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Universal preschool is coming to Colorado, advocates push for programs that will address equity gaps

Children playing in school
Posted at 6:56 AM, Nov 01, 2021

This month, Colorado is finalizing plans for a new Department of Early Childhood, which will oversee the transition to universal preschool.

In 2021 voters passed a law that will provide at least 10 hours of free preschool to all 4-year-olds starting in 2023. The Biden administration is also pushing a social spending plan that will provide free preschool to 3-year-olds as well.

The organization Trust for Learning is advocating for consistency and quality in early education programs as the state transitions to universal preschool. Trust for Learning early childhood partnerships manager Dr. Cathrine Floyd said young children learn best in what are known as “ideal learning environments.”

“We know that children learn best in experiential environments. If you don’t really understand how children learn before the age of 8, you may be doing things that may seem intuitive but they actually don’t work,” Floyd said.

Floyd, who has 25 years of experience in early childhood education, said research shows children of color and from marginalized communities are more likely to be put into programming that is overly “academic” as opposed to play-based and relationship-driven programs.

“We’ll see often in underserved neighborhoods more children standing in line, children sitting at desks, children learning to be obedient and follow rules,” she said.

Ideal learning environments can vary in their approach, but Floyd said some common features would be teachers sitting on the floor with children and talking to them frequently to build vocabulary, as opposed to teaching a lesson with flash cards. She said Colorado has many examples of quality programs, including Montessori schools. The current timeline puts July 2023 as the target date for Colorado to offer universal preschool.