• Photograph by Park Trooper

Upstream Radio: Why early learning investments matter

Podcast with Charles Pascal hosted by Trish Hennessy

Better early learning options = better life chances

Trish Hennessy

Eight years ago I partnered with several foundations to cross the country asking Canadians, via focus groups facilitated by Environics Research, what they think about a universal early learning and child care plan.

We were promoting a vision where kids of all ages would get access to super affordable early learning opportunities, no matter where they live or how rich or poor their parents are.

Sounds amazing, parents would tell us, but Canada can’t afford to do that.

But they do it in Sweden, we said.

It would never happen here, they countered.

And then we asked: did you know that Quebec offers a universal child care program at the low daily rate of $7 a day for all families? [Note: the rate is now a bit higher].

In New Brunswick, right next door to Quebec, they did not know. But suddenly universal early learning seemed quite possible. It would help us get back to work earlier, so we wouldn’t be working to pay for daycare, parents said.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, they did not know. Well, they said, maybe that’s what we do with our new-found prosperity—something our parents’ generation wasn’t able to do.

In Alberta, they did not know. And they were miffed. How can we live in the richest province in the country and not have a program like that, parents asked.

It tells you something about the art of possibility: Canadians have this amazing ability to implement innovative new public programs (think: public health care) once they believe that it’s possible. One simple program in one single province changed parents’ minds about the possibility of not having to work to pay for daycare.

And they appreciated the idea that their kids would get access to socialization and learning opportunities before they hit kindergarten.

Fast forward several years and a number of provinces have implemented a full-day kindergarten program for children aged four and five. B.C. is experimenting with a $10 a day child care pilot project for some parents. Alberta is piloting $25 a day child care program.

The full-day kindergarten policy made its debut in Ontario—a program sparked by a major blueprint report spearheaded by Charles Pascal, one of Canada’s leading early learning and child care experts. On the podcast, Charles and I talk about trends in early learning, threats to existing programs in Ontario, and where he finds hope. Give it a listen here.

Here’s a roundup of several developments on the early learning front:

  • Don’t mess with full-day kindergarten: It works. Read Amanda Munday, mother of two and owner of a cool co-working space that offers child care in Toronto, on why the Ontario government shouldn’t mess with its groundbreaking full-day kindergarten program in this Globe and Mail commentary
  • $25/day child care? This Alberta pilot project is working. This Public Interest survey says parents want more. 
  • Ontario's full-day kindergarten is working. Read Charles Pascal on the latest here.
  • B.C. is expanding its affordable child care plan: Details from the latest provincial budget here
  • Trouble in paradise? Ontario may be poised to unravel gains in early learning. Details here
  • Investing in early learning is good for the economy: So says the Conference Board of Canada. Read here
  • Says science: What’s the key to being a smart kid? Have parents who read to them every day. More here
  • Parenting shouldn’t be a personal problem: It should be a collective problem that we solve together, says Peterborough-based writer Ann Douglas in this article on her new parenting book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, available at Amazon.
  • Valuable resource: Dennis Raphael’s work on children and the social determinants of health. Read here.


Trish Hennessy is executive director of Upstream.

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