Skip navigation

Ricks Center for Gifted Children

Early Chidlhood banner

Curriculum and Beyond

Early Childhood-Reggio Emilia

Gifted young children blossom and grow cognitively, intellectually, socially, and emotionally when placed in a supportive, stimulating learning environment where they are challenged, encouraged to build on their strengths, and inspired to cultivate new skills.  Ricks Center has created a nationally recognized program for our youngest students with their unique characteristics and accelerated learning needs at the core.

Early Childhood 

Ricks Center has created a thoughtful, developmentally appropriate program for our youngest students filled with hands-on learning and intellectual stimulation. Using an evidence-based curriculum that incorporates the strategies of The Project Approach, Connect4Learning curriculum developed by faculty from the University of Denver and an overall influence from Italy's Reggio Emilia schools, Ricks Center delivers a distinctive and exceptional learning experience for our three-year-old through kindergarten-age students.
Given the opportunity to explore their interests and ideas under the guidance of our highly trained teachers, students learn to think critically and creatively, identify and solve problems, and form a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Play-Based Learning

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood."
– Fred Rogers

Children possess a natural curiosity about the world around them. When children explore and play, they are following their natural instincts to feed that curiosity and make sense of the world around them. At Ricks, children are given space and time to focus on learning about our world through play. When children are free to pursue their own interests through play, they can gain knowledge and learn many skills.

Through play, children gain self-direction and self-motivation. They experience what it's like to make plans, set their own goals, and solve their own problems. Children become more self-reliant and self-assured when they are in charge of their own learning process. Through play, children gain freedom and autonomy. They are able to take more initiative and rely less on adults and teachers to show them "the right way." Play involves cooperation and negotiation, because if other children are unhappy, the game will end. Children have to learn to navigate varying social situations in order to keep their games going. Play is used by children to make sense of their world. Anything that a child is trying to understand or is processing will be shown through their play. In order to play together children must learn to understand their own emotions and the emotions of their playmates.

Play can encompass a wide range of subjects, including but not limited to: math (when children are weighing objects, counting friends or pouring water), literacy (writing notes, looking at books or hearing stories being read), science (mixing ingredients, floating objects, observing nature), and history (telling stories about their family, sharing important parts of their lives and drawing themselves or people they love). Through play, children may also develop qualities and skills such as: curiosity; creativity; critical thinking; collaboration; courage; empathy; conflict resolution; compassion; enthusiasm; self-expression of ideas, feelings, and needs; a strong sense of self and tolerance of differences.

Project-based model 

At Ricks Center, students enrolled in the early childhood program are actively involved in initiating and constructing their education. Given the opportunity to explore their interests and ideas under the guidance of our highly trained teachers, these students learn to think critically and creatively, identify and solve problems, and form a deeper understanding of the world around them.
Project work is articulated differently as children progress through the program:


Through an integrated, project-based learning model, our youngest students explore subjects of interest as they expand their language, literacy, scientific, mathematical, and social knowledge. Teachers challenge, inspire, and encourage new thinking by all students; small group activities foster collaboration and help build social skills as students learn to work side-by-side with their peers.

Students need to be 3 years old by September 1st of the year for which they are applying. 


Our pre-kindergarten students have time every day for exploration and free play. They also spend part of each day with focused project-based curriculum incorporating Story Workshop and DU's Connections For Learning (C4L). These approaches draw upon a combination of play and children's love for hands-on activities to integrate science, math, literacy, and social-emotional learning. Examples of interdisciplinary projects include "Our Environment," "How Structures Are Built," and "Growing our Garden," where students practice thinking processes such as cooperation, comparing and contrasting, close observation, and problem-solving.


Kindergarten bridges our play-based early childhood approach and elementary school. As such, students in our all-day program continue with daily exploration through free play, and hands-on projects. while adding direct instruction in mathematics and literacy. Pursuing emergent projects with children actively constructing the scope and direction of the inquiry, project work takes on an increasingly focused and in-depth pursuit, as children define their questions and means for making meaning. We use Story Workshop as a means for integrating the arts, play and literacy, Bridges to Mathematics and the Workshop model for reading and writing instruction. Students have the opportunity to accelerate through this curriculum as guided by ability and interest.


Our Connections specialists join each classroom regularly to support the curriculum through physical education, the fine arts, and Spanish.