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Millie Bolton, 6

  • Birthday: May 14
  • Westminster Public School, Vaughan
  • SK, full-day program

Quoted: "Are pigs made of sausages?"

When asked about the most important parts of a kindergarten classroom, many children will describe toys or games or a favourite activity.

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Not Millie Bolton. The 6-year-old senior kindergartner, who recently immigrated to Canada from England with her family, chose four friends and her teacher, Jackie Sherkey.

Many early learning experts would agree with Millie: There is growing recognition of the importance of social interaction in the kindergarten classroom.

A child's ability to communicate, interact and co-operate with others has profound effects on their ability to learn. Literacy and numeracy are easier to measure, but these social skills will have more long-lasting effects.

For Millie, her enthusiasm for her friends has translated into an enthusiasm for school and for the classroom. It's even improved her literacy, as Millie has learned how to spell the names of all her closest friends and it's given her more confidence to try spelling unfamiliar names and words.

Millie often built elaborate play worlds in her drawings, adding imagined details, like high heels, to her own feet, or real ones, like leavers, to the bottoms of office chairs. Research has shown that learning is multi-modal, and these elaborations in Millie's artwork coincided with an explosion in her vocabulary and reasoning skills.

"Play has links now to even neurological growth, building socially adept and flexible brains by being able to play in a very deep way," said Janette Pelletier, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies early childhood development. "It's not in competition with academics, it's rather the basis of academic learning."

Alfie Bolton, 4

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  • Birthday: December 26
  • Westminster Public School, Thornhill
  • JK, full-day program

Quoted: "I didn't eat the marshmallow, I just touched it with my lips."

It was the youngest children that many teachers and parents worried about when Ontario launched full-day kindergarten last fall. Children like Alfie Bolton, whose birthdays fall late in the calendar year, so that they were barely 3 1/2 when they started attending junior kindergarten full-time.

They worried that the day was too long for a 3-year-old, that they'd become distracted and cranky, or fall asleep in class.

For Alfie and many others, it was tough going at first. Fine motor skills develop later in boys, and when he started school, Alfie wasn't comfortable holding a pencil. Drawing exercises made him nervous and he would rub the back of his neck in a stress gesture he inherited from his father.

He was too shy to be called on in class.

But instead of impeding his progress, Alfie's teachers and parents say that the routines, consistency and independent play the full-day program allows accelerated his improvement.

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Come the spring, he was thriving: writing and sounding out letters, drawing more elaborate pictures, with a sense of scale, and place and perspective, and raising his hand in class, speaking in front of his classmates.

"It was just very lucky that we ended up at a school that went full-day," said Leanne Bolton, Alfie's mom.

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