How Does Learning Happen? A Pulse on the Early Years Community in Ontario

Early Childhood Educators understand Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years, but are concerned about the feasibility of applying the concepts.

How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years is a key component of Ontario’s vision for the early years that was released in January 2013 as part of the Ontario Early Years Policy Framework. On August 31, 2015 the Child Care and Early Years Act came into effect as the new legislative framework governing child care in Ontario and How Does Learning Happen was named as the document to be used by licensed child care centres in Ontario.

In June, we wrote a blog post on How Does Learning Happen and its introduction in Ontario. The article was more of an educational piece since we have many child care and early learning programs inquiring about how HiMama supports this new pedagogy. This time around, we sought out first-hand feedback from those in the early years community directly.

To get feedback from the early years community we posted a survey on Facebook directed at those working in early childhood education in Ontario. The feedback was quite overwhelming, with over 100 responses in only a couple days. Survey respondents were self-defined as Early Childhood Educators (45%), Early Years Administrators (Owner, Director, Supervisor) (21%), or Other (ECE Professor or Faculty, Consultant, Specialist) (34%). The results of the survey are by no means comprehensive or scientific, but I do think they give a good pulse on where people are at in the field.

Awareness and Understanding

Making How Does Learning Happen a component of legislative policy is a progressive and commendable step by the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Education. Explicitly naming the document to be used by licensed child care programs has surely prompted even the most skeptical people in the field to at least familiarize themselves with the document.

Of our survey participants, 80% felt that they understood How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years. Given that the document is still relatively new to the sector, this seems to me to be a very respectable level of awareness and understanding in the field for a document with such a strong pedagogical focus, a new concept to many.

Question 1: I know about and understand Ontario’s professional learning resource guide, ‘How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years’.

One interesting point of feedback about awareness and understanding was from a parent who felt that the document and principles should be made more accessible to parents, and not just educators. This is a good point and perhaps an area for improved communication which, ironically, is very much to the point of family engagement stressed in the How Does Learning Happen document itself.

Understanding Application of the Pedagogy

Survey results on the question of whether respondents understood how to apply Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years surprised me most of all. Of our survey participants, 75% felt that they understood how to apply the new pedagogy. Given the open-ended nature of the resource guide and the lack of a prescriptive guide about how to apply the principles, this is really a great result and speaks to the efforts of the Ministry and local quality consultants and advisors in educating the early years sector on How Does Learning Happen.

Question 2: I understand how to apply Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years.

From the comments submitted by participants, it was also clear to me that many in the early years community are very excited by the document and what it means for the future of early childhood education. They would be right to be excited, as the concepts are indeed big and forward-looking. I suspect that their passion and advocacy for the core ideas in the document have had a significant influence on the strong levels of awareness and understanding.

Feasibility of Applying the Pedagogy

Less surprising, is that a number of survey respondents were concerned about the feasibility of applying How Does Learning Happen. Only 40% of respondents indicated that they were not concerned about the feasibility of applying the pedagogy. This is despite the fact that 75% of respondents understood how to apply the pedagogy described in How Does Learning Happen.

Question 3: I am concerned about the feasibility of applying Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years.

So why the discrepancy? There are three main factors:

1. Gap between theory and practice – Understanding the content of How Does Learning Happen is one matter, but implementing it in the classroom is another and there’s a big gap between the two. This is not a trivial point.

2. Time and resources to implement – There are a lot of demands placed on early childhood educators and child care workers. Creating quality programming, informing families about children’s development and completing licensing documents, for example, not to mention children’s health and safety. Finding the time to apply a new pedagogical framework can be a challenge.

3. Skills and capabilities of educators – Applying How Does Learning Happen is no simple task even for the most educated and qualified of educators. However, when you consider that many child care workers are not formally educated in early years concepts and practices, especially pedagogy, then applying the document could be an unattainable goal.

Survey Takeaways

My summary of the survey results: “How Does Learning Happen is well-respected in the early years community, but the verdict is out on how early years programs will cope with applying it in practice.”

Given the ambitious nature of How Does Learning Happen, these survey results are very positive. There’s a lot of excitement and discussion happening around the document and it sets a tone for other jurisdictions in Canada and beyond about the direction that early years is taking. So what can be done to deal with the implementation challenge?

Recommended Actions

here is no easy fix to making How Does Learning Happen more feasible to implement in chid care programs. Additional time and resources for child care centres and enhancing educator capabilities take time and money. And so, we come to the ultimate challenge facing early childhood educationThere is a misalignment between expectations on Early Childhood Educators and the resources provided to them to meet these expectations.

So, while there is no easy fix, the answer is simple. Early years programs in Ontario require more funding to implement sophisticated pedagogical frameworks, like How Does Learning Happen, above and beyond their existing responsibilities. If the province takes early years education seriously it will need to invest in the sector to attract talented and passionate educators that will make powerful contributions to the well-being and development of our future generations.

A good place for governments to start would be recognizing and acting on the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario (AECEO) discussion paper, Regional Wage Scales for RECEs Working in Regulated Childcare in Ontario. The paper references a report showing a 2.7% decrease in early childhood sector wages between 1998 and 2012 after adjusting for inflation. If accurate, then it is no surprise that the early years community is concerned about the feasibility of implementing How Does Learning Happen.

Select quotes from survey respondents:

“I recognize that this field is going through a lot of changes right now. As an ECE in the classroom, my biggest stressor is fully having the opportunity to fully embrace child-led learning, promoting independence and inquiry, and full engagement, while having to meet safety standards (i.e. we are trying to include forest play) and having to have a monthly calendar, program plan and timed daily schedule. These three factors each day make it difficult to continue engaged learning.”
– Early Childhood Educator
“I am really impressed with pedagogy, however, it is a pretty high level document and in my work I see many ECEs are requiring a lot of support with it. Supervisors may not be able to assist since they are not feeling confident themselves.”
– Quality Initiatives Mentor

Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.