Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education programs aim to lay a foundation of health by building the social and emotional skills
of young children. Educational attainment is a very important social determinant of health (SDOH), and these
programs can have profound long-term impacts on the health and well-being of children and families. In
first 5 years of a child's life are a critical time for social, cognitive, emotional, and physical
development. Educational experiences that occur during these foundational years can help set children up to live
Several factors can impact early childhood development and educational attainment, including:
Programs that focus on providing
early childhood education and positive developmental experiences have been shown to improve
overall educational attainment, increase potential future earnings, reduce crime rates, and improve health
outcomes. Specifically, the Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends
the implementation of educational interventions, such as center-based early childhood education (ECE)
and Head Start programs, to reduce health inequities and to support children who live in communities with an
uneven distribution of SDOH, including low-income populations. ECE programs work with
children ages 3 to 4 to improve cognitive and social development. ECE programs help to improve
literacy, numeracy, and motor skills. When catered to
low-income or racial and ethnic minority populations, ECE programs may reduce educational achievement
gaps and improve health.
Head Start and Early Head Start are
federally-funded early childhood education programs that promote school readiness in low-income children age 5
and under through a variety of services, depending on the needs of the community. Head Start programs support child growth and development through
instruction, play time, health screening, and health services. Head Start also uses a multigenerational approach to engage families
by providing training opportunities for parents, and by connecting families with social services that address
Early childhood programs such as Head Start play an important role in meeting the educational, health, and
economic needs of rural communities by providing child care and social services. A 2018 report by the Center for
American Progress found that Head Start has a positive impact on rural communities, with program centers
available in 86% of America's rural counties. For one quarter of the counties surveyed in the study, Head Start
programs were the only, or one of few, child care centers. Access to Head Start and other child care
opportunities impact families' ability to retain jobs and earn a stable income.
Some states have decided to implement universal
pre-kindergarten (pre-K) as a state-level policy in which pre-K is offered to all 4-year-old children
regardless of family income. Universal pre-K programs typically reach a wider array of students compared to
programs like Head Start, and have been shown to improve
cognitive outcomes for disadvantaged children. The Community
Preventive Services Task Force recommends
full-day kindergarten programs to improve academic achievement
and health among low-income and racial and ethnic minority children.
Examples of Rural Early Childhood Education Programs Addressing SDOH:
The Rural Alaska Community Action
Program (RurAL CAP) administers 24 Head Start
programs in Alaska, 23 of which are designated as rural. In addition, RurAL CAP runs 7 Early Head
Start programs. Through Head Start and other early childhood educational opportunities, RurAL CAP engages
young children and their families in a variety of programs aimed at building relationships, resiliency, and
connections to their culture. RurAL CAP tailors the evidence-based early education curriculum of Head Start
with local traditions. For example, the Elder
Mentor program has tribal elder volunteers go to classrooms and Head Start centers to focus on
skill-building with individual students. The elders provide mentoring and tutoring services, and develop
lasting relationships with students. The elders teach tribal language and traditional skills, including
subsistence hunting and fishing, to help children connect with and learn about their culture.
In parts of rural Colorado and several other rural communities, mobile
preschools are being used to provide early childhood education. These programs deliver education to
hard-to-reach populations using vehicles, often buses, which are transformed into mobile classrooms.
Programs like Gus
the Bus and Magic Bus are licensed
preschools delivering educational programs to youth in rural areas. These mobile preschools are able to
travel to different communities, including mobile home parks, to provide several hours of education. These
types of programs can help prepare children for kindergarten and elementary school, and help improve the
accessibility and affordability of early childhood education.
Healthy Partnership of Illinois offers Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs for migrant and
seasonal farmworkers and their children, starting from birth through age 5. The Community Health
Partnership of Illinois also runs the Illinois Migrant Education program which serves older children in
Illinois, between the ages of 3 and 21. These programs provide educational services, as well as dental and
health services to youth, with the goal of improving educational attainment and health outcomes.
Fostering Futures is a state-wide project in Wisconsin designed for
Menominee Indians that trains Head Start and Early Head Start staff, as well as other educators and
healthcare providers, on how to deliver trauma-informed care (TIC). The goal of the program is to use TIC in
early educational settings and other youth settings to help overcome the effects of adverse childhood
experiences and to build positive early childhood experiences.
to affordable and high quality early childhood programs is important for rural
communities. Many early childhood education programs show promise for addressing SDOH and improving
health and well-being. High quality programs are more likely to make a long-term impact on children
and families. Ensuring that programs meet important requirements and standards can help promote the
quality of the program. Early childhood programs should also be tailored based on the community,
culture, and needs of the students.
on center-based early childhood education demonstrates several implementation
considerations for programs. Many early childhood programs have high rates of staff turnover and it
can be difficult to find qualified and adequately trained staff. For example, Head Start programs
require that teachers have at least an associate's degree in early childhood education. Other
center-based early childhood education programs may have different educational requirements. The
training resources available to teachers may not be sufficient in every rural community. For programs
that follow a set curriculum, staff training is very important to ensuring success and retention. In
addition, funding and budget considerations are important for program implementation and success.
Recruiting and retaining qualified staff may require substantial resources. Space, food, and other
resources may require significant continued investments.
In addition, there are several challenges
to consider for implementing Head Start in rural areas. While the Head Start curriculum may be
standard for most programs, rural communities may want to adapt programming to fit the unique needs
of their students and families. Many rural residents lack access to reliable transportation which can
pose challenges to getting children to child care, including Head Start, on a daily basis. Some
programs may look to partner with other organizations who can help provide transportation for
families. In addition, Head Start grantees have specific requirements around meeting health and
dental needs of children enrolled in the programs. Partnering with health clinics, mobile healthcare
units, and other local healthcare providers may help ensure that these requirements are met.
Program Clearinghouse Examples
Resources to Learn More
Determinants of Child Health
Includes information and resources about early childhood development, promoting children's access to
healthcare, and strategies for protecting children while parents are at work.
Organization(s): Farmworker Justice, Migrant Clinicians Network
on Access to Quality Child Care for Families Living in Rural Areas
Describes the availability of early child care and education programs for families living in rural areas.
Author(s): Henley, J.R. & Adams, G.
Organization(s): Urban Institute