If you have young children or you’re a soon-to-be parent, you may want to check into Head Start, a federally funded preschool program for low-income children and their families. Head Start promotes school readiness in children between 3-5 years old. Early Head Start, a complementary program, provides services for younger children, from birth to 3 years old, and promotes healthy outcomes in pregnant women. There are no fees for either program.
Both Head Start programs offer educational activities, experiences, and a community dedicated to enriching your child while supporting you as a parent. The curriculums are developed locally, based on the needs and characteristics of participating families. Ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage are taken into account. Children with disabilities are welcome, and services are offered to meet their special needs.
While no two Head Start programs are exactly alike, all are required to meet performance standards mandated by Congress. Curricula are designed to enhance cognitive, social, and emotional development and instill healthy habits in kids. Your child will be exposed to age-appropriate learning activities and materials, with indoor and outdoor play in a safe, supervised setting. Children receive free medical and dental care, as well as healthy meals and snacks. Classes and support services are offered for parents who participate in all aspects of the program including planning, governance, and volunteering in classrooms.
Head Start is available in almost every county in the US, with more than one million children enrolled each year. Most children attend half- or full-day programs at local centers, but other service models are sometimes used depending on where you live. These include family child care settings or weekly home visits by Head Start staff.
Your child may be eligible for Head Start if your family income is at or below the federal poverty level. Some children from families with higher incomes are also enrolled if they meet other requirements. To learn more about your eligibility or apply for Head Start services, contact the local program in your community. You can find your nearest program with this Head Start Locator or by calling 1-866-763-6481.
Reviewed by Eva Benmeleh, March 2020
- Head Start provides federally funded services to pregnant women and children from 0-5 years old.
- Head Start enhances cognitive, social, and emotional development.
- Head Start children get free medical and dental care, as well as healthy meals and snacks.
- Eligibility for Head Start is based on income and other requirements determined by local program staff.