Jose Corona leaned over a table as home educator Lucia Mendez cut red construction paper.
The 21-month-old toddler slid a glue stick over a piece of paper and pressed a red rectangle onto the glue.
"Muy bien," Mendez said in Spanish.
"Good job," Jose's mother Lorena said in English.
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"Yay!" said Jose, clapping.
He is one of 216 children in Tulare County enrolled in Early Head Start for children under 3 in which an instructor visits the home weekly.
The program is a cousin of Head Start, the federally funded program begun in 1964 that targets 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds from poor families to prepare them for kindergarten.
Early Head Start, an option for local Head Start providers under federal guidelines, has been offered in Tulare County for 18 years.
The home educator, who has an associate of arts degree, interacts with the child at an age-appropriate level, spends 90 minutes in the home each week and visits 48 weeks a year.
"We do a lot of counting," said Connie Smith, administrator for early education programs at Tulare County Office of Education. "Is this bigger or smaller? Is this earlier or later?"
The home educator helps the parent, who is the primary educator, learn how to teach the child, she said.
"They build on the relationship between the child and parent," Smith said.
Home-based early education programs are certain to grow nationally, experts say.
"The sooner you can get into the family home and work with a child, the more sustainable the positive effects will be over time," said Kyle Snow, director of the Center for Applied Research at the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, D.C.
Another program is Home-Based Head Start for children ages 3 through 5 in which the instructor visits the home 90 minutes each week for a minimum of 34 weeks.
Between the two programs, about 889 preschoolers are enrolled in Tulare County.
"That makes us one of the largest home-based options in the nation," said Lorena Davis, a program education manager at the Tulare County Office of Education.
In addition to home visits, families periodically are invited to a Head Start center that has play equipment so children can meet other children and learn socialization skills such as taking turns, and also so parents can meet other parents.
Home educator Mary Santoyo recently visited 15-month-old Matthew Miranda of Porterville and set up toys on a blanket on the living room floor.
After singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" in Spanish with the instructor and his mother, Matthew pushed a toy car into a tunnel -- but the car was too big to get through.
The exercise teaches Matthew about cause and effect and spatial relationships.
"We want our lessons to be hands-on," Davis said.
Matthew's mother, Juana Miranda, said his language skills have improved since Santoyo started coming to their home.
"I see a difference," she said. "If he gets frustrated, I say 'use your words.' It helps him a lot."
Early Head Start has helped her, Miranda said, because Santoyo helped her study the Department of Motor Vehicles manual so she could get a driver's license.
As a rule, families must earn below the federal poverty line to qualify for admission to a Head Start program.
About 13,000 children under age 6 in Tulare County are in families with incomes under the federal poverty line, which is $23,550 a year for a family of four, according to the U.S. Census.
Countywide, about 2,068 students are enrolled in all Head Start programs. Of those, about 1,089 are in Head Start centers.
"We don't have enough centers to handle all the children," said Chris Reed, a Tulare County Board of Education trustee. "By doing the home-based system, it helps more kids."