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Montreal Families

What is the ideal kindergarten class size?

For close to 10 years, I taught in the public school systems in Quebec and British Columbia. In my first year, I was assigned a French immersion kindergarten class with 22 students (with a wide range of abilities). Some children didn’t know how to spell their names while others were reading chapter books. It was hard to give each child individual attention and often I’d arrive home exhausted and a little discouraged, wondering if I had managed to encourage and support all those wonderful kids.

As the year went on, I noticed that I was a more effective teacher when two students were absent and I only had 20 kids. Although the difference between 20 and 22 students might not seem like much, it made a huge difference in my class. Adding two kindergarteners means two more modifications to the teaching plan, especially if the students are struggling with school or having difficulty adapting the rules.

As well, parents often need some handholding, especially when their child starts kindergarten. Suddenly families have to adjust to school schedules, rules and demands, like homework. Parents may also be worried about their child’s social life at school. It becomes the teacher’s job to reassure and work with the adult, so decreasing the class size gave more energy for the remaining students and their families.

In Quebec, the Education ministry has established kindergarten class size in public schools as 18 to 20 students per teacher. However, class sizes vary in the province’s private schools, with some like St. George’s School in Montreal having maybe a dozen students in kindergarten to the College Internationale Marie de France, where there are usually about 30 students, with one full-time and one part-time teacher.

The College’s principal, Jean-Pierre Giraud, says parents do not seem worried about that number, noting that the school has a waiting list. Giraud emphasizes that it is the teacher who creates the structure that allows even large classrooms to function well. With clear rules and expectations, he says, children learn.

But Dr. Ellen Jacobs, Professor and Chair of the Department of Education at Concordia University, says research shows that ratios matter a great deal in a child’s ability to learn. She notes that classroom space is also an issue administrators need to consider when educating young children. She says classrooms can easily become overcrowded when you take into account the number of children in the class, the teaching equipment, and the limited floor space to accommodate all these things.

Whatever the size of your child’s kindergarten class, there are simple steps you can take to enhance the learning experience and develop a good relationship with the teacher.

Volunteer in the classroom. This is a great way to learn how the teacher runs her or his class and you’ll meet many of your child’s classmates. Just remember you are not there to supervise your child, but to help out all students in the class.

Listen to your child. Talk about the good and the bad parts of his or her day. Try to find out if your child is worried about something (for example, having the teacher get mad at her). If your child is unhappy about an incident or a comment made by the teacher, talk to the adult as well. There are two sides to a story.

Respect the teacher. Teachers should be open to hearing your concerns, but parents should speak to the teacher first before discussing a problem with other parents in the classroom. Try not to make an issue into a community affair.

Enjoy the experience. The key to a successful kindergarten year is to think of it like the first time you learned to ride a bike — there may be some bumps along the way but it’s thrilling all the same. 

Chart of Public Classroom Size 
 
Current size
 2010-11
 2011-12
2012-13
Grade 3
 
 
 
 
Disadvantaged areas
22-24
18-20
18-20
 18-20
Other areas
24-26
24-26
24-26
 24-26
Grade 4
 
 
 
 
Disadvantaged areas
22-24
18-20
18-20
18-20
Other areas
27-29
27-29
24-26
24-26
Grade 5
 
 
 
 
Disadvantaged areas
27-29
27-29
22-24
18-20
Other areas
27-29
27-29
27-29
 24-26
Grade 6
 
 
 
 
Disadvantaged areas
27-29
27-29
22-24
18-20
Other areas
27-29
27-29
27-29
24-26
 
Reducing class size in grade schools
The debate over ideal class size was back in the news this June when the Quebec government and public school teachers agreed to a contract that reduces class sizes for Grades 3 and up, particularly in disadvantaged areas around the province (see chart above). Teachers have been asking for classroom reduction size for years. The new contract makes clear that classroom size does matter when it comes to educating children.
Ruth Rosenfield, president of the Montreal Teachers Association, the union representing teachers who work for the English Montreal School Board, says small class size is a crucial part of ensuring a proper education for all students. She says that public schools accept children with diverse skills and socio-economic backgrounds so teachers find it hard to meet the needs of all the students in the classroom.
Rosenfield says the primary goal of the contract is to help students get the individualized care they need, especially in classrooms where more than one student has significant learning challenges or behavioural problems.

 

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