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It’s a fact...........

Children are born learning and parents are their first teachers.

Children are constantly learning, right from birth. Their early years are the foundation for growth and development, and what they learn during those years depends on the experiences they have each and every day. 

Research shows that children who start kindergarten with the basics usually achieve greater success in school and throughout life. If you are a parent or caregiver, give your child a good start in life. We can help you do it.


Doing simple things can make a big difference. It’s easier than you think.

  • While folding laundry, ask your child to identify colors or count socks.
  • During meals, name the food your baby is eating.
  • At the grocery store, ask your toddler about shapes and sizes or to name things that are up high or down low.

It’s important to help parents, grandparents and caregivers help young children get prepared for school. And it’s part of this community’s efforts to boost school readiness for all young children.

We know that quality early learning in the first few years is a strong foundation for school success. Research shows that investing early on in early learning pays huge dividends later on – in reduced crime, fewer teen pregnancies, more high school graduates and more individual success in work and life. In Callaway County, early learning is critical to building strong citizens and a strong workforce. And that’s why we see Born Learning as part of an ongoing effort to make sure we’re providing what our kids need to come to school ready to succeed.

Born Learning Literature

Ages & Stages

Throughout the early years, your child will grow and change tremendously.  For more information about your child’s age and stage, use the following tools. This series provides invaluable information for parents on health, nutrition, safety, growth and nurturing of children at various ages from birth to five years.

Your Child @ Series (.pdfs)

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Promoting Learning

Most of a child’s experiences involve relationships with caregivers. Newborns come into the world eager for this interaction. They want to connect with you right from the beginning. It is this emotional connection that helps give them the confidence that they need to learn. Science has demonstrated that children who receive lots of love and attention actually learn better. From the very first moments of life with a baby, the love and attention that you share will lay the groundwork for later learning.

Everyday interactions offer the comfort and security that help promote learning:

  • Love and affection: Giving a child love and attention helps her feel confident, relaxed and happy, which in turn, promotes her intellectual development
  • A predictable world: Providing routines and consistent responses gives a child a sense that the world is trustworthy and teaches him that he can depend on you
  • Opportunities for fun: Activities that most encourage a child’s brain to grow are those that she enjoys. If she is forced to participate in activities that do not hold her interest, she will tune out.
  • The sound of your voice: The newborn brain is especially interested in sounds – the building blocks of speech and language. Let a baby hear your voice as much as possible
  • Understanding and patience: Respond to a child’s needs without worrying that you will spoil him. By responding, you teach him that you care and that he can trust you to read his signals.
  • Time to digest new information:  Beware of over-stimulation. If a child is exposed to a lot of new information without time to digest and process it, she will tune out or break down.

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What You Can Do

You are an active participant in your child’s early learning.  One of the things you can do to make sure you give them the best possible start is to engage in play.

Children spend the vast majority of their waking hours at play. However, play is not simply a way for children to pass time. Instead, it is an important way for children to learn about their world while developing emotionally, socially and intellectually.

There’s no right or wrong way to play; what matters is that a child is given safe toys in safe places and is encouraged to experiment, express herself, learn on her own, control her environment, connect with other people and make sense of her surroundings.

To engage a child in play:

  • Jump right in. Playtime with a caregiver is invaluable to a child - whether you talk baby-talk or bounce a toddler on your knee.
  • Forget the rules. Add to a child’s play experiences by creating imaginative games and finding new ways to use his toys. Use blocks as flying cars or pretend to be a zoo animal. Encourage a child to make-believe and think creatively.
  • Take a break. Although children often learn the most when they interact with others, solitary play gives a child time to process and understand everything that he has been doing.
  • Participate enthusiastically. Encourage a child’s imagination by becoming involved wholeheartedly and going along with her games.
  • Let a child guide his play. Let a child pick the activity and decide how it is played. Pay attention to the child’s mood and adapt the play accordingly.
  • Watch out for over-stimulation. It’s important to stop playing when your baby loses interest. He’ll tell you when he’s had enough by disengaging, turning his head, or starting to cry.

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Learning on the Go

It's easy and fun to provide early learning opportunities for your young child.  You can do it anytime, anywhere - it's learning on the go!  Here are a few ideas to turn ordinary daily activities into eye-opening experiences for your child. 

At home

Turn everyday activities at home such as laundry, meals, and bedtime into learning experiences for your child.  You can turn everyday household chores and activities into fun learning games for your child, no matter how young she or he is.

Doing laundry

Laundry is a frequent activity that young children love to join in - from watching clothes tumble to matching up socks.  Find fun ways to help your children take part in these chores.  You can make children a part of this everyday task in ways that are fun for you and your child.

Watch and listen: Look at your child to see what he or she is interested in.  Is your baby curious about how the clothes feel? Does your toddler like to take clothes in and out of the laundry basket? Is your preschooler interested in sorting clothes by color?

Curiosity is an important part of mastery.  It's the desire to know. And the nice thing about it is you never get there.  It’s not like you ever get to the point where you know everything or you’ve mastered everything. Jack P. Shonkoff, MD
Dean, Heller Graduate School, Brandeis University

For your baby

  • Just because your baby doesn’t talk, doesn’t mean he or she isn’t learning language.  Follow your child’s gaze to see what seems to intrigue him or her. Try to see this experience through his or her eyes. Then talk to your child about what they’re watching or what you’re doing: “Now I’m putting the clothes in the washing machine…or “here goes the soap” or “you’re watching the clothes spinning in the dryer.”  Children whose caring adults connect language to their everyday experiences learn to speak, communicate and read better.

For your toddler 

  • If your toddler likes to take clothes in and out of the laundry basket, have him or her help you put the clothes into the washer and dryer.  Ask questions like  “Can you find the pants and put them in the dryer?”  Or, name colors together. These activities can be fun and help build language and thinking skills.

For your preschooler 

  • If your child likes to sort things, have him or her make piles of the light clothes and the dark clothes.  Older children can also help by finding matching pairs of socks, or finding all of the shirts to put into a pile for folding.  These activities can build math and cooperation skills.  Feeling useful also helps children feel good, which encourages them to continue to want to be helpful.

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At Meals

For many, meals are a time when the whole family comes together.  Learn how your mealtime discussions can help the development of your child, and ways that meals foster learning.  Studies show that meals are one of the most important times to be together as a family. 

Catherine Snow and her colleagues at Harvard University conducted research on literacy development by taping what happens at family meals.  They found that the families who interacted with each other at meal times were more likely to have children with better literacy skills in the school-age years. Family mealtime interaction took place when caregivers extended children’s interests, which helped children use language to analyze, sequence, and predict while helping children appreciate the joy of language.

Watch and listen: Do your children listen to what you and others say? Do they have opportunities to talk, listen and take turns? Do they look forward to telling you about their day? What sounds and words do they try to say? What are they trying to communicate?

With your baby

  • Give your baby ordinary kitchen objects, such as plastic cups or wooden spoons, to play with while you are fixing a meal.  
  • Name the foods you are eating and talk about foods your baby loves to eat.

With your toddler

  • Let your young child help make the meal – let him or her tear the lettuce for a salad, stir the spaghetti sauce or put napkins on the table.
  • Ask your toddler to name the foods you are preparing or to fix a pretend meal for their toy animal or doll while you fix dinner for your family.

For your preschooler

  • Ask your child to tell you a story about their day or tell them a story about yours during mealtime.
  • Create family traditions at meal times, such as a song that you always sing or a game like “I Spy” that you always play.

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At Bedtime

Help your child wind down at the end of the day, and discover ways to make bedtime less stressful and more calming for all involved.  Bedtime is time to wind down.  Creating a schedule that your child comes to expect makes the transition from an active day to a quiet time easier.  

Many parents create “a special time” to be together at bedtime.  Sometimes they read or tell stories.  Other times, they let the child select what she or he wants to do.

Watch and listen: What helps your child get ready for bed in the most peaceful way, and what stirs up your child?  Emphasize the calming activities and turn them into family traditions.

For your baby

  • Create a consistent bedtime schedule that your child can count on.
  • Think of bedtime as a quiet time to be together rather than a scary time of separation. Your attitude will help build a more positive attitude in your child.

For your toddler

  • Create traditions: First we take a bath and brush our teeth, then we read a story, put on the nightlight, give a kiss and go to sleep. With practice, a consistent schedule will help children learn to go to sleep by themselves.

For your preschooler

  • Your preschooler can take a more active role in planning bedtime traditions and use special time for listening to stories, making up stories about his or her stuffed animals, or for talking about the day.

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  • Be curious about your own learning and about how your child learns.  Parents and caregivers who are truly engaged and excited about learning are more likely to have children who do the same.
  • Have fun! Children and adults learn best when they are connected to others, when they’re learning about something they want or need to know, and when they’re having fun.  So don’t make learning in everyday moments a chore, or something to strike off of your to-do list to give your child the best early start.  Instead, make it something that you enjoy.  The gift of joy in lifelong learning is a very important gift you can give your children.

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Going places is often exciting for children - learn how to make riding in the car, taking public transit, and walking educational for them, and fun for you too. Are we there yet? Turn that trip or errand into a simple, fun learning game that helps your child make sense of the world around him.

In the car

Use driving time to enhance your child's natural curiosity - find ways to interact and connect with your child. 

Rather than finding toys to amuse and distract your child, use driving time to connect and enjoy being together.

As a parent (and as a teacher) I would think of yourself as the child’s greatest play thing.  Your voice, your face, the things you do, and your actions are the things that intrigue them most.  They have a natural curiosity for the things humans do.  The thing to remember is that you and your time are the most valuable things to a child. – Patricia K. Kuhl, PhD, Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of Washington; Co-Director, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, University of Washington

Watch and listen:  What interests your child on car trips? Is it looking for signs that you are almost home or it is talking while you are together? Is it repeating new or silly words or sounds? Is it saying nursery rhymes, singing or watching for when the traffic lights change?

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On a walk

Taking your child on a walk is not only good exercise, but also allows them to experience nature and learn about the outdoors. Taking a walk is good exercise for you and your child, plus it can also be a special time together. Focus on the present moment and being with your child, not on all of the things you have to do when you get back.

Watch and listen: Look at the walk through your child’s eyes.  How might a bug or a big crack in the sidewalk look to your child?  What sounds do cars or birds make? Is the sun shining? Is it cloudy, warm or cold?

For your baby

  • Name things that your baby looks at or is interested in – from street and business signs, to animals, flowers, bugs, cars, trucks, people or other sights.
  • Take time to let your baby watch things until his or her interest shifts. Notice how intently your baby studies things.

For your toddler

  • If your toddler likes to run and jump and practice moving around, make games of doing this. 
  • Help your child learn to be safe by stopping at corners and driveways and showing him or her how to look both ways for cars.

For your preschooler

  • Ask questions about what you see on your walk that seems to interest your child.  These questions can include the past, present and future. For example, if you and your preschooler see a dog, ask if he or she remembers seeing that dog before, what the dog is doing, or what they think the dog might do if the dog were bigger or smaller, or faster or slower.
  • Make up rhymes or sing marches as your walk. Try walking and singing or chanting fast, then slow.

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Public Places

Being out and about exposes children to many learning opportunities.  Learn how you can turn excursions to the market, library, and playground into learning. Errands can equal education. Your everyday outing or errand can be a chance to connect with your child and to encourage her early learning.

At the market

Learn valuable tips to help keep you and your child's trips to the market hassle-free and educational. Going to the market is obviously a chore, especially at the end of a busy day.  But markets also offer many opportunities for learning that can make the time there less trying.

Watch and listen: Make sure that your child is not too hungry when you go to the market.  Either take a snack or let your child pick an acceptable snack to eat.  Then you and your child can focus on other things.  Notice what your child is interested in to help make marketing a fun learning time together.

For your baby

  • The market is like a collage in motion—there is so much going on.  Talk about the things you see as you shop.

For your toddler

  • Talk to your child in advance about a special thing that she or he can buy at the market.  Then look for it, like a treasure hunt.  This helps your child learn to be a good observer.
  • Ask your toddler about the shapes and colors he or she sees. Or, ask your toddler to name things that are up high or down low.
  • Give your toddler a cracker or piece of apple. Then point out the crackers and/or apples in the store.

For your preschooler

  • Take the adventure of looking for items you are going to purchase a step further.  Cut out a picture of an item you are going to purchase and have your child match the picture with the real item on the store's shelf.  
  • If there is conflict over what you are buying, set rules. For example: we will buy an item, but sugar can’t be one of the first four ingredients. Or it can’t have too many preservatives in the food. 

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At the park

Parks and playgrounds are very active places for children.  Discover ways to transform activity into learning. Being in the park can be a time that is restorative, both for you and for your child. It is also a time for you and your child to play and be physically active.

Watch and listen: What does your child like about being in the park? Is it nature, looking at flowers, or watching the autumn leaves tumble to the ground? Is it the activities, the swings or jungle gyms? Is it other children?  Is it all of the above?

For your baby

  • Notice what delights your child at the park and give your child more of those experiences, whether it swinging on a baby swing, tossing piles of leaves or sitting in the sand box.   Put words to these experiences or make up a song: “What did you do in the park today, dear little girl of mine? I saw another baby in the park today, mama dear mama of mine…”

For your toddler

  • Talk about what your child wants to do at the park and then make a point of doing that.  Then talk about what you did on the way home.  This helps your child begin to make choices and plan ahead.
  • Let your child collect little rocks, leaves or other natural things that fascinate him or her.  Sorting helps your child learn to form categories, by seeing the differences and similarities between objects. Bring along containers for scooping and pouring sand.

For your preschooler

  • Make plans to meet other friends at the park and discuss those plans in advance.  Do you want to meet at the swings or at the climber?  
  • If your child likes flowers, talk about their colors and sizes, count them, or ask questions about all the things you could make with them. Or stop to watch a bug or a dog and talk about what you saw later.

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At the library

Libraries are full of learning, and are wonderful for exploring language and books.  Find out some helpful tips for library-going. The library, especially if it has a section set up for young children, can provide a wonderful space to be together and enjoy the world of language and books. Many libraries offer story times for children of different ages, or have play areas with toys, puzzles and soft pillows or couches.

Watch and listen: What does your child like best when you go to the library? Is it looking at books or story hour? Is it climbing the steps to get into the building?  Notice what interests your child and encourage them to do more.

For your baby

  • It is never too early to introduce your child to books.  Babies like books made from cloth or heavy paper with pictures of other babies, of everyday objects or animals.  Hold baby on your lap and let him or her “look at” books.  Name things that are in the books and show your baby the real life object, such as the “nose” in a picture and the nose on your face.
  • Borrow books that your child enjoys or seems interested in and read them together at home again and again.

For your toddler

  • Let your child help choose books that interest him or her, even if your child chooses the same books over and over.  Repeating a known story gives your child a sense of mastery. 
  • Have your child “read” by telling you a favorite story or repeating words or phrases in the story, such as “ten apples on top” or "goodnight moon.”

For your preschooler

  • Think about what your child loves to watch and do. Then borrow books that you think your child will be interested in.  Keep looking for books that extend this interest.
  • Let your preschooler choose books to borrow. Looking forward to reading a story your child chose will increase your child’s love of books and reading.

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Promoting Health

It's well known that children learn best when they receive good healthcare, nutrition and plenty of sleep.  This means visiting your doctor regularly for visits, getting plenty of sleep, and eating well in order to maximize their learning activities.  Here are some tips to help your child grow up healthy. 


We all want children to grow up healthy and strong, but illnesses are inevitable along the way.


There’s no doubt that your child’s health is directly related to what he eats.  Children need high nutrient foods to fuel their bodies and brain.  Unhealthy foods such as burgers, fries, chips and soda are full of calories and don’t offer the nutrients a child needs for healthy growth. 


Healthy sleep provides brainpower and fuels a child’s growth and development.  It enables the mind to stay alert, increasing a child’s ability to learn, concentrate and adapt to new situations.  There are times during the day and night when a child’s brain will become less alert.

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Connecting Leads to Learning

Children are eager to connect with the adults in their lives, and it is through these relationships that children gain the confidence and the security they need to learn.  All members of this community have unique roles and the ability to make an enormous difference.

Whether you are a mom, a dad, a grandparent or a childcare professional, you are facing one of life's most rewarding and challenging experiences - raising or caring for a child. And at some point, you probably could use a little help. Learn more about connecting with children.

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Recently, the role of dads in the lives of their children has become a hot topic in our society. All of this attention raises an important question: what impact does an involved father have on a child? 

Consider this:

Children with fathers who are involved in their lives tend to:

  • Develop more self-confidence
  • Be better problem-solvers

There’s no doubt that fathers and mothers interact with children differently and each have unique and important roles in a child’s life.  If a father is not part of a child’s life, a mother can involve other men, such as her father, brother, or any other male to whom she is very close with to help fill the void.

To get involved, dads can:

  • Define your role. There are plenty of opportunities for hands-on dads as playmates, diaper changers, bathers and soothers. The key is to play, touch and talk with a baby as much as possible.
  • Create your own rituals. Turn activities like running weekend errands into regular routines for father and child. Although they may seem mundane, simply having consistent one-on-one time will make the activity special.
  • Take on responsibilities. A dad can pick up his child from childcare, help him get dressed in the morning, prepare his meals, and take him to the doctor. Directly caring for a child will make dads feel good about themselves and their fathering skills.
  • Try to balance work and family. While being involved is critical, be careful not to overdo it. Dads should have some time for themselves so that they can refuel and have something to offer their child.

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As grandparents, you can have a tremendous influence in the lives of your grandchildren simply by staying involved.  There are so many creative ways to play a meaningful role and have a positive impact on their development:

  • Nurture them. Offer them your time and undivided attention whenever possible.
  • Play and interact with them. Keep up with their interests and engage them in activities they enjoy.
  • Share family history and culture. Tell them about life when you were young, family traditions and religion.
  • Support them in times of stress. When times are tense—either due to divorce, a move or a new baby—the entire family needs you most.
  • Nourish self-esteem. Show interest in and praise their work and play.
  • Adapt your role. Be flexible to meet the family’s changing needs and interests.

Talk with the child's parents about the role you want to play in the child’s life, and remember to respect their choices and decisions. The relationship you build with your grandchildren now will benefit them - and bring joy to you – for years to come.

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Selecting Childcare Providers

Quality matters most when deciding on any type of childcare.  Look for a welcoming, nurturing environment where children can have fun and be safe.  Take your time, do your homework and ask a lot of questions until you find the right situation. 

Research shows that the following factors determine whether childcare accommodations are considered high quality:

  • Small groups of children - To ensure individualized attention, for every group of 6 to 8 babies, 6 to 10 toddlers, or 16 to 20 preschoolers, there should be 2 adults.
  • Consistent caregivers - Infants and toddlers need nurturing from consistent caregivers to build their self-esteem and sense of security.
  • Adequate staff compensation - When the staff is paid well, they tend to stay in their position longer, which in turn, ensures consistency in care-giving.
  • Active parents - Involved parents help ensure trust, communication and consistency between home and childcare.
  • Education and training - A staff trained in child development is critical to high quality childcare.
  • Clean, safe and stimulating environment - This type of environment is essential to a child’s development.

Ways to identify the best child care environment for your family

  • Can you or your spouse afford to stay home with your child?
    • Make sure you consider what you’d both be happiest doing.
  • Do you have relatives who can help?
    • Since relatives are familiar and trusted faces, many parents prefer relative care, especially for infants.
  • How much can you afford to pay?
    • Nannies usually cost the most, in-home care the least.
  • How flexible is your schedule?
    • Childcare centers and preschools usually have set drop-off and pick-up times.
  • Does your company offer a childcare center, allow you to bring your baby to work with you, or let you work at home?
    • These benefits allow you to work and still be near your child.
  • Would your child benefit the most from group play or individualized attention?
    • During the first year, individualized attention is often best. After that, look for an environment that provides a mix.
  • Does your child have health issues or needs that require special attention?
    • Discuss with your child’s pediatrician your child’s needs and what childcare situation will best be able to address them.
  • Do you prefer structured play and activities for your child or are you comfortable with a free-form environment?
    • Childcare settings vary in the amount of structure provided. A balance is often best.

* Finding a compatible childcare situation takes time. Begin investigating about 6 months before you need it, if possible.

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