Kindergarten: quality vs. quantity?

With the school day extended, kindergarteners might be able to hit the snooze button at naptime — but many adults are anything but restful about the changes.

Debate rages over the full-day kindergarten program, estimated to cost Ontarians $1.5 billion a year, even as the province is facing a deficit of nearly $20 billion.

While Premier Dalton McGuinty is accommodating working parents, taxpayers are not very happy — especially after the recent introduction of the HST — as a large portion of the province’s population will have to pay for the gain of a small demographic.

Some say that McGuinty is making early childhood education and the implementation of full-day kindergarten a political wedge issue.

Some complain that the new program is just free daycare — a place for working parents to drop off their kids for the government to babysit.

It seems like the overall sentiment is that parents who don’t have to pay for daycare anymore will benefit most from this.

While school is being “enhanced” for kindergarteners, parents won’t worry about their kids being stressed from studying.

The Toronto Star reported last spring that Ontario’s education ministry said content isn’t added to the full-day program and kids won’t be tested like in Grade 1. Rather it’s a mix of kindergarten and early learning.

Activities grounded in play allow children to learn “more broadly and deeply.” But couldn’t this be done without making the day twice as long?

Don’t get me wrong — kids being able to interact with their peers in an environment that lets them be physically and intellectually challenged is always a plus. But for McGuinty to quote Barack Obama saying “those that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow” to defend his decision to implement the program and push people to vote Liberal doesn’t seem to fly in this situation.

My Grade 7 teacher said children don’t spend enough time with their families. Kids are at school for six hours, parents come home from work around 5 p.m., mom or dad spends half an hour or so in the kitchen, and the family eats dinner. The kids then shut themselves in their rooms to do homework or chat on MSN.

So the only quality time parents and children get together is that precious hour at the dinner table.

Perhaps McGuinty would like to get kids used to this 21st century family dynamic at an earlier age. But will these extra hours of school time benefit children in the long run?

The government is imposing a “building for the future” image, but politicians should change the curriculum by taking a “quality over quantity” approach.

Maybe changing public education at the other end of the system might be more sensible.

Then again, who knows? Once upon a time when I came home from my half-day of kindergarten and my dad asked me what I did, I replied: “Just play toys.”