Kindergarten is traditionally a transition from preschool to elementary school. Whereas a main goal of kindergarten used to be socialization, today most students have previous preschool experience, and kindergarten has become increasingly academic. Full-day kindergarten is becoming more popular; however, many school districts still have half-day programs. These programs save districts money by requiring fewer teachers, fewer curriculum materials and less classroom space. Full-day versus half-day kindergarten has been the topic of much research.
Lower Reading Gains
One effect of half-day kindergarten is lower achievement in reading. A research study done by Charlene Hildebrand at the University of Nebraska-Kearney found that students in half-day kindergarten made less progress in reading by the end of kindergarten than those who attended full-day programs. Study results differ on how long-lasting this effect is. A review of literature completed by Lisa Pitch, researcher for Clark County school district, and Ordene Edwards with the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Nevada, found many research studies showing higher achievement gains lasting beyond kindergarten for full-day kindergarten students. However, a study done by Charles Milligan with Middle Tennessee State University did not find a difference in achievement in second grade between students who had been to full- versus half-day kindergarten.
Less Time for Quality Instruction
Kindergartners need large blocks of time for exploration, discovery and independent work. In half-day programs, students have less time to spend in self-directed centers and free-choice time. In addition, as found in the literature review done by Pitch and Edwards, when less time is available for instruction, subjects such as science and social studies are less likely to be taught every day. Teachers find it more difficult to fit in all the kindergarten learning standards. They also do not have as much time to implement varied instructional techniques and differentiate to address varied student levels.
Positive Attitudes and Behaviors
Research is mixed on whether students in half-day programs have more pro-social and positive behaviors than their full-day peers. In her research study, Hildebrand found that students in half-day programs have a better attitude toward learning. Teachers rate them as being more pro-social and having fewer negative behaviors. However, in their literature review, Pitch and Edwards noted many studies that did not find this trend. Students in full-day kindergarten were found to have better work habits and be more independent. It may depend on the fit for the individual child. Some children need more down time and still nap at five years old. Most kindergartens no longer have a true nap time, so these students may experience greater fatigue with a longer day.
More Family Time
A half-day program affords students more time at home with family and opportunities to learn from life and community experiences. Young children may benefit from extra quality time with parents and being able to stick to familiar lunch and nap-time routines. However, this benefit depends on the family situation. If both parents are working, children may be going to daycare instead. For at-risk students, the time spent in a quality kindergarten program can benefit them academically more than additional time spent at home or in a daycare setting.
- National Forum: The Effects of All-Day and Half-Day Kindergarten Programming on Reading, Writing, Math, and Classroom Social Behaviors
- NASP Center: Kindergarten - Full Versus Half-Day: Information for Parents and Early Childhood Educators
- SAGE Journals: Full-Day Kindergarten Effects on Later Academic Success
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