preschool girls playing together

Our educational system is recognizing the importance and benefits of early childhood education more than ever before. Yet, there is a gap in the available options that can have an impact on your child’s growth. It’s important to learn about this gap and the potential solutions. We have plenty of programs for infants up to the age of three.

There are also state-funded pre-K programs in almost every state that enroll children when they turn four. Three-year-olds occupy an in-between space after the first wave of resources ends, but before pre-K starts. This leaves a year of time with no structured educational programs.

The Importance of Education

kid drawing at preschool
Preschool gives children structure

The most well-known early education program in the country is Head Start. Head Start focuses on giving low-income children access to education and other services before age 5. There are many long-term benefits of early childhood education. Studies show that early childhood education is important because Head Start teaches educational and social skills.

Private pre-K is also popular for parents in Evanston who do not qualify for Head Start. Head Start and other similar programs have only recently begun to include children at the age of 3. This still leaves a one-year gap that parents need to fill.

Availability of Pre-K

Illinois is one of the better states for availability of pre-K programs for children aged 3. But only 20 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled for pre-K in the state. There are simply not enough openings to serve everyone who want to take part.

There are some areas that are trying to do more though. Washington, DC and New York City are rolling out new policies to widen access to this gap. But, these are costly and impose a new burden on the educational system. This includes classroom space and teacher capacity. Neither are in place yet because the cities cannot afford to open up pre-K completely.

Aside from those two cities, access to preschool is growing slowly for 3-year-olds. This is not just a matter of money. The gap year between infant programs and preschool is a recent area of focus. The initial goal for preschool programs was to create a positive educational environment before kindergarten. With most four-year-olds covered, three-year-olds are the next age group to get specific attention.


Illinois has not yet announced the start of a universal pre-K program for 3-year-olds. Since such a program would require many years to put in place, universal access is still a way off. The state would need to secure a set of resources and deploy them over time for such a program. With the state government’s finances less than healthy, it won’t be easy to get the ball rolling. That means parents should take an active role to get things done.

For Parents

colorful blocks for kids games
Make sure your child attends a good preschool program to help their development

The most important thing parents should do right now is be aware of the problem. That gap for 3-year-olds is easier to handle when parents know it is coming. Spend some time researching your district to see what options there are for your child at that age, if any. Consider joining parents’ groups to help find resources. You can also join to help influence the local and state government.

The needs of your child matter and it is worth spending the time trying to change the status quo. Once you know what to expect, do your best to make that year as enriching as possible. Whether that’s a formal program or more engagement at home, you don’t want that time to go to waste. The benefits of early childhood education start early, so do your best to create a solution.

This preschool gap might seem minor at first glance, but the preschool achievement gap is real. Pre-K programs provide genuine benefits for young children during that gap year. Illinois is still a way away from a full solution. If you have a child now or are planning one in the near future, then you must be proactive if you want to overcome the preschool gap. The preschool vs. no preschool statistics show why the gap matters.