What would a better start look like and how would this affect ECE’s and Teachers?

April 8, 2008

Mandy is one of many who have asked us – “what do you really stand for?”.

Are we all for schools taking the jobs of ECE’s? Do we not know how much ECE’s care? We reply by saying we are in favour of giving our kids the best start. But what do we mean by that? Too unclear for many whose jobs are on the line. So today I will try and describe how I think the system could and should be designed and then we can all see how this might affect us all.

In my earlier posts, I have done my best to explain what I see as the problem, so let’s start there before we launch into the solution.

As I see the problem, mothers have been stripped of the emotional and physical support that all mothers need and have received until modern time. This support was delivered, as for all primates, by the extended family. There were many others to take on the work, to offer encouragement, to coach and to protect. Modern life has stripped away nearly all of this support leaving many mothers isolated – even in a marriage where both have to work.

A baby’s whole development in life – how they see their place in the world, how they learn, how they behave, how they eat – is set in the first 3-4 years of life and is set by how it interacts emotionally with its mother. This process of wiring begins in the uterus. The baby is moulded by her mother’s emotional state. If the mother’s emotional state is in good shape, then the baby gets the best wiring for life.

So what we know now, is that they key to the baby’s future is how the mother feels. Is she at her wit’s end? Is she stressed all the time? It does not matter how strong you are. If your reality is a one bedroom apartment and two kids and no job and no future, you are not going to have much energy left. The same is true for many middle class mums with a job, a working husband a 1,000 miles away form your mum. Is she assured that she is in a safe place herself?

More and more mothers, no matter their income are isolated and hence stretched to the limit emotionally.

We can’t turn back the clock and have the life of the 1900’s. What we can do is see this issue of isolation and emotional attachment. This, not daycare or kindergarten, is the foundation of a healthy child’s development. You all know this. You all start your own discussions about the future with this knowledge. But then most, go on to advocate things that little to do with this reality.

Our job now is to see this gap and thoughtfully find ways of filling it in the context of the world we live in today.

Our job now is to design a system that offers the newly pregnant with advice and emotional support. To build on the support, so that the mother feels safe after the baby is born. To offer the mother a real community that can replace the old extended family.

To offer the toddler the same kind of loving and fun community that all kids have in the traditional setting. Where they explore safely the world.

So the key issues are to find ways to re-offer ALL mothers on PEI the kind of emotional and physical support that puts them in the strongest emotional state from fertilization to when the baby is at least 3.

For babies, the key is to ensure that they have at least someone who is actively engaged and attached to them until they are 4.

For 4 year olds, it is key to ensure that they can have truly exploratory learning – play based learning until they are 6. Push a top down curriculum too early and you close the child down – especially boys. Once you close them down, they don’t wake up.

A system based on this science needs to be designed and built. This is the debate that we need to have now. It is not about who cares the most. It is not about your pay, though that is important to you. It is not about who owns a daycare now, though that is important to an owner. It is not about schools, though that is important too.

The first order of business is to design a continuum of service to mothers and to babies that has the best chance of giving most of them the best start in life.

Remember, what we do now does not. Our vaunted system is not doing the job. Be honest. Look at the results. Is this success?

But I think that we can build a system that does work for our kids and that works for all of us. There will be plenty of work in a universal system of support for mums and kids. But if all we do is fight over the ruins of a system that does not work, we are condemned.


So what do we do? – Part 1 – the Principles

April 7, 2008

I am very encouraged by some of the language of the Throne speech. I heard this:

  • All children would be involved
  • That families would be involved

What I am also hearing are the natural fears of those who work in the system as it is today. The members of ECDA and the Teachers. Both look ahead at declining enrollment. Both see each other as a threat to each other. Both start with saying that they are all about the Kids BUT then they talk exclusively about their jobs, their qualifications etc.

BUT hello everyone – this is about our children – they have to come first!

So while there has to be lots of discussions about how all of this will be organized, I want to put a stake in the ground about what it would mean if it WERE all about the Kids:

  • It is the emotional state of the mother that is at the heart of everything – in so many cases she has lost the tradition emotional and physical support of the extended family. Her state of mind is the single most important influence in the trajectory of her children
  • So before all kids go to Kindergarten – we must design a system that can work to provide this support.

Then all the aspects of where and what the institutions do can follow. If we make this into a war between the ECDA and the Teachers we will lose it all. If we keep this in the fron of our minds – than I also think the organizational issues can be dealt with in a way that works for all.

    Parents for Choice & Quality Applaud Government

    April 4, 2008


    For Immediate Release
    April 4, 2008


    The Parents for Choice and Quality wish to applaud the Honourable Premier Ghiz and his government for recognizing the importance and long term benefits of investing in the early childhood years.

    We agree that kindergarten programs will benefit Island children within a school setting.  We are encouraged to hear that the government plan to conduct a thorough, careful and sensitive consultation process prior to any changes transpiring.  “There are many factors to consider. We believe in an integrated system of community-based early child development and parenting centres linked to the school system.” said April Ennis, co-chair of Parents for Choice and Quality.

    “We are looking forward to continued consultation and work with the government regarding the early years.” commented Jane Boyd, co-chair of Parents for Choice and Quality. “We are pleased that the government recognizes that Prince Edward Island must do more to offer Island children the best possible education. We know that the way to do that is to start in the early years.”

    Expanded funding for children ages 18 – 24 months to the CHANCES Best Start Program is a welcomed announcement which will benefit families greatly.

    Parents for Choice and Quality support the development and implementation of a high quality early learning and support system for all preschool aged children and their families on PEI. The group, representing mothers, fathers, grandparents, child care centres, industry professionals and concerned citizens of PEI, has grown quickly out of concern related to recent government decisions that are impacting early childhood development.

    We envision a system for Early Child Development that ranks in importance with the formal school system. Such a system would have to be universal. All children would have to be included. Such a system would draw on the well-established research and expertise in the field and on the new best practice in the nation in other provinces.  One of our key goals is to ensure that the interests of parents and our children are paramount and that parents get the choice and the quality that they deserve.


    Wonderful Progress!

    April 3, 2008

    Here is the text of the press release today!!!

    “The changes in Ministerial duties and departmental responsibilities reflect the need to improve the way services and programs are provided to Islanders,” the Premier said.  “In particular, I believe the new emphasis on rural development will assist many communities to thrive in a changing world. In particular, I am confident that this approach will offer many more Islanders the opportunity to stay within their home communities – and still participate in a changing economy.”

    As a result of the changes, three Ministers were sworn by the Lieutenant-Governor to new responsibilities:
    • The Honourable Allan Campbell is now the Minister of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development.
    • The Honourable Richard Brown is now the Minister of Innovation and Advanced Learning.
    • The Honourable Gerard Greenan is now the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.
     “The decision to blend responsibilities for early childhood development with education makes perfect sense,” the Premier said. “The team that I have the honour to lead is very serious about improving the supports provided to families as they prepare their children for the education system. Government recognizes that education begins at home, and the new Department will ensure that there is a high level of continuity between early childhood and school programs.”
    Finally, the new Department of Innovation and Advanced Learning will help government to sharply focus on the province’s inherent economic strengths.
    “As I have said in the past, Prince Edward Island is not rich in natural resources like minerals or oil. Instead, our greatest resource is our people,” the Premier said.
    “The new Department of Innovation and Advanced Learning will provide government with the tools to invest in Islanders, whether that is through the education system or through appropriate assistance to innovative new businesses.”
    Over the course of the upcoming legislative session, further details on government’s specific policy direction will be announced. The Speech from the Throne will be read April 4th, 2008.
    “The Speech will clearly spell out government’s plans for the next several years –  and offer a significant amount of detail about the changes that will take place. Of course, the budget will also offer government the opportunity to clearly demonstrate its plans. I am also looking forward to the release of a new economic strategy, which will help to guide decision making about the investment of public resources into areas designed to improve the Island’s economic performance in the years and decades to come,” the Premier said.

    Kindergarten in Schools – What is Going On

    March 17, 2008

    Did you know how many kindergartens were in School? I didn’t – Now you and I know:

    Queens County
    CHANCES Smart Start (Prince Street School)
    CHANCES Smart Start (St. Jean Street School)

    Gulf Shore Kindergarten (Gulf Shore Consolidated School)
    Hunter River Kindergarten (Central Queens Elementary School)
    Mount Stewart Kindergarten ( Mt. Stewart Consolidated School)
    Les services de garde L’lle Enchantee (Carrefour de l’Isle Saint Jean)
    Les Petits Rayons de Soleil (Ecole Saint-Augustin)
    * Immanuel Christian Kindergarten (Immanuel Christian School ) Private School
    *Grace Kindergarten (Grace Baptist Church) Private school.

    Kings County

    Belfast Kindergarten ( Belfast Consolidated School)
    Georgetown Kindergarten (Georgetown School)
    Kids Co-op Ltd. (Montague Consolidated School)
    Kinder Kiddies Dundas Kindergarten (Dundas Consolidated School)
    Sea Friends Kindergarten (Southern Kings Consolidated School)
    Souris Kindergarten and Alternate Programs (Souris Consolidated School)
    Vernon River Kindergarten (Vernon River Consolidated School)
    ? Name – (St. Peters Consolidated School)

    Prince County
    Alberton Kindergarten (Alberton Elementary School)
    Bloomfield Kindergarten (Bloomfield Elementary School)
    Centre Prescolaire Evangeline (french kindergarten?) (Ecole Evangeline)
    First Step Kindergarten of Ellerslie (Ellerslie Elementary School)
    Humpty Dumpty Kindergarten (Amherst Cove Consolidated School)
    St.Louis French Immersion Kindergarten & English Kindergarten (St. Louis Elementary School)
    O’leary Kindergarten (O’leary Elementary School)
    Tignish English Kindergarten (Tignish Elementary School)
    Tignish French Immersion Kindergarten (Tignish Elementary School)

    What do we stand for? Our Kids and Our Future as a Society

    March 15, 2008

    Angie asked me to be more clear about what we stand for. We stand for our children and we stand for making their chance at being all that they can be be our priority. We have asked the Government to take a time out and hold off piecemeal change. We have asked them to look at the complete picture that is our children – how they are doing and what kind of result we need and why.

    We have said that we will only have trouble and even tragedy if we continue to try and accommodate the competing and irreconcilable interests of the people who earn their living in the sector. We are saying that if we put what our children and our society needs first – then we can fit the suppliers into that picture.

    I am sure that I may be upsetting you as I make these statements – so please look at the current reality: please have a look at Teresa Wright’s excellent piece in the Guardian today and ask yourself – how would any person reconcile the competing needs of the stakeholders – the owners, the ECE’s and the Teachers?

    • A small inner group of daycare owners and kindergarten who are worried about new competition or worse – universal Kindergarten – that would threaten their living.
    • ECE’s who are worried that Teachers will take their jobs
    • Teachers who are worried about declining enrollment and see Kindergarten as an opportunity to protect their jobs

    This is only human – the livelihoods and the place in society that all hold dear are threatened by any change.

    For each of these parties to WIN – means a loss for the others. More daycares and kindergartens of a higher quality than the existing ones, threaten the establishment. So the needs for parents to find more quality and more choice in blocked.

    This need to protect the current owners is behind the existence of the Board and behind the attempt to change the act to give the board discretion. It is not about qulaity but protection.

    Because we have the system we have, we don’t have quality care available to all children and we don’t even talk about them. Because our system is not universal – very large numbers of children have no access to quality care of any kind – their interests are never given voice.

    The people who have the voice are those that have a stake. Owners, ECE’s and Teachers circle each other like packs of wild animals staking out their territory.

    Where in all of this bitter life and death contest are the interests of children?

    If we stay at this level of debate – the interests cannot be reconciled and the certain losers will be our kids and hence all of us.

    For there is another layer of context fro all of this. We will have very few young when we are old. PEI will have amongst the least. Currently about 70% of the young who emerge from high school have neither the skills or the wherewithal to cope in society. We face a terrible crisis. Unless we can shift this so that many more can cope, can work, can be relied on to act as fully fledged adults and citizens – we are doomed.

    The only place that we have a hope in acting that might give us a chance is in the early years – before our kids get to school. This is the time of greatest leverage where lifetime trajectories are set.

    So if we cannot do a much much better job here soon, it’s all over folks.

    No one and no interest group can put their immediate needs ahead of this – this being all our future.

    So when we say that we stand for all out kids – we also mean that we stand for having a future here on PEI.

    Stepping back and looking at what the real potential is and looking at how many are applying best practices in other places is our only chance

    Kindergarten – Confused – Join the Club

    March 13, 2008

    Here is Teresa Wright’s piece in the Guardian today. Teresa, a mum herself, is doing a great job of digging into all of this topic and maybe now knows more than any of us as to what is really going on.

    It looks as though more changes could be coming to Island kindergartens, according to some parents and early childhood educators.
    The Early Childhood Development Association held an emergency meeting Tuesday night to discuss with early childhood educators the possibility of the province moving kindergarten into the school system.
    “They said they strongly believed this was going to be announced soon,” said April Ennis, a parent and member of the ECDA who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
    “They said it could be as early as the throne speech.”
    They also discussed the strong possibility of the province’s age of entry date being pushed back again  to Dec. 31.
    Last week, the Department of Education announced the age of entry for Grade 1 had changed from Aug. 31 to Oct. 31.
    This sparked confusion among kindergarten teachers who were left wondering why they had not been consulted about the change beforehand.
    It left kindergartens scurrying to come up with a readiness program for the 250 children newly eligible for Grade 1 in the fall, because with only three months left in the kindergarten calendar year, these children could not be given a full kindergarten curriculum.
    Anne Miller, who works with the ECDA, said her association, which represents early childhood educators in the province, is strongly opposed to kindergartens being moved into public schools.
    Despite opposition, several sources told The Guardian that MLAs have indicated to them these changes could potentially be forthcoming as soon as April 4, when the legislature opens for its spring sitting.
    Opposition Leader Olive Crane said the suddenness of last week’s announcement regarding the province’s age of entry for Grade 1 and the fact that cabinet was involved in the decision makes her believe there could indeed be big changes coming to the whole system.
    “Operational decisions like that usually come out of the department with the minister,” she said. “For cabinet to be involved, that begs the question — maybe they are planning on moving the kindergarten system into the school system.”
    And although Premier Robert Ghiz said moving kindergarten into the school system was something he said he’d be willing to explore during one of his election campaign debates, right now he said it’s not a priority.
    “One of the recommendations in the last task force report was to look into that. We haven’t addressed that yet.”
    But if any changes were brought about, it wouldn’t be overnight, Ghiz added.
    “It would have to be a long consultation process where you would have to sit down with the early childhood educators, you’d have to sit down with the school system, you’d have to find a way to really move that in there.”