Most parents are ready just as their 4 or 5 year old is for a more structured and stimulating environment where that transition to education can begin. As a Clinical Nurse Specialist, Owner and Director of a Childcare Centre in Mississauga and a parent of two children who have just transitioned through the JK/SK (Junior Kindergarten/Senior Kindergarten) years I understand what decisions parents must make at this time. This article will help parents articulate what characteristics are most important to them as they manage their anxiety, as well as their child’s when choosing that JK or SK program.
First, and foremost parents are feeling that in order to give their children a head start in life they need to begin that ‘education’ early, and therefore almost all children are attending a JK program at age 4. Discuss with the school their curriculum, philosophy for education, how the information is imparted to these young minds and the strategies used. Ask if the School Board curriculum is being used and the expectations around this, such as; do they go beyond the minimum standards, what subjects are being taught and what type of curriculum is being used.
Next is the ratio of teachers to children. Yes the daycare will have a better ratio. You should see at least a 1:10 ratio with JK and 1:12 with SK. This becomes very important and can directly impact the child’s experience in that class. Too many students can see many children at the higher end of the learning spectrum become bored and those having any difficulties, sometimes become lost and frustrated. Both situations can then lead to further issues of behaviour or lack of motivation in Grade 1.
Play space and Play time both sound like a point that can be found at the bottom of the list to consider. However, educators and mental health professionals will tell you that play is just as important as the formal education. In a daycare setting due to the full day programming and facilities the children are given 2 hours of in and outdoor play. This to me gives these children the ability to remain 4 and 5 years old using play and interaction with their peers in their chosen manner. Most daycares have great outdoor play space with rubber ground, and new equipment with other toys.
The full day support service that a daycare provides can be an invaluable piece of mind for the parents and be less disruptive for the child. The reality is that these children are still our ‘babies’, they are all still working on developmental milestones at different levels, such as; potty training, independence-separation anxiety and tantrums. With the increased number of staff these situations can be managed at school and in a safe and secure setting for the child, with communication to the parent at the end of each day.
Meals also become yet another area to think about when going to school at 4 or 5 years old. These children are still very small and truthfully it is difficult to pack a lunch for a 4 or 5 year old that is healthy and easy to eat. You will discover that most quality daycares provide a healthy meal plan for the day. Ask questions regarding the menu, and how this was chosen in conjunction with Canada’s Food Guide.
The last major point to consider is the consistency you will find in the daycare JK/SK program. The children can attend generally from 7am to 6pm without changing classrooms or teachers. Throughout the year there are no issues with PA days or early release days, no March break, Christmas break or summer break to search for suitable programs for a 4 or 5 year old which can be challenging and time consuming.
Some other important areas to think about include field trips and visitors that you should find at a quality daycare program. This feature can add to the interest of the program and make the education fun. Check that report cards and evaluations are regularly done for the child.
So, whether your child has already been in daycare previously or is just beginning at the age of 4 or 5, this decision is an important one. Use this guide to delineate those key areas that will give you piece of mind when you are at work knowing that your child is not only being educated but also being CARED for, a piece of the puzzle that some parents and institutions may underestimate with children of this age.
Amy Taus RN, MN
Kids Zone Childcare Centre
2275 Speakman Drive,