Head Start is a Federal program for preschool children from low-income families. The Head Start program is operated by local non-profit organizations in almost every county in the country. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of educational activities. They also receive free medical and dental care, have healthy meals and snacks, and enjoy playing indoors and outdoors in a safe setting.
Head Start helps all children succeed. Services are offered to meet the special needs of children with disabilities. Most children in Head Start are between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. Services are also available to infants and toddlers in selected sites.
Head Start is a program that helps young children between the ages of three and five grow up ready to succeed in school and in life. Programs work to meet high standards for delivering quality services to children and their families. Children who attend Head Start programs participate in fun activities while developing social skills. Head Start children also receive nutritious meals and the necessary health care in a safe environment.
Early Head Start is a program for families with infants and toddlers ages birth to three. Families who are expecting a new baby may enroll in Early Head Start. Families do not pay a fee for Head Start or Early Head Start.
Parents with children in Head Start participate in all aspects of the program. They help to govern, plan what children learn, and provide advice about needed services. Parents and other community members also volunteer in classrooms and other parts of the programs.
Head Start and Early Head Start welcome children with disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities are strongly encouraged to participate in their children’s daily routines and activities.
Children from birth to age five from families with low income, according to the Poverty Guidelines published by the federal government, are eligible for Head Start and Early Head Start services.
Children in foster care, homeless children, and children from families receiving public assistance (TANF or SSI) are categorically eligible for Head Start and Early Head Start services regardless of income.
Head Start programs may enroll up to 10% of children from families that have incomes above the Poverty Guidelines. Programs may also serve up to an additional 35% of children from families whose incomes are above the Poverty Guidelines, but below 130% of the poverty line if the program can ensure that certain conditions have been met.
Pregnant women may also be eligible for Early Head Start.
Most children who enroll in Head Start attend a half-day center-based program. However, some communities may operate a full-day program or provide Head Start services through a home-based setting. In a home-based program, staff called Home Visitors teach parents how to provide learning experiences for their own children.
Some center-based programs offer children bus rides to and from home.
When the children arrive at the center, they are greeted warmly by their teachers. They put whatever they have brought from home in a place which is their own to use every day.
Classroom time includes many different activities. Some teachers begin the day by asking the children to sit in a circle. This encourages the children to talk about an idea or experience they want to share with others. In some centers, the children plan their activities. They may choose among art, playing with blocks or table toys, science activities, dancing to music, looking at books, or pretend housekeeping. Children can switch activities if they prefer another challenge.
Each day, they have time to work in a small group with other children and to play outdoors on safe playground equipment.
At lunchtime, children receive a nutritious meal and brush their teeth. All the children are taught to wash their hands before meals, and are encouraged to develop good personal and health habits. If they come for an afternoon session, they also receive a healthy snack.