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Centers get kids an early start on learning

Research shows that children develop 95 percent of their intellect by age 5, and a Johnston County nonprofit helps parents exploit that early window for learning.

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CLAYTON, N.C. — Research shows that children develop 95 percent of their intellect by age 5, and a Johnston County nonprofit helps parents exploit that early window for learning.

The Parker family went on a field trip to find the perfect toys for home-schoolers 10-year-old Dillon, 7-year-old Delaney, 5-year-old Dalton and 2-year-old Deacon.

Their search didn't start at a store but at the Early Learning Resource Center in Clayton. The center serves as a toy library.

"There's lots and lots of things here that makes learning fun," mother Dawn Parker said.

Along with another center in Selma run by the Partnership for Children of Johnston County, the center offers 4,000 educational materials, such as games, books and CDs. Families can check out activity bins and return them within three weeks.

The materials are mostly geared for infants to pre-schoolers, along with some for school-age children. There are even sensory toys for children with special needs.

"We want them to learn through play how to use the materials to build on their stages of development," said Darrella Cavanaugh, a program specialist at the center.

The toys teach a variety of skills children should know by the time they enter kindergarten: how to use scissors, how to hold a pencil, how to work a zipper.

The nonprofit buys toys with Smart Start funds and private donations. The centers are open to anyone, including those who live outside Johnston County.

"We have child-care providers, teachers from public schools. We have parents, grandparents; churches use this for their pre-school programs," Cavanaugh said.

Those adults make sure all the toys and surfaces are sprayed with sanitizer.

"Everything is organized and clean. That's a big issue with me. It has to be clean," parent Mamie Judge said.

Membership to the centers costs $20 for a year or $30 for two years. For children on Medicaid, the fee is $10 per year. About 200 families have memberships.

Parker said the centers are worth the membership – especially given the cost of new toys.

"Financially, I could not buy this yep of items of for all four kids," she said.


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