Head Start Versus a Private Preschool. Which Program Would You Choose?

Updated on December 20, 2010
B.B. asks from Reston, VA
16 answers

Based on the current research that states that Head Start doesn't help children to achieve higher goals in the primary grades, what program would you choose for your child? If you qualify for a free Head Start preschool education for your child, would you enroll your kids just because you won't have to pay anything? I'm just curious about what other Mom's think about Head Start.

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answers from Washington DC on

I thought the point of Head Start was not to get kids ahead, but to help them start elementary school on the same playing field with some of the same life experiences as those that do go to preschool. It is to keep them from having to start out behind and always playing catch up later in school. I would absolutely put a child into the program so taht they are getting exposed to the basic social and problem solving preschool skills tought at every other preschool.

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answers from Charlotte on


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answers from Washington DC on

I know you want to encourage your child to do well in school and the natural thing seems to be to push reading and math, but the best thing you can do for your child is to encourage play time that allows natural experimentation - yes that includes letting them get dirty - and encourages social interactions. I am an education major and have just finished childhood development and have attended seminars on early childhood education. For four years I attended weekly group meetings with a behavioral pediatrician who said the same thing. Really... pushing school before kindergarten is not the way to go. So if you're trying to decide what type of preschool to go to, I strongly recommend one that lets your child play as much as possible. Observe a couple of schools and see where the kids look happiest.
Oh yeah, and I'm a mom of a very rambunctious 13 year old boy. All the letters and numbers and counting we did helped with our bonding, but not so much in school. He was in preschool at 3 and 4. He remembers both experiences and hated the one that pushed structured learning (3) and loved the one that allowed more free play (4). Just my two cents. I wish you the best of luck.

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answers from Washington DC on

I think you need to explore both schools in your area. My son would qualify in the local Head Start program in our elementary school because he has a speech delay and the speech therapist could work with him more frequently. Most of the kids in that class speak English as a second language and the purpose is to get English down before they start Kindergarten. It is only 2 1/2 hours but very academically based and a push to get kindergarten readiness. Our local preschool, on the other hand, is play based, and does hit the abcs and 123s but not as hard as the head start does. there are also field trips that you would not get in the local head start and it is 3 hours with an option of lunch and afternoon play. We are leaning towards our local preschool, because of the field trip, less structured environment, and I don't want them to push him into kindergarten before he is ready (late summer birthday). good luck to you.

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answers from Washington DC on

It depends on the teacher and the school. Go to both schools, meet the teachers, learn about the programs. If possible go during the school year so you can see how the children in the school are treated and how they respect the staff of the school. It doesn't matter whether its a public or a private school it comes down to the quality of the staff, administration, and the behavior of the children who attend the school. And when you do make your decision be as involved as possible. Visit the class, volunteer, and be open with the teacher. My daughter has several learning dissabilities and she went to public preschool. She had wonderful teachers and it was a very good experience for her. Just because you pay money for a program doesn't always necessarily make it better.

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answers from Seattle on

From my personal experience and other moms I know I would only do head start as a last resort. Just my opinion! I too would tour both classrooms and see what you think will be the best fit for you and your child. If money is a worry but you have a little time, check out co-op preschools. You work in the classroom one day a week, have a meeting once a month, and a classroom or board job (art prep, art sorting, cleaning, field trip coordinator, secretary, treasurer, etc.) That's what we do, it's cheaper than private drop-off preschools because it's so parent-led and you get to be directly involved in what your child is doing.

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answers from Detroit on

I would have to see the classroom for headstart adn also for the private preschool to make that decision.. I bet there are great headstart classrooms and teachers and also some lousy ones.

My child is in a preschool run by the school district.. there is a fee but it is quiter reasonable.. (11.25 for a 3 hours class).

I happened to sit in on the class the other day.. there were 26 kids.. way too many kids for a 4 year preschool.. they did have 3 teachers..

the lead teacher had great classroom managment skills.. the room was organized and well run. they had a schedule and stuck to it.. there were several times when the kids had to sit on the rug (transtitions) at first I thought this was bad... but really it kept the room organiized and everyone safe.

we will be switching to a very expensive private preschool next year.

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answers from Washington DC on

head start is supposed to be a help to parents in difficult circumstances, those who cannot (or will not) work with their kids at home. it's about preparing kids for school in very elementary ways, sitting quietly, taking turns, listening to instructions etc. it should not be something academic that has them reading and writing at a very young age. i think head start is an excellent program that fills a big niche. but if you're not in that niche, the cost should certainly not be the deciding factor. the best choice is to keep them at home when they're this young. if that's not available or for some reason undesirable, then i'd go with the absolute best, kindest, brightest, most loving care available in my area, and i'd decide based on multiple visits and interviews. i'm assuming you mean 'better grades' by 'higher goals'. that's not head start's job.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I am a teacher for head start and I was a little suprised by your post-I can understand it in some ways and not others. We us what is called the "high scope" curriculum which is based off of the interests and our observations while the children are with us. We are not allowed to drill them on writing their names and push the alphabet on them. I would say its mostly social-teaching them to sit down, be able to listen and do "self help" skills-that is how we are preparing them for kinder. If a child is not able to sit down and listen to a teacher, there is no way they would be able to learn the alphabet. Their are quite a few children with "issues" and behavior problems that the teachers are dealing with, and they do take up ALOT of our time. I personally dont think I would put my child in head start if I could afford a private-but that is my choice. I am not saying head start is right or wrong for any child, but my child is in a private preschool now (I dont qualify anyways) Go and see if you can volunteer in a classroom for a few hours or do a tour and see what you think. Good luck-I could go on and on about it, but I wont becuase its a personal decision that you have to decide.

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answers from San Antonio on

I work for Head Start. It is hard to teach to every child's specific needs when you have behavioral and other developmental issues. Parents are not aware of what we go through on a daily basis. We are expected to do what a public preschool does on 1/2 the pay with alot of daily paperwork that most do on a computer. We have alot of parents that work or have transportation issues so they can not "volunteer" like Head Start expects. HS expects parents to keep up with their child's health (doctor, dentist, immunizations) but is not forced. Parents have little accountability at Head Start. Kids come to school with attitudes and behavioral issues b/c their is no structure at home. If parents would provide discipline and structure at home, we teachers, could do so much with them. Alot of HS programs do not have the resources that private/public schools have---so our kids play with toys and materials that are basic and boring. I would put my kid in a public or private preschool first. HS has income restrictions unless your child has speech or a developmental issue.



answers from Norfolk on

to my knowledge headstart is like free daycare for 4 year olds. a true preschool (we use curches) teaches letters and shapes and even about god. we even sent our oldest there for kindergarten. so i guess it depends on what you want you child to get out of it.



answers from Washington DC on

I have had several of my children in Head Start and have seen alot of growth in many areas. They do have playtime and learning time. My 3 year old is in it now she talks so much more and better than before she was in. She goes around singing ABC songs and counting. I think it is by choice what you do and depending on the teachers also. You can send your child to a school or Head Start and get a good outcome or bad outcome. I personally know its not just a free daycare its also a learning experience. I do know they have guidelines to go by as my neice is a Head Start teacher.



answers from Washington DC on

At this age, it is not about achieving test scores or grades, but finding a postiive nurturing environment where the kids can learn positive social interactions with other kids and teachers and build trust in themselves learning new skills. Play based programs are best for this. So, yes, if the head start program is a good one run by a nurturing person I say go for it.


answers from Dallas on

In my opinion as a former early intervention specialist, the reason the gains don't last is because they are not reinforced at home. Do everything you can at home to reinforce learning regardless of which school you choose. But I think you should be fine with Head Start.


answers from San Francisco on

I believe that Head Start is a good program and if you have a free admission at no charge to you then go for it. If you find that your child is having any problems then I would question it. If all goes fine then leave your child with it. As long as they have some one on one time with your child this is a good thing. They are not put into classrooms' where there are so many in the class they don't have time for each childs' needs. I would go with the HeadStart and if you feel later on that you wish to have Private then do so. We are talking PreSchool not something that will be available throughout your childs school years. Good luck and I hope your child enjoys it. I think personally its a great idea!!



answers from Washington DC on

um, what research. i'm sure there has been a number of papers on whether head start contributes to "higher goals"

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