Educational Program Options for Children Aged 3-5 Years Old

Inclusion Preschool Programs

Inclusion preschools, sometimes called developmental preschools, are special classes in the school district for children aged 3 to 5 with special needs. These students receive custom tailored instruction to meet their individual requirements. The special education team comprises professionals, such as teachers, teaching assistants, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, education specialists, physical therapists, school psychologists, and school nurses.

In these preschools, kids learn various skills that prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. These services are free, and eligibility is determined by assessments from a team of specialists who create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each child.

Most inclusion preschools have sessions from Monday to Thursday, each lasting 2 1/2 hours. There are morning sessions from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM and afternoon sessions from 1:30 PM to 4:00 PM on these days. Some programs offer a half-day schedule from Tuesday to Friday, while others have a full-day one from Monday to Friday. Remember that the scheduling can vary depending on your school district.

To see if your child is eligible for an inclusion preschool near you contact your local school districts. Each school district will supply parents with preschool enrollment information. For a complete listing of schools in your area please visit OSPI’s Washington’s state school explore map.

Alternatives to Inclusion Preschool Programs

Although Inclusion preschools are designed for all, some families might seek other preschool options for their child. When exploring alternatives, parents and caregivers should consider factors such as the school’s location, tuition costs, acceptance of working connections, the physical setting (home-like or classroom), adult-to-child ratios, operating hours, cultural competence of staff, and their experience in caring for children with developmental delays and disabilities. Some alternatives to Inclusion preschool include ECEAP programs, centerbased options, family childcare centers, and family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) programs.

The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is Washington’s no-cost prekindergarten program, aimed at preparing 3- and 4-year-old children from families facing more significant challenges for success in school and life. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) oversees the program. Families with children aged 3 or 4 by August 31st may be eligible for this free opportunity. To find out more and locate an ECEAP program in your area.

EECEAP programs (Pierce County)
The Tacoma school district operates eight ECEAP classrooms distributed across seven locations in Pierce County, which include Bonney Lake, Buckley, Eatonville, Orting, South Hill, Sumner, and University Place. Additionally, a dual language program that teaches both Spanish and English is offered at the South Hill location. Families in Pierce County can also access the ECEAP program provided by the Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center, located in Tacoma. For more information on their programs and services please visit the Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center website.

Center-Based Childcare Centers
When families seek alternatives to inclusion preschools, they can decide between center based childcare providers and family childcare homes. Childcare centers offer care to groups of children, typically organizing them into classrooms based on their age. These centers usually have several staff members responsible for looking after the children. Childcare centers are commonly situated in commercial facilities and can be run by various entities, including individual owners, for-profit chains, government agencies, public schools, or nonprofit organizations like faith-based or community organizations.

Family Childcare Centers

Family childcare providers offer personalized care to a small group of children in their own private residence, which can be a house, apartment, or condo unit. If families prefer smaller group sizes and a homely environment with flexible hours, including evenings and weekends, family childcare can be an excellent choice. It’s worth noting that family childcare providers may be a more cost-effective option than certain center-based programs, although rates may differ depending on your local community. For information on how to find a center-based or family childcare center for your child, please contact your local childcare resources and referral agency- Brightspark. You can also find additional information on childcare options by visiting Childcare Aware of Washington, and

Family, Friends, and neighbors (FFN)

Family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) providers encompass a diverse group, including friends, neighbors, older siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, elders, and other individuals who support families by offering childcare services. FFN care is the most commonly chosen form of childcare for children from birth to age five, as well as for school-age children both before and after school hours. Many parents and caregivers opt for FFN care, especially when their child has special health or developmental needs, as they may already have an established relationship with a family member, friend, or neighbor who shares their language and culture. To learn more about FFN childcare, please visit the DCYF website.

This article forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit