When my twin sons head off to Kindergarten in September 2018, they might find themselves in class longer than their sister who started school this year.
That’s because the province is launching a pilot project in 17 schools, increasing instruction time for Kindergarten to Grade 2 by one hour a day.
My initial reaction was not exactly positive. The idea of asking rambunctious five year olds to spend an extra hour in class doesn’t seem to fit with the current thinking on how young minds learn best. I read dozens of comments from other parents with similar reactions, many going so far as to say if this project is offered in their local school they’ll look elsewhere for K-2, including private schools and home schooling.
I think a lot of that negative reaction stems from the lack of detail about the project. While I agree more time sitting at a desk is not necessarily the answer, an additional hour of quality learning through active, play-based programming could be beneficial.
The project was announced as part of the ratification of the latest contract with the teacher’s union. The three-year initiative is described as a joint research project that will be evaluated by independent experts. The project comes with “additional resources [that] will be used to provide greater opportunities for students to reach the expected learning outcomes with a focus on literacy, numeracy, physical education, art, and music.”
I couldn’t find a lot of information about the pilot project beyond that, but reading through the final report from Karen Power that fed into the province’s 10-year education plan, I was brought back to being hopeful that the intention of an extended day for K-2 students isn’t just about more time sitting in class.
The early elementary portion of the report talks of continuing to change the ways in which we teach children, focusing on building critical thinking skills that help students solve problems rather than teaching children to repeat answers. The report also notes this type of learning requires “knowledge and organizational skills on the part of the teacher” and that it is up to the system to support the teacher in developing these skills.
As for concerns around making the day longer for students, I do think our kids can handle being in class for five hours if they’re not expected to be sitting still and working individually for that time. An extra hour will bring us in line with national averages in Canada and the United States, though that golden child of education policy, Finland, sticks with four hours a day for young students.
Finnish students begin formal schooling at age seven with four-hour days. Each hour of classroom time is focused on a different topic, presented through play-based learning, with a 15-minute recess that is often spent outside. Most people believe those short bursts of physical and social interaction improve the students’ ability to focus on the next topic. Allowing these young students to have long stretches of uninterrupted free play in the afternoon is also considered key to their development of both creativity and analytical skills.
I’m disappointed New Brunswick’s pilot project was announced without more detail, but I am glad that it comes with additional resources and a stated time frame for review. Implementing it one year after changing the early Immersion entry point makes me nervous, as that’s a lot of administrative upheaval. But I think we can all agree that our education system needs an overhaul and at least this is a move to do something. And if it means only one pick up time instead of two dismissals to deal with, I’m all for that.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.