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Full-day learning program unveiled; Kindergarten curriculum teaches building blocks of the 3 R's and how to play nicely with others

[Note: This article reports that the Ministry of Education has released the draft curriculum for the new full-day Early Learning Program. The curriculum document provides the program expectations but is still missing some content related to the respective roles of the teachers and ECEs assigned to the program. ETFO will advise when the more complete document is available. It will remain in draft form throughout the 2010-11 school year and be revised based on the experience of the first year of implementation.  - Vivian McCaffrey, Executive Assistant - Government Relations Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario]

The Toronto Star

April 15, 2010

Louise Brown

Ontario has unveiled the program schools will use for full-day learning - it's a little bit kindergarten, a little bit daycare and a lot of play.

Contrary to what some have feared - a sort of Grade 1 lite with tests and homework - the new curriculum simply gives children more time at the sand table, book corner and drama centre to learn the building blocks of the 3 R's and how to play nicely with others.

"It's not like a little Grade 1 with tests and it's not just duplicating what they did in half-day kindergarten.

It's a true blend of the best of kindergarten and the elements of early learning," said Michelle Despault, spokeswoman for Ontario's education ministry, which will oversee the first phase of the full-day learning program in September at 600 schools for about 35, 000 children.

The program, which will be tweaked next year if problems arise, will ultimately replace the current kindergarten curriculum when full-day learning is fully rolled out in 2015. It introduces the basics of language, math, science, arts, physical activity and personal development - all through activity rooted in play.

"It's not about adding extra content to be learned, but adding the opportunity to learn more broadly and deeply. There's more time for the child to explore at the sand table what they might have heard from a story," said Despault.

The 111-page document, posted Wednesday on the education ministry's website, is a hybrid of the existing kindergarten curriculum and a 2007 document designed for use in early-learning centres, called Early Learning for Every Child Today (ELECT). Both lean heavily on play as the way to help children discover the basics of learning.

Since full-day kindergarten classes will be led by a teacher and an early childhood educator, the new document includes elements of both programs: a kindergarten-style list of concepts children are expected to grasp by the time they approach Grade 1, plus the real-life anecdotal teaching tips found in the ELECT guidelines.

"At the sand table the children retell the story The Gingerbread Man, based on a book they have just heard in a read-aloud," suggests the document. "They use props that have been intentionally placed at the sand table to retell the events they remember from the story."

The new program emphasizes spoken language as the springboard to reading and writing, and suggests literacy materials be sprinkled throughout the class.

"Children could examine books about fire trucks at the block centre as they make a fire station; they could use writing materials to make signs or maps for their roads at the sand table or they could look at menus as they learn about ordering foods in restaurants at the dramatic play centre," suggests the program.

It also stresses the importance of "complex socio-dramatic play" and providing a rich array of props, as well as providing "hands-on experiences that encourage talking, reading, writing and viewing media texts, and motivate children to attempt new things such as writing using approximate spellings - and show they value these attempts."