Whether or not Winnipeg families can sign up for full-day kindergarten depends on where they live — a reality that is unlikely to change.

Whether or not Winnipeg families can sign up for full-day kindergarten depends on where they live — a reality that is unlikely to change.

In fact, with the school registration season underway for 2022-23, parents in central and southern parts of the city are learning that full-time programming is becoming even more limited.

"There’s going to be parents that are scrambling, not knowing what to do. I know that, for sure. I just think it’s not very good for the children. They’re going to be missing out," said Ken Jacobsen, a father at Harrow School. 

"I believe (my two oldest kids, who are so-called full-day kindergarten graduates) are happier for it."

Jacobsen, who has three young boys, is among the parents in Manitoba’s largest school division who were disappointed to learn incoming kindergartners would not be able to attend classes full-time in the fall.

Not only does the full-time program benefit students by introducing them to the school-day structure, socialization with peers, and foundational academic skills, but he said it provides them with a sense of responsibility and confidence.

Full-day kindergarten has been a key topic during winter budget planning discussions among school board officials.

In the Winnipeg School Division, in which Jacobsen resides, the board voted to axe full-time options available in 11 schools next year. It will also be discontinued in three of the four schools in the Pembina Trails School Division that currently offer it.

The WSD decision was originally made in November on the basis of an internal study that found half-day and full-day kindergarten graduates had similar academic and social-emotional development gains by the end of Grade 2. It was solidified earlier this month, when the board voted to cut the programs, which cost roughly $500,000 in 2021-22, amid budget constraints.

Around the same time, the Louis Riel School Division announced its report card data backed full-day kindergarten as a program that leads to better outcomes and earmarked $400,000 to scale-up programs in five new buildings, for a total of nine schools.

"We can’t afford to offer universal full-day kindergarten in LRSD. We wish we could," said superintendent Christian Michalik, during a public budget meeting.

Michalik has asked provincial officials to consider implementing universal full-day kindergarten in Manitoba to mirror provinces such as Ontario and B.C. As far as he is concerned, the investment would boost outcomes for all students by providing them with a strong start to school. 

Elsewhere in Winnipeg, public schools — with the exception of six elementary buildings in St. James-Assiniboia, run part-time programs. In Seven Oaks, students can attend half-days during the week. River East Transcona kindergartners visit for full-time instruction on alternating days.

The Winnipeg School Division's decision was originally made in November on the basis of an internal study that found half-day and full-day kindergarten graduates had similar academic and social-emotional development gains by the end of Grade 2. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The Winnipeg School Division's decision was originally made in November on the basis of an internal study that found half-day and full-day kindergarten graduates had similar academic and social-emotional development gains by the end of Grade 2. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"(Full-day kindergarten) just makes sense. The research out there is clear that we need to be providing early literacy and numeracy options for children and if we don’t do that, there are long-term negative consequences," said Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Winnipeg.

Skwarchuk said parents can provide these opportunities at home, but educators have formal training on how to oversee play-based learning, teach foundational literacy and numeracy concepts, and coach children on emotional regulation. 

"You can do an oil change in your driveway if you want, or you can take it to the mechanic… What about the people who don’t know how to do an oil change?" she said, noting her metaphor nods to the fact kindergarten is optional. 

Mixed research on the fade-out effects of full-time programs throughout school careers has prompted mixed implementation.

The lasting benefits of universal full-day kindergarten into senior years were deemed insignificant overall in a longitudinal population-based study published by Manitoba researchers in the Early Child Development and Care publication in 2015.

The authors, however, concluded targeted programs showed improvements in numeracy over time for low-income girls. The paper also acknowledges there may be other goals outside academic outcomes, with some research indicating full-day kindergarten affects academic motivation.

Boosting school readiness and other non-academic benefits are not lost on Friends of Full Day Kindergarten, a grassroots group of community members, teachers included, that formed in WSD to combat program cuts earlier this year. 

"(Ending the programs) will have a lasting impact on the children who could have attended the program, especially those who live in poverty, are Indigenous or a newcomer to Canada," the group said in a statement to the Free Press.

The collective called the division’s cuts "devastating" at a time when teachers and learners alike are trying to recover from COVID-19 disruptions. The public health crisis has ensured children are entering school "at a social and academic deficit," according to the group.

Education Minister Wayne Ewasko indicated in a prepared statement that school divisions choose to offer full-time instruction for kindergartners based on their assessments of local needs.

Asked about whether the province is looking into universal full-day kindergarten, Ewasko said: "We continue to support local decision making in program matters such as this."

Meantime, Cathy Howes of Little Red Spirit Aboriginal Head Start in Winnipeg, wants to see the expansion of more holistic early years programs for Indigenous students — like the one she oversees in the inner-city — rather than full-day kindergarten. 

"We take calls constantly, for instance, from people in St. Vital, St. Boniface (asking): ‘Why isn’t there a Head Start here?" she said. "There just aren’t enough Head Starts in the City of Winnipeg."

Howes said the half-day program complements part-time "western school" kindergarten by immersing students in their culture, language and spirituality before Grade 1.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.