Opinion

Ask Mrs. Brooke | What are the pros and cons of full-day or half-day kindergarten?

Dear Mrs. Brooke,

I’m trying to decide if I should put my daughter in a full-day or half-day kindergarten program. What are the differences in the schedule and curriculum? What type of child can “handle” a full day? Do the first grade teachers see a difference in the kids that come to them from having gone for a full day versus a half day?

Mimi Henderson

Dear Mrs. Henderson,

Your child is entering school for the first time and you have spent much of your time as a parent raising your young child to be an independent and lifelong learner. Like most parents, I am sure you want your child to love school and a great beginning can definitely help foster that love of learning.

I wish I could tell you that there was a clear body of research that supported the half-day kindergarten or the full-day program. There are many different studies out there that show students who attend full-day kindergarten often do better in first grade and on standardized tests. However, there are also studies that show data that by the end of fourth grade there is no difference and children who took more time to play, create, and imagine, actually had better higher level thinking skills long term.

There are other studies that say students in full-day experienced more behavior issues compared to those in half day, but then others that said children’s lack of sleep or family involvement were the major factors in poor school behavior. I have consulted preschool teachers, kindergarten (both half-day and full-day) teachers, and first grade teachers and there are of course many opinions.

When it comes down to it, most educators agreed that it really depends on the child and the family situation. All agreed the biggest factor of students being socially, emotionally, and academically ready for first grade was not that they had attended a full-day or a half-day program, but that the child had a very involved family.

After teaching first and second grade for 10 years, I agree that family involvement is a big factor in determining if a child is ready for first grade, or any grade for that matter. As a half-day kindergarten teacher now, I am obviously a huge advocate of the half-day program. Our typical day is two-and-a-half hours compared to a six-hour day. Students in half-day kindergarten must meet the same state and district standards as students in full-day kindergarten and take the same district-wide assessments. Because of this, there is a lot to learn in a small amount of time, but we do!

In my classroom we have reading, writing and math workshops, some science, art and social studies, music and library once a week, and most of all fun! For five and six-year-olds, developmentally a half-day program is a perfect balance. I am the first to admit that sometimes I wish we had more time, but then I think of all the wonderful experiences my students are having in the afternoon – playing with younger siblings, creating, imagining, visiting museums, zoos, and parks, having play dates, and spending quality time with family. These experiences are those that I could never give and lessons that I could never teach.

Children rise to meet expectations, but do you want your child to “handle” kindergarten or do you want them to “love” it? If you are fortunate enough to be with your child in the afternoon, what is the rush to get your child into a full-day program? They will be attending school for at least the next 12 years, so allow that extra time for them to read, write, move, explore, create in their own ways, experience new places and practice socializing with friends. As I continue to remind myself, our children are only young for so long, so why not truly treasure every moment.

Many studies also show when we rush our children too soon, too fast, much of the joy of learning is lost. One thing is clear, in whatever program, joy and fun should be a part of a child’s day for a child’s love of learning to continue to grow.

Now, I understand most families do not have the luxury of one parent at home, both parents work and so half-day kindergarten many times is not a choice. In that case, we are fortunate in this community because there are wonderful full-day kindergarten programs in many of our schools. We have incredible educators who hold high expectations for students, yet understand the developmental needs of children and so offer a balanced full-day kindergarten program.

For more information, you may find the kindergarten handbook on the Lake Washington School District Web site helpful. Kindergarten registration is underway and I know many parents of soon-to-be kindergartners share these same concerns. As a parent, I understand the pressure to get your child “kindergarten ready.” Everyone is feeding you different advice. No matter what I say, your neighbor, the preschool teacher, listen to your heart.

In the end, you know your child best and whatever your decision, enjoy the days ahead in the magical land of kindergarten. And always remember, you are your child’s first and most important teacher.

Contact Mrs. Brooke by e-mail at dearmrs.brooke@gmail.com with any questions regarding your child’s learning. Joy Brooke lives in Kirkland with her husband and two children, and teaches AM kindergarten at Ben Franklin Elementary. The opinions provided in this column do not reflect that of the LWSD.

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