By Lori J. Skurka, M. Ed.
A few years ago our local board of education outlined its intention to standardize all-day kindergarten instruction across the district. According to the board, their enthusiasm is buoyed by a successful pilot program which has been running within the district, as well as research which supports the notion that all-day kindergarten enhances a student’s self-confidence and independence, leading to higher progress in social and learning skills.
The move represents a significant departure from the traditional half day kindergarten routine (which, in actuality, is not even a half day), which was intended to provide youngsters with an introduction to their elementary years and where they could engage in a few hours of age-appropriate social interaction. That being said, a significant percentage of districts nationwide have embraced all-day kindergarten. And certainly we’ve all heard about Saturday school and other examples of academic rigor placed upon young students abroad, particularly in the Far East. It is worth noting that this practice is alive and well in our local town, within certain ethnic communities through their civic and religious centers.
Thus arguments are frequently heard regarding the necessity of “starting earlier” and “working harder” so that our students can simply remain competitive in the global landscape. But is asking a five year old to spend 30+ hours a week at school too much to ask of them? We examine both sides of the issue.
On the positive side, the primary overarching intention of all-day kindergarten is to better prepare students to succeed. The definition of success is of course in the eye of the beholder: an enhancement of learning capabilities, an increased score on some future standardized exam, or the ability to more effectively socialize with peers. Whatever the definition, there is certainly a body of academic research which supports the claim that today’s five year olds are mentally able to endure the additional time in the classroom and derive a lasting benefit from it. And there are parents who have put their kids through all-day kindergarten who will heartily vouch for the benefits it provided.
Furthermore, it is certainly true that children from some families where a certain degree of nurturing is not available will actually benefit more, socially and psychologically, from additional time in the classroom where age appropriate stimulus is available. For these students, extra time at home may just result in more television, more video games, or in some cases more neglect.
And, as alluded to earlier, we are a nation which is becoming a net outsourcer of skilled labor. Countless thousands of American jobs have been shipped overseas to harder working and better trained workforces who are able to provide more value for less money. If the United States hopes to maintain its status in the global marketplace, then we must impart academic rigor on our youth as often—and in this case as early—as possible.
But all-day kindergarten has its detractors as well. Academic research published by Rand Education, The Goldwater Institute, and other reputable institutions cites empirical studies which posit that the boost received by an all-day kindergarten student may be short lived, with much of the benefit dissipating within a few years.
So, not surprisingly, there is credible research available to support both sides of the debate. However, in researching this topic we found that detractors cite plenty of practical objections that strike closer to home and resonate even more than academic research.
First, many parents question whether their children (typically boys, whose psychological development takes a more roundabout path) are “ready” for all-day kindergarten. They have seen their children slowly adapt to the pre-school environment, which for most kids translates into just a few hours a day, three days a week. They just don’t foresee their child being able to transition to the additional time commitment of all-day kindergarten. For these parents, a half-day 5 day per week kindergarten seems a more logical way of bridging the gap from preschool to elementary school.
Next, some parents believe that the additional parent child “quality time” available when a child is in half-day kindergarten is of more benefit than all-day kindergarten’s additional academics. These parents prefer to spend the additional time with their children bonding and visiting destinations such as the zoo, the children’s museum, the YMCA, or local parks. For these parents the kindergarten year represents a way of preparing their child, and frankly themselves, for the transition to all day schooling.
And on a local level, there are parents who have expressed that our schools are too crowded to allocate additional classrooms to all-day kindergarten sections. Others have claimed that the district has enough on its plate right now resolving other issues such as the completion of the district's controversial new third high school.
As my husband and I often say to each other, “the truth is somewhere in the middle.” It is my perspective that all-day kindergarten is absolutely the right choice for some while being inadvisable to force upon others. Some kids will benefit in the long run from the additional academic rigor, while other kids lack the maturity to stay focused for the entire day and will be frustrated by it. The best solution is to have both options available, with the choice ultimately being left to the parent(s).
Lori J. Skurka, M. Ed., has more than a decade of experience as an elementary classroom teacher. She now operates a private tutoring company. Learn more about EleMental Learning Tutoring at www.elemental-learning.com