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Head Start Program - What To Know

Head Start Program - What To Know

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Many American families struggle to afford a good quality education for their children, and in many cases, that struggle begins before the kids even enter formal schooling. Kids who participate in quality preschool programs consistently have better academic and social skills and do better in school than those who do not, but for many low-income parents, quality preschool programs are hard to find and harder to afford. That's why Head Start, a program of the Department of Health and Human Services that provides early education and other services to low-income children is such a lifesaver. Program staff works with parents to encourage children's learning and development with a service package that has provided low-income preschoolers with free education, health, and nutrition services for 50 years.

Comprehensive Services for Low-Income Kids
Head Start programs prepare children academically and socially for kindergarten, giving them the opportunities they need to succeed in school and even beyond.

Head Start programs prepare children academically and socially for kindergarten, giving them the opportunities they need to succeed in school and even beyond. They focus on four areas of children's lives: education, health, parent involvement, and social services. Their goal is to understand how each child learns, use this understanding to improve their teaching techniques and strengthen family bonds to promote children's healthy development.

Head Start consists of two programs. The Early Head Start program offers a variety of services for pregnant women, infants and toddlers up to age three. This program works with existing preschool programs and childcare centers to provide a positive learning environment for their enrollees. The child can then transition into the Head Start Preschool program from ages 3-5, where they further develop their school readiness skills. Kids also benefit from the organization's healthcare options. All participating children receive dental care, medical and developmental screening, access to nutritious meals, and mental health services. A million children across the nation use these programs each year.[1] No matter your culture, ethnicity, or primary language, these programs are ready to help.

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The Benefits

Parental involvement is critical to their children's learning process, and Head Start works with parents and children alike to advance early childhood education. The program teaches parents how to boost their children's education at home, showing them the importance of seeing the home as a learning environment, and that children use playtime for learning, exploring, and building relationships. Parents can learn how to fulfill their children's emotional needs through joint educational activities, and develop their children's language and social skills with fun, entertaining strategies.

Employees of the Head Start program will want to know if there are any concerns about your child's development. It is important to know early on if a child is developing at the proper rate, and medical doctors don't always have the time to perform a thorough assessment during a routine appointment. Early Head Start programs can help you, and your pediatrician monitors your child more carefully. The program also provides additional services for children with disabilities. A team of trained professionals is on staff to accommodate any child with special needs. Transportation or home services may also be available in your area, and if they are able, your local office will send an employee to visit weekly with the children. These services ultimately work to empower all children through education.

Groups Who Help

The ECLKC (Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preparing young children and their families for school. They provide children and families with the best educational tools and techniques. The organization works to maintain the program standards of its curriculum, assist with professional development, and determine applicant eligibility. Their collection of resources is available to families, educators, local communities, and childcare centers.

The National Head Start Association (NHSA) exists to help the children of low-income families. The group is made up of doctors, lawyers, educators and many other caring individuals willing to fight for the rights of children. This association helps obtain funding to provide families, communities, and policymakers with resources for children's education and development. If you're looking for information on programs supporting early education for low-income children, the NHSA website is a great resource.

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The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL) provides classroom improvement training and resources to Head Start. Teachers receive instruction and assessment tools for early learning and curriculum development, ensuring that your child's future is in the best, most capable hands. With the help of the NCQTL, your children's teachers will have the training and tools necessary to give your child the best education possible.

Check If You Qualify, Then Apply

There are eligibility requirements for these programs and services. Your family must be at or below the federal poverty level at the time of enrollment, although children who are homeless, in a family with no income, in foster care, or receiving assistance from Social Security or TANF also qualify. Online resources can help find out if your family meets the low-income guidelines; check the resource link at the end of this article!

The application process can take up to 6 weeks. You will have to schedule an appointment at your community's local office or a telephone interview where you must verify your children's ages. You will also be required to show documentation including a birth certificate or social security card, income sources like federal tax returns, Social Security documents, TANF information, or pay stubs. Records of immunizations, medical, and dental exams are also necessary. These requirements may sound difficult, but don't let them deter you. If you're missing some records, talk to the staff and look for a way to meet the requirements. They are there to help you, and the advantages your children receive are more than worth the effort.

Seize the Opportunity

Children deserve and need to be educated, regardless of how much money their family makes. Head Start is there to serve families like yours, but they can't help you unless you seek them out and apply. These services can make a lifelong difference for your children, and a call or a visit to a Head Start office is one of the best steps you can take to support your children's education. It's not just for the kids, either. By taking the stress and financial burden of paying for preschool away from parents and by freeing up more work hours for parents to earn, Head Start enables families to have a happier home environment in which to play and learn. Most importantly, the program empowers children to succeed in life and make a difference. Use the link below to enroll a child in the Head Start program, or contact your community's Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center for any additional questions or concerns at 1-866-763-6481.

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Resource Links:

Head Start Home Page
Find A Head Start Program
National Head Start Association
Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center
National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning
Do You Meet Federal Poverty Guidelines?

Notes
1. "Head Start Programs" . ACF.HHS.gov