Niche Resources

Full-Day vs. Half-Day Kindergarten: What Are the Pros and Cons?

This year, the class of 2031 is headed to kindergarten. All across the country parents are preparing and delivering their big boy and big girl speeches. As the children begin their education journey, one question on the minds of education experts, administrators, and others, is “How long should the kindergarten day be?’

The percentage of students who attend a full day of kindergarten has grown dramatically from just 10% of students in the classroom for a full day in the 1970’s. By 2016, that number had grown to over 80%.  Universal Pre-K, or starting children at 3 or 4 in public school, has also become a topic of discussion – and a reality in some states — since President Obama alluded to it in his 2013 State of the Union Address.

Why the push for more schooling, and is it necessary? Studies have shown the early years in education are critical. Education Week reported on a study by the American Education Research Association which found that students who are not reading proficiently by third grade are four times less like to graduate high school by age 19. Other factors increase those odds including poverty which makes a student 13 times less likely to graduate.

But is full-day kindergarten necessary? Shouldn’t children have the opportunity to play and simply be kids? Can a half-day be sufficient for learning the necessary skills? Here, we break it all down.

Why Full Day? Why Half Day?
Why Full Day? Many kids have already transitioned to a full day via pre-K
Why Half Day? Some kids aren't developmentally ready for a full day
Why Full Day? May give students an academic advantage
Why Half Day? More time for other enriching activities outside of school
Why Full Day? Less of a financial burden on families (if school is free)
Why Half Day? Less cost to the school district and taxpayers

Financial Decision

Two-parent working homes and single-parent homes have become the norm. With no parent home, children need a place to go. Having the child in a full-day kindergarten eases parents’ financial burden. While the school day still typically ends at 3:00, the number of hours when parents have to find extra care is reduced.

While serving as a superintendent in Central New Jersey in the mid 80’s, Dr. Richard Horowitz’s district implemented full-day kindergarten. “Child care was a factor in our decision to go to a full-day kindergarten, and the great majority of parents wanted it,” says Horowitz. A former teacher and elementary school principal as well, Horowitz has also taught child development and trained teachers at the college level, and is currently the owner of a parenting coaching business.

While full-day kindergarten can ease the financial burdens of parents, it increases the financial burden of school districts. The cost of teachers, supplies, etc. doubles, which can lead to an increase in taxes. In addition, there is a question of logistics. Finding space in a crowded school building is a significant challenge.

Impact of Pre-K

Just as the dynamic noted above impacts kindergarten, it also impacts pre-K. In 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 42% of 3-year-olds, 66% of 4-year-olds, and 86% of 5-year-olds were enrolled in pre-K programs. With children becoming acclimated to an out-of-home experience at an earlier age, kindergarten is no longer the first schooling experience.

Alina Adams is a school consultant and the author of the Amazon best-seller, Getting Into NYC Kindergarten. In addition to working with dozens of families every year to find the best school for their child, she speaks to groups and contributes to a national blog, New York School Talk. She says, “Things have been pushed down. Children get socialization in Pre-K and what they used to get in 1st grade is taught in kindergarten.” The emphasis on education in kindergarten is also due to Common Core, according to Adams.

For those students who were in an all-day program as part of pre-K, a half-day kindergarten seems like a step backwards. “With kids having extensive schooling prior to kindergarten, the transition to a schooling experience had already occurred,” says Dr. Horowitz. “The kids had exposure to being around other children and parents are challenged to have their kids in shorter programs.”

Best For the Children?

While having children in all-day kindergarten is clearly more convenient, is it actually the best thing for them?

Results are mixed. A study from Duke University found that whatever benefits gained by students attending full-day kindergarten disappeared by 3rd grade. Other studies, including one from the University of Virginia, indicate sizable learning advantages for students who attend full-day kindergarten.

Why the differences? Adams is a strong believer that one size does not fit all. She notes that children who are younger and just make the cut-off, particularly boys, can struggle with full-day kindergarten. “Sitting for a long time on detailed work can cause meltdowns and lead kids to be labeled,” says Adams. She notes that some of her clients have their children in half-day programs while the other half of the day is spent in another rich environment, and “the kids get just as much out of their second half of the day.”

A child’s background is also crucial in determining their particular need for kindergarten. “For children who grow up with less exposure to a rich language environment and or have early language deprivation, a full day of kindergarten is helpful,” says Dr. Horowitz. He adds that such language skills are hard to remediate. If done earlier, chances for success improve.

Ultimately, Dr. Horowitz believes, “The length of the school day is less important than how the time is being used.”  Both Dr. Horowitz and Adams believe movement and giving students times throughout the day the freedom to choose what they do are essential. A full day of academics is too much to expect from a kindergarten student.

The Bottom Line

The debate over full-day or half-day kindergarten might still be going on by the time the class of 2031 is ready to graduate. The reason for the debate is there is no clear answer. A family and child’s situation impacts the benefits and needs when it comes to kindergarten.

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Author: Larry Bernstein

Larry Bernstein lives in North Jersey with his wife and two sons. In addition to serving as an adjunct and tutor, Larry is a freelance writer who focuses on education, construction, and retail. He has been seeing green rainbows since his beloved Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.