Premier Dalton McGuinty admits it will take longer than planned to implement full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds in Ontario.

McGuinty said Monday the government has allocated $500 million over two years to start phasing in optional all-day kindergarten in 2010.

For the most part, junior kingergarten and senior kindergarten currently run half a day.

The premier admits the plan likely won't be fully implemented in three years as recommended because of the faltering economy, and says he doesn't know how much it will cost.

When pressed, McGuinty said he didn't know the total cost, but admitted it would be "a lot of money."

'A lot of parents are right now running all over the place trying to patch together services they need for their kids and their families.' —Charles Pascal, Ontario government's early learning adviser

McGuinty also says teachers will have to work alongside early childhood education specialists, an idea teachers unions have balked at in the past.

Charles Pascal, the government's early learning adviser, recommends that full-day learning programs for preschoolers start in lower-income neighbourhoods.

McGuinty says that will help address the government's anti-poverty strategy and give children a stronger start to their education.

"This is a good program. I think it is very progressive. I think it is going to put us at the forefront internationally. We give our kids all the opportunities that they need, especially in their early years. And that's the strongest guarantor of a strong economy."

Full-day learners better academically, socially

Pascal's report said children who have attended full-day programs before Grade 1 fare better academically and have better social skills.

Schools with declining enrolment will also be given priority because they have space available to accommodate the extra children.

Parents would still have a choice about whether their four- and five-year-olds would be enrolled for a full or half-day of kindergarten, or nothing at all.

In Ontario, school is not mandatory until Grade 1.

"A lot of parents are right now running all over the place trying to patch together services they need for their kids and their families," Pascal said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The report from Pascal, a former deputy minister of education, comes almost two years after he was appointed to advise the provincial government on how to implement full-day kindergarten.

More than 25 per cent of children are "significantly" behind their peers when entering Grade 1, the report said. Children who have attended full-day programs before Grade 1 fare better academically and have better social skills.

"This is going to give a big boost to kids and their parents," said Pascal.

The long-anticipated report also recommends moving services like daycares into schools for what's described as the "seamless day."

Research has shown that children, especially younger children, benefit from fewer transitions between locations.

The report also stipulates that if a group of 15 or more families gets together and asks the school to provide classes before and after the traditional school day, it must be provided.

The move would give parents the option to leave their children from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. at the school, for a fee. The report does not provide specifics about the cost.

TDSB chair applauds report

John Campbell, chair of the Toronto District School Board, applauded the proposal, saying it will be welcomed by many parents.

"With so many households where you have two working parents or if you have a single-parent family where the sole parent is working, they're already looking for these kinds of solutions," said Campbell, whose school board is the largest in Ontario.

The plan does have its problems. It means finding adequate funding to pay additional staff as well as finding space for the influx of students who will spend extra time at school.

Though they support the concept, the Tories warned the province could face a serious time crunch by trying to implement the system by September 2010.

"A school year is not a lot of time," Joyce Savoline, education critic for the Progressive Conservatives, said in a telephone interview from her Burlington, Ont., home.

Savoline, who did not have access to the report in advance of its official release Monday, said parents need time to make child care plans for their families.