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The Failures of Full-Day Kindergarten

Lack of support in transitioning young children comes at a cost

all day kindergarten

In many ways we are lucky to have full-day junior kindergarten in Ontario. It saves us a ton of money over daycare, provides an amazing opportunity to give our daughter a head start on a lifetime of learning, and starts kids on a road to independence.

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But here’s the problem: The schools aren’t ready for it.

That’s my conclusion after two months of my daughter attending JK here in Ottawa. While she is clearly learning, developing skills, and making new friends, it’s clear that the schools are not prepared to deal with kids as young as three (which my daughter was when she started in September).

Many kids, many as young as my daughter, are coming from a daycare or homecare background where help is provided for little things like buttons and zippers, trips to the bathroom, and other daily tasks. This runs up against a school system - and a union - that consider teachers to be professional educators, not babysitters, and seems to expect a level of independence that three and four year-olds may not be ready to manage.

Of course teachers are professional educators, and they are right to demand to be treated as such, but that doesn’t help my little girl with the zipper on her coat, the hinge on her lunchbox, or to remember to put on her leggings (true story) on the way home from school.

It seems as though schools are expecting a level of independence and self-reliance that four year-olds are generally not ready for. Sure they should be in the process of making those steps, but to require a little extra help is not unusual. Already in the first two months, we have run into several instances where my daughter has been brought to tears over issues of self-reliance. She just turned four three weeks ago.

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I understand the teacher’s point of view. They have 25 plus kids and only so many hands and hours in the day to zip, button and tuck. I’m sure there are also some legal and union considerations when it comes to such things, but the fact is that if we’re going to be sending our four year-olds to school full time there needs to be a middle ground between the hands-on approach of day care and the independence required by public schools.

Days before she started school in September, my daughter was still having daily naps. We tried weaning her off of them in the summer, but it just didn’t work. On weekends she still naps, and it’s clear by how quickly she conks out that they still are much needed. Are there naps at school? Nope.

We asked my daughter’s teacher about naps and were told that the kids have a quiet play time in the afternoon when they can calm down a little bit, colour, read, or rest. The problem is, given the choice between having a rest and colouring, my exhausted daughter will always choose the latter. She’s too young to self-regulate her fatigue. It’s like asking a kid if they would prefer an apple or a cookie.

So we have an exhausted little girl who is being asked to self-regulate and be independent for the first time in her life– at age four.

The onus should be on the government to fill this gap, either through adding more teacher’s assistants to each class or by altering the curriculum to allow more time for kids to adjust to their newfound independence. It simply isn’t realistic, or fair, to expect children that young to be able to manage their daily routine without help.

Thankfully my little girl is full of confidence and perseverance, but I can only imagine the frustration she must feel on a daily basis as she struggles with things she used to have managed for her. Certainly I’m glad to see her developing more independence, we can’t coddle them forever, but there needs to be more understanding that junior kindergarten is a transition, and requires some extra help.

On the whole, junior kindergarten seems to be a positive as I’m clearly seeing improvement in her letters, writing and numbers. She is even getting excited about science. However, I worry about her confidence when she is struggling to be self-reliant without the support she is used to.