The Importance of Early Learning

United Way of Central Missouri has championed the Early Childhood Initiative for over fifteen years. Through this initiative we support early childhood programs in the central Missouri area to ensure children birth through 5 years old receive quality early learning opportunities, aid parents in positive parenting practices and support strong transition programming into kindergarten.

The United Way of Central Missouri Early Childhood Initiative supports early childhood providers, facilitates the annual Week of the Young Child activities and events, and provided the resources for the Born Learning materials at Memorial Park.

Over the past several years, our Early Childhood Initiative work has grown substantially and we are proud of the enhancements which are helping to have a positive impact on our local early childhood providers, the early childhood field and the families and children we serve.

One of the enhancements is the training and coaching of Conscious Discipline which provides training at no cost to parents, grandparents, teachers and agency leaders. Conscious Discipline provides a proven and comprehensive approach to discipline that empowers caretakers with the self-awareness, brain information, developmental knowledge and usable skills necessary to create safe, connected, problem-solving skills.

“Conscious Discipline meets families where they are, empowering all families to experience success,” says founder of Conscious Discipline, Dr. Becky A. Bailey. “Families already connected and secure will learn healthy ways to manage typical frustrations.Families struggling with challenges will learn essential skills for stabilizing the family through safety and connection.”

United Way’s Early Childhood initiative also provides Conscious Discipline Administrator Training, which works with preschool directors and key staff on how to implement Conscious Discipline in their centers and how to work through challenging situations with parents and/or co-workers. United Way continues to support this group by providing six or more trainings a year for childcare providers, parents and other volunteers/organizations.

Jennifer Clark, owner of Early Explorers Preschool said, “We have benefited greatly from the Early Childhood group. We have had the ability to collaborate with other early childhood professionals and share experiences and ideas. We have also been able to receive an immense amount of support as well as high quality training that we would not have received otherwise. We could not be more thankful for this opportunity and team.”

Most recently, the initiative implemented a Conscious Discipline Pilot Program for elementary school principals and key staff to ensure Conscious Discipline continues into the elementary schools. This developed through feedback from Early Childhood Directors who expressed the need to expand the program to elementary schools to ensure a successful transition to kindergarten. Currently we have six schools participating in the pilot program.

In early 2021, the State of Missouri announced nearly all early childhood programs across the state would be consolidated in a single Office of Childhood. Prior to, each state agency provided various services for children and families. The transition to one office allows early childhood work across the state to be more streamlined, consistent and effective.

Later, United Way was asked to be part of a regional Early Childhood Community Leaders group, a Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education project under the new Office of Childhood. The ultimate goal of Community Leaders is to create a coordinated system of early care and education connections with a place for every family to access resources and services that promote safe and healthy learning environments for young children. Locally, as part of the Early Childhood Community Leaders work United Way of Central Missouri provides support and resources to Cole, Osage, Moniteau and Miller counties. We hold monthly meetings rotating between the four counties. These meetings provide valuable resources, updates on programs, grant funding opportunities, networking and identifying gaps and barriers in services. Through this work the need for early childhood teachers was identified as a critical need.

Recently, this Community Leaders group was asked to join the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce Workforce Coalition to assist the committee with early childhood information and ideas. From this partnership a pilot program was established with the Chamber’s current Partners in Education (PIE) program to expand the program to early childhood centers. Six centers and businesses are participating in the pilot program.

“The opportunity to partner with a community business was something I had never considered until introduced by the United Way and Chamber of Commerce,” expressed Julie Schmitz, Owner of Show-Me Child Care Center. “I am excited to be one of the six programs participating in the pilot program. Show-Me CCC has partnered with SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital. Our partnership kicked off in December with SSM attending our preschool Christmas party. They brought Santa with them and it was a HUGE success! SSM has donated a few items that we are happy to recycle. Old signs have become painting posters and a dry erase board became our pre-K instructional tool! I feel the kids at Show-Me are also learning about giving and doing for others through the PIE project. The preschoolers have provided some color sheets and holiday projects to share with their staff and patients. I look forward to watching the PIE program grow in our community. Making memories and connections is the backbone of Show-Me CCC and we have found a great partner with SSM!”

Early Childhood Community Leader Administrator Shauna Kerperin said, “It’s all about relationships. Building relationships with providers, educators, businesses and families so we can all work together as one team to help every child in our community be healthy, safe and ready to learn. We are a TEAM: Together, Everyone Achieves More!”

Our Community Leader work has also developed an extension resource list for the four counties we service, provides a monthly newsletter, developed a Facebook page and works with area Parents as Teachers programs to increase screenings. Early Childhood Community Leaders is also working on providing twelve hours of early childhood training as an introduction to individuals who would like to work in the Early Childhood field. To show our appreciation of the work of early childhood professionals, we are planning an appreciation dinner for Early Childhood Educators on May 2, 2023.

United Way’s Early Childhood Initiative and our Early Childhood Community Leaders are hard at work to ensure young children are safe, healthy and successful learners, reaching their full potential!

If you are interested in the Conscious Discipline Administrator Training or have questions regarding the United Way of Central Missouri Early Childhood Initiative, please email or call (573) 636-4100.

If you are interested in the Early Childhood Community Leaders work, please contact Shauna Kerperin at or (573) 619-4192.