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Full steam ahead for full-day kindergarten

 Olga Canlas, a kindergarten teacher at Prince Charles Elementary, prepares her classroom for today’s return of students. This year, all kindergarten students in B.C. will attend class for a full day, an extension of a provincewide program that began last fall, when more than half of Delta and Surrey schools began offering full days rather than the previous half days of instruction for kindergarten kids.   - EVAN SEAL / THE LEADER
Olga Canlas, a kindergarten teacher at Prince Charles Elementary, prepares her classroom for today’s return of students. This year, all kindergarten students in B.C. will attend class for a full day, an extension of a provincewide program that began last fall, when more than half of Delta and Surrey schools began offering full days rather than the previous half days of instruction for kindergarten kids.
— image credit: EVAN SEAL / THE LEADER

With full-day kindergarten now the only option at B.C. public schools this year, educators, parents and kids are making adjustments – not only to their schedules, but their mindsets.

While kindergarten students have traditionally attended school for half days only, this September marks the first school year that all-day kindergarten is offered at every elementary school in the province. The full-day program was phased in beginning last year, offered in 82 Surrey schools and two-thirds of Delta elementary schools.

Parents, says Surrey District Parent Advisory Council co-chair Bob Holmes, have mixed feelings on the longer school day.

“Some parents love it, others not so much,” said Holmes.

He reasons that kids entering kindergarten are at varying developmental stages because, while many might be five years old, some are still only four for the first few months of school.

“A full day/half day option would have been nice,” he said.

Holmes also questions the timing of the move to full-day kindergarten, however.

“This is not a change that parents were clamouring for, so it might have been better to get through the current period where (school) districts are making cuts every year and use the funds for other school needs, then introduce full-day kindergarten when the economy had turned around.”

At Prince Charles Elementary in Whalley last week, kindergarten teacher Olga Canlas was busy rearranging furniture and preparing her brightly coloured classroom for the arrival of little learners today.

Full-day kindergarten is not new to her. For several years now, Canlas has taught ESL, special needs and aboriginal students who have had access to the all-day program.

“They love coming to school,” she explains. “One or two might say ‘I don’t like school’ – if work is involved.”

She has gauged the effects that full-day kindergarten has had on her students and gleaned positive results.

“They have better reading comprehension at the end of the year – and their printing has improved,” reveals Canlas.

Calling it the “gift of time in kindergarten,” Canlas says the two-and-a-half hour, half-day model only scratches the surface of the kindergarten curriculum.

“By the time you factor in recess and rest time it doesn’t give them much time to play and learn in the classroom,” says Canlas,

Canlas hovers over a run-of-the-mill tub of water in one corner of the classroom. Soon, tiny hands will splash around and Canlas will connect their exploration with water to a science or math objective.

“Play-based learning is hands-on trial and error, and the absolute best way for the early developing brain to learn,” she explains.

The full-day, six-hour kindergarten program gives students more time to explore and get used to being at school, she says.

Paula Gelmon, coordinator of early learning and early literacy with the Delta School District, echoes Canlas’ sentiments.

“We have learned that it’s a positive experience for kids,” she says. “Teachers have so much more time to go over the curriculum and expand on ideas.”

She sometimes has to explain to parents that kindergarten does not include an introduction of the Grade 1 curriculum and is also slower-paced and includes rest time.

“That was the fear that some parents had – making kindergarten too academic too soon,” says Gelmon.

In terms of separation anxiety, she says a great number of kids have already been away from their parents during the day, either at preschool or daycare.

As of Aug. 30, 4,650 kindergarten students were registered in the Surrey School District.

A number of capital projects have been required to accommodate the move to full-day kindergarten in Surrey, including 26 new modular classrooms at 18 different school sites, and 32 new classrooms through six additions at A.J. McLellan, Cambridge, Chimney Hill, Hazelgrove, Hillcrest and T.E. Scott elementaries.

Overall, enrolment this year in Surrey will be about 70,000 students, an increase of approximately 900 from last year.

In the Delta School District, 1,012 kids are projected to attend kindergarten this year. General enrolment in Delta is expected to hover close to last year’s number of about 15,970.

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