|Is a full day too much for a 5-year-old?|
It used to be standard that kindergarten students attended school for a half day. In the last decade, the majority of kindergarten programs have moved to a full-day schedule to prepare students for the rigors of first grade. Then I noticed my oldest daughter’s preschool will begin offering an extended day this fall, “to prepare students for all-day kindergarten.”
The trend is to schedule longer school days for younger and younger children. How effective is all-day kindergarten anyway? Is all-day kindergarten really age appropriate?
Proponents argue the longer school day provides more time for instruction and in-depth learning, promotes a more relaxed atmosphere, and allows teachers to get to know children and their families better. All-day kindergarten also is convenient for working parents who don’t have to arrange other child care for the afternoons.
Opponents of all-day kindergarten believe the day is too long for 5-year-olds, putting unnecessary stress on children and perhaps turning them off to school.
But what do the experts say?
While all-day kindergarten does provide immediate academic gains, many studies raise a yellow flag. Research shows that gains fade soon after kindergarten and disappear by third grade. The latter study also indicates that social benefits of all-day kindergarten are mixed, and some children may exhibit more behavior problems.
More interesting, one study that marked no significant academic differences between all-day kindergarten and half-day kindergarten indicated that the trend toward full-day programs is not backed by much long-term research. Instead, it’s often school districts’ “knee jerk” reaction to controversial laws like No Child Left Behind. The study notes how costly all-day kindergarten is, especially if the benefits are questionable. It also acknowledges that many other less tangible factors contribute to a child’s success in school, such as culture, emotional competence, and parental involvement.
Also of concern, another study found that children who attended all-day kindergarten experienced a negative effect on math scores later. They were more likely to have behavior problems and a poorer attitude toward learning. The research stressed the importance of “nonacademic readiness skills” like emotional stability and the ability to sit still, listen, and follow directions. It said, “nonacademic readiness skills were more consistently associated with home background factors, such as parental involvement, income, and extracurricular activities. This suggests that interventions that aim to improve family circumstances, including programs designed to enhance parenting, may be one way of improving children’s academic success.”
This indicates that even at-risk children who are neglected or impoverished – the ones purported to gain the most from all-day kindergarten – may not be benefitting as much as is hoped.
Research also suggests that the purpose of all-day kindergarten for any child should not be to cram in extra academics. One study noted, “Full-day kindergarten programs that are appropriate for kindergarten age children have been found to provide cognitive, social, physical, and emotional benefits for children.” The same study stated that teachers believe all-day kindergarten is not appropriate for all children and families should have options.
Another study urges “teachers, administrators, and parents to resist the temptation to provide full-day programs that are didactic rather than intellectually engaging in tone. Seat work, worksheets, and early instruction in reading or other academic subjects are largely inappropriate in kindergarten.” What is appropriate? The study mentions a relaxed and informal setting, emphasis on language development and “preliteracy experiences,” and development of social skills.
Regarding my own daughter, we will pass on the full-day preschool option this year because I do think there’s a slippery slope nature to it. Do we start offering full-day preschool to 1- and 2-year-olds to prepare them for all-day kindergarten?
When my daughter heads to full-day kindergarten next fall, I’ll be watching to see how the classroom is run and whether the day’s activities are age-appropriate. I do think the long day will be a challenge to my daughter initially, but I also admit it is getting increasingly difficult to occupy her all day at home. In addition to preschool two days a week, we play and do preschool projects, and she attends library story time and church weekly. By next fall, she may be ready for more.
I will miss my daughter when she is at school all day, but I’m willing to give it a try. One of the most common mantras regarding anything child-related in our house is that we’ll take it one year – or if needed, one day – at a time, knowing we can reevaluate and change course if needed.
You can contact Rachael by emailing her at Rachael@mumblingmommy.com.
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