Brock prof co-evaluator of Ontario kindergarten research

Kindergarten is serious business.

Playing with puppets, plasticine and paints individually and in groups might look like fun, but in fact, some heavy-duty social and cognitive development is taking place.

And early childhood education expert Mary-Louise Vanderlee explains that the longer this occurs, the better.

“An extended time in kindergarten allows for greater exposure to quality early learning experiences,” the Faculty of Education associate professor tells The Brock News.

Mary-Louise Vanderlee

Mary-Louise Vanderlee

“It allows deeper engagement so that children can focus for a longer period of time on their activities. It fosters more opportunity to have small group and one-to-one interaction. These are all things that support child development.

“Additionally, the fact that two educators are in classes with 16 or more children also enhances the education and care within the program,” she says.

Vanderlee, along with Ray DeV Peters from Queen’s, were the principal evaluators of a province-wide research team that the Ontario government commissioned to evaluate the implementation of all-day kindergarten and examine its benefits.

The Ministry of Education released key findings September 3. Vanderlee explains that, compared to children enrolled in half-day or alternate day programs, children in full-time kindergarten “typically adapt quicker to routines, engage in tasks for longer periods of time, and have much more exposure to experiences that support self-regulation.”

The team collected data from 693 children in 125 schools over a two-year period. Using the Early Development Instrument – a UNESCO-reviewed measurement of early childhood development – researchers found that full-day kindergarten:

  • reduced risks in social competence development from 10.5 per cent to 5.2 per cent
  • reduced risks in language and cognitive development from 16.4 per cent to 4.3 per cent
  • reduced risks in communication skills and general knowledge development from 10.5 per cent to 5.6 per cent.

The Ontario government says it will make full-day kindergarten available in all elementary schools by 2014, adding 3,800 additional teaching positions and 20,000 early educator positions to the system.

“It’s exciting that the government took the leap to do this and held strong to this direction,” says Vanderlee.

As principal evaluator, Vanderlee and her team set up the methodology of how to collect, analyze and interpret the research data. She worked with researchers from Queen’s University, McMaster University, Wilfred Laurier University, George Brown College and graduate students from both Brock and Queen’s.

The research in partnership with Queen’s and McMaster Universities began in the spring of 2010 and continued throughout 2012.

The Ministry of Education is expected to release a full report at the end of September or in October that will continue to inform the role out and ongoing monitoring of the two-year, full-day, early-learning kindergarten program.

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