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Full-day early learning: Merging child care and kindergarten into a “seamless day”

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About this ISSUE file

This ISSUE file has been developed to provide research, policy and practice information as background to the full-day early learning report. It collects a variety of resources on the topic of blending child care and kindergarten education programs. Information is organized by type, and then chronologically from most recent to least recent. Unless otherwise noted, documents are available online.

New materials and new topics pertinent to blending care and education will be added over time. Check back for updates or sign up for CRRU's weekly email newsletter to be notified about new additions.

International context

In 2001, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) observed that,

Early childhood education and care has experienced a surge of policy attention in OECD countries over the past decade. Policy makers have recognized that equitable access to quality early childhood education and care can strengthen the foundations of lifelong learning for all children and support the broad educational and social needs of families.

While well-designed early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs can meet multiple objectives – from poverty reduction to economic stimulus to women’s equality – the main reasons for this “surge of policy attention” are primarily two fold. First, the idea that high quality early childhood education is a key foundation of life-long learning for all children, with long-term implications for prosperity at the societal level, is well supported by research and has gained wide public recognition. Second, ECEC is fundamental to supporting parents in employment, education and training, and in their roles as parents.

As part of a twenty country analysis of ECEC provision in OECD countries, the OECD identified eight key “policy lessons” found to promote and support equitable access to high quality ECEC. One of these policy lessons is the importance of "a strong and equal partnership with the education system".

To put this in another way, Carol Bellamy, former Executive Director of UNICEF, observed in UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report (1999) that “there is a growing consensus that child care and early education are inseparable". This view has prevailed as international organizations such as the UN and experts in the field alike have urged governments to follow best practices in ECEC policy.

Child care and kindergarten in Canada: Still separate

While many OECD countries have integrated/blended ECEC into a single program so children and parents do not have to endure the stress of shuttling among a variety of “care” and “education” arrangements, Canada has been slow to follow this policy lesson. Each of Canada’s provinces/territories still maintains two discrete systems that separate “child care” and “kindergarten”. The various jurisdictions provide only limited access to either program: regulated child care serves only a minority of 0-5 year olds and kindergarten is part-day and – in most of Canada – only available for five year olds.

ECEC policy experts have been urging governments to use the available evidence about best ECEC policy practices to ensure that ECEC programs in Canada become the best they can be. The benefits of full-day early learning programs that are sensitive to families’ schedules and parenting roles are far reaching and well supported by research. Research has found positive academic, behavioural and social outcomes for children and numerous benefits for families as full-day and integrated ECEC programing provides real options for parents while reducing the stress and cost of multiple care arrangements for working families.

Ontario: ECEC leadership

In the past decade – as knowledge about the importance of the early years has gained public and political recognition – considerable interest has arisen across Canada in making changes to the historical “care” and “education” split as some provincial/territorial governments have begun to consider moving toward a more integrated or blended ECEC arrangement.

Ontario is about to take Canada’s first significant step toward putting the vision of blended ECEC (a “seamless day”) into action. A 2007 election promise by the McGuinty Liberals made a commitment to bringing in a full-day early learning program for all four and five year olds. Following the election, Premier McGuinty appointed Dr. Charles Pascal as the Early Learning Advisor to develop and recommend a workable strategy for implementation of the full-day early learning program. Dr. Pascal’s report was publicly released on June 15 2009 and outlined a comprehensive plan for full-day early learning for four and five year olds, as well as care for school-age children and a system of Best Start centres for younger children. In October 2009, Premier McGuinty stated his intention to move ahead with parts of the Pascal plan, with a phase-in of the full-day program for four and five year olds as the first step. Responsibility for the program was placed under the new Early Years Division of the Ministry of Education. In January 2010, the Ontario government announced a list of 580 schools that will offer the new program in September of 2010.

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