The province of Ontario is in the process of switching over to full-time kindergarten. That means that all four-year-olds (and three-year-olds who have yet to turn four this year) are supposed to attend junior kindergarten (JK) from 8:45 a.m. until 3:10 p.m. There is no nap or quiet time in the afternoon; it’s a regular full day of school, with three recesses, two snacks, lunch, and various subjects spread throughout. I’ve heard from multiple people about how exhausted their kids are, and one teacher said they have to make sure the little kids don’t fall asleep while putting on their backpacks at the end of the day, crashing backward into their lockers.
I can understand how full-time JK would be a godsend for some families, primarily those with parents who work outside the home and have been paying extravagant daycare costs. After all, the provincial government’s decision to implement full-time JK came after a debate about whether or not to offer provincially subsidized daycare. That plan went nowhere, so now full-time kindergarten has moved into the foreground, thanks to Ontario’s former deputy minister of education, Charles Pascal, who wrote a detailed report called “With Our Best Future In Mind.” Pascal had a unique vision for Ontario’s education system, and he got enough political support to turn it into a reality:
A seamless network of child-care, early learning and parental support programs centred in the province’s public schools—a holistic, comprehensive, integrated approach that would unite everything from prenatal care to nutritional education in a ‘one-stop shopping’ model for parents. (Macleans, “Why Full-Day Kindergarten Doesn’t Work“)
While Pascal’s plan sounds impressive, I just don’t like it. It is far too streamlined, institutionalized, and impersonal for my tastes. Where is the room for individual preference, for expression of different lifestyles, for choosing what we truly want for our kids? It feels too much as the government is deciding how every child should be raised.
I am new to the public school system this year, and I distinctly feel as if full-time JK is being shoved down my throat. When I first asked the principal of one school if I could opt out of full-time JK, she sighed and all but rolled her eyes, saying, “I’m legally obligated to tell you that you have the right to do so, but I don’t recommend it.” She proceeded to proclaim the benefits of “all-day learning” and say that it would be unfair to my child to take him out early: “Just you wait and see – he’ll want to stay within a few weeks.” I didn’t bother telling her that that wasn’t the point. Even if he wants to stay, I don’t want him to stay for full days – and I’m the boss. (We’ve since changed schools and feel much better about the teachers’ flexibility.)
Everyone is surprised to hear that I insist on picking up my child at 12:45. I say it’s because of his afternoon nap, which is partly true, but a large part of it is that I don’t want to leave my four-year-old in institutionalized care for almost seven hours a day. I’m at home anyways, and we live across the street from the school, so it doesn’t make much difference to my schedule. If I worked elsewhere, it’d be a different situation. This is why I’m choosing to opt out of full-time JK (reasons in no particular order):
First, if he goes on to university, he’ll have another twenty years of schooling ahead, so why rush it?
Second, I don’t think my four-year-old is capable of ‘learning’ for seven straight hours. Even I can’t stay focused for that long! I believe in the importance of down time, of hanging around the house, of playing with his sibling, even of boredom and learning how to occupy and entertain himself.
Third, new studies are showing that full-time kindergarten does not give kids the long-term advantages that it claims. Initially, the full-time kids are ahead of their half-day counterparts, but, by grade one, the gap starts closing, especially among minority students – the very ones that the full-time program was hoping to help most. Economist Philip DeCicca, who holds a Canada research chair at McMaster University, stated: “There was a short-term positive effect, but by the end of the first year, it was essentially gone.”
Fourth, some research suggests that full-time school at age three and four actually slows development and can create behavioural problems down the line. In “Hold On To Your Kids,” author and developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld writes: “Children begin forming attachments at their level, with their peers instead of with their parents, and this pulls them out of the orbit of their parents and truncates their development.” I’ve read elsewhere that starting kids too early in school can destroy the appeal of academic learning for them.
I think it’s great that full-time JK is available for working families and I hold no judgment toward stay-at-home parents who support all-day learning. I’m just glad that full-time JK is not mandatory and that I have the luxury of being able to create my child’s own schedule. This way, we’re able to get the best of both worlds. My son is stimulated during the morning, well rested from his nap, and gets to hang out with us in the afternoon. I couldn’t ask for a better arrangement.