Children in full-day kindergarten (FDK) do experience some benefit from the Ontario program, according to a recent study by the University of Toronto, but only in some areas.
The study “Key findings from Year 3 of Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten in Peel” found that Children who were enrolled in FDK programs were ahead of half-day kindergartners through the first and second grades in areas like vocabulary and self-regulation.
Based on the study’s findings, Janette Pelletier, the study’s author, concluded full day kindergarten was more beneficial to children than only attending class for a half-day.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see the very strong vocabulary benefits that we have seen that were maintained throughout,” said Pelletier. “It was a very strong a positive finding. I don’t know if I was terribly surprised but I was happy to see that.”
And according to Pelletier, vocabulary skills are a very important factor.
“It is well documented and researched that vocabulary is the strongest predictor of how children do throughout life and school,” said Pelletier. She also says that vocabulary is associated with controlling behaviour, thinking abilities and concept knowledge like reading skills.
Reading skills varied
Reading skills, however, did vary depending on the study group. Children in senior FDK showed a slight advancement over those in senior half-day kindergarten but little difference between full-day and half-day junior kindergarten groups.
The other area in which FDK children scored higher — in self-regulation — showed that at any level, FDK kids were better at controlling their attention and behaviour.
“Full-day children are spending longer times at school and have more emphasis on social and emotional development,” explained Pelletier. “This is probably explaining their self-regulation scores being higher.”
Little difference in other areas
There were also areas where no significant change was recorded. Neither the full-day or half-day kindergarten groups were ahead in knowing their numbers. In writing, there was no significant difference between full- and half-day junior kindergarten students, but senior kindergartners in FDK were slightly ahead when putting pen to paper.
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Half-day kindergarten children were also more likely to express higher importance in academic activities compared to FDK children who often emphasized importance on social activities.
Jennifer Barbour, early childhood education professor at Seneca College, sees the benefits of FDK first-hand but says that the program has changed a lot since its inception.
“In the very beginning it was sort of a watered-down version of grade one, so a lot of pushing of the literacy and numbers, and now when I go out and see very play- and inquiry-based environments where children’s voices are heard and respected. I’m finding that it’s coming really far and I think it is really beneficial,” said Barbour.
Extra time with students beneficial
The most rewarding, says Barbour, is the extra quality time teachers have with their students.
“I am finding that teachers don’t feel as much pressure to pressure the children in a full-day learning classroom, so it isn’t a big rush to get worksheets done,” she said. “The children are learning a lot more skills through play. They’re learning self-regulation, social skills, how to control their impulses and behaviour. I think those are the skills that are really essential for life-long learning.”
Class sizes seen as an obstacle
But in order for the children and their families to receive the full benefits that FDK offers, Barbour believes that reducing class sizes and offering childcare before and after school are key to its success.
“For families it’s a lot easier because in a full-day learning environment they’re not worrying about childcare as much. But there was supposed to be childcare offered at the beginning and the end of the day in the same classroom. If that had worked out then it would have been a lot more beneficial for families,” said Barbour.
But Pelletier encourages the public to focus on the positive aspects of the program and her study’s findings.
“Another thing is this kind of learning, teaching for deep understanding, needs to follow children into the later grades,” she added. “We always have things to learn about how to better teach through the modality that children understand, which is play. That is what they do, that is how they learn, so we really need to capitalize on that and do it well.”