Key Terms

Use the glossary below to understand unfamiliar terms in this resource. It is not an official Head Start glossary.


  • Ableism: The intentional or unintentional discrimination against people with disabilities in favor of able-bodied people stemming from a belief that disability is an inherently negative state of being.
  • Adultification: The experience of treating children and youth older than their developmental and chronological age.


  • Belonging: In early childhood education, belonging is children’s ability to see themselves as part of different groups, such as family, community, culture, or faith. Having a sense of identity and belonging contributes to learning and school readiness by helping children gain self-confidence.
  • Bias: A preexisting tendency to favor or be against a particular person, group of people, or perspective as compared to another in a way that is considered unfair. Bias can be explicit or implicit.
    • Addressing stereotypes and implicit bias: Actions taken to identify and disrupt personal belief in stereotypes and bias.
    • Bias conscious: Being aware of one’s own biases and how they are shaped by experiences, beliefs, values, education, family, friends, peers, and others. It includes awareness of how biases impact interactions and emotional responses to others.
    • Confronting stereotypes and implicit bias: Actions taken to challenge and oppose practices, policies, and systems that allow inequitable treatment of individuals or groups on the basis of membership in a marginalized group.
    • Explicit bias: Conscious awareness of personal preference for or against a person, group of people or perspective.
    • Implicit bias: Unconscious beliefs, feelings, or behaviors that affect one’s understandings, actions, and decisions.


  • Code-switching (also called code mixing): Occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages.
  • Community engagement: The mutually respectful, strengths-based relationships between Head Start and Early Head Start staff and families, community members, and agencies. Head Start and Early Head Start staff seek out and respond to community voices, strengths, and needs. A program must establish ongoing collaborative relationships and partnerships with community organizations to facilitate access to community services that are responsive to children’s and families’ needs (45 CFR §1302.53).
  • Cross-cultural approach: Term used to describe interactions that recognize and compare the differences between cultures and promotes efforts to effectively engage with each group.
  • Culture: Patterns of beliefs, practices, and traditions associated with a particular group of people. Individuals both learn from and contribute to the culture of the groups to which they belong. Cultures evolve over time, reflecting the lived experiences of their members in particular times and places. Individuals are rooted in culture that is unique, dynamic, evolving, and influenced by many factors including our family, community, and history, reflecting the lived experiences of its members.
  • Cultural pluralism: Term used when smaller groups within a larger society keep their unique cultural identities, and their practices and values are accepted by the dominant culture — as long as they fit with the laws of the broader society.
  • Culturally responsive practices: Program practices (including teaching in group care settings and home visiting practices that support families) that use the strengths of culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse children to make learning more relevant and effective (45 CFR §1302.30).
  • Culturally sustaining practices: Program practices (including teaching in group care settings and home visiting practices that support families) that nurture and elevate the values and practices of historically devalued cultural groups. Such practices intentionally support linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism. These approaches and strategies recognize and respect the cultural diversity of children, families, and staff as assets in providing high quality care and education for young children.
  • Cultural ways of knowing and being: Refers to the ways that culture influences our individual behaviors, assumptions, meaning making, and world views. It gives a mental framing or pattern for thinking that includes unspoken rules, beliefs, and norms. This framing or pattern informs our everyday social interactions that helps us to interpret and make sense of our world.
  • Curriculum: Planned, developmentally appropriate, culturally, and linguistically responsive content-rich experiences and activities that that occur in each program option to promote children's learning and development based on an organized scope and sequence (45 CFR §1302.32).


  • Dual language learner (DLL): A child who is learning two or more languages at the same time, or a child who is learning a second language while continuing to develop their first language. The term “dual language learner” may encompass or overlap substantially with other terms frequently used, such as bilingual, English language learner (ELL), Limited English Proficient (LEP), English learner, and children who speak a Language Other Than English (LOTE). (45 CFR §1305.2)


  • Emotional literacy: The ability to identify, understand, and respond to emotions in oneself and others in positive ways.
  • Equity: Equity in early childhood education refers to consistent, systemic, and equitable access to comprehensive services and systems to ensure fair and just treatment for all children and families, and those who support them have opportunities to reach their full potential.
  • Equity-focused mindset: An equity mindset is being aware of our own biases and assumptions, and an understanding of how these may lead to the attitudes, beliefs, and actions we have toward children and families. This is particularly key for Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian, and other children and families of color, children with disabilities and their families, and families who are members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. An equity-focused mindset includes a commitment to disrupt inequities that hinder children, families, and staff from reaching their full potential.
  • Ethnicity: The identity of a group based on shared history, culture, language, nationality, and religious expression. In Head Start programs, invite families to self-identify ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino origin or Non-Hispanic or Non-Latino origin. From the Census Bureau definition, this information is included in the annual Program Information Report report submitted to the Office of Head Start.


  • Family engagement: The process we use to build genuine relationships with families. Positive relationships with families encourage strong parent-child relationships, family well-being, and better outcomes for children and families. Understanding the cultural beliefs, values, and priorities of families is key to the family engagement process. A program must integrate parent and family engagement strategies into all systems and program services to support family well-being and promote children’s learning and development (45 CFR §1302.50).


  • Gender expansive: A term used to describe a person or group of people who do not adhere to standard binary gender descriptions or expressions, male, female, and non-binary. Gender-expansive includes individuals who identify with flexible or multiple gender identities.
  • Gender identity: A term used to describe of a person’s perception of themselves as male, female, neither, or both. The identified gender may be the same or different than the gender assigned at birth.


  • Hispanic | Latine (o/a): There are many terms used by and referring to people from Latin American descent in the United States. Hispanic is the term most widely used in official U.S. government documents. This term means that one originates from descendants of the Iberian Peninsula, where Spain and Portugal are located. Although many individuals who descend from Latin America prefer this term, others have expressed not liking this term because it was the name given by European settlers, and it does not represent the variety of people in Latin America who do not have European ancestry. Many others prefer terms specific to their or their ancestral country of origin (e.g., Mexican or Mexican American, Cuban or Cuban American, Afro Latine. While Latino/a this term is preferred by many, others feel this term is not gender inclusive, so they prefer a term like Latinx that is not bounded by gender. However, because this is an English term, some people prefer Latine because that’s the gender-neutral version of Latinx in Spanish. Throughout the Multicultural Principles, the term Latino is used to refer to people of Latin American descent in the United States as the term follows current guidance used by the Office of Head Start.


  • Inclusion: The values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society.
  • Inclusive curriculum: Planned learning experiences and activities consider the diverse learning needs and strengths of all learners, providing equitable opportunities to participate (45 CFR §1302.32).
  • Intercultural: A term used to describe the interactions between members of more than one cultural group that promote respect, understanding, and effective communication leading to the development of meaningful and cooperative relationships.
  • Intersectionality or intersecting identities: Intersectionality or holding overlapping identities explains how individual identities such as race, language, gender, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status, and other aspects connect in ways that impact how we are viewed, understood, and treated.


  • LGBTQIA2S+: An acronym for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, or additional sexual orientations and gender identities that are not heterosexual or cisgender.
  • Lived experience: The knowledge gained through first-hand participation or direct experience, as opposed to learning from second-hand sources, e.g., reading or observing.


  • Organizational culture: An intangible yet strong force among a those in a workplace community that affects the behavior of group members. The culture of an organization shapes the principles that guide the way work is done. Organizational culture consists of the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and priorities that sets the context for the work of the team. Organizational culture consists of the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and priorities that sets the context for the work of the team.


  • Prejudice: Preconceived opinions that lead to preferential or favorable treatment for some people and/or unfavorable biases or hostility against others.


  • Race: A socially constructed description of a group’s identity based on shared physical traits. In Head Start programs, families are invited to self-identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, white, biracial/multiracial, or other. This information is included in the annual Program Information Report.


  • Second-language learners/sequential bilingual development: Children who begin to learn an additional language after 3 years of age.
  • Simultaneous bilingual development: Children who learn two or more languages from birth, or who start within one year of being born.
  • Social determinants of health: Social determinants of health are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Social determinants of health are grouped typically into five categories: economic stability, education access and quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context.
  • Stereotype: An assumption made about a person based on group membership, without learning whether the individual fits that assumption.
  • Systems: Systems are a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent parts that form a complex and unified whole with a specific purpose.


  • Translanguaging: A term used in current research. It includes code-switching but is used more broadly to describe the process where children and adults make meaning, shape experiences, and gain understanding and knowledge using multiple languages to make sense of their world.