Head Start IL Practice Parents & Familes
Field-building Collaborative
Montessori Partnerships for Georgia | Child Parent Centers | Waldorf Early Childhood Association of Northern America | HighScope | Tools of the Mind

The “WHAT TO LOOK FOR” series, authored by the Ideal Learning Head Start Network members, outlines the core elements and practices of ideal learning principles in Head Start, fostering a comprehensive and accessible understanding that supports the evolving landscape of early childhood education.

Context and Needs

The Ideal Learning Head Start Network (ILHSN) identified the necessity to simplify various ideal learning approaches to render them more accessible and applicable. The members of ILHSN have drawn on their extensive experience in practicing ideal learning in Head Start classrooms to generate a series of insightful briefs on the essential features of some ideal learning approaches –¬† Waldorf, Montessori, Tools of the Mind, Reggio Inspired, and HighScope. These briefs act as a simplified guide for educators, decision-makers, parents, and caregivers seeking to understand these approaches in practice, reflecting the need for adaptable and effective early childhood education.

Purpose and Goals

The purpose of these guides is to offer a detailed and concise overview of different early childhood educational philosophies, including play-based and evidence-based practices, and their practical implementation within classrooms. It serves to provide insight into unique teaching environments and strategies, assisting in the creation of holistic, engaging, and child-centric learning experiences. These resources can be valuable for observers and evaluators of teachers who visit Head Start classrooms. The goals encompass educating and empowering teachers, caregivers, and parents with the knowledge and tools needed to engage with and advocate for ideal learning; promoting Inclusivity by ensuring accessibility to individuals from diverse cultural and social backgrounds, including marginalized or minoritized communities; and enhancing learning by facilitating nurturing and supportive learning environments that foster individual growth. From an equity lens, we aim to continue promoting these ideal learning approaches which afford all children the opportunity to thrive, while demystifying the notion that ideal learning environments are not possible in Head Start classrooms.

What to Look for in a Reggio Inspired Head Start Classroom

What sets a Reggio Inspired Head Start Classroom apart? The Reggio Emilia approach views children as capable researchers, exploring their world through projects, dialogue, and collaboration. The environment is considered a “third teacher,” designed to provoke curiosity.

Read Reggio Inspired What to Look For

What to Look for in a Montessori Head Start Classroom

If you walk into a Head Start classroom that uses the Montessori approach, what would you notice? A Montessori Head Start classroom emphasizes beauty, order, individualized instruction, and self-discipline. Long blocks of uninterrupted time allow children to deeply engage with their chosen activities


What to Look for in a Waldorf Early Childhood Classroom

What catches your eye when you enter a Waldorf Early Childhood Classroom? The Waldorf approach prioritizes children’s developmental needs, offering mixed-age classes, simple decor, and a focus on real-life experiences. The environment nurtures independence and emphasizes a culture of care, empathy, and community.

Read Waldorf What to Look For

What to Look for in a Tools of the Mind Head Start Classroom

What would you discover if you stepped into a Tools of the Mind Head Start Classroom? A Tools of the Mind classroom is built around fostering self-regulation and executive function through structured play and activities. Everything from classroom layout to daily routines is intentionally designed to develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills, embracing a child’s natural curiosity and creativity.

Read Tools of the Mind What to Look For

What to Look for in a HighScope Head Start Classroom

Ever wondered what makes a HighScope Head Start Classroom special? The HighScope method emphasizes active participatory learning, encouraging children to plan their day and engage in hands-on experiences. The classroom is designed to foster curiosity, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Read HighScope What to Look For

Related Experts

Related Resources

Related Investments

Join the Ideal Learning Head Start Network!

If you are a current Head Start provider using an ideal learning-aligned early childhood approach, or if you would like to be, please reach out!

  • If you are interested in partnering with Trust for Learning, please share more about your project or organization here.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.