certainly give you the opportunity to get a feel for the environment and ask more in-depth questions. It is the best way to gain insight into the culture and climate of the school.  You will be able to observe both student-teacher and student-student interactions. You want to be open about your child’s needs and learning challenges, as well as what you are looking for in a school. While no school is “perfect,” there may be schools that are not appropriate or equipped to meet your child’s needs.

Questions For Schools When Exploring A Preschool:

  • What is the student-to-teacher ratio?
  • How is the day structured with activity, study, free play, nap time, etc.?
  • How do they prepare students for Kindergarten?
  • What measures do they use to assess children’s development and social skills?
  • Are the teachers and staff trained to meet your child’s needs?

Paying For Preschool And Early Childhood Education:

Pima Early Education Program Scholarship (PEEP) (Pima County)
PEEPs is designed to help eligible families pay for high-quality preschool within Pima County. The goal is to assist all income-eligible families who wish to send their children to high-quality preschool in Pima County.

Quality First Scholarships
Quality First Scholarships help low-income families afford quality early care and education for their young children. For more help, contact the Quality First Scholarships team at Valley of the Sun United Way:
(866) 973-0012

DES (Department of Economic Security)

The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) Child Care assists eligible families with child care costs to enable parents to participate in employment and certain education and training activities related to employment, or in certain other circumstances when parents are unable to provide care. Funding is limited. Click here to learn how to apply for child care assistance through the Department of Economic Security.

Head Start

Start and Early Head Start provides early education and services for Birth-5
years and their families who are at or below the federal poverty level.
Click here to learn more about and locate a Pima County Head Start Program near you.  

Transition to Kinder FAQ’S

To be eligible to enroll in Kindergarten, a child must be 5 years old before September 1st of the school year for which the child will be attending.
However, as per Arizona Legislature a child who will turn 5 between September 1st and December 31st can be considered – but this is up to the governing board of the school to admit. Arizona Education Code 15-851(c)

Arizona adopted a statewide Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA) as part of the state’s early literacy initiatives. All Kindergartens in AZ are required to give Kinder students the KEA within the 1st quarter of school.  If your child attends a preschool, speak with their teacher/director to inquire about your child’s developmental skills and readiness.  

Click here for more information on the KEA

The KEA provides a snapshot of a child’s development and is used to assess the five essential domains of school readiness:

  • Language and Literacy Development

  • Cognitive Development

  • Approaches to Learning

  • Physical Well-being and Motor Development

  • Social and Emotional Development.

The KEA is administered at the classroom level; aligned to Arizona’s standards; and is reliable, valid and appropriate for use with all children. The goal is to provide teachers a better understanding of each child’s progress toward meeting the standards and using the information gathered to impact children’s success.

Kindergarten is more rigorous than when most parents were growing up.  Children spend more time engaged in structured activities than prior times.  

  • A LONGER SCHOOL DAY:   Transitioning from a half-day preschool to a full-day of Kindergarten with structured activities requires energy and attention that some children struggle with.  Given their developmental stages – the longer day can be difficult to adjust to without a nap. 
  • TRANSITIONS:  Transitioning from one activity to another can be challenging and take some getting used to for children.  It can be difficult to stop a “play based” activity and transition into something more academic.    A typical kindergarten day is full of these transitions. 

SITTING STILL AND PAYING ATTENTION:  The Kindergarten day has become more structured with an emphasis on mastering academic skills.  This all requires young children to sit still and pay attention and engage for longer periods of time.  As we all know, this can be challenging for  5-7 year olds.

  • ESTABLISH STRONG ROUTINES AT HOME:   Routines help your child feel safe, in control and can foster self-confidence.  They also help your child develop a sense that they belong to a family – and that is comforting. 
    • BEDTIME ROUTINES: Try following the same or similar procedure each night.
    • FAMILY MEAL ROUTINES:   Create a process that empowers your child to be self-sufficient.  
    • READING ROUTINES:   Parents are encouraged to read to their child 15-20 each day. 
  • TELL YOUR CHILD WHAT TO EXPECT:  Your child may have lots of questions surrounding kindergarten. Talk to them about teachers, routines of the school day and expectations at school.  
  • ESTABLISH A FAMILY ROUTINE OF TALKING TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT SCHOOL EACH DAY:  Talking about school should become a daily routine for families.  Ask them to share one new thing they learned or something they did that was kind.   

Early Childhood Organizations (Pima County)

Head Start Centers

Head Start programs promote the school readiness of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children from at-risk families. Head Start programs are available at no cost to children ages Birth-5 who are income eligible.  All Head Start programs promote the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of infants, toddlers, and preschool age children through a safe and developmentally enriching environment.

Head Start programs support children’s growth in a positive learning environment through a variety of services, which include:

  • Early learning and development: Head Start programs work with families, school districts and other entities to facilitate a smooth transition to kindergarten for each child.

  • Health: All children receive health screenings and nutritious meals, and programs connect families with medical, dental, and mental health services to ensure children are receiving the care and attention they need. 

  • Family well-being: Parents and families are offered program services to support family well-being and to achieve family goals, such as housing stability, continued education, and financial security. 

For more information on HeadStart.

Find Your Head Start (in English and Spanish) Use this to find your Head Start or Early Head Start Agency.


First Things First

First Things First is Arizona’s early childhood agency, with programs and resources committed to seeing all of Arizona’s children succeed in school and life.  First Things First focuses on the first five years of life.  In Pima County, programs include scholarships for early childhood education; literacy programs that show families how literacy starts at an early age; home visitation programs that provide voluntary in-home parent coaching from a trained parent educator a few times a month; and more. For more information go to:


  • Parent Resources: There’s no one right way to raise a child, and sometimes parenting a baby, toddler or preschooler can be a challenge. You don’t need to be perfect. To help you do the best you can, here’s some parent resources for supporting your child’s healthy development and learning.

  • Free Birth to 5 Helpline:  is a free service available to all Arizona families with young children, as well as parents-to-be, with questions or concerns about their infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Kindergarten Readiness:  Kindergarten readiness is about what kids should know and be able to do when they start school.  Social-emotional development is as important as physical and academic skills.  No matter what your child’s age, there are things you can do to help them be ready for kindergarten.

Other Family Resources For Preschool And Kindergarten