Placing children at the center of their education

Children learn best when their unique interests and abilities are honored. Ideal Learning is a whole child approach that places children at the center of their education. Many school districts value this approach. Yet programs that reflect the tenets of Ideal learning (e.g., Montessori, Tools of the Mind) have not been implemented to scale in Colorado.

Building from our 2019 research into Ideal Learning in Colorado, Early Milestones evaluated alignment between the Principles of Ideal Learning and Colorado early learning guidance, mapped existing programs across the state, and produced a new brief to make the case for expanded use of these models.

The Colorado Context

Ideal Learning in Colorado Report

A range of real and perceived barriers is deterring broad use of Ideal Learning models in early learning settings. Our report presents findings from a 2019 state policy scan, a focus group, and stakeholder interviews.

Assessment & Accountability Brief

One key challenge to the use of Ideal Learning models is the lack of alignment between IL practices and the state’s assessment and accountability system. This brief looks at state and federal laws and points toward policy opportunities.

Making the Case for Ideal Learning

Pressure on public educators and administrators to increase third grade math and literacy test scores has led to more teacher-directed, rote instruction with children as young as four years old. Our Making the Case for Ideal Learning brief connects child development theory and research with the Principles of Ideal Learning. Grounded in research on child development, these principles offer guidance for effective, developmentally appropriate education that encourages student-initiated exploration within engaging learning environments. Follow the links below to explore our research.

What Stakeholders are Saying

During our initial research in 2019, local educators shared the challenges of educating young children.

We are our own worst enemies. If we can’t agree on the right strategies, we won’t get anyone on the train with us.

There is a tension between something that requires patience – namely child development – and a system that is impatient. Benefits of whole child approaches don’t show up in test scores, but test scores are emphasized in our system.

There will always be apples-to-apples comparisons to enable improvement and choice. The state should complement those with measures that recognize quality in different ways.


This work was made possible by grant funding from the Trust for Learning.