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[Canada] The Early Years of Children in Ontario, Canada

Summary:
The years from conception to age 6 are crucial for brain development. Parental involvement in the child’s learning amplifies learning and promotes the child’s emotional health. The regulation of early childhood education and child care is the responsibility of the provincial and territorial governments in Canada, however, the federal government provides funding and direction. All Ontario Boards of Education must provide half-day Kindergarten programs for five-year-olds and most boards provide half-day Junior Kindergarten programs. There is a range of child care facilities and nursery schools requiring payment from parents unless they quality for subsidy. Ontario Kindergartens adhere to a prescribed curriculum. Beginning in 2010, Ontario schools will become a hub for full-day child care and Kindergarten and for offering parenting courses, be open 50 weeks a year and offer fee-based activities during breaks and vacation periods.

Keywords:

Early year's brain development, Parental influence, Federal, Provincial and Territorial, responsibilities in Canada. Kindergartens, Child Care and Nursery schools, Best Start Child and Family Centres opening in 2010 in Ontario.

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"The early years from conception to age 6 have the most important influence of any time in the life cycle on brain development and subsequent learning, behaviour and health." (McCain and Mustard 7) "Parents and other primary family caregivers play the central role in influencing early development. Parent involvement amplified learning opportunity and emotional health." (Cook, Keating and McColm 7) In our complicated world, Canadian parents need assistance from governments and private agencies to enable them to give their children the care and education children need. The responsibilities for regulating education and child care come under the jurisdiction of provincial and territorial governments in Canada, and because of different economic situations and priorities, services catering to the needs of children vary greatly across the country. That is not to say that the federal government does not contribute money and direction. The present Canadian federal government gives parents $100 per month for each child under 6 years of age. Many believe that the federal government should be more involved in early care. In 2001 a "poll done by the Canadian Child Care Federation found that 90% of Canadians agreed or strongly agreed that we should have a nationally coordinated child care plan. In addition, 86% agreed or strongly agreed that there can be a publicly funded child care system that makes quality child care available to all Canadian children." (Lauzière 2) All provincial governments receive annual transfer payments, which are directed toward many areas of child services including Early Child Development and Parenting Centres which offer literary, numeracy education, parenting advice and other types of instruction to adults and children.

Presently Ontario school boards are required to offer half-day (two and a half hours) Senior Kindergarten programs for five-year-olds, whereas, Junior Kindergartens for four-year-olds are discretionary. In 1998, 68 of Ontario's 72 school boards offered junior kindergarten half-day classes. Kindergarten teachers are required to have university degrees, teacher education credentials and certification from the Ontario College of Teachers. (Cooke, Keating and McColm 15)

Child Care and Preschool Programs are offered by both public and private institutions and by family members. In Ontario 10% of all children age 0 to 6 are enrolled in some form of a child care setting before grade one. Parents pay from $50 to $150 per week for child care or $87 to $127 weekly for nursery school education (1990). (Kropp and Hudson 83) Approximately 55,000 of those children are from low income families and get subsidy from the province or municipality. Licenses are issued under the Day Nurseries Act. Parents have several options to meet child care needs: family or hired baby sitters; licensed home daycare facilities where the province sets the number of children that can be enrolled and yearly monitors health and safety, but has no direction over the daily programs offered or the education of the operator; licensed nursery schools offering educational play activities and employing a number of teachers who have earned diplomas from four-semester college courses in early childhood education. The programs offered by nursery schools vary. For example Montessori schools teach learning by discovery and promote independence; religious schools demonstrate a particular religious philosophy; language schools focus on a second language; and so forth. (Kropp and Hodson 85, 86) Ontario has only 136,000 regulated child care spaces for 900,000 children age 0 to 5. (Cooke, Keating and McColm 10)

McClain and Mustard in their 1999 report, "Reversing the Real Brain Drain, Early Years Study" lamented that while Ontario spends $7,250 per child per year on children age 6 to 18, the province spends only $2,800 per child per year on children under the age of six. The report pointed out the need for child care. "In Canada, female participation in the labour force has increased from 25% in 1951 to more than 60% today (1995). More than 67% of women with children age 0 to 11 years of age are in the labour force.(62) The report concluded that "about one quarter of Ontario's children from birth to age 11 are experiencing a learning or behavioural difficulty." (67)

Cooke, Keating and McColm in their 2004 report "Early Learning and Care in the City, A New Blueprint for Ontario" also say that disruptive behaviour is the greatest challenge for early educators. The focus on academic skills such as letter and word recognition and number understanding leaves little time to attend to fostering self-respect, emotional and social maturation. (7)

The 69 page Kndergarten curriculum (2006) is available online (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca.) The booklet stresses the importance of improving literary and numeracy for children in Junior Kindergarten to grade 3. "Children develop at different rates and in different ways. ...the Kindergarten program should address the full range of each child's developmental needs - physical, social, emotional, cognitive and linguistic...provide opportunities for learning, self-expression, and self-discovery in a variety of areas - for example, in music, drama, games, language activities, and cooperative activities with peers." (1) "Children who are formally identified as exceptional through the Identification, Placement, and Review Committee process must have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) developed for them. School board may also provide a special education program and/or related services for a child who has not been formally identified as exceptional." (25) Teachers are required to frequently assess, evaluate and report about each child's progress and special needs.

On June 15, 2009, the government of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a $500-million `continuum of early learning' based on recommendations of Charles Pascal. (www.ontario.ca/earlylearning) Beginning in 2010 schools will offer full-day child care and Kindergarten to four and five-year-olds at one location. Half the day will be under the Kindergarten teacher and the other half will be supervised by Early Childhood Educators. Public schools will be the hubs called Best Start Child and Family Centres, and offer pre-natal, parenting and nutrition guidance, after-school programs and flexible child care for children up to age eight. Schools will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., 50 weeks a year and offer fee-based activities during breaks and summer vacation. Some educators and parents applaud the plan. Others question whether there is evidence that full-day Kindergarten/child care is good for kids, whether the funding is sufficient and how schools can accommodate the programs.

 

References

McCain, Hon. Margaret Norrie and J. Fraser Mustard (1999). Reversing the Real Brain Drain Early Years Study, Final Report (PDF). Reversing the Real Brain Drain, Early Years Study. Government of Ontario Canada.

Cooke, Michael, Daniel Keating and Marjorie McColm (2004). Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development at Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada. www.acscd.ca

Kropp, Paul and Lynda Hodson (1995). The School Solution, Getting Canada's Schools to Work for Your Children. Random House of Canada, Toronto.

Lauzière, Marcel (2004). Child Care for Change. Perception: Volume 27, #1 & #2 - 2004.

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