Head Start Centers and Use of Space
Head Start Design Guide
This chapter from the Head Start Design Guide summarizes the Head Start Program Performance Standards relevant to planning the design and use of space. This resource can be used by program directors and members of the agency’s facilities planning team. The general design implications of program criteria are discussed.
The following is an excerpt from the Head Start Design Guide.
4.1 Design Implications of Program Standards
4.1.1 Interaction Among Staff and Children
4.1.2 Facilities and Learning
4.1.3 Staff-Parent Interaction
4.1.4 Skilled Staff and Center Design
4.1.5 Administration and Space
4.1.6 Staffing and Classroom Space
4.1.7 Physical Environment
4.1.8 Health and Safety
4.1.9 Nutrition and Meal Service
4.1.10 Record Storage
4.2 Head Start Program Performance Standards on Space
4.3 Additional Requirements
This chapter summarizes the Head Start Program Performance Standards relevant to the design and use of space including child group sizes and staff-child ratios. Should a conflict arise between Head Start standards and other applicable codes and regulations, those deemed most restrictive will apply. Refer to Appendix E for a comprehensive listing of relevant standards and guidance on design and space use.
The Head Start standards criteria are stated in ten broad categories, each having a primary goal. Citations of the minimum goals and discussion of the general design implications follow. The design criteria in the Guide should achieve or exceed the Head Start standards.
G O A L : Proper organization of the space ensures that the full program of activities can be accomplished. Successful programs take place with high-quality interactions between children and staff. Refer to 45 CFR §1304.53(a).
Successful design allows teachers and children to interact verbally and non-verbally in large and small groups. Classroom space should not be crowded with material and equipment that is used occasionally such as cots and mats. Ideally, classroom size should be sufficient so that this equipment can be stored out of sight. Classrooms should include low tables, several interest areas, and space for teachers to communicate individually with children. If there is adequate space, tables and counters that put children face-to-face can encourage social interaction.
All rooms should have comfortable seating for adults. The design should include chairs and may include hammocks and built-in benches. Window seats can be particularly inviting for adult-child interaction. Space for glider chairs can be included in infant rooms to offer soothing motion for infants and comfortable seating for teachers and visiting parents. The design of the glider chairs should prevent fingers from being trapped in moving parts.
G O A L : The physical environment and facilities must be conducive to learning and reflect the different stages of development of each child. Making facilities welcoming, accessible, comfortable and safe for all children, including those with disabilities, ensures their full participation in Head Start.
Best practice indicates that classrooms should have sufficient space, equipment, and storage to support a developmentally appropriate curriculum. Classrooms must be configured to allow circulation to each area while minimizing disturbances to other children engaged in an activity. Well-located storage is vital for ease of circulation and supervision. The center should have child-accessible displays of curriculum materials, either on built-in open shelving at the child’s height or on movable, open, child-scale shelving units. The design should support a balance of the following activities:
- Indoor and outdoor
- Quiet and active
- Individual and group
- Large and small motor activity
- Child and staff initiated activity
Best practice includes unencumbered wall space at the child’s level that promotes interesting room arrangements and displays. There also is a need for flexible space and easily changeable furniture arrangements.
G O A L : Parents must be invited to become actively involved in the development of the program and in the approach to child development and education. Refer to 45 CFR § 1304.21 (a) (2).
Best practice indicates that the center should provide adequate areas for private consultation between teachers and parents. A reception area for check-in and check-out is advisable. Space in the classroom should be adequate to accommodate parent visits. Bulletin boards for parent notices are worthwhile.
G O A L : Head Start programs must comply with section 648A of the Head Start Act and any subsequent amendments regarding the qualifications of classroom teachers. Refer to 45 CFR §1306.21.
The quality of a center’s design can play an important role in attracting and retaining skilled staff who spend so much of their time in classrooms. A properly designed center can improve staff attitude, reduce stress, and ease the workload of the teachers. It also can integrate appropriate acoustical treatment and separation of active and quiet areas to reduce noise levels. In an Early Head Start classroom, strategic arrangment of the diapering areas allows teachers to supervise other children and makes the staff’s job easier. Classroom features ought to make performing teachers’ tasks easier.
Conference space should be adequate for staff training sessions and regular staff meetings. A separate lounge can provide staff members with a quiet break area and should include ample storage space for resources, equipment, and lockable storage space.
G O A L : The program is administered in accordance with the Head Start Program Performance Standards and addresses the needs of children, parents, staff, and visitors.
The location of the director’s office space should facilitate frequent contact with the children, parents, and staff. Space should be available for parent orientation sessions, workspace, and file storage to support administrative tasks. Office space should be arranged to ensure available storage and equipment should be placed conveniently.
G O A L : Staffing is in accordance with the Head Start Program Performance Standards to meet the needs of children and promote their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Refer to 45 CFR §1306.32 (a)(1-12).
Classrooms size must allow for an optimal supervision ratio between staff and children. Head Start Performance Standards establish the permissible staff-child ratios and group sizes:
PREDOMINANT AGE OF CHILDREN IN THE CLASS
4 and 5 years old
Program average of 17-20 children enrolled per class.
4 and 5 years old in double session
Program average of 15-17 children enrolled per class.
3 year olds
Program average of 15-17 children enrolled per class.
3 year olds in double session
Program average of 13-15 children enrolled per class in these classes.
Head Start classes must be staffed by a teacher and an aide or two teachers and, when possible, a volunteer. For Head Start, a maximum staff-to-child ratio of 1:10 with class sizes of fewer than 20 children; Early Head Start staff ratios are 1:4. However, EHS group sizes are limited to 8 children. Head Start centers also must comply with local licensing and zoning regulations.
G O A L : Grantee and delegate agencies must provide appropriate space for of all program activities. Refer to 45 CFR §1304.53(a)(2) and 3404.53 (a)(10) and 45 CFR §1308.4.
The physical environment not only supports the operational quality of a center and affects the behavior and development of children, but also the efficient functioning and sense of well-being of adult caregivers. A pleasant functional environment influences the way caregivers react to children and also will have a positive effect on children who are receptive to their environment.
The ideal environment is intriguing, rich, and challenging to children but is not over-stimulating. It is rich in subtle visual and tactile experience, incorporating natural elements as much as possible. Best practice indicates that the center must have sufficient activity space, storage, and curriculum materials for all children including those with disabilities. Both outdoor and indoor space must be provided for activities featuring quiet and active play areas.
G O A L : A safety inspection must be conducted to ensure that each facility’s space, light, ventilation, heat, and other physical elements are consistent with the health, safety, and developmental needs of children. Refer to 45 CFR §1304.53 (a) (10).
The center’s design must comply with the requirements of the Head Start Program Performance Standards. The center also must comply with state and local codes and their applicable standards. The center design should facilitate both teacher supervision and ease of maintenance. Design details should take into account the fact that centers must be cleaned frequently. Properly designed, well-located toilet and hand-washing facilities are essential. Lockable storage should be provided for all cleaning materials in each classroom, kitchen, and laundry area.
There should be formal consultations with local fire officials to determine appropriate fire drill practices and procedures.
G O A L : Grantee and delegate agencies must ensure that nutritional services in center-based settings contribute to the development and socialization of enrolled children. Refer to 45 CFR §1304.23.
The center design should provide ample space for storing and preparing food. Space requirements depend on whether food is catered or prepared on site. (Usually food is prepared on site.)
Food service facilities should accommodate the serving of nutritious meals and maintain the highest quality of food. Best practice indicates that special accommodations should be provided for infant feeding and nursing.
G O A L : Grantee and delegate agencies must establish and maintain efficient and effective record-keeping systems to provide accurate and timely information regarding children, families, and staff. They must ensure appropriate confidentiality of this information. Refer to 45 CFR §1304.51(g).
Space should be supplied for filing and storing records, observations, case studies, and other reports.
The Head Start Program Performance Standards, 45 CFR § 1304, et seq., contain specific requirements for the use of space, physical environment, functional areas, maintenance, repair, safety and security, fireproofing, heat, cooling, lighting, cleaning, ventilation, equipment, and sewage. Refer to Appendix E.
In addition to complying with Head Start Program Performance Standards, Head Start centers must comply with the licensing and zoning requirements of the state or jurisdiction in which they are located. When there is conflict between Head Start and state, tribal, and/or local criteria, the most stringent requirements apply.
Licensing requirements vary among states and jurisdictions and are constantly being updated and modified. The user should review the requirements of the specific state, tribal, and local jurisdictions early in the design process.
See PDF version:
Head Start Centers and Use of Space [PDF, 26MB]
"Head Start Centers and Use of Space." Head Start Design Guide. Second Edition. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2005. English.
Last Reviewed: October 2010
Last Updated: October 2, 2014