By Olga Pena

Killeen Daily Herald

COPPERAS COVE Tracing letters, doing simple math and counting to ten in two languages sounds like the daily activities of a kindergarten class, but these days basic academics are being taught years before tiny tots walk down the halls of elementary schools.

Though numerous childcare centers are fixtures of cities all over the nation, the word daycare is used less often since learning and child development centers have quickly become the more popular choice for parents who cant stay at home with their children and Central Texas is no exception.

Now learning centers are giving what parents want, said Renay Keys, director of Perfect Praise Learning Center in Copperas Cove. They dont want to pay $200 to $300 for their kids just to color or be put in front of a TV all day.

Educational television programs are usually reserved for a small time frame in the beginning and end of a learning centers daily schedule because hands-on learning activities are preferred.

Many childcare centers operate under national, state or private curriculums that focus on targeting positive methods of teaching social, physical and mental skills at various stages in development.

Locally, Central Texans can choose from curriculums that add fine arts or religious teaching to early childhood academics as well.

Perfect Praise uses the A Beka Book Program, which combines social and scholastic teaching with Christian principles.

While teachers use nurturing skills with infants and young toddlers learn through play, the centers academic teaching begins with two-year-olds. By the time these children enter kindergarten, they have been taught basic colors, shapes, letters, numbers, concepts, how to count in English and Spanish, basic self-help skills such as getting dressed, and have begun writing. They also walk out with a few Bible stories and prayers under their belt.

You dont want to start academics too early though, they have to be kids, Keys said. Children learn through play too.

At The Learning Zone in Killeen, Executive Director Stacie Guice said children start some level of learning at six weeks of age.

These infants begin learning social skills and motor skills appropriate to their developmental stage.

Even in the nursery, they are using a program that helps them to develop at whatever stage they are in developmental milestones, Guice said.

At 12 to 17 months of age, Learning Zone children begin learning basic words with flashcards and two-year-olds are introduced to letters numbers, shapes and colors.

Three-year-olds are taught simple math and start learning how to write.

The learning center uses its own curriculum to accomplish these goals.

By the time they leave here, they are more than ready to go into kindergarten, Guice said. We know what the teachers are looking for and we make sure they know it before they leave us.

At Busy Bee School in Killeen, pre-kindergarten teacher Stephanie Franks said the concept is the same.

The pre-school uses storytime, circle time, art and music to teach pre-schoolers basic social and academic skills.

Like Perfect Praise, teachers send home age-specific report cards that communicate to parents what skills children are being taught and some basic benchmarks of child development.

Franks, who teaches four-year-olds, said most of her students know how to count to 50, follow directions, create works of art, interact with one another and control their bodies physically hoping, skipping, jumping and clapping.

When they go to public school, it will be a breeze, Franks said.

Hettie-Halstead Elementary fourth-grade teacher Amanda Kilgore believes while young children have an incredible potential for learning and more education-focused child care centers are great, parents must gauge when and what to teach their children based on individual interests and response.

The mother of seven-year-old Katie, Kilgore said every child has specific interests and their own manner of learning.

I think [learning centers] are excellent, especially the A Beka program and there are a certain population of children who are ready for that, Kilgore said. Parents should check to see if [their children] are thriving or not.

In her own case, Kilgore said she waited to see what Katies interests were and then exploited those interests into further learning.

If you can be aware in what your child is interested in, take that interest and reach a little beyond each time they express curiosity it will continue to grow and expound, Kilgore said.

At the U.S. Department of Educations Early Childhood Institute, a great deal of research is put into discovering how to best teach the three Rs of early childhood education: relationships, resilience and readiness.

This education teaches young children about self-confidence, love, positive social interaction, overcoming obstacles, good health and enriching educational activities that will prepare them for school.

Beyond pre-school education, many studies have concluded that it is never too early for human beings to begin learning.

Baby Einstein books and videos are geared to infants, with the aim of teaching children fresh out of the womb and child psychologists and educators continue emphasizing the importance of parents reading to their babies.

Some parents get started even earlier.

Parents can now find classical music and stories on compact discs with huge headphones that fit a womens abdomen so that their unborn babies can begin taking in information.

Though Kilgore said womb teaching seemed like a good idea to her, she waited until her little one vocalized her first cry.

Her husband, Steven, an Army apache pilot, read to Katie the day she was born.

Contact Olga Pena at

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