NHSA Initiative

Advancing Inclusive Sports for Children

Head Start Partners with Special Olympics

The Partnership

This new partnership will bring the Special Olympics model to the Head Start community, creating an inclusive environment for children to build critical motor and social skills.

Shared Mission

Head Start and Special Olympics have empowered tens of millions of children to reach their full potential. This partnership will help us all continue to work toward a more inclusive world for children of all abilities.

The Launch

See some of the activities children will participate in as a part of Young Athletes and hear more from Dr. Shriver about this special collaboration.

Bringing Inclusive Sports to Head Start

As part of NHSA’s “Year of Whole Health,” we are seeking new ways to promote and improve the health and wellbeing of Head Start children, families, and staff. That’s why we are launching an exciting new partnership with Special Olympics International, the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities.

Young Athletes Pilot Program

The first initiative in this partnership will bring the award-winning Special Olympics Young Athletes program to the Head Start community. Young Athletes is a sport and play-centered program for children ages 2 to 7 years old, both with and without intellectual disabilities.

During the 2018-2019 program year, NHSA and Special Olympics International will conduct a year-long pilot of Young Athletes activities in Head Start centers in Minnesota, California, New Jersey, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and Washington, DC. Special Olympics will provide each location with equipment, assistance with recruiting volunteers, and training for staff on the Young Athletes curriculum.

Young Athletes introduces basic sports skills, like running, kicking, and throwing, and is aligned with the Head Start Early Learning Framework, which aims to build motor and social skills for young children. Through an engaging curriculum and basic sports activities, Young Athletes helps children develop social skills like taking turns, waiting for others, and how to follow directions. Being part of an inclusive team teaches children with and without intellectual disabilities how to play together and to understand each other.

Research-Supported Outcomes

Research suggests children don’t just have fun participating in Young Athletes—they also have lasting developmental outcomes. Children who participate in Young Athletes for eight weeks showed a gain of seven months of motor skills at the end of the program. At five- and 10-month follow-ups, children who participated in Young Athletes maintained a four-month advantage in development.

Further Collaboration

As part of this new partnership, Special Olympics will also expand their use of NHSA’s GoSmart interactive web tool, which makes it easy for caregivers to find and apply physical activities for children ages 0-5. GoSmart is a bilingual web app that delivers choices of developmentally-appropriate games and activities that both parents and teacher can use to enhance children’s development through fun, engaging, and meaningful physical activity.

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968, and celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 6 million athletes and Unified Sports partners in more than 170 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions throughout the year.

Did you know?

Head Start and Special Olympics have more than just a shared a mission of empowering young people and their families. Founded during the 1960s, both programs also have shared roots as legacies of the Shriver family. Sargent Shriver is known as the “Architect” of Head Start for his leadership in convening a committee of experts to create the program and locating the funds to implement it in 1965. A few years later, Eunice Kennedy Shriver—Sargent Shriver’s wife and the sister of President John F. Kennedy—founded Special Olympics. Their son, Dr. Timothy Shriver, now serves as the Chairman of Special Olympics International.