Summer vacation is well underway for many Hoosier families, but education experts say it's not too early to start thinking about next school year.
This is especially true for children entering the classroom for the very first time in the fall.
On My Way Pre-K is a grant-based program providing access to free, high-quality, pre-kindergarten education for four-year-old Hoosiers from low-income families.
Nicole Norvell is the director of the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning in Indiana. She says a child must be four years old by Aug. 1 of that school year to qualify.
"If you have a 4-year-old, please apply," said Norvell. "Even if you think you aren't eligible, go ahead and apply. It doesn't take very long."
Officials say a record number of students signed up the On My Way Pre-K program during the 2021-22 school year, with nearly 4,800 children enrolled.
This comes as education experts say a child's brain develops the most during the "birth to 5 years old" phase.
Norvell says Pre-K helps develop the minds and social skills of children before they enter a real classroom.
"Part of what we are trying to do during that Pre-K year is not only expose you to really rich academic content," said Norvell, "but also get you ready to just sit there in class and be ready to learn in that kindergarten year, because we don't want you to lose out on any of those academic pieces that start a little harder once you get into kindergarten."
Norvell says there is a simple, online application process that will determine a child's eligibility, based on a few elements like household income.
"Even if you are not eligible, we are still going to give you some resources of other things to check out that can perhaps help you with paying for Pre-K or really any type of education," said Norvell. "Again, applying is really important, because we will kind of do the work after that to see if we can't get you into the right place."
If a student does qualify, the family can then choose from a list of pre-approved schools and care providers.
Norvell says the state will then directly pay the school on the family's behalf.
Officials encourage families to enroll as soon as possible to avoid programs filling up before the start of the 2022-2023 school year.