Infants lie sleeping on the floor of a noisy and packed kindergarten room as their peers play, dance and sing around them.
Ontario’s free, full-day kindergarten programme (for three- to five-year-olds) has been heralded a success by educators who say that the play-based, inquiry-led learning scheme has better prepared children for when they start school in Grade 1 (aged 6).
But it has also come with a series of challenges for teachers and for the children. A seven-hour day for a three-year-old can be gruelling – so much so that they can end up falling asleep.
“At the beginning of the year, they come in so little,” says Nicole Gilbert, a kindergarten teacher at Brookside Public School in Scarborough, east of Toronto. “They are tired and they are exhausted in the afternoon.”
The teachers do yoga and mindfulness with the children to keep them alert, Gilbert says, and venturing outside helps, too.
It also provides a partial solution to the problems with physical space that have emerged owing to the popularity of the scheme and its extension from a half to a whole day. Some classes have more than 30 children.
Other teething problems since the scheme was introduced in 2014 have included the transfer of early years educators from daycare centres to work with more highly qualified teachers.
Danielle Cosburn, a kindergarten teacher at Highcastle Public School, down the road from Brookside, has seen this create problems in other schools: “They don’t get along and it really shows. The teacher does all the planning and they don’t involve their teaching partner in anything.”
But despite these challenges, teachers have embraced the programme. Maddalena DeCristofaro-Slater, a kindergarten teacher in Ottawa, says she prefers it: “It allows more freedom for the teachers and for the students.”