News & Views

I mean, really, 6.5 out of 15!?

The results of the Early Childhood Education Index have stirred up talk about Ontario’s performance level in the field of early learning.  Though the results are not a reflection of how much importance we place on childhood education, they certainly say a thing or two about government funding.  Is it being spent effectively?  No hesitation required.  In an interview with Charlene Johnson, the minister of Child, Youth, and Family Services for Ontario, it was stated that our province spends “less per capita to give children a good start in life” than any other province.  It was also mentioned that, “it is difficult to recruit and retain early childhood educators”.  Another piece of useful information is the fact that Ontario provides the lowest pay in the country for these ‘difficult to retain’ educators.  As we connect the dots of this seemingly incomprehensible puzzle, we begin to see a larger picture.  There is not enough attention being placed on those developmental years the late Dr. Fraser Mustard stressed as being ‘crucial’.

In a Toronto Sun news report titled, ‘Ontario doesn’t make the grade in early childhood education report finds’, it says, “the report urges school-based programs starting at age 2, saying there’s an avalanche of evidence of the benefits of publicly funded learning for the young, when their brain development is at a crucial stage”.  Dr. Mustard, a true savant when it comes to the science of early development, was instrumental in gathering this evidence.  His findings concluded that a child’s primary experiences, most of which come from the interactions with parents, care givers, and teachers are what create the architecture of the brain.  McCain, a colleague of Dr. Mustard, suggests that we must not necessarily ‘schoolify’ preschoolers, which would mean instilling the essence of an ‘institution’.  Rather, what we should do is offer families the option to enroll their children in play-based programs to capitalize on those formative years.

But for many families, enrolling in a quality child care program isn’t an option, either because there isn’t one available, there’s a wait list, it’s not affordable, or it simply isn’t convenient (eg. In Haliburton County there are only 2 licensed child care centres, and from some areas of the county the drive to get there would be over an hour one way!)  However, for those who can think outside the box, there are alternatives to licensed child care.  And we need to be open to alternatives if we are to increase Ontario’s performance.

For example, School’s Cool is a time-limited evidence-based program which can be (and is being) delivered by community agencies, schools, First Nation communities and even entrepreneurial educators.  Dr. Susan Chuang from Guelph University who looked at the results of over 3,000 children who had taken a 6 to 8 week School’s Cool program said in her report, “The School’s Cool program not only focuses on the cognitive aspects of the academic curriculum (ex. math, language) but also promotes effective transitions into the school environment (ex. helping them adapt to classroom routines, socialize with peers).”  The average increases in developmental skills hover somewhere around a year – astonishing in just two short months.

With the evaluation tool, educators and parents get a first class window seat during the child’s progress in skill and ability.  The play-based activities tap in to those deep problem solving centers of brain development and the solution-focused approach creates the perfect foundation for future learning.  It is so important that parents are informed about recent scientific research regarding early childhood development.  And the School’s Cool program has been subtended on research that has been stressed by early years professionals for decades.

If we think of the long term benefits of preparing children for school, and also are willing to think outside the box, suddenly the big picture becomes a little less convoluted by salaries and funding, and more directed by a common goal and understanding.


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