Enrolling your child in a new school is an exciting time but also can be stressful for both parents and students. School enrollment typically takes place in the spring before the upcoming school year. Schools also offer open enrollment for any grade level throughout the school year in cases when a student moves to a new school district or is changing schools. With help from Ashly Marmol of EdNavigator, an organization that supports Children’s National families with navigating education-related challenges, we’ve compiled some tips for helping your family manage school enrollment:

  • Find out if your child is eligible for school. In most states, to be eligible for kindergarten, your child must be at least 5 years of age by the start of the school year. You can find the age requirement in your state here. If your child doesn’t make the kindergarten cut-off date, many states have pre-kindergarten programs that may be free based on eligibility. Ashly recommends understanding the birthdate cutoffs in your area, so you’re prepared to enroll when your child becomes eligible.
  • Research which school type is best for your child. There are many types of schools that may be offered in your community that vary on classroom size and provide different approaches to learning, including public schools, specialized schools and private schools. Ashly also notes that families should think through what priorities matter most to them, including proximity to home or work, school hours and afterschool care opportunities. Check out the tips What Types of Schools Are in My Neighborhood?, a resource in EdNavigator’s Busy Family’s Guide to School, to learn more about the types of programs that might be available for your family.
  • Consider school choice or a lottery placement. While some school districts assign placements based solely on address, others have lottery systems that give families more choice in which school their child attends, or they allow students to apply to enroll in schools that are outside of their neighborhood boundary to expand educational options. Government-funded vouchers and scholarships are also available for private K-12 grade schools to cover tuition costs. Ashly points families toward these tips for managing school lotteries, or learn more about finding scholarships for Private Schools.
  • Identify the right school for students with special needs. In the United States, all children are entitled to a “free and appropriate education,” which includes children with disabilities and all children regardless of their immigration status or the immigration status of their parents or family. If your child has a disability that affects their learning, look at the school’s website, talk to school staff, and connect with other parents to learn more about how the school supports students with special needs. Visit The Busy Family’s Guide to School for more information on special education.
  • Understand the requirements for school enrollment. Prior to enrolling your child, you will need to gather required paperwork and take note of school enrollment deadlines. Most schools require a birth certificate and other documents to demonstrate proof of your child’s age and residence. Ashly also reminds families that if you are currently living in temporary or unstable housing, including staying with family or friends, the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act protects your child’s educational rights, which includes the right to enroll in school even if you are missing some of the required registration documents. Learn more at School Enrollment Requirements.
  • Schedule your child’s well child visit. It’s very important to have your child’s immunizations up to date. Call your child’s pediatrician’s office to schedule a visit around their birthday or in the summer months prior to school starting. Sports physicals may also be required for children to participate in sports that are affiliated with the school. Appointments tend to fill up in the summer months, so call to schedule an appointment early to avoid a longer wait.
  • Prepare for a new school year after you have enrolled. To get a healthy start to a new school year, parents can do a few things before classes begin to help children start off on the right foot.

For tips on enrolling your child in early childhood programs, see our article on The benefits of enrolling children in early childhood education.


Julia DeAngelo Julia DeAngelo, MPH, is a program manager of school strategies and co-leads the Early Childhood Education workgroup at Children’s National.
Nelida Garcia Nelida Garcia is director of partnerships and outreach at EdNavigator.

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Posts from Julia DeAngelo, MPH, and Nelida Garcia

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