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Kindergarten split classes will 'shortchange' students

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Hammer, Kate
Publication Date: 
25 Apr 2011



Play is enjoying a renaissance in education as a growing body of research supports its ability to promote intellectual and emotional growth. But the play-based aspect of full-day kindergarten in Ontario is being threatened as budget pressures and growing demand have prompted nearly 40 schools to introduce full-day kindergarten-Grade 1 split classes, with more likely coming this fall.

The move has raised concerns from teachers who say the free-moving play-based program is incompatible with the Grade 1 curriculum.


Kindergarten students spend part of their school day drifting among "free-choice centres" that are regularly updated with new toys and props that reflect their interests.

But the Grade 1 curriculum is very different. It's more structured and students spend a lot more time at their desks. Running both programs out of one classroom could mean less play and exploration among kindergartners.

In a letter sent to education directors last year, the Ministry of Education instructed school boards to allow full-day kindergarten-Grade 1 splits only in "extremely exceptional circumstances."

As an example, Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky pointed to rural school boards where only five students have enrolled in the full-day program.

"I think numbers are probably the greatest reason why we might see that happen," she said. "Wherever we have small schools.... Typically that's not in cities."

But 14 of the province's 72 school boards are already offering splits. The GTA's York Region District School Board has introduced splits at five of its 25 full-day kindergarten schools. Pockets of population growth have made splits necessary and more will likely be added next year, according to YRDSB officials.

The Thames Valley District School Board, which serves London and the surrounding area, is considering split classes next year.

"Little wee ones don't come in neat bundles of 24 or 26," said Celine Bourbonnais-MacDonald, a superintendent for the board.

The full-day kindergarten program is funded based on an average class size of 26 students. But parents' enthusiasm for the program has boosted enrolment beyond projections, leading some boards to dip into other parts of their thinly stretched budgets to meet demand. In rural areas, some schools might not have the numbers to support a standalone kindergarten classroom, and in more urban areas, overflow is also leading to split classes.


- reprinted from the Globe and Mail

Entered Date: 
4 May 2011
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