For the past five years, Ontario schools have been introducing full-day junior kindergarten. Do parents think it’s too much for their kids?
Hannah had been in daycare until 5:30 p.m. since she was one, so she was accustomed to a full day. She had learned the alphabet, printing, counting and how to perform tasks like dressing to go outside.
If Hannah had still been three, still needed a nap or was not used to being outside our home, I might have worried. But even then, I would still believe in the benefits of full-day kindergarten (FDK).
For parents and children, FDK means a consistent routine with less juggling for alternative child care. Teachers have more time to work with, and get to know, the children. And students simply learn more. Because FDK classrooms have junior and senior kindergarten students, Hannah has had home reading since the fall and has learned sight words. Her big brother, who was not in a split class and had kindergarten every other day, didn’t get to that until senior kindergarten.
If you are worried about your child adjusting to school, going half a day or every other day only slows that progress. Being at school all day, every day, helps children feel more comfortable with classmates and teachers. It also makes it easier for them to grasp new concepts and build on what they have learned.
Kindergarten lays the groundwork for all future learning. It just makes sense to give children the strongest foundation possible – not just half of it.
Four years ago, as my older son entered junior kindergarten, our local school traded the traditional half-day system for a full-day program on alternating days. The full day proved to be physically and psychologically exhausting for him, and he needed the day in between to regroup.
This year, it was my younger son’s turn, and all schools have transitioned to the provincially-mandated FDK program, where students attend five days a week. For the full day. In a class of 30 kids. And his November birthday meant he would be starting at age three-and-a-half. My older son hadn’t been expected to attend every day until he was six and starting Grade 1. Now it’s a good idea for three-year-olds?
I was concerned that the demands of attending every day would wear my son down and have a negative effect on his early school experiences. Self-regulation is a current kindergarten buzzword, referring to the ability to appropriately manage one’s own behaviour. That means keeping it together for five consecutive days (without a nap) in an environment of constant action and noise. This is simply not a reasonable expectation for many preschoolers.
“Some learners are not developmentally ready for the rigours and challenges of the full day,” says Sharon Richmond, a retired principal whose career as an administrator included 11 years at the elementary level in Winnipeg. “Lack of engagement or negative behaviour are symptoms of being tired and overwhelmed, not of issues related to their ability to learn.”
Sending our son every day seemed like too much; but not sending him at all didn’t feel right, either. We registered him and advised the school that he would attend on alternate days (not all schools are as accommodating I’m told). He has adjusted well and seems to genuinely look forward to his “school days”. At this age, that’s what counts.
Ontario’s FDK program is not simply a doubling of time in comparison to the half-day program; instead the FDK program offers a child-centred, developmentally appropriate program taught by both a certified teacher and a registered early childhood educator. The purpose of the program is to establish a foundation for learning in a safe and nurturing play-based environment. Thus, we need to consider much more than the time spent in such programs.
An overwhelming majority of research on FDK programs shows FDK children are doing better than those in half-day programs in key areas such as self-regulation and literacy learning during the kindergarten years, as well as in their transition to Grade 1. Where the research is mixed is on the lasting effects of such programs, particularly on academic outcomes.
Full-day programs in the early years are not new. Many children attend child-care programs for full days well before kindergarten. FDK programs in Ontario are play-based; therefore, we should feel confident that it is an appropriate environment for four- and five-year olds, even when offered over the course of a full day.
Quality programs allow for responsive interactions between educators and children; therefore, reducing the number of children in such programs presents more opportunities for educators to work more closely with children. It is important that parents ask questions particularly in regards to the number of children that will be enrolled in their children’s classroom, the types of activities their children will be engaged in, and the number of transitions children will experience throughout the day. Answers to these questions will help parents make informed decisions for the early education of their children.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June 2015.