From tiny tots to starry-eyed students, the preschool years are a beautiful time for little ones and their parents. Kids can start to learn and develop their literacy, motor abilities, counting, and social skills. For families eager to get their child enrolled in school, California law is adapting to make education more universally accessible at younger ages. Namely, in their New Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK) program. Keep reading, because we are covering what to know, plus the pros and cons of transitional kindergarten. 


What is transitional kindergarten (TK)? TK is a schooling period between Pre-K and Kindergarten. Before, TK was for kids who missed the qualification for kindergarten: those who turned 5 between September 2nd and December 2nd. However, In 2021, a $2.7 billion initiative was signed into law to make it more universally accessible. The initiative requires any school district offering kindergarten to also offer TK for all 4 year olds in California. More good news, there are no waitlists! 


As a part of the California public school system, TK is completely free, no matter what parents’ income. Universally available means that regardless of zip code, income level, background, race, or immigration status, every child will have access to TK at any school district in California. If your child meets the age requirements, they can go to TK. 


The new rules for transitional kindergarten are intended to be phased in over the course of the next few years. During the 2022-2023 school year, kids who turn 5 between September 2nd and February 2nd are ready for TK. They have a maximum class size of 24 with a 12:1 student/teacher ratio. During the 2023-2024 school year, children who turn five between September 2nd and April 2nd are eligible. Classes will be reduced to a 10:1 student/teacher ratio if funding allows. The following school year, children who turn five after September 2nd and before June 2nd are eligible. In the final phase, by the 2025-2026 school year, all 4 year olds by September 1st can be enrolled. However, if you’re eager to get your child started, contact your intended school district. Some schools have already started allowing younger four year olds into their programs.


Children aren’t required by law to go to school until age 6. TK can help get little ones who are ready to jump into school get started during some of the most important years for learning and development. According to previous studies by the American Institutes for Research of California’s TK program, students who participate in the transitional kindergarten curriculum can improve in literacy and mathematics. The study also reported that TK students showed higher levels of engagement. Not to mention, attending school at young ages is beneficial for social interaction. This program can provide kids more opportunities to get to know other kids, interact, and play while learning. 


Is your little one nervous to start school? Practicing skills that your child might face in the classroom to help them prepare and gain confidence. You can start by engaging in arts and crafts at home to get them excited, their creative juices flowing, and working on fine motor skills. Read with kids to get them used to the joy of storytime. Help them start sounding out words and playing with numbers. Once they start, you can work with your child to help them practice the curriculum so they can see themselves get better.


If TK is the first time your child is leaving the home during the day without you, it can come with a tough adjustment period. Talk to teachers about your concerns so they can help your child get accustomed to their new routine. Consider taking your child to their new school to meet their teacher and go for a walk around their campus to get familiarized. Connect with other parents to help your child make friends that they can look forward to spending time with at TK. You might also be able to have your child attend a school that allows a midday pickup. If possible, opt for just part of the day at first and then work up to the full day once your child is comfortable.

At Coastal Kids Pediatrics, we believe that education during early childhood can be a wonderful way to set your little one up for academic and social success. Find out more about TK and access updated information by visiting the FAQ page of the California Department of Education’s website. To learn more about when to start your child in school and the pros and cons of transitional kindergarten, talk to your passionate Coastal Kids pediatrician. To make an appointment visit us at