by Lydia Rueger
Newcomers are flocking to Colorado and they are talking about the differences between the Centennial state and other places they’ve lived. “It’s expensive!” some say (unless they are from California). “The yards are really small,” say others. Yet, people love it here, and they keep coming: For 2016, forbes.com ranked Denver (including the region from Aurora to Lakewood) as America’s 11th fastest growing city and Colorado as the nation’s 7th fastest growing state. And, with our state having the 4th fastest growing economy, according to the financial news resource 24/7 Wall St., this means more parents will be working here and raising kids here—and the kids will not be disappointed.
We asked parents, education experts, city leaders, urban professionals, mountain dwellers and other locals what they think is great about raising kids in Colorado, and here is what they said. Use it as a guide to seek out new opportunities with your family or as a tool to get your best friend to move here. Because, she probably will.
1. We Really Move
“The best thing about raising our daughter in Colorado is that it is an active culture that values wellness and physical fitness,” says Gerardo Muñoz, dad of one child and teacher in Denver Public Schools. “No matter where one goes, whether in the city or the mountains, people are out getting their bodies moving and taking advantage of the outdoors.”
You might say our active culture has put us on the map: Colorado consistently ranks in the top 10 of the nation’s fittest states from a variety of sources and maintains an obesity rate lower than most states at around 20 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2. Support for Work/Life Balance
“Colorado does a much better job than so many other places when it comes to work-life balance, which almost by definition makes for better parenting,” says Daniel Brogan, president and editor-in-chief of 5280 Publishing, Inc. which recently acquired Colorado Parent. “Not only do we have more time for our families, but we’re able to set far better examples for our kids about priorities and the importance of family life.”
3. This Weather
From Longmont to Parker and everywhere in between, parents agree that Colorado’s weather is a huge factor in why so many people love our state. With an average of 300 days where the sun pops out for at least an hour, more than 300 inches of snow per year at mountain resorts, low humidity (an average of 33 percent) and less chance that outdoor events will be rained out, it seems the climate creates a domino effect for the ability to do many outdoor activities, some of which you’ll find in this list.
4. An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Maybe it’s a holdover from our Old West roots, but Coloradans are doers. We see an opportunity and reach for it. Young Americans Center for Financial Education (yacenter.org), offers kids the opportunity to develop business savvy at a young age. The center runs the world’s only FDIC-insured bank designed for people age 21 and younger (two Denver locations), at which kids can learn about money management and get a loan for a small business. In addition, through their YouthBiz program, young entrepreneurs get to sell their goods at the YouthBiz Marketplace twice per year and participate in a competition for young business owners.
5. Cultural and Arts Access for All
Support provided by the citizens through the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) has a major impact on the arts programs accessible to Colorado kids. SCFD distributes funds from a one tenth of 1 percent sales and use tax to cultural facilities throughout the seven-county Denver metropolitan area, which allow it to provide free days for kids at many museums, low-cost theater experiences and more.
“Colorado offers its residents unique world-class opportunities to plant the seed for a lifetime of arts appreciation,” says John Lukavic, father of two and associate curator of Native Arts at the Denver Art Museum. “The summer art classes and camps at the Denver Art Museum are one of the greatest art programs I have come across anywhere in the country.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s wife, Mary Louise Lee, is also passionate about arts accessibility. The First Lady of Denver developed the foundation, Bringing Back the Arts (bringbackarts.org), as a way to help restore arts education programs in Denver schools, provide access to cultural institutions and to promote local artists. “(I believe in) art organizations that help introduce, cultivate and prepare our children for art careers or other entities that will help them think outside of the box,” says Lee, who is also an actress, vocalist and mother of three.
6. All the Helping Hands
“Colorado has great opportunities to volunteer in the community, even with young kids,” says Cheryl Brungardt, a mom of three who works in business-to-business sales for Thank Em Promotions. “Standing side-by-side as you do something for others sets a great example for Colorado kids to learn to reach out and help people as they grow into adults.”
Research current opportunities in your area on volunteermatch.org, find causes with which you connect on coloradogives.org or check out Helping Colorado Families in each issue of Colorado Parent.
7. Parks and Playgrounds
Colorado has tons of them, located inside almost every neighborhood, along creeks, above rolling hills and even in urban areas. “(In Arvada) there are wide open spaces for my kids to run free and the neighborhoods are more friendly," says Dan Murphy, a dad of three who works as a feeder driver for UPS. "Where I grew up, there was just one playground for what at the time felt like a million kids.”
As a dad of two young children, Jeremy Padgett, Mix100.3 morning show personality, agrees that going to the park is a big part of what he loves about Colorado. “Our favorite little relaxation spot to take the kiddos is a park tucked into the Highlands Ranch area called Civic Green Park. It’s a great place for a family picnic on the lawn and the kids can run through the fountain and the lazy river.”
8. Respect for the Past
In the 1960s, few city planners envisioned saving historical places and redeveloping them for future growth. When the city was considering demolishing the 1400 block of Larimer Street, Denver resident Dana Crawford formed Larimer Associates with the goal of refurbishing the buildings and re-creating the vibe of the area. Crawford has worked on many city redevelopment projects, ensuring that kids today get to see historic architecture when they come downtown. One of her favorites is the 100-year-old Union Station.
“When we redeveloped Union Station, we really tried to create a place for everyone, children included,” says Crawford, a mother of four, president of Urban Neighborhoods, Inc. and namesake of the Crawford Hotel. “Kids will be in awe of the elegance and beauty of the building, not to mention all the trains. Hopefully, being at the Union Station will encourage families to think about Denver’s past and provide opportunities to talk to each other about Denver’s rich pioneer history and even our nation’s westward expansion.”
9. Services for Special Needs
Though the needs of students with disabilities vary greatly across Colorado, schools like the Fletcher Miller School, The Joshua School, Bal Swan Children's Center and others strive to accommodate those needs.
“Colorado believes in community-based resources and services for individuals with disabilities,” says Julie Osborne, principal of Fletcher Miller School. “Schools, city programs and county services work to identify strengths, needs and interests in order to develop programming that meets the child’s needs.”
Many places in Colorado seem to recognize this: Phamaly Theatre Company produces plays cast completely with performers with disabilities; National Sports Center for the Disabled based in Winter Park provides adaptive sports competitive outlets; VSA Colorado’s Access Gallery showcases art by disabled people; various museums host periodic sensory friendly playtimes; AMC Theatres offer Sensory Friendly Films on select days.
10. We Dig Gardening
“There seems to be a growing excitement around connecting kids to gardens through school or backyard gardens,” says Mikhaela Mullins, director of School Garden Programs at Denver Urban Gardens (DUG). “What’s great about being in Colorado is that there are so many resources available to parents who want to teach their children about gardening and where food comes from.” DUG is one such resource—the non-profit has worked with communities to secure the land for, design, organize and sustain community gardens across the Denver metro area since 1985, and many of these gardens are located at schools. Other local organizations, such as Jovial Concepts, The Kitchen Community and Growing Gardens offer myriad ways to teach children (and adults) about sustainable living, healthy food and more—which is great news for our kids’ future health and the health of our environment.
by Lydia Rueger
11. Stars and Space
“Colorado has fantastic opportunities for science, and especially astronomy. My personal favorites include Fiske Planetarium in Boulder and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science exhibits on space,” says Jeffrey Bennett, astronomer, teacher, writer and creator of the Science Adventures with Max the Dog series. “And, of course, there are our beautiful night skies, which can inspire anyone to want to learn more about the wonders of our universe.” For more opportunities to view Colorado’s night skies, check out the calendars of the Denver Astronomical Society, the Estes Park Memorial Observatory and Jefferson County Open Space, which includes the historic Baehr Observatory at Pine Valley Ranch Park.
12. Snow is our Middle Name
Our accessibility to skiing and snowboarding is unsurpassed, with 25 resorts to choose from across the state and more skiable acres than Utah, Vermont and New York, according to coloradoski.com. “Skiing is the ultimate family sport because the whole family can participate together,” says Russ Pecoraro, father of two and director of mountain communications for Vail Resorts. “My kids are both products of Keystone’s Kroozers program. After two seasons in the program (just doing one session per season) my 5-year-old can totally hang with the rest of the family.”
And to ensure all Colorado kids get a chance to learn to ski or ride, parents can sign up for the Epic SchoolKids program, with which all Colorado school kids get a total of 16 free days at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. There’s also the 5th and 6th Grade Passport, which allows 5th graders to ski free and 6th graders to ski for $105 at 21 other ski resorts, in addition to receiving a beginner lesson for free.
13. We’re Surrounded by Music
Free outdoor concerts abound in the Denver metro area, including City Park Jazz and others taking place at parks in nearly every city on the Front Range, as well as in many individual neighborhoods.
Of course, Colorado is home to Red Rocks Amphitheater, deemed the number one outdoor amphitheater in the country by Rolling Stone magazine. Though these shows can be pricier and not all are kid-friendly, it’s a great special-occasion concert for older children and teens that they won’t soon forget.
As an award-winning performing artist, creative director and CEO of Doctor Noize, Inc., as well as a father of two, Denver-based musician Cory Cullinan sings the praises of the musical opportunities here. “We live four blocks from the beautiful Lone Tree Arts Center, where we can walk to amazing shows. My kids have also been involved in wonderful musical theater productions by CYT Denver and Rocky Mountain Theatre For Kids,” says Cullinan.
14. Something for Every Sports Fan
This is Broncos country, and it’s a love that runs deep and spans generations for many Colorado families. But in addition to being the home of Super Bowl 50’s championship team, Colorado offers plenty of outlets for avid fans of other teams and sports, such as Nuggets basketball, Avalanche hockey, Rockies baseball, Rapids soccer, Mammoth and Outlaws lacrosse and others.
And those are just the pro teams. Sports fan Amy Partain and her family love going to Colorado Springs to watch Air Force Academy football because of all the traditions that surround the games. “From the fly overs and parachuters that start the games to the cadet push-ups and the fight song during the game, there seems to always be something going on,” says Partain, a mom of one and communications associate for St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs.
Families wanting even more can tour Denver’s sports stadiums—Sports Authority Field, Coors Field, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and the Pepsi Center. “It is fun to go on the field of these stadiums and see parts of the building that you don’t get to see during games,” says Partain. “I recommend going when the team is on a road trip because sometimes there are parts of the tour that are not included if the team is there.”
15. Hands-on Learning
“Our favorite places to go are the wonderful museums such as the History Colorado and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science,” says Jennifer Nash, a mom of four and math tutor. “My kids like them because they are hands-on, interactive and interesting.” Hands-on learning abounds at Colorado’s many museums, and even more so with Children’s Museum’s recent expansion and the renovation of History Colorado Center.
“There is always something new for your child to experience,” says Nicole Olivas, a mom of two who works with Medicare. Families can feed animals at places like the Urban Farm at Stapleton, drop in to decorate cupcakes at Denver’s My Make Studio or try a kids painting class at any number of painting studios. “You are not only giving your children great memories, you are also encouraging their curiosity and the natural wonder about things.”
16. Respect for Children
“To me, the best thing here is the openness of people, the belief that kids can be whatever and whoever they want to be, the sense that kids have feelings and should be treated lovingly,” says Stuart Motola, director of operations for the Actors Academy for The Performing Arts and Rocky Mountain Theatre for Kids. “I do see this more in Colorado than in other places I’ve lived. In general, I believe Coloradans support a wholesome and loving attitude regarding raising kids.”
17. Support for Mom and Dad
“Our state and many communities are becoming more aware and sensitive to the needs of fathers as well as mothers,” says Ken Sanders, program director for the The Center on Fathering. “Our own program has been providing services, supports and resources to fathers for over 21 years, and we’ve worked with nearly 18,000 dads in that time. A number of communities have created programs specifically geared to helping fathers learn parenting skills and become more engaged in the day-to-day lives of their children.”
Colorado also is home to renowned experts and internationally recognized organizations that support parents, including Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) International, Love and Logic Institute, the Beyond Consequences Institute and Parenting Safe Children.
18. Whole-Child Development
“Colorado is a place where we value the development of the whole child—their social and emotional health, their physical health and their cognitive development,” says Bill Jaeger, interim president and vice president for Early Childhood Initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “Parents, policymakers and state leaders are committed to well-rounded, healthy kids in our state.”
19. Healthy Local Food
“The water, air, soil and weather give us everything from Palisade peaches to Olathe corn and the grazing for Colorado lamb,” says Peter Reynolds, dad of three and host of the show, Father Knows Food. “When the weather gets good, Coloradans take to their grills and my kids love everything grilled, whether it’s grilled lamb chops with rosemary, garlic and mint, or simple grilled corn with a bit of butter.”
Anthony Pigliacampo, father of two and co-founder of Modern Market, loves Colorado for its awareness of and access to healthy, fresh foods. “We live in a state where most people care about the quality of food they put in their bodies and where it comes from. When children grow up with these ideals all around them, they tend to understand the importance of eating well and choose to fuel their bodies with those kinds of clean foods,” says Pigliacampo.
20. We Keep It Casual
Our idea of wearing one’s “Sunday best” is just a little different. The truth is, you can take your family just about anywhere in Colorado without feeling like you have to get the kids—or yourself—dressed up. That is one less pressure that Colorado families have to deal with.
by Lydia Rueger
21. Happy Trails
Even if you’re a homebody, hiking is an easy “yes” thanks to thousands of miles of trails, many of which are right in city neighborhoods. “Feeling outdoorsy comes naturally here,” says Cecelia Hendrix, a mom of three and social media content producer. “My favorite places to hike with the family have been Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon, Castlewood Canyon near Franktown and Devil’s Head Fire Lookout hike.”
22. Homeschooling Resources
As a homeschooling mother, Tiffany DeBoer, mom of four, has found Colorado to be friendly to homeschoolers with many resources to support her education choice. “It has been easy to connect with other homeschool families for support, socialization and field trips,” she says. “Many museums and zoos offer homeschool specific rates, classes and tours, as well as places like Cici’s Pizza, Great Harvest Bread Company, Miller Farms and Berry Patch Farms. We even visited a Colorado camel-milk dairy last spring!”
23. Quality Schools
Many parents, like Aiesha Morris, a mom of three whose family has lived in 13 states over the past 20 years, appreciate both the academic opportunities and social environment she’s found here compared to other states. As a resident of Aurora in the Cherry Creek School District, “the promise to encourage individual growth as well as have consistent excellence throughout their feeders (middle to high school) has been a huge advantage for my kiddos,” she says. When her eldest daughter showed an interest in world issues, her teacher connected her with a World Affairs Club and encouraged her to look into an International Baccalaureate program. Morris’ daughter now attends Colorado College, on academic scholarship, and majors in International Relations and Political Economy.
When it comes to the social aspects of school, Morris says she’s seen a lot of sincerity here. “My 12-year-old didn’t have a friend starting last year, but the positive, inclusive environment helped tremendously. I feel that my kiddos have the best possible foundation here to become awesome citizens and explore their hearts’ desires without hesitation.”
“Cycling is really the first adventure activity that kids can do on their own, and nothing is more empowering,” says Kyle Littman, father of two and president of Avid4Adventure, an organization that runs adventure camps for kids. Lucky for us, Colorado is filled with outdoor cycling opportunities, many of which include a place for beginners to ride either alongside or very near a more advanced course. Littman loves the Boulder Creek Trail and the Valmont Bike Park. “(At Valmont) a young child can be on a balance bike and see world-class athletes cycling near them,” Littman says. He also recommends the bike trails at Bear Creek Lake Park and Chatfield State Park.
And thanks to a well-developed network of bike trails in many Denver metro communities, biking can be practical. Littman periodically plans no-car days for his family, and “we see just how far we can go.”
25. World-Class Staycations
Families are traveling to our state at a record-setting pace, with a total of 16.4 million visitors in 2015, according to the brief The Economic Impact of Tourism in Denver 2015. But Colorado families already know that we can make great vacation memories at beautiful destinations, for much less money. There’s Glenwood Springs, The Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Rocky Mountain National Park and Pike’s Peak, just to name a few.
26. STEM Opportunities
Boulder was named the 3rd best place in the country for STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering and math) by nerdwallet.com, thanks to the high number of software, IT, aerospace and bioscience companies there. We’re also the home to federal offices for the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service. It seems kids benefit from the high concentration of STEM jobs and interests here. The Denver Mini Maker Faire comes to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science each summer and the Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest takes over the Boulder County Fair Grounds each year.
27. Specialized Pediatric Care
In Colorado, quality pediatric care is not far away no matter where you live. Children’s Hospital Colorado, ranked as one of the best hospitals nationally for the past decade by U.S. News & World Report, has locations in Parker, Denver, Highlands Ranch and Aurora, with urgent care options as far north as Broomfield.
In addition, Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, which has departments in six different hospitals across the Denver metro area, recently opened a new 24-hour emergency Department at the Sky Ridge Medical Center.
28. Water Adventures
An avid rafter long before having children, Amy Chally and her husband used to tackle class five rapids all across Colorado on their own raft. Now a mother of two and a preschool director, she loves that her family can raft together on a smaller scale. When her children were as young as 2 and 3, the Challys took them on the upper Colorado River, on a family-friendly run called Pump House to State Bridge. “It’s just pleasant, there are enough rapids to make it a little bit exciting for kids, and you can stop at hot springs along the way.” Now, that the children are older, the family enjoys sections of Clear Creek or the Blue River.
Rafting is just the beginning. Despite our landlocked location, Colorado families can sail, paddle board, kayak, water ski or just build sandcastles on a beach without ever getting on a plane.
Outdoor activities build more than just muscle and perseverance—2016 Colorado Teacher of the Year Leticia Ingram has often seen kids learn to work together through outdoor pursuits. “I love that all four of my own kids grew up here. Last week they called me from the top of a 14er. Every winter my children beg to cross-country ski to a hut in the mountains for the holidays,” Ingram, a teacher at Basalt High School, says. “Colorado is an incredible place where everyone can learn teamwork and grit through embracing Mother Nature. What a gift!”
30. Connected Neighborhoods
When Janine Rosche, mom of four, college professor and writer moved to Colorado two years ago, she found the people here to be more welcoming than other places she’s lived—and the Rosche family has moved 15 times. “Every single house on our street came out to welcome us. The kids had friends almost immediately!” she remembers.
While certainly, neighbors can be like a box of chocolates (you never know what you’re going to get), many Colorado families, in both old and new neighborhoods, feel a sense of community here.
Lydia Rueger is an Arvada-based freelance writer and mother of two. She moved to Colorado in 1998 from the Midwest and has never left.