My four-year-old son recently started kindergarten. He was so excited to begin school—he knew kids in his class, he was going to have the same kindergarten teacher his older brother had the year before, and he knew his numbers and alphabet (yeah!). He had been to daycare, summer camps, and preschool. He understood routines and how to get along with other kids. In short, he was ready and it was all so very exciting.
Until school actually began.
To say his adaptation to kindergarten has not gone well would be an understatement. It has gone the exact opposite of well; it has been nothing short of a nightmare experience.
I spend every school-day morning peeling my son off of me as he cries and begs for me not to make him go to school.
“Because there are too many kids and it’s not fun.”
“Because I never know where to go or where my class is.”
“Because I can’t find my friends on the playground.”
“Because I’m scared when I can’t find my teacher.”
Because his classroom is overwhelmingly full of kids.
We live in Ontario, where full day kindergarten has become a province-wide norm. That means that our four- and five-year-old children are expected to go to school full time, five days a week. Prior to the introduction of full day kindergarten, our four and five year olds were in school for five half days or two or three full days a week.
As a (former) teacher and a (current) parent, I love the idea of full day kindergarten. I think it gives our youngest students the ability to learn and develop skills that will help them flourish as they mature in their school life. It introduces them to school expectations and routines at a faster pace and—let’s face it—it takes away the need for expensive daycare. I also believe that, generally speaking, we as parents need to put our children in situations that teach them about failure, success, and adaptation at a young age.
In theory, that is what full day kindergarten should do. In reality, it is not.
Full day kindergarten in Ontario has become a stressful, overwhelming, even terrifying situation for many young children like my son for one specific reason—the class sizes.
Many Ontario schools, especially schools in or near large cities, are not prepared to handle the extreme class sizes that full day kindergarten has created. In September, it was not uncommon for kindergarten classes to have upwards of thirty-five to forty students per class.
The classrooms are bursting at the seams, our phenomenal teachers are relegated to “crowd control” duties due to the sheer number of students, and our kids are suffering.
It seems that schools didn’t learn their lesson from the 2014–15 school year. Despite the consistent outcry by teachers and parents over the way full day kindergarten is affecting our kids, it seems that capping class sizes still isn’t a priority.
Do our kids need to adapt to new situations? Sure! Do our kids need to learn to navigate stressful situations? Yes! Do our kids need to be overwhelmed to the point of tears on a daily basis and given less of an opportunity to learn to love school simply because it isn’t a priority to make class sizes manageable and realistic? I don’t think so.
How do you jam forty four and five year olds into a classroom with one teacher and one ECE and expect them to learn anything? How do you cram that many kids in a room and expect them to feel anything other than stressed out and overwhelmed? Common sense says, you don’t.
Canada is one of the most progressive and revered countries in the world—I feel so lucky to live in Ontario and raise my children here—and yet, the way we approach our education system says that education isn’t a priority and, even worse, our kids are not a priority.
As I wipe away my son’s tears day after day and tell him it’s okay to be nervous and he will figure out his way in that sea of kids, it pains me to see our province making the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to our public schools and failing our youngest and most vulnerable students over and over again.
How is your kid adjusting to full-day Kindergarten?
image: Getty/Zeb Andrews
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