Fostering learning during the early years
The early years form the basis upon which children shape their place in the world. The environment in which a child grows up, at home and outside it, is crucial to their successful entry into school. Findings from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth underline that:
In a linguistic minority context, the mastery of the language of instruction and the capacity to communicate are additional predictors of academic achievement. The reality of a minority context means that children are exposed to two different cultures at a time when their cultural identity and language skills are developing. Moreover, sooner or later these children must learn the language of the majority (i.e., English), in addition to their mother tongue, to ensure their full integration into society.
The required conditions to develop additive bilingualism (i.e., the mastery of a second language without incurring any costs to the cultural identity and mother tongue) are met by few Francophone children living in a minority context. For bilingualism to be additive, a minimal threshold of exposure to, or use of the mother tongue must be exceeded. For various reasons, the minimal threshold required is higher when the mother tongue is that of a linguistic minority.
The Readiness to Learn in Minority Francophone Communities project (formerly known as the Child Care Pilot Project) was a response to this reality. The project pilots a two-pronged preschool program whose innovation lies in its targeting of the two main environments — daycare and home — most likely to influence the learnings of young children, its emphasis on exposure to French in these environments, and its focus on providing high-quality content compliant with best practices in the areas of early childhood and family literacy.
This demonstration project was part of the Government of Canada’s 2003–2008 Action Plan for Official Languages and was continued under the 2008–2013 Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) retained the services of the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC) to implement, manage, collect, and analyze the project data.
Results from the project add to the collective knowledge of what works for whom and will inform parents, service providers, and communities about the design and delivery of early childhood services targeting minority Francophone families. Early childhood also happens to be a favourable time for preventive, early, and positive interventions that may contribute to the preservation of the French identity, culture, and language as well as to the revitalization of minority Francophone communities.
The piloted preschool program combines a child care component with a family literacy component. The programming of the child care component was adapted for children aged 2 years and 8 months from the Franco-Saskatchewanian junior kindergarten program developed by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education (2001) for four-year-olds. The program uses a play-based approach to foster children’s development of French language skills, Francophone identity, and commitment towards the Francophone community. A set of 10 family literacy workshops offered to parents during the first year of program delivery complements the child care component. The programming of the family literacy component was developed specifically for the pilot project by the firm Eduk, in collaboration with ESDC and SRDC. The workshops sought to equip parents to support the development of their child’s French language skills and cultural identity.
The preschool program was implemented in six minority Francophone communities across Canada: Edmonton, Alberta; Cornwall, Durham, and Orléans, Ontario; as well as Edmundston and Saint-John, New Brunswick. More than 350 Francophone preschoolers (and their parents) were followed over a period of four years: from the age of three to seven — that is, from preschool to the start of Grade 2. Two cohorts were recruited into the project. Children of the first cohort were born in 2004 or in January 2005. Those of the second cohort were born in 2005. The preschool program was initiated in September 2007 for the first cohort and in September 2008 for the second cohort.
In technical terms, the program was evaluated by way of a longitudinal study using a quasi-experimental design with comparison groups. Three groups of participants were created for the purposes of the study:
The program was evaluated by comparing the developmental trajectory of children participating in the preschool program with that of similar groups of children not participating in the program (i.e., Comparison Daycare group and Informal Care group children). The main developmental dimensions measured were language and cognitive skills (i.e., preliteracy, prenumeracy, and reading skills as well as various logical-mathematical aspects). The first assessment of children’s developmental dimensions (that is, at baseline) took place at the beginning of the preschool program. Thereafter, child assessments were done every four months over the first two years of the project for a total of seven assessments. In the last two years of the project, child assessments were done annually. Parents were surveyed in conjunction with child assessments.
To better distinguish the effects of the program, the impact analyses controlled for other factors known to influence school readiness and academic achievement. For example, the analyses controlled for the socio-demographic characteristics of children and their parents, family processes (e.g., parenting style), languages spoken in the home, social capital, and the cultural groups with which the parents identified.
The Readiness to Learn project ended in 2013. Children are now enrolled in high school. In 2014, SRDC published the project reports. The Reference Report provides a description of participants of the first cohort at project onset in 2007. The Project Implementation Report documents implementation activities and evaluation findings arising from the program implementation study for the project’s first cohort. The First Cohort Findings Report presents program effects and impacts on children and their parents.
The Report of Findings from the Preschool Phase is the first to present findings for the combined first and second cohorts of participants. It provides a description of participants, results of the program implementation study, as well as program effects and impacts on children and parents. The Report of Program Effects in Grade 1 centers on program effects and impacts in the medium term on children and parents. Lastly, the Report of Program Effects in Grade 2 presents longer-term program effects and impacts on children and parents. Furthermore, the report casts a critical eye on the developmental trajectory of children and parenting aspects of interest over the four years of the project. This analysis allow us to take stock of successes and identify program aspects worthy of improvements with the end goal of increasing the effectiveness of the program in achieving the desired outcomes.
In 2016, SRDC published three project summaries consolidating results of the program implementation study, program impacts on children and their parents over the four years of the project as well as program effects on participating communities.
The Readiness to Learn in Minority Francophone Communities project was funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Published: May 2013
Policy Area: Community Capacity, P-12 Education - Preschool - Specialized Services and Programs
Population: Children - Official Language Minorities - Communities and Families