LIMITED full-day kindergarten worked in St. James-Assiniboia School Division -- so well that the full-day kids were more literate going into Grade 1 than the half-day kids.
A seven-year study by the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba of SJASD's program "overwhelmingly showed full-day kindergarten is a benefit to children," said U of M Prof. Karen Smith.
Smith believes the current proposal to introduce full-day nursery and full-day kindergarten in Winnipeg School Division is well worth it, regardless of what concerns there may be about cost.
"You have to have parental support to do it," Smith said in an interview. "It's not an easy decision."
With the literacy challenges facing children, especially those from the least-affluent areas, Smith said, "We all need to do something that makes a move in a better direction."
St. James-Assiniboia directed the division's entire at-risk funding into providing full-day kindergarten in its five schools with the poorest socio-economic characteristics.
"It's important not to blame the parents," Smith cautioned. The children generally came from the least-affluent homes, in which parents had lower literacy levels and who themselves read less or considered reading and writing skills less important than families elsewhere.
"They didn't necessarily have the literacy to pass on," she said.
Smith and her team of researchers followed the results between 1998 and 2005, studying each year's students as they progressed through elementary school.
Using divisional data on reading, writing, letter identification, and a wide variety of literacy aspects, the researchers compared students in the five schools to students in a control group -- one division school that maintained half-day kindergarten.
Smith said the results were "statistically significant".
Like half-day, full-day kindergarten was play-based learning, Smith said.
There were "amazing" results showing that full-day kindergarten students, who began the year below average literacy levels, "exceeded the norm" by the end of kindergarten and were ahead of students who were in kindergarten for half-days.
The gap narrowed over the years, and had levelled off by the end of Grade 1, Smith said.
Nevertheless, Smith concluded, "They would have lagged behind" throughout their entire time in school, had they not had the chance to catch up to their peer group that first year.
The researchers did not study what happened to children whose parents did not enrol them until Grade 1 -- kindergarten is not mandatory in Manitoba.
-- Nick Martin