Over the years, Alberta has seen group size slowly increase and reach such sizes that it has become challenging for teachers to manage their duties. In Calgary, Kindergarten classes can easily reach 25 or more, while the Albert Education recommendation is of 17 for grades K-3. We understand that this translate into a much larger work load for teacher, but how does it affect children?
For one, smaller class sizes create an environment where it is easier for teachers to get to know their students, and to develop a good relationship with them. Furthermore, it allows teachers to respond sooner to children, which is a determining factor in quality classroom environments (Bowman, Donovan & Burns, 2001).
I recently tumbled upon an article of Judith Colbert, Ph.D., who also asked herself the same questions. Amongst the other benefits of smaller group size, she identified the following:
It appears that smaller groups also have been associated with healthier and more sanitary classroom environments as the adults’ schedule is less fragmented by other demands.
The number of quality interactions to which children are exposed influences their outcome. In the context of French-Immersion, it is especially relevant to know that your child will hear French being spoken directly to him/her more often than in a larger group.
“When groups are small, the staff has opportunities to observe how children interact with each other and, when they note that a child lacks certain skills, they can take steps to help that child acquire the knowledge and abilities that are lacking.” (Colbert, 1997).
When educators are assigned a small group of children, they can better understand each child’s needs and help them develop coping strategies. They have space to spend some alone time during the day when they need it, and still have plenty of opportunities to socialize.
Once we have dealt with a three-year old at home, we need no further explanation to understand why having too many three-year old children hanging out together might be a recipe for disaster! Having a few children together allows them to grow in this area, but too many can create frustration.
So, what is defined as a “small” group size? Child Care Centres operation under Child Care Licensing regulations are provided guidelines for maximum group size and ratios. For ages 3 to 4.5, the ratio to maintain is 1:8 with maximum group size of 16. Schools do not have guidelines in this regard. Furthermore, there is still much confusion about interpretation of ratio data.
In a licensed centre like us, a ratio of 1 to 8 means that if you visit us, at any time of the day (including meals and recess), you will find one adult for every group of up to 8 children present in class. But that's not always the case. Often, a ratio is calculated very broadly like this: taking all students of the school and divide them by all educational staff. With that way of calculating in mind, VIK would be between 1:4 and 1:6. But that way of calculationg ratio is misleading in the sense that it does not take in consideration teacher's prep times, recess, meals, or absences of teacher-aids that are not replaced. In big schools, ratio can change drastically; 1:40 would be a more accurate estimate. Such lower ratios do not allow for these times to remain the great opportunities for social development that they are meant to be. It is therefore very important for parents to ask the right questions.
In conclusion, it appears that smaller group size benefits children on many levels and has consistently been identified as an essential condition to offer well-rounded educational programs.