The Guiding Principles of Head Start
Like all Head Start programs, Alta Head Start and Early Head Start are guided by certain fundamental principles. These guiding principles, as embodied in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, have been fundamental to the Head Start program from its inception. They underlie the program policies and practices that prepare young children for success in school and beyond.
Among these principles are:
- Each child is unique and can succeed. Children are individuals with different rates and paths of development. Each child is uniquely influenced by their prenatal environment, temperament, physiology, and life experiences. With the appropriate support, all children can be successful learners and achieve the skills, behaviors, and knowledge described in the Framework.
- Learning occurs within the context of relationships. Caring families, teachers, and other adults matter in a young child’s life. Responsive and supportive interactions with adults are essential to children’s learning.
- Families are children’s first and most important caregivers, teachers, and advocates. Families must be respected and supported as the primary influence in their child’s early learning and education. Their knowledge, skills, and cultural backgrounds contribute to children’s school readiness.
- Children learn best when they are emotionally and physically safe and secure. Nurturing, responsive, and consistent care helps create safe environments where children feel secure and valued. In these settings, children are able to engage fully in learning experiences.
- Areas of development are integrated, and children learn many concepts and skills at the same time. Any single skill, behavior, or ability may involve multiple areas of development. For example, as infants gain fine motor skills, they can manipulate objects in new ways and deepen their understanding of cause and effect. As preschoolers gain new verbal skills, they can better manage their emotions and form more complex friendships.
- Teaching must be intentional and focused on how children learn and grow. Children are active, engaged, and eager learners. Good teaching practices build on these intrinsic strengths by providing developmentally appropriate instruction and opportunities for exploration and meaningful play.
- Every child has diverse strengths rooted in their family’s culture, background, language, and beliefs. Responsive and respectful learning environments welcome children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Effective teaching practices and learning experiences build on the unique backgrounds and prior experiences of each child.