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.

Early Milestones researched challenges and opportunities to advance Ideal Learning approaches in early care and learning, evaluated alignment between the Principles of Ideal Learning and state-supported guidance, mapped existing programs in Colorado, and produced a brief to make the case for expanded use of these models. We also led strategic outreach throughout the state to build awareness and understanding of Ideal Learning programs’ potential to support high-quality early learning in Colorado.

In the current phase of our partnership with Trust for Learning, we offered a funding opportunity for publicly funded school-and community-based programs to adopt Ideal Learning approaches. Early Milestones managed the grant application and review processes and will lead research and the sharing of findings throughout the grant period.

2022-2023 Ideal Learning Grantees

Expanding Ideal Learning Environments In Pre-K Through Kindergarten Grants

Early Milestones Colorado, in partnership with Trust for Learning, is pleased to announce the six programs selected to receive funding through the Expanding Ideal Learning Environments in Pre-K Through Kindergarten grants initiative. The program will provide $100,000 in grants to school- and community-based programs that serve children in pre-kindergarten (pre-K) and kindergarten and wish to adopt a comprehensive approach aligned with the Principles of Ideal Learning.

The 18-month grants range from $9,000 to $22,000 and launched on July 15, 2022. The awarded programs include non-profit organizations, public schools, school districts, and standalone preschool sites. Final grantees were selected through a competitive process that considered each project’s goals, plans to align programming with the Ideal Learning Principles, and the potential for impact on children, families, and educators.

Funded by Trust for Learning, this initiative intends to improve educational experiences for pre-K and kindergarten-aged children through individualized, experiential, child-centered learning approaches. Selected projects center educators and their ongoing professional development as core components of successful implementation of Ideal Learning approaches and serve primarily historically marginalized communities. Grantee projects will provide valuable insights and learnings as the state prepares to launch a universal preschool program in fall 2023.

Learn more about the inaugural cohort of grantees.

Grantees will:

  • engage with the community (e.g., educators, families, and community members) to secure strong and sustainable support for the transition to Ideal Learning approaches;
  • purchase supplies and materials to create learning environments in alignment with Ideal Learning approaches;
  • align pre-K and kindergarten practices to ensure seamless transition; and/or
  • conduct training and professional development of leaders, educators, and staff for a specific Ideal Learning approach.

Elevating Family Voices: A Workbook

The Elevating Family Voices Workbook is a resource designed to support meaningful community participation and robust family engagement in planning for Ideal learning environments for young children.

In seeking to develop early learning goals aligned with the Principles of Ideal Learning, it is critical to include family engagement. Input is especially important from those most impacted by systemic inequities resulting from race and ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and ability.

We hope the Elevating Family Voices workbook will be useful for local leaders (e.g., superintendents, early childhood council members, program administrators) who are working to support and/or implement Ideal Learning approaches in early childhood education.

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 Ideal Learning 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.