Why full-day kindergarten is a good idea
Today Ontario's ministry of education announced that more than 800 schools will have full-day kindergarten by the fall of 2011.
In phase two of the province's new early-learning initiative, more than 200 additional schools will offer the program, on top of the 600 to provide full-day kindergarten this coming school year.
I've been answering questions on twitter today about why I think this program is great. I'll outline a few of them briefly here:
1) Quality education before the primary grades is a great equalizer. It helps put kids whose parents can't afford top-quality daycare, preschool programs or attentive nannies on the same playing field with those whose can. And it helps level things out between kids raised by single parents juggling two jobs with those from families that can afford to keep one parent at home.
Charles Pascal, co-author of the report upon which the program is modeled, points out that one third of children enter Grade 1 without the necessary skills. Assuring that all children have the same access to a stimulating and nurturing environment for two years before their primary years is the best way to address this.
2) It helps lower the burden of childcare costs on families. Yes, we choose to have children, but our economic system doesn't do much to assist with the cost of raising a flock of future tax payers. Progressive governments do more to support growing families than ours does (Sweden? The Netherlands? Quebec?!), and without their economies crumbling. Some will argue that many single-income households simply go without fancy clothes and vacations to afford to keep one parent at home. But when you're a single parent with only the choice to work or go on welfare, that's simply unfathomable. And even for those who live well, well above the threshold of working poverty, it's not easy to raise a family on one income in a city with an average house price of $446,593. Particularly one where infant child care can run up to $1800 a month, and childcare for the hours outside a "half-day" kindergarten can easily reach $1,000 a month.)
3) "Half-day" kindergarten is not a half-day. It's 2.5 hours. That's not even a terribly long playdate. The logistics of providing childcare for the hours outside of the morning or afternoon program are a nightmare. Who with a job outside of the home can easily dash to the school at 11:30 a.m.? Or to daycare at lunchtime and then to school in the afternoon? There is limited selection among daycares that provide transportation to and from school, and sometimes that leads to "choosing" sub-par, unlicensed care. Busing these tiny kids to and from their daycares is also not an easy thing to carry out, or a fantastically good idea (what if you lose a few?). And where alternating full days are offered instead of half days, it's not only difficult to find childcare that will take your child Tuesday and Thursday of one week and Monday, Wednesday, Friday of the next, but it can be discombobulating for the small child who wakes up each morning and asks where they're going that day.
There's lots more to discuss about the merits of full-day learning. You can read more on our Early Learning page.