From our current Board Chair, Patti Berardi….

Many people often ask me how I feel about Full-Day Every Day Kindergarten. Before I answer, I ask them if they’re really ready to hear what I have to say. The reason that I ask this is because so many people are unaware of the importance of this program to Ontario and many really do not want to hear what I have to say. So many question, “But how can we afford it?” and my answer is that “we can’t afford NOT to have it”.

Before I continue, let me just be clear that my children will never get the benefit of full-day kindergarten but I can tell you the struggles we have faced as a family because they only had the opportunity to attend a kindergarten program every other day.

I do have friends and colleagues that have children in full day learning programs and they smile from ear to ear when they tell me how quickly their children are learning and developing in this program.  There are stories of JK children reading at the level of a child in grade 1 and the year is not even over. I hear stories of children that have come out of their shell and are less shy and enjoying making new friends in their classes. The examples of success are endless.

The most important thing to me is that this program is what’s right for a child, not necessarily what’s right for the parent. Yes, having a child in JK/SK every single day helps to reduce a parent’s cost for daycare but some parents are still paying for before and after school care.  The words “free babysitting” is fighting words to me.  Here is why: our kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators are not babysitters! They are qualified and educated in child development and are teaching our children the skills that they need to be successful in their education. They are professionals.  Calling them a babysitter is inappropriate. It is attacking their profession and demeaning the important role that they play in our children’s lives.

I have no personal gain in seeing full-day kindergarten fully rolled out in Ontario other than the joy of knowing that we’re investing in our children. This pays off down the road. The World Health Organization says that for every $1 invested in a child it pays $17 down the road. We will save on public assistance, crime and drains on our healthcare system. Simply put, we are setting the stage for our future generation to be successful.  Poverty plays a large role in our children not being ready to start school.  Research shows and teachers understand that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to succeed academically, and ultimately are at greater risk for failing to graduate from high school.  A number of developed nations view universal early childhood education as an effective social policy to address these issues.  International research from a wide range of countries shows that early intervention contributes significantly to putting children from low income families on the path to development and success in school.  Most European countries provide universal educational programs for children three to five years old and make them available to any child regardless of parental employment status or family income.

The commitment of many European countries is reflected with their level of spending. Public spending for early learning and child care ranges between 0.2% to 2% gross domestic product (GDP). Canada ranks lowest among 14 countries for which data is provided! Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland spend the most the United States in in 9th place – ahead of Canada.  (source Martha Friendly, Early Learning and Childcare: How Does Canada Measure Up?”)

Research shows that a full-day kindergarten experience enables children, particularly those from educationally deprived backgrounds to acquire the skills needed to become emergent readers at least to the point at which they are at par with children from more educationally advantaged communities. (source Jose da Costa. “Full Day Kindergarten: Longitudinal effects through to grade three.” International Journal of Learning)

The other important factor in expanding to full day kindergarten is the number of immigrant or refugee children whose first language is neither English or French. These programs offer important opportunities for expanded and intensified learning for these children to make the transition to grade 1. These programs will also address poverty.  Disadvantaged children will need access to support from school nutrition programs, early identification and intervention with the support of board psychologists and the expansion of programs that go beyond the focus on literacy and numeracy.

I am grateful for the McGuinty government’s commitment to Full-Day Learning in Ontario.  Investing in our children now will pay off down the road and I appreciate that the decisions they are making are for tomorrow and not the short-term gains of today.

Giving our children the skills today will set the stage for life-long learning and future success for these children. I believe in a future that has less crime, healthier citizens and less need for public assistance.  This investment today will allow for our children to experience a better life as adults so that they in turn can provide a better life for future generations.

I have experienced what it’s like to have a child only attend kindergarten part-time and the struggle they have faced is that they want to be in kindergarten every day. Once they start kindergarten they’re ready to learn and ready to grow. The alternating days with daycare and kindergarten are confusing to them. Although my kids had a wonderful daycare program to attend, they didn’t want to go back to “little school” because they were indeed ready for big school.  A lot of tears have flowed and every day they would wake up wondering where they were going today.

In Brantford/Brant County 28% of our children do not graduate highschool and 25% of children are not ready for kindergarten when they start. We need this program in Ontario and in all of Canada.  Our kids deserve to have the best start.