Head Start Policy and Regulations

1302.31 Teaching and the learning environment.

(a) Teaching and the learning environment. A center-based and family child care program must ensure teachers and other relevant staff provide responsive care, effective teaching, and an organized learning environment that promotes healthy development and children’s skill growth aligned with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework: Ages Birth to Five, including for children with disabilities. A program must also support implementation of such environment with integration of regular and ongoing supervision and a system of individualized and ongoing professional development, as appropriate. This includes, at a minimum, the practices described in paragraphs (b) through (e) of this section.

(b) Effective teaching practices. (1) Teaching practices must:

(i) Emphasize nurturing and responsive practices, interactions, and environments that foster trust and emotional security; are communication and language rich; promote critical thinking and problem-solving; social, emotional, behavioral, and language development; provide supportive feedback for learning; motivate continued effort; and support all children’s engagement in learning experiences and activities;

(ii) Focus on promoting growth in the developmental progressions described in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework: Ages Birth to Five by aligning with and using the Framework and the curricula as described in §1302.32 to direct planning of organized activities, schedules, lesson plans, and the implementation of high-quality early learning experiences that are responsive to and build upon each child’s individual pattern of development and learning;

(iii) Integrate child assessment data in individual and group planning; and,

(iv) Include developmentally appropriate learning experiences in language, literacy, social and emotional development, math, science, social studies, creative arts, and physical development that are focused toward achieving progress outlined in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework: Ages Birth to Five.

(2) For dual language learners, a program must recognize bilingualism and biliteracy as strengths and implement research-based teaching practices that support their development. These practices must:

(i) For an infant or toddler dual language learner, include teaching practices that focus on the development of the home language, when there is a teacher with appropriate language competency, and experiences that expose the child to English;

(ii) For a preschool age dual language learner, include teaching practices that focus on both English language acquisition and the continued development of the home language; or,

(iii) If staff do not speak the home language of all children in the learning environment, include steps to support the development of the home language for dual language learners such as having culturally and linguistically appropriate materials available and other evidence-based strategies. Programs must work to identify volunteers who speak children’s home language/s who could be trained to work in the classroom to support children’s continued development of the home language.

(c) Learning environment. A program must ensure teachers implement well-organized learning environments with developmentally appropriate schedules, lesson plans, and indoor and outdoor learning experiences that provide adequate opportunities for choice, play, exploration, and experimentation among a variety of learning, sensory, and motor experiences and:

(1) For infants and toddlers, promote relational learning and include individualized and small group activities that integrate appropriate daily routines into a flexible schedule of learning experiences; and,

(2) For preschool age children, include teacher-directed and child-initiated activities, active and quiet learning activities, and opportunities for individual, small group, and large group learning activities.

(d) Materials and space for learning. To support implementation of the curriculum and the requirements described in paragraphs (a), (b), (c), and (e) of this section a program must provide age-appropriate equipment, materials, supplies and physical space for indoor and outdoor learning environments, including functional space. The equipment, materials and supplies must include any necessary accommodations and the space must be accessible to children with disabilities. Programs must change materials intentionally and periodically to support children’s interests, development, and learning.

(e) Promoting learning through approaches to rest, meals, routines, and physical activity. (1) A program must implement an intentional, age appropriate approach to accommodate children’s need to nap or rest, and that, for preschool age children in a program that operates for 6 hours or longer per day provides a regular time every day at which preschool age children are encouraged but not forced to rest or nap. A program must provide alternative quiet learning activities for children who do not need or want to rest or nap.

(2) A program must implement snack and meal times in ways that support development and learning. For bottle-fed infants, this approach must include holding infants during feeding to support socialization. Snack and meal times must be structured and used as learning opportunities that support teaching staff-child interactions and foster communication and conversations that contribute to a child’s learning, development, and socialization. Programs are encouraged to meet this requirement with family style meals when developmentally appropriate. A program must also provide sufficient time for children to eat, not use food as reward or punishment, and not force children to finish their food.

(3) A program must approach routines, such as hand washing and diapering, and transitions between activities, as opportunities for strengthening development, learning, and skill growth.

(4) A program must recognize physical activity as important to learning and integrate intentional movement and physical activity into curricular activities and daily routines in ways that support health and learning. A program must not use physical activity as reward or punishment.

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