By Fall 2016, all schools in Washington will be eligible for state-funded, full-day kindergarten. Prior to this, schools have offered all manner of kindergarten schedules: half-day a.m., half-day p.m., full-day every other day with alternating Fridays, tuition-based full-time… sometimes all in the same district!
When I was a boy, kindergarten was half-day. We even took naps! I found myself wondering why our state is moving to a standard of full-day kindergarten (FDK). As I looked into it, I discovered that FDK is part of a national trend that incorporates research on student achievement, promotes equity of opportunity, and considers current family-employment trends.
Research has shown that children who participate in full-day programs make greater cognitive gains in early literacy and math when compared to half-day peers. They also make greater gains in social competence, problem-solving, and physical development. This is especially true for children who are English Language Learners or come from poverty (Kauerz, 2010).
Of course, just increasing kindergarten from half-day to full-day does not automatically increase student outcomes. As Alexander Holt puts it in Making the Hours Count: Exposing Disparities in Early Education by Retiring Half-Day vs. Full-Day Labels, “Time in a classroom does not guarantee opportunities to learn, but it is a necessary doorway to that opportunity.”
Another factor in this movement is family economics. In our region, more than half of children under the age of six come from homes with both parents working (State of Children and Families, 2015). Full-time kindergarten schedules offer continuity, providing more stability for young children throughout the day. And as preschool expansion continues, more children than ever will enter kindergarten having already adapted to extended periods of time in classroom-like settings.
As so many of the schools in our region have experienced – the move from part-day to full-day kindergarten is not easy – but more time for ALL children to learn and consistent schedules for families is certainly worthwhile!