Learning Environments

Socialization Environments in Head Start and Early Head Start Home-Based Programs

Tip Sheet LogoIntroduction

The home-based option delivers the full range of Head Start services through visits with the child's parents, primarily in the child's home, and through group socialization opportunities in a classroom, community facility, home, or on field trips. Socializations are an important part of delivering Head Start services in the home-based option. And the environment plays an important part in the success of socialization activities. It is important to understand the goals of socializations before creating an effective environment.

Group socializations should:

  • Provide children with age-appropriate activities that are aligned with school readiness goals, the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework: Ages Birth to 5 (ELOF), and the home-based curriculum
  • Include opportunities for parents to participate in activities that support their parenting skills development or family partnership goals
  • Offer peer group interactions for preschoolers to promote their development across domains and progress toward school readiness goals
  • Encourage parents to observe and actively participate in activities, as appropriate


Because young children use their senses to explore the sights, sounds, tastes, and textures of their environments, everything around them becomes a learning tool. Support children's learning goals across domains with carefully selected materials and planned experiences that are aligned with the ELOF and home-based curriculum. When setting up the socialization environment, consider these important elements:

Consider providing some space and activities for older siblings so parents are free to attend to their enrolled child.


  • Location should be convenient for families, with access to public transportation.
  • Safety: Space must meet safety standards for young children and their families.
  • Accessibility: Location should be accessible for children or family members with disabilities.
  • Space: Space should be easy to arrange or rearrange as needed. 
  • Bathrooms: Restrooms should be easily accessible for toddlers and young preschoolers who are learning to use the toilet independently.

Large pillows, low risers, or comfortable chairs that allow parents to be on or near the ground can help facilitate parent-child interaction.

Room Arrangement

  • Furnishings are easy to move into smaller learning areas as needed. 
  • Furnishings, toys, and materials are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate for the children.
  • Large area is available where all children can move freely. 
  • Space promotes parent-to-parent interactions.

Snacks and Meals

  • Keep infant formula and baby food on hand for infants.
  • Make sure there is a private space for mothers to breastfeed.
  • Provide snacks that promote healthy eating habits for children and adults.
  • Structure meals or snack times as learning opportunities.
  • Support interactions that contribute to a child's learning, development, and socialization.
  • Plan foods and snacks that are consistent with families' dietary needs, cultural needs, or restrictions.
  • Include opportunities to model and practice healthy habits, such as hand-washing and tooth brushing.

Parents with kids sitting in a circle reading a bookAge-related Ideas for Setting Up Socialization Environments

  • Infants
    • Space for tummy time with the parent by the infant's side
    • Safe sleep area for infants to nap (45 CFR §1302.47)
  • Toddlers
    • Duplicates of toys and materials for toddlers who may not be developmentally ready to share or take turns 
  • Toddlers and Preschoolers
    • Space for peer interaction for toddlers and preschoolers
    • Support for different types of play, such as independent, parent-child, and between peers 
    • Variety of learning experiences for toddlers and preschoolers during unstructured play time, such as books, art, or toys
  • All Ages
    • Quiet space for children who might prefer to observe group activities rather than actively participate 
    • Adequate space for parents to watch their child's interaction with other peers or adults 

Other Ideas for Meaningful Socialization Experiences

Planning and Structure

  • Home-based curriculum includes learning experiences for groups.
  • Materials found in families' homes and learning experiences from the home visits can be adapted for use.
  • Staff know who is assigned to plan and adapt materials and experiences.
  • Groups are the right size for quality interactions between parents, children, and staff members.


  • Systems are in place for documenting socializations.
  • Direct observation is used as well as technology such as videos, and photos.
  • Opportunities exist to include parent comments during socializations.
  • Documentation is used to help plan future socializations.
  • Findings from documentation are used to contribute to progress on individual child goals and family partnership goals.


  • Staff consult or plan with early intervention providers for children with disabilities or suspected delays (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Parts B and C).
  • Socializations for children with disabilities are planned according to their Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
  • Socializations meet the needs of children who are dual language learners or children who are learning tribal languages.
  • Cultural and language preferences of families enrolled in the program are addressed.
  • Accommodations are made for parents who do not speak the language of most of the group.

Parent and Staff Joint Planning

  • Parents are involved in planning socializations and help determine the days and times socializations occur.
  • Parents are encouraged to share ideas, skills, or interests relevant to group socializations.
  • Roles of staff and parents during socializations are clearly explained.
  • Professionals from the community are invited to share knowledge, resources, and activities during socializations.
  • Home visitors remain available throughout the time that socializations occur when other professionals are present with the parents.

Head Start Program Performance Standards

Home-based option, 45 CFR §1302.22

  • (a) Setting
  • (c) Service duration
    • (c)(1)(ii) Early Head Start
    • (c)(2)(ii) Head Start
  • (d) Safety requirements

Education in home-based programs, 45 CFR §1302.35:

  • (e)(1)–(3)  Group socialization

Safety practices, 45 CFR §1302.47:

  • (b)(1)(ii)–(vii) Facilities
  • (b)(2)(i)–(v) Equipment and materials
  • (b)(5)(ii) Safety practices


Individualizing Care for Infants and Toddlers

Early Childhood Curriculum Resources

Home Visitor's Handbook: Group Socializations