Head Start Programs

Head Start programs promote school readiness of children ages birth to five from low-income families by supporting their development in a comprehensive way.

Head Start and Early Head Start programs offer a variety of service models, depending on the needs of the local community. Many Head Start and Early Head Start programs are based in centers and schools. Other programs are located in child care centers and family child care homes.  Some programs offer home-based services that assigned dedicated staff who conduct weekly visits to children in their own home and work with the parent as the child's primary teacher.

Over fifty years ago Head Start began as a program for preschoolers.  Today 3- and 4-year-olds make up over 80 percent of the children served by Head Start programs each year.  Early Head Start was created to serve pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Early Head Start programs are available to the family until the child turns 3 years old and is ready to transition into Head Start or another pre-K program.  Just recently, many Early Head Start programs have been funded to partner directly with existing infant and toddler child care programs, resulting in higher quality services to all children enrolled in the child care program.

Head Start programs support children’s growth and development in a positive learning environment through a variety of services, which include

  • Early learning: Children’s readiness for school and beyond is fostered through individualized learning experiences. Through relationships with adults, play, and planned and spontaneous instruction, children grow in many aspects of development. Children progress in social skills and emotional well-being, along with language and literacy learning, and concept development
  • Health: Each child’s perceptual, motor, and physical development is supported to permit them to fully explore and function in their environment. All children receive health and development screenings, nutritious meals, oral health and mental health support. Programs connect families with medical, dental, and mental health services to ensure that children are receiving the services they need.
  • Family well-being: Parents and families are supported in achieving their own goals, such as housing stability, continued education, and financial security. Programs support and strengthen parent-child relationships and engage families around children’s learning and development.

Delivered through 1,700 agencies in local communities, Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide services to over a million children every year, in every U.S. state and territory, in farmworker camps, and in over 155 tribal communities. Head Start programming is responsive to the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage of each child and family.

Find out more in the comprehensive Head Start services video.


Last Reviewed: August 15, 2016