Placing children at the center of their education

Children learn best when their interests and abilities are honored. Ideal Learning, or whole child education, is an approach to early education that emphasizes personalized learning, supports multiple facets of development, and places children at the center of their education. Many Colorado school districts value this approach. However, programs that reflect the tenets of Ideal Learning (e.g., Montessori, Tools of the Mind) have not been implemented to scale in Colorado.

Early Milestones conducted a comprehensive policy scan, a focus group, and stakeholder interviews to identify the real and perceived barriers and opportunities to the wider adoption of these programs.

Ideal Learning in Colorado Report

Learn the real and perceived barriers to a broader adoption of Ideal Learning models (e.g., Montessori, Tools of the Mind) in pre-kindergarten through third grade. The report offers opportunities that can be leveraged to expand the use of these models statewide.

Ideal Learning Report cover

What Stakeholders are Saying

Denver Public Schools education partners provided feedback on the challenges of educating young children.

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

There is a fundamental tension between something that requires patience – namely child development – and a system that is inherently impatient. Many of the positive aspects and benefits of whole child approaches don’t show up in test scores, but test scores are emphasized in our accountability-driven culture and system.

Creating more alternative pathways to accountability is a real opportunity. There will always be some basic form of apples-to-apples comparisons to enable continuous improvement, competition, and choice, but the state should complement/supplement those with more nuanced measures that recognize quality in different ways.

The Colorado Context

School Choice & Equity

Colorado law allows families to enroll their children in any public school that has availability, including one that is outside their district boundaries. Despite legal and philosophical support for choice, actual choice remains limited. Some school districts, including Denver Public Schools, have embraced and promoted choice to encourage innovation, but access and enrollment in different types of schools are not equitable across neighborhoods.


Thank you to the partners from Ideal Learning models, the Early Education Department of Denver Public Schools, the Preschool Through 3rd Grade Office (P-3 Office) of the Colorado Department of Education, and the University of Colorado Denver who participated in the advisory committee, and the many field experts who provided input. This work was made possible by a grant from the Trust for Learning.

  • Trust for Learning