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Cognition & General Knowledge

What Is the Link Between Health and Cognition & General Knowledge?

Healthy brain development sets the foundation for all future learning. As they grow, the neurological connections help children question, analyze, remember, and make links between things they learn. Head Start health promotion activities may help to prevent illnesses and alleviate family stresses that impact children's brain development. Health services that support children's cognitive development improve children's ability to learn and express what they know.

Staff support healthy brain development and cognitive growth by:

  • Using health information to identify and refer children for evaluation and/or treatment of cognitive delays. This information comes from:
    • Screening and assessment
    • Well-child visits
    • Observations by families and home visitors and daily health checks
    • Ongoing communication with families and children's medical and dental home
  • Making adaptations for children who may need individualized support, including children with disabilities, to fully participate in learning environments.
  • Building relationships with health care professionals or special education and related service providers.

Examples of School Readiness Goals

The following table includes sample goals developed by the Early Head Start National Resource Center and the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. Review the links to health services in the third column and find strategies to accomplish your school readiness goals. If program school readiness goals address topics that are different from the examples offered, find links to health services here.


Early Head Start Head Start Links to Health Services
Goal 1: Children will learn and begin to use math concepts during daily routines and experiences. Goal 1: Children will use math regularly and in everyday routines to count, compare, relate, identify patterns, and problem-solve. Children with Special Health Care Needs or Disabilities
  • Modify and adapting services to meet children's unique developmental needs.
  • Increase staff knowledge and skills on inclusive practices to promote children's learning.
Physical Health
  • Capitalize on partnerships to expand health resources that promote optimal brain development.
  • Use health data to make decisions about how to individualize services to meet each child's needs.
Sanitation and Hygiene
  • Integrate school readiness into health policies and procedures to keep children healthy and engaged in learning.
  • Promote healthy habits to prevent illness and improve child participation in learning experiences and activities.
Services to Pregnant Women and Expectant Families
  • Support healthy beginnings for infants and their families that promote nurturing relationships to sustain learning throughout a child's life.
  • Plan continuous supports and services for infants and their families to promote positive transitions and ongoing learning.
Goal 2: Children will use all of their senses to investigate their environment to discover what objects and people do, how things work, and how they can make things happen. Goal 2: Children will use observation and manipulation, ask questions, make predictions, and develop hypotheses to gain a better understanding of information and activities in their surroundings.
Goal 3: Children will begin to develop and demonstrate the ability to remember and connect new and known experiences and information. Goal 3: Children will use their skills in remembering information and in being aware of their own thinking.

Research Connections

To memorize, problem solve, and connect learning, a child’s brain needs to make critical neurological connections."Skills crucial to success in school, including the ability to regulate one’s urges (inhibition), the ability to hold some information in mind while attending to something else (working memory), and the ability to switch attention or mental focus (cognitive flexibility), are shaped through the give and take of the relationships in which babies engage during the first two years of life."2

1 High, P. (2011, October). Early brain and child development: Implications for the life course and opportunities for advocacy. Presentation at the First Annual Head Start Leadership Institute, Washington, D.C.

2 Lally, J.R. (2010) "School Readiness Begins in Infancy." Phi Delta Kappan.92 (3): 17–21.

Topic:School Readiness

Keywords:Cognitive development

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: February 12, 2018