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Full-day Kindergarten: Early childhood educators reflect on their first year in the classroom

Matthew Romain, Inessa Petersen

Designated early childhood educators (DECEs) are the newest addition to the ETFO family. In 2009 when the Ontario government announced its intention to implement the full-day kindergarten program, ETFO moved to become the bargaining agent for DECEs. Today ETFO represents DECEs in 10 Ontario public and separate school boards. The number of DECE members will increase over the next two years: introduced in 600 schools in 2010, full-day kindergarten will be offered in all Ontario elementary schools by 2014. In the new program, certified teachers and DECEs work side by side to implement a play-based curriculum. We asked some DECE members to share their thoughts about being a part of the inaugural Early Learning Kindergarten (ELK) program.

The value of full-day kindergarten

DECEs believe that every child should have the opportunity to experience the play-based learn ing of full-day kindergarten:

“It allows children to be in an environment with many opportunities; a chance for children to experience and be exposed to things they may not otherwise have the chance to. Children build on their social/emotional skills and learn to self-regulate in a group setting.” — Rayna Barrese, president, Durham DECE Local

“Some children do not attend any sort of formal education environment prior to kindergarten, and the full-day kindergarten structure allows a duo of highly trained professionals to help not only the child, but each other with easing children into a lifelong learning routine.” — Amy Rasmussen, president, Halton DECE Local.

“It is valuable for children. The reason includes improvements in reading, writing, creativity, social development, work habits, motor skills. It also makes the transition to grade 1 easier.” — Diego Olmedo, vice-president, Toronto DECE Local.

The growth of our children

DECEs explained how excited they were to witness their students’ development:

“We continually saw an increase in the children’s eagerness to come to school, as well as their enjoyment while learning through play. Children were developing a love for learning and were motivated to learn. Their sense of accomplishment never ceased to amaze us when they would realize they could recognize a word in a book. Instead of being sat at tables and issued sheets to learn from, they were given time to play and learn in a concrete, not abstract way. So when they realized they were learning through those experiences, that was the biggest accomplishment for us.” — Mandi Judd, president, Simcoe County DECE Local.

“Children who otherwise were very intimidated and unsure are confident and look forward to coming to school each day. Children are very inquisitive and being in a full-day kindergarten program they have the chance to fully engage and explore extensively.”
— Rayna Barrese

New challenges

The introduction of full-day kindergarten has not been without challenges for both the teacher and the DECE—from teaching with another professional educator for the first time to following a brand-new curriculum in a new program.

“A new program, new curriculum, and new working areas were all stepping stones that needed to be navigated with care.” — Jenn Wallage, president, Waterloo DECE Local

“For us, there were challenges due to physical space for every aspect of the program from storage of toys, space in the coatroom, space for children to play.” — Mandi Judd

“Challenges are met differently by everyone: the unknown of what was expected and where the program was going to go; bringing two educators (teacher/early childhood educator) together who come from very different backgrounds/experience in hope of building a strong successful relationship.” — Rayna Barrese

Benefits for our youngest learners

DECEs were encouraged to see that parents embraced program and were delighted by the significant growth they observed in their children:

“At first, parents did not know much about the program and what to expect. By the second term of parent interviews, parents were expressing how their child was excelling in reading, writing, and social development.” — Diego Olmedo

“Parents have been very pleased with how well we know each individual child, and the progress the children have been making while attending the program.” — Mandi Judd

“Parents were very excited and thankful that the program was offered. It allowed children in lower-income areas to have the benefits of a great program. Parents were very appreciative and some were surprised how much knowledge their child gained and how excited they were to go to school.” — Rayna Barrese

The teacher/DECE partnership – playing is learning

The partnership between the teacher and DECE brings a wonderful blend of experience to the early learning classroom. The strengths of the partnership are obvious to participants. Children are benefiting by being the recipients of well-rounded education as they begin their lifelong educational journey.

“Full-day kindergarten allows children the opportunity to be in a structured setting while experiencing play-based learning and the consistency of having their teacher and DECE for both JK and SK. A successful relationship between staff builds a successful building block for children.” — Rayna Barrese

“Teachers have a vast knowledge of the Ontario curriculum for kindergarten and received the training necessary to teach what a child needs to learn in kindergarten. The DECE has specific knowledge of early childhood development, teaching methods, and activities suited to engaging the whole child, and a focus on play as a vehicle to teach the larger concepts.” — Amy Rasmussen

“With two qualified professionals in the classroom for the full school day, more students will get one-on-one attention and opportunities to learn together in small groups.” — Diego Olmedo

Year 2 and beyond

DECEs are committed to building on their experiences from the past year:

“In year 2, we look forward to the opportunity to continue and expand what we learned from the program last year. We are looking forward to providing new experiences for the children through play.” Mandi Judd

“DECEs and teachers are looking forward to the excitement of teaching many of their JKs in SK. [It will give us] a chance to build on the children’s knowledge and expand on their interests. After building a successful partnership between the teacher and DECE in the first year, many great things will be seen in the second year.” — Rayna Barres