The Changes Began with the Introduction of Full-Day Kindergarten
In 2010, the Ontario government introduced the full-day kindergarten program which is a 2-year program for 4 and 5-year old children. The government aim was to create cohesive and coordinated programs and services across Ontario for the early years.
To date, the government has invested approximately $1.5 billion in helping school boards facilitate full-day kindergarten. The move has also saved Ontario families nearly $1 billion in child care costs.
History of the Change to Full-Day Kindergarten
The full-day program shifts learning approaches to be centred on children. This changed is informed by research on how young children learn.
The program can be traced to the ELECT (Early Learning for Every Child Today) Framework.
ELECT focused on six principles namely:
- positive experiences,
- partnerships with families/communities,
- respect for diversity,
- inclusion and equity,
- intentional, planned learning experiences,
- play and inquiry
- as well as knowledgeable educators who are responsive and reflective.
The new Kindergarten program has embedded into it the Early Learning for Every Child Today (ELECT) principles.
Kindergarten for 2016 and Onwards
The 2016 Kindergarten Program (PDF) sets out the principles, expectations, and approaches, that are appropriate for 4 and 5-year old children.
The program focuses on child development by integrating learning and overall well-being into the expectations and methods. Children’s well-being is part of all aspects of the program.
The program also focuses on the formation of a healthy school (a school that is safe, inclusive, and helpful to learning.) The program clearly defines the role of school, school boards, parents, and community in developing healthier schools.
The Primary Goals of the New Kindergarten Program
- to establish a strong learning foundation for children in early years;
- to help children transition smoothly from home, daycare, or preschool;
- to allow children to reap many proven benefits of learning through relationships, and through play and inquiry;
- to set children on a path of lifelong learning and nurture competencies that they will need to thrive in the world of today and tomorrow.
The Four Foundations of How Does Learning Happen?
- Belonging refers to a sense of connectedness to others, an individual’s experiences of being valued, of forming relationships with others and making contributions as part of a group, a community, the natural world.
- Well-being addresses the importance of physical and mental health and wellness. It incorporates capacities such as self-care, sense of self, and self-regulation skills.
- Engagement suggests a state of being involved and focused. When children are able to explore the world around them with their natural curiosity and exuberance, they are fully engaged. Through this type of play and inquiry, they develop skills such as problem-solving, creative thinking, and innovating, which are essential for learning and success in school and beyond.
- Expression or communication (to be heard, as well as to listen) may take many different forms. Through their bodies, words, and use of materials, children develop capacities for increasingly complex communication skills, which are foundational for literacy.
Approaches: How does learning happen in the new approach in Kindergarten?
a. Responsive relationships
In the new Kindergarten program, children are taught the importance of positive interactions. Educators focus on building children’s sense of belonging and self. The goal is to help kids feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. We want children to feel competent, capable, valued, and respected, at school. See our blog article, The 6 best Social Skills for Kids.
b. Learning through play, inquiry, and exploration
The new Kindergarten program also focuses on children learning through play, inquiry, and exploration which are skills needed for future success. The program emphasizes creative and critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and constant application of what is learned.
c. Educators as co-learners
In the new approach, educators are also learners. The program encourages teachers to find out more about their students in the same way children learn from their teachers. The more teachers learn about students, the better able they are to alter lessons to meet the needs of each student.
d. The environment as the third teacher
The new program also focuses on allowing children to learn from their environment. For instance, the program incorporates the use of space, time and materials, among other elements, like how light sound influence senses.
Simple strategies that are being used by educators include, considering spaces from children’s perspectives (e.g. what do children see from their height?) and organizing materials in a way that invites children to learn and explore, etc.
The new approach has called for an entire redesign of children spaces to make spaces more inviting and to match children's perspectives. The approach also extends learning to the outdoors to tap into children’s natural curiosity. There is also a focus on incorporating natural outdoor elements in classrooms.
e. Reflective practice & collaborative inquiry
The new approach also requires educators to develop by reflecting with other teachers, children, their families and the community about children's learning. It is no longer a one-person show. Teachers must collaborate with other stakeholders as they look for ways of improving learning.
In the new approach, teachers assess children based on the information they collect to evaluate a child’s developmental progress and use insights gained to design new learning that matches a child’s strengths and interests. Assessment is ongoing. It happens in all contexts, and it drives instruction.
All expectations are organized in an integrated way to reflect learning as it naturally occurs within inquiry and play both from the perspective of the educator and the child. These expectations are under the following four broad, cross-curricular frames:
The Role of the Parent
>Parents level of involvement in the new Kindergarten program is higher compared to the previous program. Parents are encouraged to collaborate with educators to promote learning.
Educators provide parents with information to help them understand their child’s assessment process (e.g. how to identify their child’s strengths, the best way to continue their child’s learning, etc.)
Parents are encouraged to take part in their child’s classroom learning experience, review learning documentation alongside educators and their children, as well as, share observations about their children with teachers.
The new Kindergarten program involves parents to help enrich teachers’ analysis and understanding of each child.