Research shows early learning is beneficial. Educational play-based programs like our pre-primary initiative have been shown to improve social, health and emotional outcomes and these benefits last a lifetime. It will also save families thousands of dollars in child care costs every year.
Nova Scotia will become the third jurisdiction in Canada to offer this kind of program.
I recently announced the first 50 pre-primary classrooms would open across the province this fall. We worked with school boards to select these locations, based on where there was the greatest need. One of the main considerations was whether there were child care options currently available in the community.
Pre-primary will also create more job opportunities for early childhood educators in the province.
This changes the landscape for child care and early childhood education – we recognize that. That's why we want to work with daycare providers to identify opportunities for them in the new landscape. We will work with the industry to address potential impacts to their business, but our shared goal is to help more kids be better prepared for grade primary.
In four years, all Nova Scotia families who want to participate in pre-primary will have the chance to do so. We are expanding pre-primary programming to all communities across the province. This means families who want to, can choose to place their child in the free program.
Pre-Primary has a huge, positive impact on those who need it the most. It means that families – regardless of income or where they live – will have access to this. In this way, it levels the playing field to ensure all of our children have the opportunity to succeed.
This is an ambitious plan, I recognize that. I'd like to address some of the questions that have come up.
Unlike a regular classroom, children will learn through play. They choose where they go and what they work on, exploring various activities from water tables, art, reading and building. They will not be sitting at desks.
Although the 50 new classes will all be in schools, teachers are not expected to assist with pre-primary. Children will be supported by trained, early childhood educators.
All children participating in pre-primary programs will have the same access to special needs supports that four-year-olds currently have in regulated child care, at home or other early learning experiences. For example, pre-primary children will have access to Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention, a program that provides treatment for young children with autism spectrum disorder.
Pre-primary will operate during the same hours as the school in which they are located. This schedule is similar to the hours of other grade levels and will help pre-primary children to move into student life the next year.
Pre-primary is an option for families. It is a free, voluntary program that Nova Scotians can take advantage of if they choose to. Pre-primary attendance is not required to enter the school system.
Pre-primary staff will be school board employees. The board's recruitment process is well underway to hire one early childhood educator for every ten children in the program.
I am excited about how this program will help our children and families. When we invest in our children we are laying the foundation for a stronger Nova Scotia and we are creating more opportunities for all Nova Scotians.
We encourage Nova Scotians to visit our website for more information: ednet.ns.ca/pre-primary .
Zach Churchill is Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.