June Hall has seen plenty of changes to childcare during her 26 years at Main Square Day Care Centre.
Hall remembers what some of her staff were like as toddlers under her care.
But nothing compares with the changes this fall, when the last wave of full-day kindergarten classes opened at a dozen public and Catholic schools across Ward 32.
“The transition this September has been huge, huge for everybody,” said Hall. “If you didn’t have a little nest egg saved up, you were sweating.”
Last week, Beach Metro News spoke with managers at six of the 33 licensed childcare centres in Ward 32.
While their programs vary, many are struggling with the loss of 4- and 5-year-olds who now attend Ontario’s full-day kindergarten program. Nearly everyone agrees it is now more difficult to hire Early Childhood Educators and other childcare staff.
At Main Square, the number of children ages 2.5 to 5 has dropped from 24 to 16.
Two years ago, Hall started expanding Main Square’s toddler program to compensate, but even so she said the non-profit is facing lost revenue because toddlers require more staff and new equipment, such as strollers.
“Childcare centres are being faced with providing care for the most expensive age group,” said Hall.
At Balmy Beach Community Daycare Centre, Marlene Bunt said she needs to enrol twice as many pre-kindergarten children as usual.
“It’s leaving a big gap,” said Bunt, explaining that most children in the centre’s pre-K program happen to be almost kindergarten age.
For the first time in 20 years, Balmy Beach has no waiting list for that age group.
Bunt said she would like to expand the toddler program, but there is no space to do it at Balmy Beach Community School, where the program is housed.
The centre may expand its catchment area, Bunt said, but acknowledged that several centres are now competing to enrol the same children.
“You have to be really on the ball with your programming,” she said.
At Healthy Earth Bilingual Nursery School, Donna Lynn Watson said the pre-kindergarten remains full, but kindergarten classes were hit quite hard in September.
“Now it seems to be coming back,” said Watson. “There are very disappointed parents coming from the public system going, ‘Is there any room in your kindergarten? My child isn’t learning.’”
Watson said some parents found the public full-day kindergarten program “chaotic,” with classes of over 30 children and an age range of 3.5 to 6 years old.
At Kew Park Montessori, coordinator Carole Cristiano said full-day kindergarten really hasn’t had much effect.
Parents come to the school looking specifically for the Montessori program, Cristiano said.
“It seems like the whole generation of 30 to 40 year-olds are very aware of what’s available,” she said. “They come here and they’ve already done their research.”
Neither the Beaches ABC Academy nor the Williamson Road Day Care Centre ran kindergarten-age childcare before the September switch, but managers at each centre said they are feeling the change in different ways.
“There’s been a trickle-down effect on staffing,” said Wendy Arnold List, founder at ABC.
Registered Early Childhood Educators can now be hired as assistants to teachers in the public full-day kindergarten program, List explained.
Given the summer vacation and other benefits, she said many ECEs are eager to work for the school boards.
Anna Zizzari agrees.
Zizzari is a supervisor at Williamson Road Day Care Centre, which just started a before- and after-school program for children in full-day kindergarten at Williamson Road Public School.
Given just six months to hire the staff she needed, plus a split shift that runs from 7 to 9:30 a.m. and then 2 to 6 p.m., Zizzari said, “Honestly, I was expecting the worst.”
“But I’ve hired great staff,” she said. “It’s just what’s expected now of an ECE — it’s typical that you’ll see split shifts.”
Of all the childcare managers Beach Metro News spoke with last week, Zizzari seemed to have the highest demand, as parents are trying to secure a spot in the new before- and after-school program that extends full-day kindergarten.