Junior kindergarten, the independent way

Smaller class sizes, specialized teachers among the benefits of independent school learning

Christina Dickson doesn’t hesitate to mention one hotly-debated issue when asked about the strengths of a junior kindergarten program offered by an independent school.

“Most private schools will offer the child a smaller class size,” says

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Dickson, director of St-Laurent Academy, which also features a bilingual program.

And Mary Ann Turnbull, director of Turnbull School, agrees, adding that there are many advantages to this.

“It creates a greater opportunity to develop the uniqueness of each learner in the classroom,” says Turnbull, whose school offers an enriched French program. Turnbull School offers two junior kindergarten classes — as well as two senior kindergarten classes — with a maximum capacity of 10 students each.

Independent schools also differ when it comes to teaching methods and philosophies.

St-Laurent Academy focuses on the Multiple Intelligences Theory, which proposes that there are eight categories of intelligences in which people naturally learn. Examples include linguistic, logic, intrapersonal and musical intelligences.

A teacher applies the Multiple Intelligences Theory in a classroom in a natural way, says Dickson. In the early weeks of a junior kindergarten program, a teacher will employ multiple teaching methods while conducting a lesson and observe how the students respond to each method.

This allows the teacher to tailor the lessons to the student. “It’s a really engaging way for children to learn,” Dickson says. “And it sticks.”

Smaller class sizes also allow the teacher to observe any learning concerns, such as issues with concentration or reading readiness, she adds.

And Meg Garrard, principal of Westboro Academy, says private schools may have better access to learning resources.

There is also the option to make the curriculum more challenging for students, she says.

One of the ways Westboro Academy does this is by offering the kindergarten program in French only, though many of the students are unilingual. “This gives them an extra edge in their French.”

Meanwhile, Turnbull School strives to develop character and compassion, along with academic excellence. Students learn they have a role in the community by immersing themselves in various charities such as the United Way and the Ottawa Hospital.

Monthly themes also help in character-building. September’s theme — excellence and caring — is also the school’s overall theme.

“It’s all about positive interactions,” says Turnbull, “where they are developing really strong interpersonal skills right from the youngest age.”

Garrard also notes that many independent schools feature specialist teachers. These teachers are experts in their fields, be it science, music or physical education, and teach only that subject.

Then there’s the issue of tuition. Many parents may not be aware that tuition for junior kindergarten can be claimed as a child-care expense.

Parents also have a tangible impact on their child’s education in an independent school. Some parents serve on a board of governors while others contribute in a less formal way, says Garrard.

“Their ability to create change through conversation is enormous.”


Author: Chris Hunt

Photo: DepositPhoto.com