TORONTO - Joanna Lindeman has spent the better part of four years crouching next to four- and five-year olds at a daycare centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., teaching the boisterous group how to read, write and play.

Lindeman, 26, has been running the program at the non-profit day care for four years, but come next September, that program will end.

"I have really close relationships with children and their families and I'm scared that's going to be lost," said Lindeman.

As Ontario swiftly ushers in full-day kindergarten in September, early childhood educators are panicked, anxiously waiting to see what will happen to their jobs, their centres and their profession.

The province is moving ahead with a costly $1.5-billion-a-year-program that will enrol about 35,000 kids in full-day kindergarten next September, expanding to 50,000 kids in 2011.

Under the new plan, teachers will work with early childhood educators (ECEs) in the classroom.

But the province has spared little time rolling out the new initiative and this has left ECEs scrambling to find answers about the fate of their profession.

"When you rush something like this there isn't enough consultation," said Eduarda Sousa, the executive director of the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario, a voluntary association that represents ECEs.

"You have communities fearing that the removal of four- and five- year olds from childcare programs is going to leave a huge gap in their revenue and in their programs."

As more ECEs move into the public system, there are rumblings that smaller daycare centres dotted throughout communities in Ontario could cut staff, close programs and, in some cases, shut down facilities.

For Kelly Massaro-Joblin, the executive director of School House Playcare Centres in Thunder Bay, Ont. where Lindeman works, the announcement of full-day kindergarten was a direct blow to her schools.

"We are sad to lose our kindergarten programs, because it's a big component of our program. It does mean losing a considerable part of our enrolment," said Massaro-Joblin, who will try to recoup the loss by offering childcare to infants in her three centres.

However, the cost of delivering infant programs is more expensive, and Massaro-Joblin is left wondering where the money will come from.

"Whose going to fund the changes to childcare?" Massaro-Joblin asked.

She is also worried about keeping staff.

"My staff definitely will be head hunted because of their experience," Massaro-Joblin said.

This may not be a problem, according to Sousa, who said elementary schools are offering ECEs a wage well-below what was suggested in a report by the government's early learning adviser.

Charles Pascal recommended the educators make $26.85 an hour, but the province's plan has ECEs making $19.48 an hour.

"The concern is they're going to have difficulty finding ECEs that are seasoned and have the training to fill those positions, because the wages they're offering do not recognize the education," said Sousa, who did acknowledge that, provincewide, an ECE's salary can vary from $10 an hour to well over $30 an hour.

For many ECEs, the biggest unanswered question is the role they will play working alongside a teacher in a classroom.

The province has maintained the early childhood educator will work in partnership with a teacher, but some are unconvinced.

"The teacher with the university education is in charge and he or she would be the only one able to deliver curriculum," said Barbara Winberg, 55, as she imagined what next September might look like.

Winberg has been working as an ECE for five years in Thornhill, Ont., at Kids Come First Childcare Services, and questioned the idea of "partnership" in the classroom.

"If there's to be a partnership in the classroom, one of the partnerships has to be an equivalency of pay," she said, wondering if a strong teachers' union could muscle out an eager ECE.

Paris Meilleur, the spokesperson for the minister of children and youth services, has tried to ease this concern by emphasizing the benefits of teamwork in the classroom.

"It will be a partnership, said Meilleur.

"What that looks like and how that gets developed is still getting figured out."

Experts in the field of early childhood education are also hesitant to be too critical of a program that will ultimately benefit young minds.

"I hope it's an opportunity to improve things despite the very real challenges and shortcomings of the initial implementation," said Carl Corter, the Atkinson Chair at the Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto.

"I don't want to simply talk doomsday."

Corter views the province's initiative as a first step in bringing all ECEs into Ontario's education system.

"Yes, it's going to be imperfect," he admitted, "but we need change."

The change is not soon enough for some early childhood educators.

For Lindeman, the uncertainty is too much. She is back at school, as she works toward receiving her teaching certificate.