Maclean's magazine, in an article titled "Full Day Kindergarten is Failing Our Children", asserts that "full-day kindergarten does nothing to permanently improve academic performance". In fact, "it may stunt the emotional and social development of many kids".
The particular article that the statements were drawn from, as written by Charlie Gillis three years ago, certainly offers a prudent and timely message even today for provinces like PEI, who number among the ranks of provinces offering full-day kindergartens. At the date of press for the above article referenced, there were six provinces on board with full-day kindergarten. Currently, almost all the provinces and two of the territories offer near to full kindergarten programs.
What does this mean from a kindergarten teacher's perspective?
Speaking strictly from a socio-emotional viewpoint, I agree with those of the mindset that "best options" for children developmentally at the age of four and five include those environments that offer socio-emotional supports, nurture through love and care and encourage play-based learning. This is a foundational requirement. If this can be offered for parents in a full-day kindergarten, then kindergarten would be considered a success, in my mind.
But that is a big if.
The problem is quite simply that this approach to kindergarten is not always the route that full-day kindergartens pursue. Many schools started out with this philosophy, but have now converted kindergarten into more of an academic setting- virtually turning it into a mini-Grade 1/2/3 classroom complete with seating plans, rows and "quiet" rules.
Whereas there was once Play-Doh, paints and markers readily available, now there are in some classrooms merely pencils and worksheets. Where there was once a play kitchen, trucks and puppets, now there are only a few bins of random math manipulatives. Where there were once many varied options for play, and lots and lots of TIME allotted for that play, now there are a meager few options and precious little time in which to do it in.
This, friends, is nothing short of a travesty.
My concern in full day kindergarten is not (primarily) that it is full day, although I recognize that this is certainly concerning for those four and sometimes five year-olds that find the day exhausting: my concern is with the philosophical shift that has transpired with the introduction of full-day kindergarten in Canadian schools. Talk to many of my "Early-Childhood Educator"-turned- "school-teacher" friends and they will express the very same sentiments: Kindergarten is not what it used to be.
Kindergarten traditionally was a place with time for inquiry, discovery, creativity, invention, innovation, imagination and wonder. With the shifts in thinking, it has become in some jurisdictions an environment subjected to the perils of standardization, conformity and primarily cognitive-focused learning.
If we are to remember anything from our childhood, these were not the ways we learned best at four and five. Perhaps even beyond this threshold, if we are to be completely honest. As humans, we learn and grow and develop through incorporating a variety of learning styles and embracing a varied approach to erudition, of which cognitive-based skills and knowledge are certainly a part of the bigger picture. But it is through the entire inquiring process (utilizing the five-plus senses,) wherein we offer our minds license to discover, that we come to grow as human beings.
If full-day kindergarten is ever to truly be a success story, it must return to its roots and core values, bringing back authentic, play-based, inquiry-led learning that is child centered and teacher supported.
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