Head Start is one of the most researched and evaluated early childhood programs in America. Research studies have shown that children enrolled in Head Start have increased achievement test scores, decreased grade repetition and special education needs, and increased graduation rates.
Learning is not purely a cognitive exercise. It was founded on the principle that children cannot learn when they are hungry, or sick, or too worried about their home situation to concentrate in school. The program emphasizes not only children’s cognitive development but also their social, emotional and physical development and has a very strong parent involvement component. Preparing children to learn is about more than just learning numbers or letters. It is also about giving children the skills and abilities that will make children good learners throughout their school careers—curiosity, an interest in learning, and the ability to pay attention in class.
Regardless of their innate abilities, children learn better when they have good physical and mental health and have families whose own needs are met so they can devote their energies to nurturing and educating their children.
Researchers show that even mild undernourishment, the kind most frequently found in the U.S., impairs cognitive function and can do so throughout the life of a child.
One study found that children participating in a quality early childhood program that included a strong health as well as a parent involvement component had higher rates of high school completion and lower rates of school dropout.
Recognizing that children do not come in pieces, Head Start—along with early educational experiences—provides health screenings, immunizations, mental health counseling, dental services, nutritional meals and parental supports.