When full-day kindergarten was implemented at Sandy Hill elementary in Abbotsford a year ago, long-time teacher Sylvia Tuytel was skeptical.
Now, she is one of its biggest proponents, as the remainder of schools throughout the province – including 10 in Abbotsford – move from half-day to full-day classes.
Tuytel and her colleague, Shelley Portas, who both teach French immersion kindergarten at the school, rave about the advantages of having their young charges in the classroom for a full day, five days a week.
“We’ve been calling it the gift of time,” Tuytel said.
Tuytel, a teacher for 28 years, said she was initially concerned that kindergarten would become “too much of an academic experience,” but the ministry of education curriculum has not changed. Instead, the students have more opportunities for learning and socialization built into fun playtime sessions, she said.
She said she was also worried that a full day would be too overwhelming and exhausting for the young students.
“My expectation was that children weren’t ready, but (in the end) I was still running to keep up with them … They were ready and they were happy to be here. They were a very enthusiastic group of learners.”
Tuytel said parents who had reservations about full-day sessions also grew to see the benefits.
“The general consensus by the end of the year is that they (the kids) were very happy … and they were not fatigued.”
She said the only thing she would change is to extend the “gradual entry” period for kids at the start of the school year.
Students begin with partial days and smaller groups, and must be integrated into full-day sessions by Wednesday, Sept. 14.
Tuytel said she would prefer to see that period extended to the end of September.
“The children need some extra time to build their confidence.”
But not everyone has supported the move to full-day kindergarten. Kids First Parents Association of Canada, which supports parental care over daycare, has said there is no benefit to the longer sessions compared to the half-day ones.
Full-day kindergarten can be viewed as babysitting rather than education, the group stated in a submission to the Early Childhood Learning Agency, which conducted a feasibility study on the issue in 2008.
In that submission, Kids First cited a study that showed kids do better on academic tests when they start kindergarten later than age five.
“Finnish formal schooling begins at age seven, and Finland has the highest literacy rankings,” the Kids First report said.
A total of 19 schools in Abbotsford offered full-day kindergarten in the 2010/11 school year.
These sites were selected for the first phase because they could most easily accommodate the increased class time without having to add portables or undergo renovations.
A total of 962 Abbotsford students were enrolled in full-day classes last year, while another 405 attended half-day sessions.
The remaining 10 schools move to full-day kindergarten for the 2011/12 school year, which begins Tuesday, Sept. 6.
School district spokesman Dave Stephen said the projected kindergarten enrolment is 1,360, although that number will become more exact when the official count is finalized at the end of September.
Three of the remaining schools – King, Mountain and South Poplar – required the addition of portable classrooms at a cost of $212,00 each.
Site preparation, renovations and materials at all the schools amounted to $620,000 in capital costs.
This includes work such as re-plumbing, extra fire protection, painting and cleaning, and new shelves and storage units.
The other seven schools moving to full-time kindergarten are: Auguston, Bradner, Dr. T. A. Swift, McMillan, Mt. Lehman, ASIA/North Poplar and Prince Charles.