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Full-Day Kindergartens: How is There Any Other Option in Public Schools?

kindergartens, children learning

Full-day Kindergarten is optional in many school districts. But studies show, it should be a must.

Unlike Stephanie, I feel no ambivalence when it comes to sending my kids off to full-day Kindergarten. In fact, in my choice-rich school district, full-day Kindergarten was a must on my list of criteria back when I was hunting for a school. I didn’t even consider the so-called half-day (2.5 hours!) options.

Yes, I’m the product of half-day Kindergarten (afternoons, if you must know), and I’m none the worse for having had to squish Play-dough time, emerging reader skills and a nap (!) into such a short afternoon. But that was then and this is education now and I have a hard time believing there are still so many schools out there offering such a super short day to the youngest learners.

Only 12 states in the U.S. mandate that public school Kindergartens offer full-day programs, despite evidence that it better prepares students for reading by the end of third grade. Moreover, as education standards creep downward, it’s a lot to ask of a kid — and a teacher! — to get an entire class of 4- to 6-year-olds to master all the skills now required of incoming first-graders — as well as to develop socially and emotionally and to have a little fun so they don’t think of school as drudgery — all in the span of 2.5 hours over 182 days.

Yes, I know your kid could name upper- and lowercase letters, and may even have been reading and writing, well before enrollment in Kindergarten. Mine could too. But consider all the kids who haven’t had the advantage of an educated, motivated, present and/or literate-in-English parent to get them there. These are often the students whose schools and school districts hurt disproportionately harder during budget cuts. And Kindergarten, which doesn’t get the same kind of attention as grades 1 to 12, is one way for schools to bring in the bodies using far fewer teachers. Offer half-day Kindergarten and you’ve got twice the number of students for the same number of teachers.

The Children’s Defense Fund has launched an effort to get full day Kindergarten for all in the U.S. You can watch the director of their Early Education Initiative argue for the longer days.

Half-day Kindergarten is a holdover from a different time. And while I’m very much in favor of lots of play and Play-dough and story books and just generally messing around in Kindergarten, I also get that education is a different beast than it once was. For better or worse, full-day Kindergarten for all could be part of a strategy toward closing achievement gaps and boosting literacy and math in the earlier grades.

And don’t even get me started on Universal Preschool. I’m all for that, too.

Photo: wwworks via flickr

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