No matter where they are, no matter the circumstance, kids will figure out a way to do it. Play. It is how kids make sense of their world. And now we know it is how kids learn.

That is why, this year in Ontario, the new full-day kindergarten program gives kids a chance to play all day long. This may go against the instincts of some flashcard toting parents, but research shows that play does more to stimulate early reading and writing than any amount of letter-tracing could ever do.

Some parents equate writing drills and letter memorization to early reading, but experts say those things just don’t work for young kids. “It doesn’t mean anything to children,” says Janette Pelletier, from the Institute of Child Study in Toronto, whose research was integral to the development of the new full-day program. “We know that kids learn better through play because it is their natural mode of learning. They’re born to do this. So to capitalize on what is natural to them is the best way to achieve deeper learning.”

But, kindergarten will not be just a room for kids to go wild. The kindergarten classroom is structured to encourage learning while kids play. “Teachers know how to build on those rich play experiences,” says Pelletier. “And teachers can set up play experiences in centres around the class. There are different areas around the room that are set up so that children will be attracted to them and will engage in things that they already want to do and the teacher’s role is to make sure that children have high level learning that happens in this natural way.”

For instance, the block centre will have pencils and paper so children can write down measurements and details about the structures they build. Or, they can retell a story they heard during read-aloud time at the sand table.

The key difference between this new kindergarten classroom and the previous version is the introduction of a teaching team made up of an early childhood educator (ECE) and a teacher. The ECE brings with them expertise in early child development and the teacher provides expertise in the learning expectations set out in the curriculum. The two together foster learning in a child-centred way.

How to Help Your Kindergarten Learner:

  • Encourage play in your house.
  • Read to your kids every day (in any language).
  • Keep books around your home.
  • Ask a variety of questions when you’re out with your child.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions all the time—Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
  • Sing songs and recite nursery rhymes.
  • Tell a story about your day and have your child tell you about their day. Ask them what they did at recess and during other school activities.
  • Point out and name things everywhere, including the supermarket, bus, park and mall.
  • Introduce new words to your child.
  • Do not stress about it. Every child is different.
  • Read more about the new play-based kindergarten curriculum.