Kids Lacking At-Home Enrichment Gain Most From Head Start: Study

THURSDAY, March 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Head Start, the U.S. government-funded preschool program, provides the greatest benefits to children whose parents give them little help with learning early in life, new research shows.

The study, published March 6 in the journal Child Development, also found that showing parents how to assist their children with reading and counting may be beneficial.

Head Start offers low-income children preschool education, nutrition services and medical, dental and mental health care. It currently serves more than 1 million children a year.

Researchers analyzed data from nearly 5,000 children, aged 3 and 4, who were enrolled in Head Start. About one-third of the children were black, one-third were Hispanic and one-third were white or other races and ethnicities.

The study found that spending one year in Head Start helped all the children develop early math and literacy skills. However, the benefits were greatest for those whose parents hadn't provided them with early learning stimulation, such as helping them count, reading to them or assisting them in recognizing and pronouncing letters and words.

"These results suggest that it's particularly important that Head Start be offered to those children whose parents did not report providing a lot of pre-academic stimulation," study author Elizabeth Miller, a graduate student in the school of education at the University of California, Irvine, said in a journal news release.

"It's vital that Head Start continue to serve children at the highest and moderate levels of risk because the program is particularly helpful to their development," she added.

"Moreover, our study also suggests that children's academic achievement may benefit from programs targeted to help parents boost preacademic stimulation in the home," Miller said. "Working with parents to increase what they do at home may be an important way Head Start can improve children's readiness for school."

More information

Here's where you can learn more about Head Start.

SOURCE: Child Development, news release, March 6, 2014

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