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The Ontario Ministry of Education has recently launched an ambitious full- day kindergarten program that has been criticised as well as praised from different perspectives. There are certainly some important concerns about the introduction of the full- day kindergarten program. Class room size and space is an area of concern where many schools are not yet ready physically to take new children and these schools have to either double the existing class size to adjust the new children or teach children in gymnasiums, portables and libraries (Wells, 2012). The full day kindergarten will result in job loss for many daycare workers as Ben Levin argues, "If the 250,000 or so four and five year-olds who now spend half their time in childcare centers move into schools, will childcare programs be able to survive?" (Levin, 2009, p. 91). This big scale project might be a burden on the government, "it raises the question of what public services will look like in the post-financial crisis world that seems to be emerging" (Levin, 2009, p. 90). But the full day kindergarten has enormous positive influence on children as well as parents. For example, the Ontario Ministry of education in its report says," Children will develop the reading, writing and math skills they need earlier in their lives, so they can succeed in school and down the road" (Ontario Ministery of Education, 2010, para.2). Children's learning process including their linguistic, cognitive and social skills will be enhanced when they are in kindergarten throughout the day. They will also have opportunities to play- based learning under the guidance of a teacher and an early childhood educator. Parents will have less stressful days and will save time and money. All in all, full- day kindergarten will open the door for more learning opportunities both academically and socially while giving parents a seamless day.
Firstly, full- day kindergarten offers children a smooth start to a great education. Literacy should start ââ€šÂ¬early so that childrenââ‚¬â„¢s linguistic, as well as cognitive skills are enriched: "In the past...the focus of kindergarten has been on socialization and play...now the play is very focussed on oral language strategies, on reading, writing and math" (Fine, 2008, p.20). Reading itself is an important tool for literacy development because the more children read the more knowledge they gain. Moreover, this motivation for reading encourages not only vocabulary development but also development as a whole. Children from deprived families will have equal opportunities to learn, which will narrow the gap of illiteracy. Therefore, if children go to full- day kindergarten, they will be exposed to plenty of books that make children phonologically aware from the very beginning. This is an achievement in the field of education and as Fine (2008) explains it as," the gains made by at-risk students- the children of single-parent families, of high school dropouts, of poor or Aboriginal families" (p.19). Furthermore, Children will develop print awareness when they are exposed to books that will lead to constructive outcomes in their quality of education. Children will enrich their verbal power when they hear different words and sounds while reading a book. As Fine (2008) talks about a research review of the Schools of British Columbia by the Society for the Advancement of excellence in Education, "after accounting for differences due to child, family and classroom characteristics, children in full-day kindergarten make larger gains in mathematics and reading scores then those in half day classes" (p.19).
Children's cognitive development is largely dependent on the environment around them, for which full day kindergarten is an asset for the children's developmental process. Jean Piaget believed that children are naturally curious and they are willing to make sense of their experiences and, in this process, they construct their understanding of the world. (as cited in Kail & Zolner, 2012, p.9). Thus, cognitive development is the mental process children use in thinking and remembering, and these capabilities are heightened through different process oriented skills they perform in full day kindergarten. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education (2010), "During the regular school day children are involved in many different kinds of activities designed to help young learners explore, discover and grow" (para. 3). Children are provided with planned learning experiences by mentally engaging them in a variety of open ended materials. Children will also use well equipped materials in the classroom to explore and think, that helps children to build conceptual understanding. Ontario Ministry of Education (2010) states that, "Through play- based learning and small group instructions children will develop a strong foundation for learning in all areas, including language and math"(para.3). Early learning also paves the way for the more successful later learning because when children experience success at a primary level, they are more likely to have success later in life (as cited in Ripton, 2012, p.1). Therefore, children's overall literacy skills will be strengthen if they start full- time schooling at younger age.
Secondly, children's social skills will also be developed in full-day kindergarten because of their exposure to varied number of people. They develop various sharing skills while working together with other children. Fine (2008) talks about a research by Society for the Advancement of excellence in Education in which it is said that "At the end of the school year, Full Day Kindergarten students demonstrate superior academic achievement, attendance, and social and behavioral development, including independence, peer interaction and originality" (p.19). Therefore, the high quality education from full- day kindergarten paves the way for positive social behaviour. According to the social-cognitive theory of Albert Bandura, children actively interpret experiences using cognition; for children people are important sources of information about the world (as cited in Kail & Zolner, 2012 , p.9). Moreover, human behaviour, development, and learning go hand in hand with environment. For this reason, early education in kindergarten will provide children the positive learning process in group settings while teaching them to follow directions and instructions from teachers. Hence, young children develop and acquire new knowledge by reacting to their surroundings. Child development theorists like Lev Vygotsky and Urie Bronfenbrenner believe that learning and development occur when young children interact with the environment and people around them (as cited in Kail & Zolner, 2012, p.9).
Young children are active participants in the learning process. Since active interaction with the environment and people are necessary for learning and development, children should be sent to school where they can initiate many interactions through creative play with the teacher and children around them. Lea Pulkkinen (2012) argues that, "Play is children's way of expanding their knowledge of the physical world, their ability to communicate with peers, their understanding of themselves and others, and their imagination" (p. 327).The physical environment and curriculum of kindergarten classrooms are equipped with developmentally appropriate materials for young children to play with and manipulate. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education (2010),
Throughout the day in kindergarten, children will have opportunities to initiate play based learning under the guidance of a teacher and an ECE...They will engage in healthy activities and the arts and develop socially and emotionally through interaction with peers and the educators who guide them (para.6).
Teachers remain at child's level all the time, actively listening to children and have direct conversations with them. Children participate actively in the well planned classrooms and have multiple opportunities for all round development.
Thirdly, along with the children's academic and social benefits, a full day kindergarten programs will provide less chaotic days for childrenââ‚¬â„¢s families. Now their children will spend most of the time in a single childcare setting, which will reduce parents' stress to commute their children from one place to the other. Parents also save time by getting the extended full- day kindergarten program where their children remain in the same school in the later part of the day. Ontario Ministry of Education (2010-11) states that,
The extended -day program is an integral part of the Full-day Early Learning- Kindergarten program; it is offered before the core day program begins and continues at the end of the day, and is delivered by teams of registered early childhood educators. The extended -day program offers an approach to pedagogy and planning that is consisted with the approach taken in the core day program, and makes use of shared resources and shared common spaces to create a seamless system of care and education for children and families (p.1).
This is an additional advantage for families who find it difficult to schedule kindergarten and a child care programs during the day. At the same time, parents will be benefitted financially when they will save costs for the child's day care centers by simply sending their children to a full- day kindergarten program. This program itself is an opportunity for busy parents to keep their children in professional care, which provides a sense of relief to know that children are well cared for and are learning in a safe and developmentally appropriate environment throughout the day.
Indeed, a full- day kindergarten program introduced by the Ontario Ministry of Education is a privilege for children, as well as their families who are looking forward to a reliable, less expensive and motivating learning environment for their children. Although, some people have criticized this program mainly because of the lack of resources in the schools, children should not be deprived of the opportunity because of the insufficient resources. A full- day kindergarten programs will help to prepare children academically and socially that leads to a strong foundation for future learning while helping parents to save time and money. Children, who are the backbones of the future, should not be starved of this wonderful opportunity provided by the Ontario Government.