How It Works, Why It Works at the Ottawa Catholic School Board: The Kindergarten Program

Today’s parents have information at their fingertips when it comes to seeking options about life’s larger parenting milestones, such as choosing their child’s first school.

We’ve teamed some parents up with Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) professionals to discuss how the two-year kindergarten programs works, and why it works for families with children in OCSB schools.

How it works (OCSB): The full-day play-based learning model allows young children to work out ideas and theories through playing (indoors and outdoors) to deepen their understanding and further their learning. Children explore, manipulate, build, create, wonder and ask questions naturally, moving through the world in an “inquiry stance.” Our kindergarten teachers and registered early childhood educators (RECEs) observe and document each child’s thinking, ideas, and learning. Our educators use their professional knowledge and skills to support learning through play, adopting an inquiry stance along with their students.

Why it works (parent): We know how difficult it would be for our five-year-old to sit still for the duration of a lesson or lecture. Of course they have to play! But at the OCSB, daily play is maximized by their early adoption of their “Deep Learning Framework.” This innovative way of learning allows our child to explore and connect their daily learning with broader, real-world experiences. Imagine your child playing with popsicle sticks at school, learning how to build a bridge over some imaginary water. Then imagine your child spilling their drink at the dinner table at home, and using their utensils to divert the water spill away from their plate. We love those moments as parents when we think, “how on earth did she learn how to do that?” What’s really neat is that evidence of our child’s learning is literally on the walls of her classroom, since the OCSB involves our child in “co-constructing” the classroom. We witness a lot of moments of pride and confidence when our daughter shares her day with us.

How it works (OCSB): Self-regulation is central to a child’s capacity to learn. Referred to as the cornerstone of development, self-regulation in the classroom enables children to set limits for themselves and manage their own emotions, attention, and behaviour. All OCSB classrooms are equipped with a self-regulation space (Safe Place) where a child can choose to go to calm their bodies and their minds if they’ve made a choice they are not happy with, if they are sad, or if they are missing their parents or home. They can reflect on their emotions using child-friendly face charts, do some engaging breathing exercises, and maybe arrive at some self-reflective answers, like “what could I do instead?”

Why it works (parent): If you don’t know what a class “safe place” looks like yet, you’re in for a treat. These genius self-regulation spaces are a classroom highlight, one that our daughter is fiercely proud of. It only took us one month of school to realize the value of this quiet place before we made one DIY-style behind the big chair in our living room. These places are not time-out spaces. They are options. Options which accommodate the differences and individuality of all of our precious children. It’s okay to be angry or sad — it’s how those emotions are handled which is important. The fact that we as parents share the same philosophy with the school board that teaches our child is invaluable.

How it works (OCSB): Kindergarten programs in all Ontario schools are based on the expectations and practices outlined by the Ontario Ministry of Education. The program is organized under four frames which are designed to support a child’s natural learning ability in a way that is best suited to their individual strengths and needs. The four frames which help structure each day in kindergarten are: Belonging and Contributing; Self-regulation and Well-Being; Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematical Behaviour; and Problem Solving and Innovating.

Why it works (parent): It’s like the OCSB took those four frames, which are detailed and comprehensive enough already, and expanded on it. Their adoption of their three-year commitment to “Be Community, Be Well, Be Innovative” infuses the kindergarten program in a way that we can understand and engage with as parents.  Already, at the young age of five, our daughter is able to express how she feels like a member of her little classroom community. We also appreciate how the OCSB recognizes that French language instruction (50% French / 50% English in both years of kindergarten) should meet our child in their own classroom learning environment, rather than moving children to different areas to learn French. Our children thrive on routine, and learning in both languages in the same setting adds great stability. Except when they move it to their innovative, outdoor classroom — we just love that! 

Parents play a key role in how children embrace school. It’s easier to try and be the best parents possible when parents are assured that their community OCSB school is offering their best educators in a safe and welcome learning environment. When parents and educators work together, they give tomorrow’s children the best possible start.