Curriculum and Reauthorization

Many questions arose after the 1998 Head Start Reauthorization Act. This article, written for Head Start education staff, breaks down the process of making existing curricula compatible with new mandates from Congress. The article also gives helpful catch phrases ("Wow GERMS") and offers cautions in implementing new curricula.

The following is an excerpt from...
Head Start Bulletin logo

by Cindy Bewick, Pamela Murchek, & Mary Salman

Cautions in Implementing a Curriculum for Your Head Start Program
The Process of Developing a Head Start Curriculum

  • Have you discussed the 1998 Head Start Reauthorization Act with your colleagues?
  • Are the new Education Program Performance Standards and Performance Measures circulating faster than the latest best seller?
  • Do you wonder what the new legislation means for your curriculum?
  • Do you think you must immediately hire a consultant, buy new materials, change your activities, and develop new teaching strategies?

These questions and many others are on the minds of Head Start education staff throughout the country. Tri-County Head Start in Paw Paw, Michigan, is no exception. We have explored how we make professional decisions about curriculum, and we've identified possible pitfalls. We've also taken a close look at our curriculum to see if it is compatible with the new mandates from Congress, and we realize there are two relatively simple steps in this process:

Step 1: Have a working knowledge about child development principles.
When adults are knowledgeable about early childhood development, they present appropriate curriculum. In addition, each child's learning style and cultural context must be addressed by presenting appropriately challenging experiences that allow for positive achievement and engage children in multidisciplinary activities. Both are necessary to make curriculum meaningful for children as well as adults.

Step 2: Understand curriculum as defined by the Program Performance Standards.
Before you can recognize curriculum, you must have a clear understanding and working knowledge of the definition. It's not enough to list the different aspects. You must be able to apply the definition and evaluate whether something IS or is NOT Head Start curriculum. The rewards for this understanding are increased program quality, and the ability to act as an informed professional and to share accurate information with families and community partners.

In Paw Paw, we wrote self-instructional units for staff on how to achieve these two steps. Throughout each unit, Wow, GERMS! serves as a reminder for each part of the definition. Here's how it works:

Wow = WRITTEN plan


GOALS and objectives for children's development and learning

EXPERIENCES or activities to meet the goals

ROLES of staff and parents

MATERIALS, space, and equipment necessary for optimal development and learning

SOUND child development principles and the Head Start Program Performance Standards

Wow! These GERMS are AMAZING because they help staff remember the curriculum definition and apply the definition. We suggest they think about how quality curriculum is contagious— the better it is, the greater it spreads, and the more children learn— and that they picture children learning and being challenged because of these good germs. We ask that they see families with big smiles saying, &quotWow, GERMS are great for curriculum!"

Cautions in Implementing a Curriculum for Your Head Start Program

We have identified two things to watch out for in developing curriculum: folks marketing curriculum that does not meet the Head Start Program Performance Standards (and GERMS reminds us of what we must have), and pressure from others.

Remember that child development principles form the foundation for everything we do in Head Start. Be an educated consumer. Carefully review curriculum and related materials BEFORE you purchase them, and make sure they have GERMS and fit your program goals.

Caution #1: Some publishers are more concerned about selling their product than offering quality curricula based on sound child development principles. Beware of statements such as:

  • "This will make it easy to meet the Program Performance Standards and Performance Measures."
  • "Head Start children will develop print and numeracy awareness with these activities."
  • "These are the 10 letters all Head Start children must know!"

Caution #2: How many times have you heard other people say:

  • Research shows that direct instruction is the only effective teaching strategy.
  • A little skill and drill never hurt anyone.
  • Doing written work will make it easier for them in kindergarten.

The results of teaching children primarily through "drill" comes nowhere near our goals for quality curriculum in Head Start. We don't expect a child to walk before (s)he crawls, so why would we expect a child to read and write before (s)he can hold a pencil, make controlled marks, or recognize his/her name?

Your curriculum must be based on sound child development principles and be individualized to meet the specific needs of each child in your program. As you plan your curriculum, ask yourself the following:

  • Are the goals suited for children's individual development?
  • Do I rely on the various learning domains and disciplines?
  • Do my experiences, teaching strategies, and materials allow an appropriate degree of challenge?
  • Am I knowledgeable about the developmental sequences for reading, writing, and numeracy?
  • How are parents involved in developing curriculum? Are their roles evident?
  • How do I use children's, parents', and my own ideas to develop plans based upon ongoing observation and assessment, rather than falling back
    on "old plans"?
  • What evidence do I have that individual children have increased their knowledge and skills?

The Process of Developing a Head Start Curriculum

All published curriculum need modification to suffice as a Head Start curriculum. Necessary modifications may include:

(1) individualizing the curricular practices to meet the needs of every Head Start child, including those with disabilities;

(2) expanding the scope of the curriculum to address all aspects of Head Start programming; and

(3) assuring that the curriculum reflects the families served and the local community.

Modifying or developing a curriculum is a process that programs must go through–one that involves staff and parents and community partners. At least four phases are usually involved:

(1) gathering background information;

(2) gathering materials and potential resources;

(3) the process of developing and implementing the curriculum; and

(4) evaluating the outcomes. These phases are outlined in the chart below.

Background Information

  • Program's philosophy
  • Head Start Program Performance Standards
  • Community assessment and other information regarding the community's cultural heritage, and physical and safety issues
  • Information on the children's ages and assessments

Materials to Review

  • Published curricula
  • Activity books/ activities
  • Specific interests and needs identified by:
    • staff/parents
    • cultural heritage
    • physical necessity
    • IEP/IFSP

Process–involves staff and parents

  • Examine background and program information.
  • Develop desired program outcomes.
  • Evaluate published curricula in light of information from previous examination.
  • Identify additional ideas from community resources.
  • Work with staff and parents.
  • Identify and review published curriculum if appropriate to use as a base from which to develop the Head Start curriculum.
  • If a published curriculum is not selected, identify specific goals around which to structure the Head Start curriculum. These goals drive decisions on environment, schedules, activities, experiences, and materials to implement goals. Review goals to ensure that the curriculum follows good child development practices and encompasses the Head Start Program Performance Standards.
  • Identify additional goals to supplement those included in the published curriculum, if a published one is selected.


A Head Start curriculum that includes:

  • Goals for all children;
  • Experiences for children;
  • Activities for parents and teachers to foster children's development;
  • Materials to be used; and
  • A curriculum that is consistent with the Head Start Program Performance Standards and based on sound child development principles.


Our team reached several conclusions when discussing the Program Performance Standards, the Performance Measures, and the 1998 Reauthorization Act. Most importantly, we understand that much of the new legislation reflects our current curriculum. We will not immediately hire a new consultant, completely change our activities, throw out current quality teaching strategies, or use any other reactive response. We WILL assure that all children have the opportunity to engage in intellectually challenging experiences based upon the Program Performance Standards' definition of curriculum (think Wow, GERMS). We will also demonstrate how children learn as a result of their Head Start participation. As long as we continue to implement a quality curriculum as defined by the Head Start Program Performance Standards, we achieve quality outcomes for children.

Cindy Bewick is Education Services Manager, Pamela Murchek is Center-Based Family Educator, and Mary Salman is Education Services Assistant Manager at Tri-County Head Start in Paw Paw, Michigan, T: 800-792-0366.

"Curriculum and Reauthorization." Bewick, Cindy, Murchek, Pamela, and Salman, Mary. Curriculum in Head Start. Head Start Bulletin #67. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2000. Engilsh.

Last Reviewed: November 2008

Last Updated: October 7, 2014