Overview Of Early Childhood Education in Canada

Rules, Requirements And Key Constituents

Are you thinking of starting a childcare service in Canada or have a product for the sector? Or perhaps you are moving to Canada and want to understand the early childhood education landscape. Here is a summary of early childhood education in Canada, how it works, the main regulations and its goals.

In Canada, each individual province and territory has full legal power to oversee early education and child care (ECEC). No Department for Education or national policy is in existence. ECEC policies and procedures and their development have been influenced throughout Canada, making a contribution to challenges met.

Attendance Rules

Early childhood education in Canada is compulsory for all Canadian children, available until the age of five or six. The exceptions are Ontario and Quebec, where children enter the public school system at the age of four, continuing with grades 1 through 12.  Programs, availability of funding within each individual province, and the number of hours available to teach preschool children vary. In the province of Nova Scotia, early education is known as Grade Primary.

Preschool is optional for two years in Ontario, with junior for four-year olds and senior for the five-year olds. Maternalia and Jurdin preschool programs are offered by French schools in the state of Ontario, with full-time pre-school programmes being offered in more recent years. A one-year full-time preschool program has been offered in British Columbia since 2012.

Funding is provided for all preschool programs in the state of Quebec as well as financial aid for low-income families. Students in the Prairie provinces are not by law required to attend preschool.

Children in Canada must start school on the 1st September in the year following their fifth birthday, with the first year of preschool being compulsory. Ontario children are eligible for preschool at age four, although it is not yet compulsory at that age. Children are required to be in Grade 1 by the time they reach the age of six. Places can also be held through special arrangements with the school.


Early childhood education in Canada is a private pay system in most provinces. Families need to pay out-of-pocket for early childhood education, similar to the United States. However there are subsidies and funding available for low-income families. And there is experimentation with more complete public funding, such as the Early Years program in British Columbia.

As is the case with public schools, the administration of early childhood education in Canada is at the discretion of each individual province. Policies and requirements vary throughout Canada.

For those with a valid work permit, immigration in Canada will issue a permit to children within each respective family allowing them to register for free in a public school. For those arriving in Canada without a valid work permit or resident card, parents should apply for a study permit for their children.


Academic research and peer reviews greatly influence the recognition of the early education curriculum throughout Canada. This is leading to updated provincial curriculum guidelines such as the Play, Participation and Possibilities childcare framework in Alberta, which focuses on learning dispositions using play and incorporates learning stories as an assessment approach and the Capable, Confident, and Curious early learning framework in Nova Scotia.

Canada has inclusive approach for children with special needs and disabilities. Irrespective of their special need or disability, every child has the right to a free public education. These funding decisions occur at a local level with support from federal government.

Expansion Of Early Childhood Education In Canada Is Likely

Recent research by the OECD reveals that early childhood education in Canada, and Ottawa in particular, is expanding.

A report by the Conference Board of Canada showed participation in early education is still below OECD averages. It also concluded that $1 spent on a child’s early education under five years of age yields $6 in benefits.

Provinces are working towards better access to early childhood education in Canada. This means offering full-day programs to three-year-olds. Provinces and territories throughout Canada are working together on this program.