All-day kindergarten recommended for Ontario

A couple of weeks back, I started writing a series of posts about the state of early education and child care in Canada. The first post was an introduction and summary of the Canadian Senate’s report called “Early Childhood Education and Care: Next Steps.” I was rather underwhelmed by the Senates main recommendations, which were for more bureaucracy. Before I had a chance to write up my next post on the series, the government of Ontario released a watershed (I hope) report full of jaw-dropping recommendations for early childhood education in Ontario, centred around the recommendation for full-day kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds.

Compared to the Senate’s call for more bureaucracy, I was delighted – practically gleeful! — to see the clear plan and call to action laid out in “With Our Best Future in Mind: Implementing Early Learning in Ontario.” The report, commissioned when the McGuinty provincial government was elected in 2007, contains recommendations that are so full of promise and potential that I’m almost afraid to hope they might be implemented.

Here are some of the things the report recommends:

“Every child in Ontario who turns 4 by December 31 would be entitled to attend two years of full-day, school-year Early Learning Program operated by school boards.”

“Parents would have the option of extended programming before and after the traditional school day and year, not as an add-on but as part of the Early Learning Program.” That’s integrated before and after school care!

The report also calls for schools to become “community hubs” offering many of the same services that the current Early Years Centres offer, including parenting support and counseling, pre- and post-natal support and information, early identification of issues and resources, etc. Schools will be open to the community from 7:30 am to 6 pm, 50 weeks of the year. “Crucial to the new vision for Ontario is the transformation of all elementary schools into community schools, open to their neighbourhoods and capable of providing families with opportunities for children’s learning, care, health, culture, arts, and recreation from the prenatal period through to adolescence.”

Imagine that! Schools open to the community! (Is anyone else vaguely disturbed by having to stand outside a fence practically off school property for school pick-ups and drop-offs? I understand the school’s concern for safety, but I do in fact feel vaguely alienated from my kids’ school!)

It also calls for fee-based Extended Day Primary programming – basically, enrichment programs in arts and sports for ages 6 to 8 and 9 to 12.

A final recommendation is the implementation of a 400-day paid leave for parents, including a six-week leave for the exclusive use of fathers and other “non-birthing” parents.

It’s a hugely ambitious plan, aiming for implementation beginning next year in 2010-2011. I can only hope the school boards and teachers’ unions that are currently criticizing the plan have the sense to recognize it as containing the kind of radical shift in philosophy that we will look back on and wonder why we didn’t do it a generation before.

I love the fact that this report gets it right by first suggesting a series of finite, clearly enunciated steps to be implemented more or less immediately, and THEN follows it up with a recommendation for the necessary ministries and legislation to support the revitalized system, instead of the other way around as recommended by the Senate report.

If you haven’t read it between the lines, I’m very excited about this report and just about everything it contains. Once upon a time, when the idea of full-day kindergarten was first floated by the McGuinty government circa 2007, I admit that I saw it mostly as a way to reduce my own out-of-pocket costs on child care. But, after spending a lot of time recently up to my elbows in public reports on child care and early childhood education, I can see that there are huge societal gains to be had in implementing these ideas and the potential for saving a few bucks on daycare is actually among the lesser of the huge benefits to be reaped. I’ll take a look at the research I’ve seen in the next post in what is becoming an increasingly elongated — but suddenly extremely positive — series!

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

35 thoughts on “All-day kindergarten recommended for Ontario”

  1. Canada has been so behind in this area, it’s astounding. This is certainly a step in the very right direction.
    Of course, this will be just in time for my daughter as she starts Grade 1 in 2010. Oh well. Almost enough incentive to have another baby … NOT!

    I didn’t know about the enrichment programs for the older kids, which is HUGE… I’m finding these days that the teachers are less willing to spend their time with the kids in extracurricular activities after school, certainly much less than when I was a kid.

  2. I read that the Conservative party’s education critic said that we can’t afford this in a recession. WHAT! I think that, given the recession, we can’t afford not to fund this. How can we enable people to find jobs when they don’t have a safe place for their kids to be? How can they adjust to jobs with lower rates of pay when they have to pay for full day child care? The half-day kindergarten programs are really 2.5 hours long and you need to pay the full rate. It’ll be too late for our family to benefit directly but I’m more than willing to contribute my tax dollars to the project.

  3. I’m also pleased with the (seeming) flexibility of the plan. I’m currently at home with my 2 year-old, and it sounds like there will be options for both half-day and full-day programs, as well as the extended programming. But as a teacher, I’m concerned about the stance the unions will take, despite the face that the presence of early childhood educators working with teachers can only be positive (and those ECE teachers deserve the pay increase that would come with being connected to a school board – something I am willing to support).

  4. I was also thrilled with what I read. From my point, I was most concerned with being able to opt-out if I wished from the full-day program as I’m at home with my kids and want to continue to be through SK. I’m glad that was included. Everyone wins here.

  5. I’m with Dani (and the other readers who commented here) that the availability of a full-time kinder program is great news (as well as the ability to opt-in or opt-out of it), that it’s about time fathers and “non-birthing” parents be provided with paid leave, and that integrated before- and after-school care is, well, a dream come true. Will it all happen? Who knows; but I sure like the sounds of it.

    But as for standing outside the fence at school to pick up my child … I actually like that. I’d rather parents be kept to the sidelines if it helps keep out other types of unwanted strays. The stories of strangers hiding in elementary school bathrooms and the very recent and sad case of a young girl being walked away from the school by someone who was not her mother, but rather an accomplice to her murder, are enough to make me want strict enforcement of authorized adults only on school property.

  6. Full day kindergarten for 4 year olds? That’s a lot, isn’t it? I don’t know, I can see why it’d be nice to have kids get a jump start on their education, but as a former kindergarten & pre-kindergarten teacher, I’d just be concerned that it’d be too much for them. Kids need time to play and be kids.

    That being said, if it has time for naps and recess and all that, then that would be great. But if it’s going to be test after test, with no nap or playground time (like my school was this past year) then that’s going to be hard for the poor kids. Ya know?

  7. Thanks so much for your posts on child care – such a very important issue! Now we all need to write to our MPP’s in support of the recommendations!

  8. Great comments, everyone! Sherri, I should have had a call to action like contacting local MPPs — great suggestion. Find yours here!

    Ari, it’s not so much doubling (or tripling) the amount of schooling for the four- and five-year-olds, but integrating early childhood education and day care into an accessible, coherent system, instead of having a patchwork of random solutions that each family has to scramble to set up on its own. The reason I love the plan so much is that it shows such leadership on the part of the province of Ontario.

  9. I am a minority in this but I do not see how putting my 3/4 year-old in an all day program will help when the rest of the years are damaged…I am not sure about the rest of you but my daughter is just finishing the JK/Sk years (and i have 3 more coming behind her) and I see nothing that inspires me to have them there all day. I actually think this plan is a bit funny in that we are encouraging our young children for a better education yet when they are older they will quickly learn that a teacher CAN NOT fail a child and therefore they are pushed through the grades with the chance they did not understand some important lessons just so this government can say that have a high graduation rate.

    I am not saying the plan is crap – there is some good things in it but as I mentioned I think maybe fixing the other problems in the older grades should come first and than look at this. This is free babysitting and I think our money is better spent else where – like getting rid of portables, textbooks for everyone, better bus system (that many Barrhaven schools are going through now), more supplies, making high school teachers not fight for paper supplies in order to teach properly and this is just to name a few of the minor problems.

    I did mention I knew I was a minority here in my opinion!

  10. I need to learn more about this, considering my daughter starts school this fall, and the next will follow in a few years. Not sure how I feel about it yet.

  11. I’m not so sure this would be a benefit for someone who can and wants to stay at home with the kids. I read some of the reports…did I read someplace that full-time was optional and part-time would still be available?

    I understand the impact this has on the daycare dilemma everyone is facing, not to mention the monetary break parents would get, but from a purely child-focused mentality, I’m not convinced that all children are ready for full-day school by age 4. I had my just recently turned 4yo in part-time daycare since he was 17 months because I was at one time looking for work, and then didn’t take a job. I found the 9 or so hours per week was just enough. Having said that, it was an alternative daycare (Montessori) because I was apalled by the two “regular” daycares I saw while contemplating this whole thing. (This Montessori daycare had exactly the same pay structure as the standard daycares I looked into here in the west end of Toronto).

    So, based on my limited experience, if my child were to have to spend 40 hours per week (give or take) in such a setting at age 4 and 5, well, I’d like to see more of what exactly is planned. I know many families who, after the 1 year mat leave, put their kids in full-time daycare, and those kids are all thriving. Those kids will probably do very well with the transition. A child like mine who is used to and wants to spend time at home…not sure how he would handle such a long day. Naturally, if he (and eventually his sister) simply had to do it for financial reasons, well, that would certainly be a big help.

    I enjoy staying home with the two kids…I dread the day I have to give it up (which may come sooner rather than later). Benjamin is starting half-day JK this fall 5 days a week…he’s used to 3 mornings at Montessori. I wonder how he’ll handle it…

    Nice post, Dani. I enjoy reading your blog!

  12. I have to be honest here and say that I am not sure that this is such a great idea. I mean, do we really want the government in control of daycare? And when I listened to Mr McGuinty on the news yesterday it was very clear to me that he is trying to make this a daycare solution. Shouldn’t he be trying to make it easier for our kids to be at home with one of their parents instead of at school with a teacher for a whole entire day?

    I know of other Countries where this has been tried and didn’t work and again others where it did. I do know that having family in other Provinces where this exists, this isn’t the best solution for some kids.

    I will definitely be watching these reports as I for one am not sure that I want my daughter going to school for a whole day when her turn comes. I mean I will be ‘easier’ for me to only go to school twice a day instead of four times and I will certainly get more done while she is there, but is it the right thing for her? That is what I want to be sure of.

    Thanks Dani, for writing honestly about this and allowing us to have a forum to discuss. Perhaps I can blog about the not so good reasons for all day and you can blog the good reasons. We can complement each other.

  13. Dani, thank you for this post. I started a very long comment that has now turned into a post on my blog! (you inspired me to think and write – whoa 😉

    But, in summary, while I’m not sure how I personally feel about full day JK/SK for my children, I do support the system, especially the integration of many programs into one (daycare, parenting support, community-based initiatives)

    In particular, I hope that the other aspects of the report, such as the maternity/parental benefits being proposed won’t get washed out with the kindergarten issue. There’s some really interesting, potentially wonderfully programs suggested in the report that are worth exploring.

    Thanks again!

  14. I like all the recommendations. The thing that I really like is that the kind of extracurricular activities that are normally done during and after dinner, could now be accommodated within the school setting. Parents could pay their fees for karate and gymnastics, to name two examples, and those places could have instructors come to the school to conduct the classes. Or, all kids could have access to these for a more nominal fee so that more kids get to participate in the activities. There could be girl guide and boy scout meetings, knitting circles, etc that could all incorporate a combination of community volunteers and paid help – the possibilities are very exciting and far reaching in my mind.

    The bonuses: access to kids who might not otherwise get access to activities but also far more family time in the evenings so that kids can do homework, spend time with family, eat regular family meals and get to bed on time.

    I’ve already emailed my MPP and urged her to support the recommendations of this report.

  15. Windex, you raise some good points. But, I think if they do it right, the kinds of changes they’re talking about will improve infrastructure like portables and whatnot because they’re pumping more money into the schools.

    Anna, as a matter of fact yes I *do* want gov’t in charge of daycare! I want them to step up and make ours a world class system of integrated child care and early childhood education. After all, gov’t is in charge of schools, right? Who else should be in charge of daycare (and please, don’t say ‘parents’ because that’s just not a feasible reality for most people in our society.) I’m glad you raise the contrary view, Anna, and am looking forward to reading your rebuttal!

    Thanks all for your opinions and ideas. If only it were us running the universe!! Now I’m off to read Rebecca’s post…

  16. Hi Dani, I have had my son in a day care that runs a system similar to what is bring proposed. Full day integrated playing and learning. He has been there since he was 2. He loves it there, as most of the kids do. I know that many kids will be ready for full day by 4 years. But some may not, and that is why I am so happy to see this being optional.

    But for me, working is not optional. And the start of JK has always been a very stressful time for me. I go from having my child in full day day care to having to find him care half a day. The wait lists for professional licensed half day programs in my community are a mile long. Often parents like me, end up putting their children in home care for the extra time. And home care does not always offer the stimulation that a school age child needs or wants. Not to mention, the multiple transitions during the day that can stress a sensitive child (like my first born).

    I know that not everyone will love this program, but for those who need it, it will be a God sent. It will allow parents to know their children are cared for and stimulated all day. They have consistency that helps a lot of young children feel comfortable, adapt and grow.

    This being said. I am a bit more concerned about the school as community centre idea. It is not that I like the closed off yard. But I don’t like the idea of anyone roaming the corridors. I am sure that is not how they will implement it (I hope it isn’t how they will implement it). With such young children, and so many children, remaining on school grounds for so much longer, I think safety will be even more of a concern that it is now.

  17. As a parent of a child who is finishing up her first year of school in J/K, I’m thrilled with the new plan.

    My daughter currently attends a school that has all-day every-other-day classes. She attends Tuesdays, Thursdays and alternating Fridays. Non-school days are a struggle in our house. She loves school so much and wants to go every day.

    There have been comments/questions made about the kids being so young when they start and will there be nap time and recess.

    I’m happy to say that my daughter gets “super quiet reading time” at school. At first it was nap time for some of the kids, but those that didn’t fall asleep on their blankets, just had a quiet time to read and relax.

    And yes, there is lots of recess and lots of play time. Their get free play time at centres (house, reading, painting, books, puzzles) where they think they are playing but the are really learning.

    I’m proud to say that my child (who has a December birthday and started school at 3 1/2 years old), is now reading and doing math!

    The kindergarten program in Ontario is not mandatory. You don’t have to have your child enrolled in a school until they are 6 years old (grade 1). This combination of daycare/preschool/kindergarten should make a nice blend if they (early childhood educators, teacher and the government) can get it to work.

    I have one more child to enter the school system in 2011. I’m really hoping that our school district has phased in the new program by that time.

  18. Maybe I am also jaded when it comes to government – but does anyone think that our government body which can not even get health care online properly would be able to undertake this project? I understand they would be providing the cash and the “experts” would be doing the work but we all know that government has the strings attached (look at the teachers that can not fail kids because the government says no – yes I am really hung up on that issue)…and Rebecca I believe it was you that made the point that though it is optional for JK/SK – will it really be? Will the day be structured where they are getting what they need or will the day be structured for the majority of the kids who will probably stay?

    In my jaded mind I believe McGuinty will implement the JK/SK but will leave the rest hanging which will leave us with paid for daycare and not a better system overall. Win the votes is what he is aiming for.

  19. I have been thinking about this for days now. I am an old mom. I have a son finishing grade eight, a daughter finishing grade four…and a 9 month old. From the beginning with the baby, we have promised NOT to start him in JK…even SK is up for grabs. I would love to think that our government will be able to deliver appropriate education and community care to our kids. At present, many schools are struggling to cover the basics now…I find it hard to believe that schools will be able to become the productive, family friendly, community hubs they are proposing. To be honest, I don’t really want my child’s school to be hosting the kind of activities that I find in our present early year centres. Space wise I foresee a problem. In our school, introducing before and after care ( a necessity in our school) meant that another grade needed a split to accomodate the new program. The kind of compromises happen all the time and I would fear for more…

    That is only the tip of the money/resource/space fears I have. I also worry about kids being in educational settings too early and too long. I know for many parents, daycare is essential. I am wary of restructuring a school system to become a daycare setting. Or some hybrid of…The nurturing you have in many daycares is not going to be recreated in a school. Many of the daycares I am familiar with are still very geared as nurturing, age appropriate environments. School is…school. You will have many fabulous teachers along the way, but they are not daycare providers. They provide a different role model and different skills. This is totally my opinion, but I would prefer a different daycare system entirely in the place of full time jk/sk. But, the positive is that apparently we have an opt out option. Which is essential. I do not fear that my child will be behind other children by grade 1, if he is not put into kindergarten. I had that fear once, but no longer. I am more worried about my child being in a formal environment, too early, that is not geared to meet the needs of children that age. Some of my best friends are kindergarten teachers;), seriously, and man do they work hard in their day. They deal with more developmental issues than educational ones some days. And the kiddos that are ready to learn? Sometimes end up sitting, waiting, becoming frustrated…it is a tough balance to achieve.

    Okay, this long enough yet,lol? Full time jk/sk is not something I will consider for my last child. School is for a long time…I am not going to be so quick to surrender my last one this time:). But this is totally personal. Of my older kids, my daughter would have thrived in full time K…my son would have withered more than he did in the school system.

    Interesting discussion:)

  20. Interesting insight Angela. Oh, and I prefer to think of you as an experienced mom as opposed to an old one :~)

  21. As a stay at home mom, I personally do not like the idea for my own children.
    I cannot imagine wanting to place them in kindergarten yet having to do full days, or every day programs.

    For a person who would otherwise have their child in daycare, it is a great idea. But for my family personally I hope there is an option. Such a schedule for a three-five year old is excessive. And I feel this way about school or daycare, while being sensitive to the fact that not all moms are as lucky as I am and have the option to stay home.

  22. I also agree with stayathomemommy…..i myself am a stay at home mom too. I also know that i am lucky to be able to do so, but ..I also feel that it is MY RIGHT as to whether or not i CHOOSE to have my child attend ALL DAY kindergarten. I personally am NOT ok with this. I do think it is TOO MUCH for them at this age. IT better be optional, cuz what gives the government the right to tell me that i have no choice ..that i have to put my 4 yr old in school ALL day…cuz other people who need daycare really are the ones benefiting from this. Not moms like me. ? Well i can understand that there are alot of people who will benefit from this and it’s a great idea for them.
    I will not be putting my child in full day classes….if it’s not optional i will find a school that doesn’t have full day…and if not, then i guess it’s home schooling for my child.

  23. I forgot to add…they are also expeting us to PAY A FEE for this all day schooling…..So now school is no longer free anymore so to speak..they are now charging a fee for having this full day kindergarten…and we don’t even know if it is optional!! This is a good idea for people who do pay for daycare and have no choice but to do so. Why charge a fee for regular school? MY child attends a Catholic school, not a PRIVATE SCHOOL. Also ..what is the ratio for these children now? it read that it will be something like 27 children to 1?? They also said that it will be a teacher for 1/2 the day and a E.CE for the the other? Too much.

  24. I have been reading these posts on day care and all day kindergarten with interest. I am an old grandma. First, I am very curious as to how much you thought you would have to pay for good, safe, dependable daycare for your children before you had children. 35 years ago when I started working after my first child was born I paid $25 per week, and supplied everything she needed including food, paid my caregiver when I was away, but not for her vacation. That works out to about $100 per month. I only made $300 per month Gross. I never once felt I was paying too much. Oh, by the way, my daughter was five weeks old when I went back to work. I think all the advantages that working moms have now (1 year mat leave) is great and well deserved, but at some point you need to stop and think about how good you have it. It is great you want things to be better, but someone has to pay for it. Also, kindergarten is Optional – you do not have to send your child to school until they are six, but unfortunately, you will not get the option of half day if your school has the full day program. You could, however, opt to keep them home or send them to a private school. I did not send my younger daughter to JK and she only attended half of SK and she turned out just great!

  25. Look kindergarden is basically made up of this routine:

    Calender TIme ( they do days of the week and weather)
    Activity time (trace a letter/number,do a craft,sorting shapes/colours etc.)
    Play time
    Story Time
    Home time

    With the occassional shortening of playtime to either visit library or go to the gym.

    Mind you, this was when it was a half day program i am speaking of.
    If you are at home with your child full time the only real reason to send your child full day instead of half days are:

    Lack of toys
    Lack of parenting ( if you are at home full time and never teach your child)

    Sending your child a full day seems very stupid to me unless you have 2 parents working full time which i can sort of understand a little better only if the both the parents actually need to work full time and aren’t just working to pay daycare costs and for their car/gas. Which seems very possible in this day of age of rising costs.

    I will be sending my 4.5 year old for half a day,not full because i can. She is shy around other children i admit, but i have signed her up for social activities since she was 18 months old (swimming,craft programs,library storytime, skating etc.) and she warms up to a lot of people quickly and will not stop talking to the point of driving everyone crazy. She rarely watchs television except the occassional friday/saturday movie and a t.v. show here and there. She is also a quick learner and definately a smart girl.

    I kept her home from school last year because she was born in December and would be 3 years old in full day kindergarden ( i was not aware that it was actually optional until recently!).

  26. Nap time is in schools? I don’t think they have had nap time in i don’t know how long. What more are they going to learn more? it doesn’t make sense. Let kids be kids before they have to turn into Mcguinty’s robots. Also not everything is learned in a book.

    My grandfather used to work (before retirment) on the board of education and even he thinks it is a bad idea. I think they must be brainwashing people in ECE classes now because i see no big deal with a stay at home parent keeping such a young child home


    and many parents say oh well i have to work well truthfully that is not the case with a lot of them, it is their lifestyle HABITS is why they have to work. Just look at the old days! It is unneccessary to have 2 vehicles ( you are using 1-2x more money on gas,insurance,your loan for your car,your fast food habits, your food budget could obviously be brought down by home cooking (i know,who wants to be healthy?) instead of all the instant crap they make nowadays,ok i’ve rambled too much.

    Oh kids get tired a lot(especially my dd, her teacher better thank me for saving her the stress) .

  27. Kristen, I almost deleted your comments as they are more judgemental than I usually allow on the blog, but I will let them stand. This is an old post, although it’s still topical, and I know some people do question the value of full-day kindergarten. However, just because you disagree with someone’s opinion doesn’t give you the right to judge their choices, especially if you don’t fully understand the issues. A little respect will go a lot further than hollering your thoughts in all-caps.

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