Dale Shipley. (2021). Empowering Parents: Meeting children’s learning needs in the kindergarten and Primary Years. Hamilton, ON: Pandamonium Publishing House. (available Amazon.ca

My book addresses Canada’s elementary school systems, equips parents with information and questions to ask and empowers them to challenge the system when it does not meet their child’s learning needs. Many Canadians are experiencing profound change in nearly all sectors of our economy, the social contract, and in public institutions that served us for the 20th century but are increasingly out-of-sync with 21st century imperatives. 

Canada’s public education, delivery systems and teaching strategies were invented a century ago and have since changed only superficially and often under extreme pressure. Band-aid solutions to fundamental problems, instead of comprehensive, durable improvements, often amounted to uninformed ‘fixes’ that eventually led to a steady decline in the academic performance of our children on international tests that measure them against counterparts in countries whose school systems now outperform Canada’s. These countries decided decades ago to put children’s interests first; they believe that good schools and individual learning success have a profound impact on national health and prosperity. Academic decline in Canada partly explains why we now import talent from other nations to bolster research, invention leading to innovation, and productivity to maintain our high standard of living. 

Our present elementary school systems were designed for the Industrial Age of the 20th century; far too many curriculums and teaching styles remain content-based, still feature passive instead of active learning in the primary school years, and perpetuate rigid, irrelevant boundaries between subjects instead of interdisciplinary learning. Age-old evaluation and grading methods are failing at all levels of education as technologies advance and cheating surges. The Information Age is into its third decade, yet Canada’s schools, teaching methods, curriculums, teacher training, and leaders remain stuck in the Industrial Age. 

Greenbelt Academy is taking important steps toward building an innovative model for early education. It puts the needs of children first and understands that physical, psychosocial and emotional development are crucial to effective learning and mental and physical health that provide a solid foundation for cognitive performance and the realization of human potential. Greenbelt understands that nature and outdoor play and learning are essential environments for children to explore, develop sensory-perceptual skills, understand concepts because they see, touch and experience them and learn to think logically, divergently and creatively. Greenbelt’s progressive model for building a strong foundation for lifelong learning is a work in progress.  

Today’s parents expect schools to live up to their mandate to prepare children for the challenges of a future that is unfolding rapidly. These times require a Canadian consensus with respect to values, principles, practices, and an informed vision. This book asks questions, provides some answers, and demands thoughtful change – not unproven, temporary fixes. It empowers parents to become actively involved in their school and to support change that leads children toward self-realization, coping and competence, essential academic and learning-to-learn skills, and a lifelong love of learning. Education systems nearly always follow and seldom lead change. Effective leadership now calls on parents to inform themselves, understand the issues, think ahead and support a bold vision for education reform that leads our children and Canada to a better future.   

Dale Shipley, Ed.D. (also author of Empowering Children: play-based curriculum for lifelong learning. 5th edition. 2012). Retired associate professor, Ryerson University (now MTU) and former director of the Ryerson School for Early Childhood Education