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April 25, 2022

Inclusive and Accessible Early Learning Through Welcome to Kindergarten

At The Learning Partnership, we believe every student should feel welcome at school and happy to come to class. Our programs are driven by the desire to provide quality experiential learning programs through publicly-funded schools, reach underserved students, and remove barriers to access and inclusion. 

English Montreal School Board uses The Learning Partnership’s Welcome to KindergartenTM (WTK) program to help prepare children and their families for the start of their school journey. The family session and the professionally-developed WTK Learning Through Play resource package, founded on the Talk Read Create and Play Every Day model, reinforce the importance of play-based learning and help families prioritize it at home.

Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal holds a Welcome to Kindergarten event every year before school starts. Principal Carmen Nicolas says that running the WTK program has turned what can be a scary new experience into an exciting and fun beginning for her youngest students. 
“We’ve had the program for five years. My first year here before the program, there were a lot of children crying that didn’t want to come in. With Welcome to Kindergarten, there’s almost none of that.” says Nicolas. “I think it also gives the staff a chance to get to know the children a bit more and support students that we notice have more challenges.” 

A family member reads a book with their child in their lap.
Families participate together in Welcome to Kindergarten activities. Note: Photo taken before COVID-19

Fostering social-emotional learning  

At Willingdon Elementary School’s WTK event, the new kindergarteners are introduced to each teacher, and each teacher sets up a station focused on a different resource from the Welcome to Kindergarten resource bag. As the students go from learning about letters and numbers and other foundational building blocks, they are also learning to socialize with their peers and teachers for the first time. Though the event is normally held in person, Nicolas says that they have successfully run the event virtually during the pandemic: each family picks up a WTK resource bag and they and their child join in from home. 

“A huge component of Kindergarten is social-emotional learning, how to deal with your emotions, how to share, how to build social skills, how to behave in a classroom setting,” Nicolas says. “With Welcome to Kindergarten, we can sometimes notice a child who might have challenges with social-emotional skills, and could be better supported by this teacher or that teacher... it helps us to be a proactive team, as opposed to trying to react in the first week of school.” 

Two educators stand behind a table of WTK bags
Willingdon Elementary School was able to organize outdoor WTK resource bag pick-up for families to participate in a virtual orientation session this year.

Accessibility and understanding support needs  

Principal Nicolas says that the proactive relationship building between teachers and students before school starts helps the school to provide a better educational setting for students with any sort of challenge, not just social skills.

“A student might have a speech impediment... when the teacher knows in advance, then that teacher can correct them with the appropriate sensitivity,” Nicolas explains. “Same thing when it comes to holding scissors or being able to trace their letters. For example, maybe the child needs a pencil with a specific grip.”  

She says that running Welcome to Kindergarten before school begins gives them a head start on building trust with parents and students, and encourages parents to be open about their children’s needs and helping their teachers understand them, from the simple things to more complex issues like ADHD, anxiety, or students on the autism spectrum.  
“Some parents will share a speech and language report, or another kind of report. Other parents, they don’t know if they should trust. They don’t want their child to be singled out and are hesitant to share information,” Carmen says. "The Welcome to Kindergarten program allows parents to come forward with their questions and concerns because the entire team is there and they aer so open, receptive, compassionate, and kind. We demonstrate our support for their children from the start and avoid negative experiences."

According to Nicolas, Welcome to Kindergarten has had great benefits for all incoming students, whether they're dealing with specific conditions or just nervous to start school. Overall, the most impressive thing about running Welcome to Kindergarten just before school starts is the program’s ability to quickly build bonds between parents, students, teachers, other school staff and even members of the community who are invited to the session to offer families an understanding of the broader network of support that is available to them and their children. 

Nicolas has seen WTK’s impact at Willingdon Elementary School and is grateful to be able to offer it to each new Kindergarten family every year as do other schools in the English Montreal School Board. "It’s a great program. It helps to relieve parents' and students’ anxieties. And we’ve seen a positive progression in the program as well. It brings clarity to the expectations of both parents and teachers.

Students are seated around a table participating in an activity led by an educator
Educators lead students through Welcome to Kindergarten activities. Note: Photo was taken prior to COVID-19

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