As three Canadian provinces prepare to roll out full-day kindergarten, The Globe and Mail is going into the classroom to look beyond the crayons and alphabets to examine why governments are investing billions in their youngest learners. The most ambitious program, which will see four- and five-year-olds going to school for a full day, is being introduced in Ontario. Reporter Kate Hammer and photographer Anne-Marie Jackson, in co-operation with an early learning expert from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, will follow four kindergarten pupils throughout the school year - three in full-day schooling and one in the traditional half-day program.
Through the eyes, words and artwork of Alfie, 3, Prathmesh, 4, Millie, 5, and Mekhi, 5, as well as through video, photography and interviews with teachers, principals and family, readers will get a firsthand look at play-based learning, self-regulation, the social interactions and tiny epiphanies that make kindergarten so important.
The Bolton Family
Recently arrived from London, England, the Bolton family came to Canada with hopes of enjoying the great outdoors and a higher standard of living. The education system was a draw - Canada is regularly ranked highly by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - but parents Leanne, a copywriter, and Steven, a probation officer, were surprised to learn that full-time schooling in Ontario didn't start until the age of 6.
At home, their five-year-old daughter had been going to school full-time for more than a year.
"Millie thrived," Ms. Bolton said. "She enjoyed the stimulation and the skills we can't teach at home."
This fall, Millie be starting senior kindergarten and her younger brother, Alfie, 3, will be in junior kindergarten. They will both be in the full-day program at Westminster Public School in Thornhill, Ont.
The Mistry Family
There is a room off the kitchen in the Mistry family's Brampton, Ont., home where four-year-old Prathmesh likes to dance to Bollywood music. This boy has energy to burn, is prone to bursting into song and is ecstatic that he'll be going to school with his older sister, Sanjana, 6, this fall at Homestead Public School in a half-day junior-kindergarten program.
Parents Krupa, a stay-at-home mom, and Alpesh, an engineer, are natives of India who speak mostly Gujarati at home. Sanjana started speaking English with Prathmesh soon after she started kindergarten and he picked it up quickly.
The Mistry home is full of fun and learning: They have a tradition of playing educational board games on Fridays and the ringer on their home phone plays the Spring movement from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons.
"In our culture, the way I was brought up, we always put a lot of importance in education," said Mr. Mistry.
The Rutherford Family
In his teacher's words, Mekhi, 5, is a model student. That's why the school gave him an award last year for being respectful to his teachers.
He's had lots of practice, because Mekhi's mom, Claudette, is a high-school teacher. She and her husband, Dwayne, who works as a distribution manager for YellowPages, like to take Mekhi and his sister Laila, 2, on field trips to places like Marineland - the mere mention of which makes Mekhi stand at attention and bristle with happy anticipation.
Last year, Mekhi attended alternate-day junior kindergarten at Ellen Fairclough Public School in Stouffville, Ont. His mom found the alternating schedule confusing and dropped him off at school a few times when he was supposed to be at daycare. She was thrilled when she learned that Mekhi's school would be introducing the full-day program this fall, in time for his senior kindergarten year.
"I was excited about it because I always thought [full-day]is how it should have been," she said. "...This is going to be great not just from a money standpoint ... he loves being there."