What Are the Benefits of Head Start Preschool Programs?

Smiling young preschool boy with building blocks.
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The first Head Start program launched during the summer of 1965. Originally an eight-week-long summer program, today Head Start serves low income families year-round. It is a comprehensive program designed to end the cycle of poverty by meeting the social, emotional, psychological, health and nutritional needs of young children and their families. The preschool program in particular provides free half- or full-day schooling for qualifying children ages 3 through 5.

1 Educational Benefits

Studies have found numerous educational benefits to the Head Start program. According to the Perry Preschool Project study, Head Start graduates are at the national norms in early reading and writing skills when they enter kindergarten, and by spring of their kindergarten year they are above national norms. On average, Head Start students are absent for 4.5 fewer days a year than their non-Head Start classmates. Studies also show that Head Start graduates are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than siblings who did not attend Head Start.

2 Health Benefits

The Head Start program provides health education to students and their families, along with healthy breakfasts, snacks and lunches. In addition, children receive dental care and information about immunizations. As a result, children who attend Head Start preschool programs have lower mortality rates than those who do not. They are more likely to be immunized, receive more health care screenings and have better dental care than their non-Head Start peers. Parents of children in Head Start rate their children as healthier than those who do not have children enrolled in the Head Start program.

3 Social and Economic Benefits

Children in Head Start preschool programs have higher self-esteem and more positive social behavior than their peers who do not participate in the program. They are less likely to be held back a grade or have serious behavioral problems while in school. The program also benefits the economy: One study showed that society benefits by almost $9 for every $1 spent on the Head Start program.

4 Other Benefits

According to the National Head Start Association, studies show that graduates of a Head Start program are less likely to eventually be charged with a crime or have a baby out of wedlock. Parents even benefit from the program -- a Northwestern University study found that parents of 3-year-olds in Head Start were able to increase their own educational statuses while their children were in preschool. This did not hold true for parents of 4-year-olds, likely because of the reduced time in the program compared to the 3-year-olds.