Is Full-Day Kindergarten Necessary?
Remember kindergarten? Finger painting, hopscotch, and circle time, right? Not anymore. Now kids are at their desks trying to master algebraic thinking through dittos. With the new Common Core Standards and a more competitive global economy, do our kindergartners need more time in school?
In my district in suburban New York, the superintendent has proposed a budget that includes full-day Kindergarten. For the first two years, we would have a grant that covers almost all of the cost. After that, the projected costs are significant.
Many vocal parents in our district believe full day Kindergarten is essential for their children's academic success. They are frustrated by the tuition at academic enrichment centers or, in many cases, the childcare costs of having only a half day at kindergarten.
I spoke up against moving to a full day and quickly found out how passionate some of my neighbors are about this topic. I was called names and accused of not caring about children's education. I believe it is important to speak up, anyway.
Early childhood education is immensely important. However, we need to carefully consider what our goals are and what type of early childhood education best fulfills these goals. Skills, readying, writing, counting, adding, etc., are all important. However, I believe that even more important in kindergarten is creating life-long learners who believe in the value of their own education.
To this end, Kindergarten should inspire creativity, it should be developmentally appropriate, and it should be engaging. Too often, in trying to meet developmentally inappropriate standards, our young children spend hours at their desks completing photocopied worksheets. At our elementary school, full day students have two days of gym a week and 15 minutes of outdoor play a day if weather permits. That outdoor play involves rules such as "no running." On days when weather does not permit (and that's most days in New York), the kids rotate through sedentary "recess" activities that include a video on one of the days.
Proponents of full-day kindergarten primarily point to studies that show a bump in test scores among students who attended full-day kindergarten. Long-term studies, however, have not been able to show any lasting effect. Obviously, spending more time on a skill with a child produces greater proficiency in that skill--at least temporarily. However, when a child learns a skill at a developmentally appropriate time, he learns that skill much more quickly. If you teach Betty to read at 3 and Archie to read at 5, obviously, Betty is likely to be a better reader at age 5 than Archie is at age 5, maybe even at age 6. Archie will learn more quickly at 5 than Betty did at 3, however, and, assuming no developmental delays, will likely pull even with Betty by age 8. In fact, Archie might even become the more avid reader, since Betty's earlier experience may have been marred by frustration. This is more than just theory--the countries of Scandinavia delay formal education until 6 or 7 and yet have some of the top educational systems in the world.
Another argument for full-day Kindergarten is that teachers report a better adjustment in first grade among children who had full day kindergarten. I wonder if the reason for this better adjustment is just that we've pushed the difficulty down to a younger age. One could easily make the same argument for full day Pre-K program, or even a full day program for 3 year olds. Most kindergarten children are not ready for so much academic structure, yet.
Others say that standards are "higher" than ever before. Again, I ask, at what point do we take a stand and say that children need time to be children? With all the evidence that play-based learning and free time to explore is essential to developing the types of flexible minds needed in this 21st century world, why are we pushing our children into formal academic structure earlier and earlier?
I strongly believe it is important to invest in our children's future. With language, arts, science programs, and Advanced Placement (AP) classes being slashed due to budgetary constraints, however, I think we need to carefully consider where we are investing that money...and our children's time. I would much rather my children learn another language or make music than spend 500 extra hours at their desks in kindergarten with nothing more than a temporary test bump to show for their time.