Equity Head Start IL Practice Movement Building
Ideal Learning Head Start Network

A library of sample documents, reports, and other resources to help early learning providers implement ideal learning approaches within Head Start.

Explaining and Aligning Curriculum to Head Start’s Early Learning Outcomes Framework

“WHAT TO LOOK FOR” in Head Start Classrooms Series: Exploring Ideal Learning Coming to Life in Head Start Classrooms

Contact: Leonor Moreno-Lundholm, Education Director, CHILD-PARENT CENTERS, INC., [email protected] | Annie Frazer, Executive Director, Montessori Partnerships for Georgia,[email protected]

Whether you are a parent seeking the best fit for your child, an educator aiming to understand diverse pedagogical strategies, or a policy-maker exploring effective early childhood education models, these series of guides illuminate the fascinating world of Head Start classrooms where ideal learning comes to life. This series provides a window into five innovative educational philosophies, each offering a unique approach to nurturing young minds. Explore the individualized focus of Montessori, the developmental understanding of Waldorf, the active learning environment of HighScope, the creative structure of Tools of the Mind, and the child-centered world of Reggio Inspired classrooms.

  1. What to Look for in a Reggio Inspired Head Start Classroom
  2. What to Look for in a Montessori Head Start Classroom
  3. What to Look for in a Waldorf Early Childhood Classroom
  4. What to Look for in a Tools of the Mind Head Start Classroom
  5. What to Look for in a HighScope Head Start Classroom

Check out all the “What to Look For” Series

Resource: Bachman Lake Community School Toddler Classroom Curriculum

Lumin Bachman Lake Community School, Dallas, TX

Contact: Ruthy Suni, Program and Disabilities Manager, Lumin Education, [email protected]

Lumin Bachman Lake provides Early Head Start through home visits as well as a toddler classroom. Their description of a Montessori toddler classroom curriculum was adapted with permission from the Montessori National Curriculum developed by Montessori Australia.

BLCS Toddler Classroom Curriculum

Resources: Montessori Toddler Curriculum Alignment to Early Learning Outcomes Framework

Lumin Bachman Lake Community School, Dallas, TX

Contact: Ruthy Suni, Program and Disabilities Manager, Lumin Education, [email protected]

These documents, created by coaches and teachers at Lumin Bachman Lake Community School, align the experiences and activities of a Montessori toddler classroom (“infant community,” in Montessori language) with the domains and sub-domains of Head Start’s Early Learning Outcomes Framework.

Resources: Child-Parent Centers’ Curriculum Frameworks


Contact: Leonor Moreno-Lundholm, Education Director, CHILD-PARENT CENTERS, INC., [email protected]

Below is a locally designed Head Start Curriculum Crosswalk that is Reggio-inspired and responsive to the needs and assets of the Tuscon communities.

DOWNLOAD THE Curriculum Crosswalk

Resources: Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Frameworks & Ideal Learning Crosswalk

Early Milestones Colorado, CO

Contact: Katie Danna-Poston, Project Manager, [email protected]

This document crosswalks the Head Start Guiding Principles for School Readiness (column 1) to Principles of Ideal Learning (column 2). Column 3 describes how Ideal Learning programs and educators demonstrate the alignment in action with children and families. Some Ideal Learning principles are included multiple times because they align with more than one principle.

Download the Ideal Learning-Head Start crosswalk 

Partnering with a Head Start Grantee to Become a Delegate Agency

Resource: Building Partnerships to Access Head Start Funding

Trust for Learning, Montessori Partnerships for Georgia, and HighScope Educational Research Foundation

Contact: Iheoma U. Iruka, Early Childhood Health and Racial Equity Program, University of North Carolina, [email protected]

This brief provides guidance on how Ideal Learning providers can partner with existing Head Start grantees to serve children from disadvantaged households and their families. The document outlines key questions and important elements to address when considering, developing, and implementing successful partnerships.

Download this resource

Resource: Letter of Agreement, Scranton Lackawanna Human Development Agency and Discovery Multiple Intelligences Preschool

Scranton, PA

Contact: Stacy Nivert, Discovery Multiple Intelligences Preschool, [email protected]

For small and medium-sized ideal learning programs, applying directly for Head Start funding and operating a full Head Start program may be out of reach. Another alternative is to become a delegate agency, entering into a partnership with a direct Head Start grantee (the lead agency) to provide high-quality early learning spaces. This Letter of Agreement between the Scranton Lackawanna Human Development Agency and Discovery Multiple Intelligences Preschool demonstrates how one partnership was created.

Download this resource

Resource: Developing Partnership Agreements: Lessons from One Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Grantee

A key goal of the Early Head Start-Child Care (EHS-CC) Partnership grants is to increase the supply of high-quality services for infants and toddlers from families with low incomes. To work toward this goal, EHS-CC Partnership grantees must create collaborative relationships with child care partners in their communities.  Legally binding, written partnership agreements are critical. This document from the Office of Head Start details considerations for developing a partnership agreement between an Early Head Start grantee and a childcare center or family child care home.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start, National Center on EHS-CCP

Download this resource

Policy Recommendations to Improve Head Start

Policy Actions Needed to Support Ideal Learning Programs through Head Start

Contact: Iheoma U. Iruka, Early Childhood Health and Racial Equity Program, University of North Carolina, [email protected]

This brief provides lessons learned and policy strategies to strengthen the inclusion of ideal learning approaches in Head Start programming.  The report pulls from a series of conversations between 7-10 Head Start providers who use ideal learning approaches (the Ideal Learning Head Start Network) about multiple issues, including: funding, child assessments, program quality, teacher and administration training, and guidance and support from outside community organizations.

Download this resource

Economic Integration and Head Start

Resource: Educational Alliance UPK Economic Integration Case Study Report

Educational Alliance Preschool at the Manny Cantor Center, New York, New York

Contact: Andrew Cavanagh, PhD, Director of Research and Evaluation, [email protected]

Despite near consensus in the research literature on why educators should provide economically integrated learning environments, less is known about how programs can achieve effective economic integration. This case study from the Educational Alliance (EA) preschool at the Manny Cantor Center (MCC) in New York City provides a detailed overview of (1) the practices required for integration; (2) the experiences of students, parents, staff, and program leadership; (3) lessons learned; and (4) recommendations for practitioners, policymakers and researchers seeking to promote economically integrated early childhood learning environments.

Download this resource

Braiding Funding Sources


Iberville Parish School Board is a direct grantee of Head Start and operates Head Start programs at six locations around the school district including, Iberville Elementary School, a public Montessori school serving children from age three through 5th grade. Fidelity to the Montessori approach requires three-year mixed-age classes incorporating three- to six-year-old children. To create these three-year age groups, each of Iberville Elementary School’s Montessori early learning classes integrates Head Start-funded three-year-olds and four-year-olds; four-year-olds funded through Louisiana PreK; and kindergarten children funded through the district. Each teacher’s and para’s salary is funded by a blend of sources depending on the children in their class. The two resources included here show how this is documented and accounted for.

Resource: Montessori Opportunities within Head Start Programs

National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector

This document from the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector gives an overview of opportunities for Montessori within Head Start. It explains how programs receiving Head Start funding are free to implement a high-quality Montessori program and how Montessori programs can use multiple funding streams inside one Head Start classroom.

Explore Head Start, Early Head Start, and Montessori


Engaging Families

Resource: Family Interest Survey, Iberville Parish Early Childhood Program

Iberville Parish School Board, Plaquemine, Louisiana

Contact: Lydia Canova, Early Childhood Coordinator, [email protected]

Engaging parents, families and communities is a key aspect of Head Start’s model. Ideal Learning programs in our network agree that Head Start’s requirements are supportive of strong family engagement while allowing enough flexibility for each program to approach this area in its own way. In Iberville Parish, Louisiana, Head Start families complete a survey at the beginning of each school year that helps inform parent engagement offerings throughout the year.

Download this resource

Resource: Strategies for Implementing the Head Start Parent, Family and Community Engagement Framework

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start, National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement. (2019)

This document, produced through the Office of Head Start, provides detailed guidance to Head Start grantees on ways to ensure that engaging parents, families and communities is a priority throughout all aspects of the program.

Download this resource

Supporting and Developing Staff


Child-Parent Centers, Tuscon, AZ and surrounding counties

Contact: Leo Lundholm, Education Services Director, [email protected] 

Child-Parent Centers, an organization with 43Head Start centers following a Reggio-inspired approach, has developed a strong career pathway for Head Start parents and community members to move from casual volunteering to becoming “housed substitutes” working 20 hours a week, then potentially to becoming classroom teachers.

Friends Center for Children, New Haven, CT

Contact: Miriam Johnson Sutton, Head of Programs, [email protected] 

Friends Center for Children’s vision is to expand our reach to meet this need while helping make New Haven a model for Ideal Learning. We envision a community where high-quality early childhood education is truly an option for all families, and we’re working to help more families access the kind of early childhood care that can make a world of difference in a child’s life.

Resource: Reflection and Planning Questions

Educational Alliance Preschool at the Manny Cantor Center, New York, New York

Contact: Andrew Cavanagh, PhD, Director of Research and Evaluation, [email protected]

In a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach, new lessons emerge out of the children’s previous explorations and questions. Educational Alliance Preschool staff members work together on a weekly basis to discuss children’s work and play and identify new directions for learning. This form helps guide them through a process of first reflecting on what they have observed and then planning how to build on the knowledge the children are creating.

Download this resource

Resource: Strategic Planning Framework

Trust for Learning, Washington, DC

Contact: Toscha Blalock, Chief Learning and Evaluation Officer, [email protected]

Trust for Learning created a Strategic Planning Framework to assist early learning providers who would like to adopt ideal learning. This resource identifies areas and elements for providers to consider when planning to adopt an ideal learning approach. While specific goals and objectives will vary by program, this tool can help guide providers think through the overall scope of their plan and prepare for what may be involved in their transition.


Creating Physical Environments that Support Development


Community Coordinated Child Care, Louisville, KY

Contact: Lisa Branstetter, Education Curator, [email protected]

As part of their transition to Reggio Emilia-inspired programming, the early learning centers supported by Community Coordinated Child Care have created nature playgrounds, replacing traditional play structures with natural materials, movable parts, water, sand, and other items that nurture creative and collaborative play.

Related Experts

Related Resources

Related Investments

Sign up for updates on Head Start Grants!

Please join our newsletter to stay in the loop on resources and receive news on the new Head Start Quality Grants. Subscribe here!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.