Q: How do you feel about full-day kindergarten? I was going to try to avoid it by sending my son to a half-day Montessori program, but his preschool teacher advised against it. He does very well academically, but I'm worried about him adjusting to being away from home for so long.
A: As with so many educational questions, look for the answer within your child. Some children who have had many years of child care and/or preschool are ready and eager for full-day kindergarten. Others may still enjoy the time at home that a half-day program provides. You really have to look at both your child and the program. Notice if your son is getting tired at the end of the preschool day. Talk with his teacher about his energy level and attention span. Check out the programs that he would be moving into to see how much rest and playtime they provide. As you note, the issue is not just academic ability or readiness but also maturity and social readiness. To do well in full-day kindergarten, your son needs to be able to handle being in a large group for many hours a day. As you know, even being in a large group of adults all day can be exhausting! If the program provides for small-group and independent playtimes each day, it will be much easier for your son to adapt to. Talk with the school and the teacher to see what the expectations are.
The Good News about Full-Day K
As a former kindergarten teacher, I found full-day kindergarten the most delightful and effective way to teach. Nowadays there are many required skills that need to be taught even in kindergarten. It is much easier for the teacher and the child to work on these skills in the relaxed and comfortable setting found in a full-day program. Whether a child goes to half- or full-day kindergarten, a public school and the state usually require them to learn the same competencies. A full day can afford more time for revisiting a skill, practicing, and playing with it. Young children make these skills their own through their application in meaningful life experiences they create in their play and work. That is why it is important to find out the type of program this full-day class uses. More playtime will mean more time to integrate the learning each day.
As you can see, I am a supporter of full-day kindergarten — as long as the day is geared to the children's developmental level. The day should be a balance of work and play, active learning and application of concepts. At the same time, if some children are not ready for the energy and concentration that a full day requires, there is no failure in attending a half-day program.
Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.