For Children and Youth – Benefits

American flag

Getting the best education for your kids is easier and more affordable if you take advantage of all the benefits and programs available to you as a service member.

Military children and youth programs

Every branch of the military service has its own children and youth program, offering affordable instructional and educational programs as well as flexible child care. The programs provide age-appropriate activities in a structured setting either on or off the military installation.

Army children and youth programs

Visit MyArmyBenefits to review all of the programs available to Army families, such as:

  • Child development centers (ages 6 weeks-kindergarten): on-post child care centers that offer full-day, part-day and hourly care, where children can learn motor, cognitive, social and emotional skills through a special curriculum
  • Family child care homes (ages 4 weeks-10 years): on- and off-post child care from trained providers who provide full-day, part-day and hourly care and learning activities for children in a home environment
  • Instructional classes (all ages): a program designed to complement, expand, and support the academic, life skills, and athletic experiences children have within Army’s programs and at school
  • School-age services (ages 6-12 years): before- and after-school programs, weekend activities during the school year, summer care and camps during school vacations
  • Youth services (ages 11-18 years): programs designed specifically for middle school youth and teens to ensure that all of their physical, social and emotional needs are addressed

Marine Corps Community Services children and youth programs

  • The Marine Corps New Parent Support Program offers a wide range of support services to military families expecting a child or with a child up to age 5, including classes, home visits and referrals.
  • Child development programs, available for children 6 weeks through 12 years, include child development centers, school-age care and family child care, which offer full-day and part-time child care and, in some locations, hourly child care.
  • Youth programs, serving children ages 6 to 18, are available at many installation locations.
  • All programs are designed to enrich your child’s social, cognitive, emotional, physical and intellectual growth and development.

Navy children and youth programs

  • Navy child and youth programs offer developmental child care and youth recreational services for children and youth from infancy to 18 years.
  • Programs and services are designed to meet the needs of service members and their families.
  • Like other branches, the Navy provides child development centers, child development homes, school-age care, and youth and teen programs.

Air Force children and youth programs

Air Force child development and youth programs provide child care for children from 6 weeks to 12 years old in on-base child development centers and school-age programs in youth centers. Before- and after-school care and care on school holidays and during summer months is available for children 5 to 12 years old. The Air Force also has support for families outside of typical duty schedules and in geographically separated areas. It can include:

National Guard Family Program

Visit the National Guard Family Program to learn about youth programs available to National Guard families, such as:

  • Instructional programs that provide opportunities to learn new skills on a wide range of topics like photography, woodworking, science and technology, gardening, health and safety
  • Educational programs focused on citizenship, character building, public speaking and leadership
  • Community-based child care programs that provide care and nationally accredited programs for children ages 4 weeks to 12 years of age in community-based facilities and homes
  • School-age care program that provides care to children from kindergarten to 12 years of age before and after school and during holidays and summer vacations
  • 24-7 Child Care operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the needs of shift workers and families seeking flexible arrangements

Boys & Girls Clubs of America 

Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the U.S. Armed Forces partner to help support children of military families with youth development programs, curriculums and activities. Education and career programs include:

  • Mission Youth Outreach: a free membership to local Boys & Girls Clubs for military youth ages 6 to 18 who do not live near or have access to a military youth center
  • Money Matters: a program where youth ages 13 to 18 learn how to manage a checking account, create a budget, start a small business, pay for college, and save and invest
  • diplomas2Degrees: a program to prepare high schoolers for college and career success
  • Summer Brain Gain: a program to encourage summer learning and keep kids engaged in reading
  • My.Future: a program that teaches foundational technology skills and develops computer literacy

4-H Military Partnerships

  • 4-H Military Partnerships bring the resources of the land grant universities including youth development professionals, research-based curricula, and high-quality training and technical assistance to the youth programs of the military.
  • Military youth can join 4-H clubs in their community and also participate in summer camps around the country.

Operation Purple® Camp

  • Operation Purple Camp from the National Military Family Association brings together military kids from all services and offers a Family Retreat that provides military families with a chance to reconnect and bond.

Department of Defense financial aid for schools with military kids

Through the Department of Defense’s Impact Aid for Military Connected School Districts, you can help your child’s school get more money.

The Department of Defense Education Activity also gives grants to school districts with school-age military children, such as:

  • A competitive grant program that works to boost student performance, provide professional growth for educators and add technology to programs in schools facing a growing number of military kids
  • An invitational grant program that aims to increase student success and ease the challenges military kids face because of their parents’ service

Our Military Kids grants

  • Our Military Kids offers grants to National Guard and reserve families during deployments. The grants are to help with children’s activities when families have trouble accessing support services from military installations.
  • Our Military Kids also offers grants to children of injured military members to pay for participation in sports, fine arts and academic tutoring.

Home-schooling benefits

The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children

The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children is an agreement among participating states to help alleviate some of the school transition problems that happen with frequent moves. The compact helps out in four major areas:

  • Enrollment: The compact helps with education records, immunizations and kindergarten and first grade entrance.
  • Placement and attendance: The compact ensures that your children won’t miss appropriate placement in required classes, advanced placement and special needs programs while awaiting evaluation at their new school.
  • Eligibility: The compact makes a smoother transition when it comes to your children’s eligibility.
  • Graduation: The compact ensures that a move won’t affect your high schooler’s graduation.

Military Child Education Coalition 

The mission of the MCEC is to ensure quality educational opportunities for all military- and veteran-connected children affected by mobility, transition and family separation. They offer a variety of programs, such as:

  • Student 2 Student programs that train civilian and military high school students to establish peer-based programs in their schools to support children transitioning to new schools
  • The Parent to Parent program that teaches parents to be strong advocates for their children on educational and social issues
  • The Frances Hesselbein Student Leadership Program that identifies exceptional young people through their participation in the Student 2 Student program
  • The Call for the Arts Program that encourages military children to express themselves through art to communicate and celebrate their military lives

Special needs consultations

Special needs consultants through Military OneSource can point you to benefits that are available for families with special needs. Your consultant can help connect you with information, resources, services and more, including:

Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or view overseas calling options to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Appointments are available seven days a week for your family’s convenience.

Healthy, Active Children and Academic Achievement

Child wearing halloween costume biting apple

We all want our children to enjoy learning, make good grades and achieve success. Nutrition and physical activity are linked to academic achievement, so making sure your children are healthy and active will fuel them to reach their academic goals.

A healthy lifestyle can help improve a child’s:

  • Attention span
  • Thinking ability
  • Memory

Here are some tips for making healthy eating and physical activity part of your child’s daily life. For more nutrition and physical activity help, contact Military OneSource online, or call 800-342-9647, and set up a specialty consultation for health and wellness coaching. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

Your child’s nutrition

Hungry kids tend to have shorter attention spans and have difficulty with problem-solving, math skills and memory recall, according to studies from the Journal of School Health. Children need a nutritional breakfast of whole grains, fiber and protein. They also need snacks throughout the day that are high in protein and low in sugar to boost their ability to listen, process and remember what they are learning.

Visit these websites to get tips about healthy food choices:

Physical activity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Physical activity can include school recess periods, hiking, dancing, playing sports, or walking to and from school.

Check out the following resources for ideas about how to keep your children physically active:

Boost your child’s social and academic success by making healthy eating and physical activity part of your family’s daily life.

Keeping Your Child Healthy and Engaged Over the Summer

Children running outside

A little leisure is much needed when school lets out, but children with special needs thrive with a little structure. It’s beneficial to maintain a routine during the summer as a way to keep your child learning and developing healthy habits.

Here are a few ideas to help your child with special needs have a healthy and happy summer:

  • Seek out a summer program. Check your installation, local schools, recreation centers and other community-based organizations for programs on topics that might interest your child.
  • Enjoy a book. Whether reading with younger children or encouraging older children to read on their own, summer reading can help keep brains engaged and study habits fresh. Turn to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library for a wealth of resources.
  • Take a field trip. Visit parks, museums, zoos or nature centers for low-cost educational opportunities for your entire family.
  • Count, track and measure. Find fun ways to incorporate numbers into everyday tasks. Measure items around the house or track daily temperatures. Go to the grocery store and practice adding, subtracting or multiplying the prices of items.
  • Think ahead. Check with your child’s school to see if there are summer packets of math and reading skills activities to help prepare for the next school year.
  • Get moving. Don’t forget to schedule time for your child to play and burn off energy with some sunshine and exercise.
  • Eat healthy snacksA healthy diet is just as important in the summer as it is during the school year. Keep plenty of fruits and vegetables on hand to encourage good snack habits.
  • Recharge. Keep a regular summer bedtime to make sure your child is getting enough sleep.

Helping children stay engaged academically and physically throughout the summer helps set them up for success in the new school year. Contact your local Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support provider and look for a Parent Training and Information Center near you to see what types of summer programs are available to your family.

Get Your Child the Right Start With Sure Start

Children coloring at school

Sure Start is a Department of Defense Education Activity program for command-sponsored children in military families stationed at overseas installations. If your family qualifies, it could be a great fit for your child. The program provides:

  • Education services
  • Lunch and snack provisions
  • Health and nutrition services
  • Social and parent-involvement services
  • Dental, medical and developmental screenings

Sure Start: Is your child eligible?

Sure Start assists qualified preschool-age military children living overseas. To qualify, your child needs to turn 4 years old by Sept. 1 of the current school year. Your child also must meet one of these requirements:

  • Lives in a single-parent household
  • Had a low birth weight
  • Has an older sibling with severe disabilities
  • Lives in a home with four or more kids close in age

An eligible child also must have at least one parent who meets one of these criteria:

  • Ranks between E-1 and E-4 or rates the civilian equivalent (Exceptions are possible, but these children receive priority.)
  • Did not graduate from high school
  • Was a teenager when the child was born
  • Speaks anything but English as their primary language
  • Is on a remote assignment or temporary duty for at least three months

What’s the difference between Sure Start and Head Start?

Sure Start is built on the same foundation as Head Start but fits better into the Department of Defense Education Activity culture and regulations.

Both Sure Start and Head Start:

  • Use a four-tiered delivery system: education, health and nutrition, social services and mandatory parent involvement
  • Run medical, dental and developmental screenings for students and provide follow-up assessments if needed
  • Provide no-cost, nutritious lunches and snacks
  • Encourage family involvement
  • Cater to students’ ages, individual needs and cultures in environment, curriculum, materials, routines and daily activities
  • Follow a full-day program

How is Sure Start different from Head Start?

  • The Department of Defense Education Activity oversees the Sure Start program.
  • Sure Start considers a military sponsor’s rank its first priority for enrollment, while Head Start uses income to determine eligibility.
  • Sure Start does not use a child’s disability status to determine eligibility, while Head Start reserves at least 10% of slots in each classroom for children with disabilities.
  • Parent involvement in Sure Start is mandatory.
  • Sure Start staffs two adults for every 18 to 20 students. Local or state licensing boards determine Head Start’s staff-to-child ratios.
  • Sure Start staff works with Department of Defense Education Activity special education staff to determine the best placement and services for a child.
  • Sure Start programs follow the Department of Defense Education Activity’s College and Career Ready Standards and curriculum. Head Start chooses curriculum at the local level.

If you think your preschooler may be a good fit for the Sure Start program, contact your school liaison, your installation’s elementary school or your Military and Family Support Center. You can look up contact information at MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. Or visit the Department of Defense Education Activity’s Early Learning page to see if your child is eligible for Sure Start.

Staying Connected With Your Child’s Teachers During a Deployment

Service members working on laptops

No matter where you are around the country or the world, you can still support your child’s education. With communication technology and strong interest, you can keep up with their grades and stay in touch with teachers. Let your child know that school and education are important — whether you’re home or deployed. Set the stage for success:

  • Meet with teachers prior to deployment. Set up a meeting before you prepare for deployment so you can work out a plan to stay connected.
  • Use the school’s online resources. Department of Defense schools use GradeSpeed to keep families up to date on grades and attendance. Civilian schools may have similar services.
  • Ask your partner for help. Your partner can be your “boots on the ground” for all things educational. Reinforce your partner’s role to your children — set your partner up for success.

Kids tend to perform better in school when their parents are involved in their education.

Plan ahead to stay involved

Make a plan to stay active and involved in your child’s education at every stage.

  • Discover technologies. Find out what communication technologies you can access once you deploy.
  • Talk about how to stay in touch. Ask your child’s teachers before you go about the best way to stay in touch. It might be through email, a school website or even texting.
  • Share when you want to be informed. Tell teachers what specific issues you want to know about, such as a low grade or an unexcused absence. It’s a good idea to let your child know, too.

Keep in touch

There are lots of creative ways to stay in touch with your child and support his or her education. Try these ideas:

  • Stay in regular contact with your child’s teachers. Check in as frequently as your mission allows via email or telephone.
  • Send a class gift. Pick up something special from the area of the world where you’re deployed. You’ll be the kids’ favorite parent. If it relates to what the class is studying, you’ll be the teacher’s favorite parent, too.
  • Ask your partner or child’s guardian for assistance. Your child’s designated guardian can oversee homework, talk with teachers and help your child get to school on time. Discuss successes and challenges with your care partner regularly. If your partner or child’s guardian has difficulty speaking English, ask the school to provide a translator.

Find time during your deployment to work on strengthening your connection with your child’s school. Your commitment to staying involved can set them up for success in the classroom and beyond.

Contact Military OneSource to speak with an education consultant. Call 800-342-9647. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

Military Families: How You Can Advocate for Your Child with Special Needs

Special Olympics participant runs during a track and field event.

All parents advocate – speak on behalf of, even fight for – their child’s needs to teachers, doctors and others so their child can grow up happy and successful. When that military child has special needs, that advocacy grows to include learning laws, finding resources and even representing your child to special program administrators, school boards and others.

When you are an effective advocate, you can maneuver through additional steps or necessary paperwork to get your military family support that otherwise would seem elusive. Here are some ways to help win your case for resources.

Gather information, gain knowledge for military family support

WEBINAR: Moving With an IEP

Military families may face challenges when moving with a child who has an Individualized Education Program. Learn the steps the new school takes when your child enrolls and options available if you disagree on your child’s services.

Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more you can find ways to help your child. Understanding your child’s diagnosis and treatment options is only the start. Here’s a list of need-to-know items to get you started:

  • Your military child’s rights to resources and education under federal and state law, including the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA. Learn the terms associated with special education.
  • Your child’s specific needs in the classroom and at home, since the more specific your requests for resources, the more your child’s true needs get met.
  • Your child’s future needs, including possible care as an adult with special needs. Many programs have years-long waiting lists and may be expensive, so begin planning for their future now.
  • The resources and programs currently available in your community, especially in rural areas. Some resources, particularly educational and medical specialists, may be unavailable in your neighborhood without a long wait. It’s better to find these sooner rather than later.
  • The people in charge of your child’s programs and resources, at school and in the broader community. Knowing who does what, at which program, can be the difference between a successful petition and being placed on a waiting list. Connect with these people.

Remember, good advocates learn how to work best with the system. You’ll find your needs – and your child’s – will more likely be meet when you are assertive and factual in communicating both your feelings and your child’s needs.

Special Care Organizational Record for Children with Special Health Care Needs

Keep records to get the military family support you need

Most parents keep their children’s medical records out of habit. To become successful advocates for a child with special needs, though, you’ll need official records on treatments that worked and didn’t – just in case a program official wants to switch a child to a less-effective routine. Successful advocates also have their child’s behavioral and special education records, including any accommodations previously used and how effective they were.

Additionally, take notes, keeping track of who you spoke to, when, as well as what was said. Whenever possible, send emails as a follow-up to people you speak to in person or over the phone. That way, you’ll have a time-stamped paper trail in case someone forgets your conversation.

Don’t try to do everything by yourself

Advocating for your child with special needs doesn’t have to be one or two parents job. There are national and local organizations available to you in the civilian community who are ready and waiting for you to find them with a quick internet search.

Because you’re a part of the military family, however, the Department of Defense also offers special programs like the Exceptional Family Member Program and EFMP Family Support staff at your installation to help you organize and plan for upcoming meetings or help you with local resources. Military OneSource Exceptional Family Member Program Resources Options and Consultations can also help connect you and your child with special needs to free resources and specialists to ensure your whole family gets the help it needs to be healthy and mission-ready.