Elementary school in Canada

By Amanda Owusu

Posted on September 6, 2021
Elementary classroom

Navigating the elementary school system in Canada may seem like a confusing process, especially when you consider the differences between the provinces and territories. However, this article will provide important information you need to know that will answer questions you may have.

What is elementary school?

Elementary school in Canada, also known as primary school, typically spans from kindergarten to Grade 8. In some provinces, Grades 6 to 8 are referred to as middle school or junior high. The education system in Canada is controlled by the provinces and territories, so there are certain variations across the country.

For instance, Ontario is the only province where junior kindergarten is mandatory, and in other provinces such as Quebec, elementary school only goes up to Grade 5. This chart is a more detailed explanation of the grade structure across the different provinces and territories in Canada.

Elementary schools in Canada can be public or private. You can also choose between religious or non-religious schools. In addition, since the official languages in Canada are English and French, you can choose between English or French schooling. There are even schools with specialized programs for students with disabilities, students interested in certain fields such as arts and technology, and students who speak English as a second language.

Elementary schools in Canada are typically supervised by school boards in addition to the provincial government. There are different school boards for different regions and for religious and non-religious education. For instance, in Toronto, there is the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

How to enrol?

You can easily enrol your child in elementary school by contacting your local district school board. It’s best to enrol your child as early as possible, keeping in mind that the school year in Canada typically begins in September, so ensure to enrol your child by August. If you are hoping to have your child attend a private or religious school, call the school you are interested in for more information.

school door

Time is of the essence when it comes to enrolling, as spots can fill up quickly! You will need important identification documents such as birth certificates, passports, proof of address, proof of guardianship for the child, proof of the child’s immigration status, proof of baptism if necessary, and immunization records. The school board or school will give you a more detailed list of what you need, but it is best to prepare yourself to enrol by having these documents.


The age that a student begins elementary school varies based on the province or territory you’re in. Typically, students start school the September following their fifth birthday. This is not always the case and we suggest contacting your local school board to confirm their particular rules.

Grade structure by province

It’s hard to say when exactly elementary school ends in Canada because each province and territory has its own cut-off date. We have included this chart by ArriveIn.ca to give you a rough idea of the grade structure by province.
elementary classes across Canada

Transportation and school buses

Most schools provide students with free transportation to and from school if they live a certain distance from the school. Students are provided transportation on yellow school buses that are driven by a licensed bus driver. The driver follows a route that picks up many students to bring them to school.

These buses can sometimes carry up to 72 passengers at one time. Some schools require the parents to provide their own transportation if the child lives close to the school. Most schools determine your child’s eligibility to enrol based on how far you live from the school. This means that your child will usually not attend a school that is very far from them, as they would be redirected to a closer school. It’s worth figuring out your child’s route to and from school in advance to get them comfortable with the commute.


There are free public schools that are available for students to attend in Canada. To attend these schools, you do not have to pay any tuition fees. The only costs typically associated with public schools are activity fees or uniform fees if the school has one. There are also private schools in Canada which require tuition payments. Private schools in Canada can vary from $4,000/year to $70,000/year depending on where your child attends. Whatever your budget is, there is a school for your child to attend in Canada.

Other expenses, in addition to tuition, that you can expect during elementary school are field trip fees, textbook fees, student agenda fees, and at some schools, there is a charge for extracurricular classes such as music.

These additional expenses are typically affordable since the whole purpose of public schools in Canada is to provide people with access to affordable education. For more information on school fees, contact your local school board or elementary school to inquire.


Elementary schools usually cover core concepts such as math, science, English, social studies, geography, history, and sometimes even extracurriculars such as music or physical education.

The goal of elementary school is to teach children fundamental skills such as math, reading, and writing. There is a standard provincial curriculum that is followed by all schools in that territory or province. This curriculum is designed to equip students with the skills they need to excel in their academic studies.

Students are usually assigned to a “homeroom” where they are taught all these subjects by one teacher with the same class of students. In older grades, students can have a rotating timetable where they go to different teachers for different classes.

Grading system and how marks are assessed

In elementary schools, students are usually given a letter grade that reflects their performance. The grading system varies depending on the province. Typically, the letter grades include A, B, C, D, and F (E if you are in Quebec), with A being the highest and F/E being the lowest standing for “Failure” or “Échec.”

Students usually complete a wide variety of tests, assignments, and quizzes that allow the teachers to evaluate the student’s skill level and provide a grade to reflect the student’s performance. Grades are usually provided to parents in the form of “Report Cards” which are released at the end of every semester. You can speak with your child’s teacher about their grading methods and systems.


Most Canadian schools allow the students to access different extracurricular programs such as sports and clubs. Some schools will have sports teams such as soccer teams, basketball teams, hockey teams, and track & field teams, where the students can try out for a position on the team. Some schools also have different clubs and programs for children such as interest-based clubs, like reading clubs, math clubs, and even student government systems. Different schools offer different extracurriculars, and it’s best to confirm your child’s school has extracurriculars that match their interests.

Resources for newcomer students in Canada

Canada has a lot of great resources for newcomer students to help them make the most of their academic experience. Most Canadian schools offer English-as-Second Language (ESL) or French-as-Second Language programs that can help newcomer students develop their communication skills.

You can usually enrol in these programs by inquiring with your local school board or your school. The process looks different depending on where you are. For example, in Toronto, there are Newcomer Reception Centres operated by the Toronto District School Board. This is where newcomer students can go and have their reading, writing, and speaking skills assessed and matched with a program that fits their needs. All elementary schools in Toronto have ESL programs and many other school boards reflect this. Contact your school or school board today to get more information on what resources are available to you.

We hope this article was informative and helped to answer important questions that you may have about elementary school in Canada. We wish you and your child all the best of luck on this new academic journey!

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