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Professor Janette Pelletier examines the impact of full-day kindergarten with the help of 700 kids

 

By Fred Michah Rynor

March 18, 2013

 

Janette PelletierIt’s considered a blessing for couples who work full-time but all day kindergarten for Ontario isn’t without controversy and that’s one reason the full impact of this recent educational initiative is being examined closely by OISE professor Janette Pelletier, Director of the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (ICS).

Pelletier is observing approximately 700 children in a massive study ranging from junior and senior kindergarten students right up to Grade 2.

“My research includes what’s occurring in the media and what’s happening in the provincial government when it comes to understanding and examining the implementation and impact of this new way of schooling,” says Pelletier.

Collaborating with the Peel District School Board, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and the Region of Peel Municipal Government, this study is a long-term look at what some people feel is too much school for too young a demographic.

Working with three OISE PhD students in the Applied Psychology and Human Development Program and a group of Masters students in the ICS Child Study Program, Pelletier’s team is looking at the vocabulary, early reading, number knowledge, writing, drawing and social development skills of these children as they progress through kindergarten and the early school years.

“So far we’ve released the year one and two results and posted them at OISE but we haven’t published yet as this is an extensive, longitudinal study,” she says. “Right now we’re working on the year three results which should be completed this spring.”

Pelletier’s preliminary findings have already been presented at numerous conferences and scholarly gatherings and they’ll be revealed in book form after the end of the study in 2014.

With funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Peel's school board and other granting agencies, Pelletier says she’s particularly interested in the literacy development of young students. She realizes her full-day kindergarten study is not only unique but also eagerly anticipated within academia/government circles with some of her research already used by the Ontario government’s Early Learning Division in their recent early years policy framework.

Pelletier is convinced the positives to earlier education outnumber any negatives with a big plus being the fact that children who are offered a universal, accessible and quality program have higher rates of academic success later on in life as well as increased levels of positive social interaction.

Another advantage is that earlier schooling takes the stress off of young working parents who are often desperate to find excellent daycare “because we know that a high percentage of parents in this demographic are both working full-time jobs,” Pelletier states.

“Some detractors are under the impression these young kids are subjected to a heavy academic program which isn’t the case at all,” she explains. “Instead, what’s being offered is ‘play-based’ learning where children learn through exploration and play … not textbook activities.”

Pelletier also stresses that these programs are “developmentally appropriate for this age range,” with a registered Early Childhood Educator partnered with a trained kindergarten teacher in every classroom.

“By having this specially trained team in the classroom the result is a good, enjoyable program with no rigorous ‘seat work’ involved,” she states. “Yes, they’re learning but it’s through play and inquiry within small groups and one-on-one attention.”

Pelletier also found that while children not exposed to full-day  kindergarten are certainly not harmed, the ones who do take part are ahead academically and socially in comparison to children exposed to half-day kindergarten.

“We, as a society, have to think where we are spending our money and I believe the payoffs are great when we invest in young children,” says Pelletier. “This form of early education reaps economic benefits down the road on so many levels and that includes helping working families get ahead and reducing dropout rates later on.”

Pelletier’s ‘laboratory’, extends to her own home which she shares with her husband. Although the kids are now adults, “I probably had the most examined set of twin boys in the world,” she says with a laugh.

 

Note: See also How do kids learn?, a feature article published in the current issue of The Edge Magazine, University of Toronto's award-winning magazine about research and innovation.