Back to school and other thoughts

by DaniGirl on September 6, 2007 · 14 comments

in Working and mothering

Tristan’s on his third day of senior kindergarten, and I’m only now getting around to memorializing it on the blog. I didn’t even go… I sat here in my office and watched the clock tick and imagined the nanny walking the boys over there, then pictured him in his new classroom with his new teacher for two and a half hours. At least Beloved was off early enough to pick him up. Ah, mommy guilt, will you never leave me in peace?

The good news is, he loves school now more than ever, even though his dearest chum from last year is now in a different class. I’m reserving my opinion on the new teacher to see if we make it past last year’s 8-day milestone before the first parental conference, but it’s looking promising (touch wood) so far.

Speaking of kindergarten, there was an article in the Ottawa Citizen this morning about a local woman who chose to keep her four-year old daughter in daycare full time rather than send her to junior kindergarten because she couldn’t get into the on-site before- and after-school care program at her daughter’s school. The article notes:

The kindergarten programs in the English school boards in the city are only 150 minutes per day, and trying to tease together day care arrangements for such young children can be a logistical nightmare for working parents and disjointed for their young children. So more and more are choosing the O’Brien option — pulling the plug on junior kindergarten altogether and keeping their school-aged children in their regular day care for another year.

I’m now so jaded to the whole daycare thing that my first response to this article was, “Yeah. And?” I mean, I’m happy to see anybody shedding light on the ridiculous hoops working parents have to leap through as we navigate an increasingly ludicrous daycare system. But honestly, it would have never occurred to me to actually keep the boys home from school, no matter how high-quality the day care. The responsibility of getting Tristan to and from school was just another in the long list of conditions we set on any potential caregiver.

What I wish the article had mentioned was that even if you do manage to find a caregiver (licenced or not) who will shuttle your kindergarten student to and from his or her 150 minutes of school per day, you’re still paying full price for that day’s care. Rightly so, of course, because the caregiver can’t fill that spot while your child is away, and the afternoon senior kindergarten from 1:00 to 3:30 really is smack dab in the middle of the day.

But even if you’re willing to pay a full day of fees for what may be just a half a day of care, depending on the child’s schedule, it’s still the least of your problems. You’ve got to find someone in your school district, and someone actually willing to escort your child back and forth. Most likely, the caregiver has to bring the rest of the entourage with her for every drop-off and pick-up, despite the weather. No wonder caregivers are reluctant to take on kindergarten students.

The article also notes that less than half of the English-language schools in our boards (we have two, Catholic and public, and then another two French boards) have daycare centres. I wonder how they categorize our school, which has before- and after-school care — starting at age 6 and up. Even if I wanted Tristan in before- and after-school care, it’s not an option. And you know what? I’ve got both boys on a waiting list for when it does become an option for us… in 2010. And given the fact that the article says almost one thousand students currently remain on a waiting list for on-site before- and after-school care as of right now, I’m not banking on that as a guarantee even when Simon and Tristan are both over six years old. (To say nothing of the player to be named later.)

The article ends with this “what can you do” shrug:

This leaves parents in the same predicament as Ms. O’Brien and her husband — wanting to send their children off to junior kindergarten this week, but finding it has become an unrealistic option. In their case, they’re just happy their school-age daughter has a spot in such a great day-care centre.

Based on the neighbourhoods, schools and daycare centre described in the article, I can guess that the family in question are likely fairly well off, relatively speaking. The article also mentions many families choosing Montesorri over public kindergarten, which is quite expensive and STILL requires some extra before and after school care, at an added cost.

I know that we were quite lucky in that money wasn’t a huge obstacle for us in finding adequate care, but we did have to more than double our monthly daycare costs to accomodate both the nanny and Simon’s nursery school fees.

What about the families that don’t have the luxury of throwing money at the problem?

It’s just another example of how wretchedly the daycare ‘system’ (such as it is) in Canada is broken.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shari September 6, 2007 at 7:43 am

That sounds like an awful waiting list. I am thankful it isn’t that bad all over Canada. Here (Maritimes) we did okay for starting kindergarten. We wouldn’t have done well at all had someone not warned us of the timeline for getting into the program (registering the first day it opens in April). However, there are only a few schools that offer an equivalent of JK. I am undecided at this point whether that is a good thing or not.

2 Julie September 6, 2007 at 8:09 am

I too have been frustrated with the daycare/kindergarten mix … it is virtually impossible for a working parent.

I think a better solution would be to have kindergarten run for a full-day, every second day, instead of the current half-day situation. It would work better for caregivers because they’d do less shuffling and could maintain a stable of full-day children. It would work better for parents, especially those who could wangle a part-time schedule for every second day (since part-days just doesn’t work with commuting, etc.). And finally, it would work better for teachers who wouldn’t have to spend so much time getting two different groups of kids oriented and dressed/undressed each morning.

Until then … I am one of those parents paying for a full-time daycare spot while my child attends SK in the afternoons. Fortunately, I am able to “throw money at the problem” since there is no before & after care at any of our local schools. Frankly, I was just thrilled to find a top-quality caregiver at all, regardless of price. I looked at all the options … private school, Montessori, nanny, you name it – just to try and find something that would work.

And I can completely understand why some parents choose to skip JK. From my experience, children can actually learn more in good childcare than in school. My daughter’s JK class had 24 children in it last year. 24 kids, one teacher. Not a whole lot of learning, but a whole lot of stress for parents.


In any case, I’m glad that your nanny arrangement has worked out so well, Dani. It sounds ideal for your situation.

3 Chantal September 6, 2007 at 8:20 am

Funny enough my son started grade 1 this year, When he was in JK his school began construction on a school age day care that would take the JK/SK kids in their off time. I immediately put him on the waiting list. We didn’t get in. I was lucky and managed to find home care close to our home that took him and our younger child. She was on our bus route so busing from school was no issue. But…. We got a call a few weeks ago letting us know that our son has been given a spot in the day care, finally, only one year too late though, since he is now in grade one and doesn’t need it… I had to laugh. Now our schools after 3 program is another story. Registration opened at midnight (on some day in June) and it was full 7 minutes later. I am lucky and didn’t need the after care this year, but it scares me to think that if I ever did, would he get in? Probably not.

4 b*babbler September 6, 2007 at 8:28 am

We are just starting on this whole daycare/school path. I can’t believe what a mess the whole situation is. My daughter is only 10 months old and I truly shudder at what the next several years are going to bring us.

(But thank you, Prime Minister Harper, that $100 (taxable) that you give us each month for daycare? That will *really* help the situation. Ahem.)

5 Madeleine September 6, 2007 at 8:41 am

This is a huge hassle, and we do get a bit jaded but we shouldn’t. It is a ridiculous situation. A friend at the bus stop found out just before school started that there was a JK spot for her younger son at her older son’s school after all. But since she doesn’t have daycare lined up to use that school, she can’t take the JK spot she wanted so much last spring.

The Star reports today that one of the election goodies being offered by the Liberals is full-day kindergarten for all of Ontario, to which I say Halleluia! They are going to call it “pre-school” though, so they can have teacher/Early Childhood Educator teams to keep costs down, according to the article. So basically, they are going to build after-school care into the Kindergarten day, but with extra money. This will free up daycare money to provide more spots for toddler/preschool kids.

However, they gloss over a huge issue — this doubles the number of rooms a school needs for Kindergarten, since you can’t put two shifts in the same room. The article says “if there is a space crunch in schools, the program could be offered at a daycare centre.” But that means the daycare centre can’t open up more spots for toddler/preschool kids after all. As we are finding out with the phase-in of the 20 child per class limit (for K-3), making a new policy does not cause old school buildings to magically sprout new rooms.

6 Valerie September 6, 2007 at 9:00 am

I guess we’re a family that threw money at the problem, though our full-day (with before/after school care) Montessori program didn’t cost all that much more than our full-day daycare had. From what I’ve seen of what my friends’ kids are learning in their 2 hrs of kindergarten, keeping them in daycare would not be holding them back any. The daycare we used to have taught just as much (maybe she was unusual).

I was the only one of 4 kids to go to (one year of) kindergarten – funny how it seems to be the norm now to do two.

7 Susan September 6, 2007 at 9:04 am

I kept my older son out of JK and in the daycare centre where he had been the year before because my younger son was already there and it saved the whole headache of finding someone who could take him back and forth to school. Our school has absolutely NOTHING in the way of after-hours care and since it was only built in 1999, it’s a bit apalling. Thankfully I found (and still have) an awesome babysitter who took them back and forth to school. They’re both in school full-time now and I’m very relieved that hopefully, for the most part, my childcare issues should be minimal. I’m finding that the schools seem to still be geared toward the outdated notion that all parents are able to be at home with their kids when they aren’t in school. Nothing like adding to the guilt that we “evil working mothers” may already have (not me!) regarding our decision to have jobs.

8 Sharon September 6, 2007 at 12:31 pm

We as most people know we have full day kindergarten (5 yr old) 5 days a week. And It was awesome for Nathan. And we have full day 2 day a week pre kindergarten (4 yr old) Which I did not send Nathan to. I wasn’t ready and honestly I don’t think it hurt him abit.Although I have no problem with it at all, it just wasnt for us. I think it works fine. Kids seem happy.

I have even enroled Nathan in the daycare for after school one day a week, just so he can play and make different friends. He loves it.

9 alison September 6, 2007 at 2:11 pm

I guess I’m an anomaly. My younger daughter goes to SK in the mornings and my older daughter goes to Grade 2 full-day at the same school. The school bus picks them both up at daycare (home provider) in the a.m., drops my youngest off at the daycare at lunch time and my oldest off at the daycare in the p.m. And my daycare provider charges me half-day rate for the little one and before/after school rate for the older one.

10 revdrmom September 6, 2007 at 9:28 pm

Just as broken in the US. The Kid is finally old enough that I don’t have to worry about it, but I remember well the frustration with a system that refused to recognize that not all families had a stay-at-home parent.

Imo, our schools should be community resources, with a place for kids to be from early morning until evening so that kids don’t have to be shunted from place to place. There could be sports, arts, homework help, etc before and after.

I was really fortunate that the YMCA provided such care at the Kid’s elementary school–but space was limited and not everyone got in. It should be available for everyone.

11 Barbara September 7, 2007 at 10:32 am

Since I tend not to see the obvious, I hadn’t really thought of keeping Reid in daycare and skipping JK until I read this. Now, I’m giving it some real thought. The school we’d like to put her in doesn’t offer care at all (no waiting list worries, I guess). Having read the curriculum for Kindergarten – what they must have at the end of senior kindergarten – I see that she is learning much of it at her daycare already. Not having to find summer care for an extra year has benefits, too, since the daycamps are half-day only for 4 year olds.

12 shortmamaof2 September 7, 2007 at 11:31 am

We live in Toronto & when my son was starting JK, we kept him in daycare with a JK program due to the daycare/school issue. After much searching, we were able to make arrangements for SK & he went to a regular school. However, he required extra assistance as his skills were not at the same level as the children who attended JK in the school. Luckily, for us he went to a great school with fantastic teachers. I’m proud to say he’s a B-average student now. But it took a lot of extra work from everyone to get where we are. If I knew then, what I know now I would have sent him to JK in school.

13 Jen September 11, 2007 at 5:37 am

Apparently, it’s almost impossible to find before and after care in downtown Toronto. Personally, I think that governments do nothing to dissolve mommy guilt because it is a heck of a lot cheaper for them to let us panic about it privately. They need to address the fact that it is not 1950 where union jobs are plentiful, oil is cheap, and one income is ample. Mrs. Cleaver doesn’t live here anymore.

14 yvonne September 11, 2007 at 11:55 am

I registered my youngest on the waiting list the week that I can home from the hospital after giving birth. I still had him registered for JK at the montessori because there was still no spot for him at the school. I finally got a call and switched him to traditional JK and have to admit he loves it. What a hassle though, no way I would have given up the montessori spot and switched to 1/2 day JK if I had not had a spot at the school.

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