Anticipating Full-Day Kindergarten

By Karen Bernath

There has been a lot of discussion and debate about the concept of full-day Kindergarten since the government first started discussing the concept. Change can be very stressful and changing the Kindergarten students’ day to full time is a huge pedagogical shift from the way the Kindergarten program has been delivered over the course of my 21 years as a teacher in British Columbia. Many questions have been raised by teachers, parents and politicians alike—do four- and five-year-olds have the stamina for a full day at school? Will there be nap time? Will Kindergarten become a mini-Grade 1? Are we, as a society, placing too much emphasis on academic achievement? The government has made it clear that full-day Kindergarten IS happening—partial implementation for September 2010 and full implementation across the province for September 2011. There comes a time in the debate when we need to focus on moving forward as Reinhold Niebuhr said “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The public debate and discussion around full-day Kindergarten has caused me, as a Kindergarten teacher, to examine my practice and reflect upon what I truly believe about the Kindergarten program. Many early primary teachers in my local have moved away from teaching Kindergarten in the last five years because of the workload issues associated with teaching Kindergarten in today’s world of high-stakes testing and accountability. I disagree with the screening of Kindergarten students before they have a chance to become familiar with the routines that will help guide them toward security in their learning environ ment. Being a Kindergarten teacher means doing double screeners in my district—one set for your morning class and one set for your afternoon class. Teaching K means double the report cards and double the parent teacher interviews—maybe one class of students for the full day wouldn’t be such a bad thing? The government has stated that the Kindergarten curriculum will not be doubled with the addi tional instructional time. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to move back to a true “play-based” program where children are allowed to learn in an experiential way. I have dusted off my Primary Program binder and started reminding myself of the way that I learned to teach primary back in the “Year 2000” with themes and centres and field trips and cooking. I have heard that the Provincial Primary Teachers’ Association is working on workshops to revive the Primary Program. Suddenly as a Kindergarten teacher, I’m excited about the possibilities—thinking maybe this change will be okay for our Kindergarten students. It is my professional responsibility to ensure that the proposed changes bring about positive benefits for the profession and the learning environ ment of my students, always striving for a program that is playbased, experiential, and values the developmental needs of the students in my classroom. One of my favourite quotes by Mary Englebreit comes to mind: “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles by it.”

As a Kindergarten teacher who has had the opportunity to teach full-day, every-day Kindergarten to a group of ESL, students with special needs, and First Nations students in the past, I will be helping my colleagues acquire the knowledge that they are seeking to ensure that this change is in the best interest of our Kindergarten students. Watch for workshops sponsored by the Primary Teachers’ Association and the BCTF in your local. I have decided that rather than stress about the change, I’m going to embrace it and use the additional time to make my Kindergarten program a good place for four- and five-year-old children to learn. In the words of Alan Cohen, “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”

Karen Bernath teaches at Bankhead

Elementary School, Kelowna, and is

a member of BCTF Professional

Issues Advisory Committee.