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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Kindergarten: Half or full day?

March 4, 2008

One of my blog posts that got people talking was the one about our decision to enroll Anna in kindergarten as a 5 year old (rather than waiting until she turned 6). Both our girls have summer birthdays; we waited to send our older daughter, but wrestled with the same decision for our younger daughter.

A related (but different) contentious topic surrounds full- vs. half-day kindergarten, a topic that's always in the news. A new study in Early Childhood Research Quarterly supports the research that says kids who go to kindergarten all day learn more about literacy and math than kids who only go for a half day. It's especially true for kids who are in smaller classes and for kids who are at risk. It's the same finding that is supported by other studies (example here).

What's not clear from the evidence is whether the benefits from the full-day programs last beyond the kindergarten year. Some follow-up studies suggest that the effects of full-day kindergarten deteriorate over time. Personally, I think that probably speaks more to the intensity of instruction in later years than it does about the lack of effect from full day kindergarten.

Our public school only offers full-day kindergarten, but many of our private schools offer both full- and half-day programs. If I had to choose, I'd go with full-day. But others disagree, citing that's just too much school to soon. What's your opinion?


When parents choose to wait to send their kids (whether it's to a full day or half day program), the gap in academic performance within the kindergarten class widens. We definitely saw that - when Molly entered kindergarten as a 6 year old, she was 13 months older than another child in her class. Molly was a proficient reader, the other child was learning letter names. And the rest of the class was somewhere inbetween. Around here, lots of young 5's--those with spring and summer birthdays--go to a 1/2 day program and then do a full day at public school the next year.

It's interesting to see that your wanting to wait until she is 6. It seems to me that this is a push lately because kindergarten is becoming more challenging. Kindergarteners are traditionally 5 years old. I would look for a program and school that expects your child to be 5 and teaches a developmentally appropriate program. I've been reading some blogs and bulletin boards lately and the parents are holding their children back 1 to 2 years so they can be competitive and not frustrated in their classes. Does it make sense?

My son has a Feb. birthday, and he started all-day K at our neighborhood school at 5 years old. He had attended pre-school as well.After the school year started he showed almost immediate signs of stress after starting all-day K: anger, unhappiness, impatience, and other acting out that he had not displayed before. Today kindergarten is quite rigorous with many directives and lots of sitting. After 2 months of this I made the very difficult decision to switch schools. I have to drive quite a distance, but I chose a 1/2 day kindergarten and almost all behavior issues disappeared after that.This is what worked for us. I was disappointed not to have the 1/2 day option in our neighborhood school, but that's how it goes. Full-day is a better option for kids from low SES households who's parent's most likely do not have the option or resources to do 1/2 day. As with many choices, it is up to each family. Academically my son is at the top of his class. Much of the full-day kindergarten afternoon is taken up with recess and lunch and free-play time, so I personally don't believe that kids get that much less academics in 1/2 day. Also, my son and I do many enriching and fun activities at home--like science, art and music, that it much more hand's on than doing more worksheets at school.Whether or not a child is in 1/2 or full-day, what will matter most is parent involvement and support. That is the key variable. Reading to your kids, talking WITH them rather them to them, sharing meaningful times together.We are a nation that is pushing academics, while ignoring all of information we know about learning and development. A child is 5 only one year of their life. I think we can slow down a little. As we adults know fully that life is very demanding these days--let's let them be kids.

We put our first born into all day private kindergarten. She learned many things and had numerous learning opportunities that could not be found in a public half day program, but literacy was not one of those things. She had a difficult time initially and I personally spent many hours with phonics, reading to her and with her to increase her reading skills. Those were well spent hours. It takes alot of practice, repetition, parent participation, and determination on the childs part. She was upset that she could not read chapter books. My now 8 year old is a wonderful and enthusiastic reader who loves reading her chapter books to herself and sharing with me what she has read. she also reads to the 5 year old. I have starting teaching the 5 year old how to read and I feel comfortable that he will be ahead in the reading game. I must also say the our public kindergarten stresses literacy and we a have meeting in April to discuss kindergarten literacy. I am no longer scared to have a child in half day kindergarten.

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"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney