Most parents choose carefully when selecting a preschool for their children. With so many options, it might be hard to determine which one is best for your family. Head Start and traditional preschool are two options many parents consider. Each program is slightly different, and one may be better suited to your child than the other.


Head Start is funded by the federal government and is available free of charge to low-income families who have 3- to 5-year-old children. Preschools are usually privately funded, usually through tuition and fees that the parents have to pay. The costs of preschool may vary widely. Some are hosted by churches that underwrite some of the costs, while others are very exclusive and expensive. Some states offer low-cost or even free preschool programs, but those, like Head Start, are usually offered only to low-income families. State-run preschool programs are funded with state monies.


Head Start follows a federally mandated curriculum with the goal of preparing at-risk children to succeed in kindergarten. The curriculum in preschools can range from no curriculum at all (the children play and socialize the whole time) to teaching young children how to read. Most preschools are a mixture of play and learning.


Head Start is a comprehensive program designed to help families. The children are evaluated for learning and physical delays and disabilities. They are given free vision, speech and hearing tests, as well as dental checkups. If it is determined that your child needs therapy, the people in the program will set you up with the help you need. Head Start also works to educate the parents. Many centers encourage parents to volunteer in the classroom, and some centers offer parenting, nutrition or other classes to parents free of charge. Private preschools do not usually offer these services, although many give a discount to parents who volunteer.


Federal law mandates that all teachers at Head Start centers have at least a two-year degree in early childhood education. Private preschools are not required by law to hire teachers with a degree. Therefore, the quality and education of the teachers at private preschools can vary widely.

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