As your little one prepares for his first days of school, you may feel bombarded by decisions to be made in your quest to do the right thing for your child. Perhaps one of your first dilemmas will be to decide between full-day kindergarten and half-day kindergarten. Both models have been around for a long time and continue to be used successfully.
Differences Between Full-Day and Half-Day Kindergarten
The primary difference between the two models is time. The full-day kindergarten is normally between five and six hours in length, while half-day kindergarten typically comprises approximately three hours.
Most schools that offer the half-day option typically provide two sessions, morning and afternoon. The parents of younger children are often encouraged to select the a.m. session to accommodate naptime. The p.m. session may be better suited for older five-year-olds who can cope without their nap, and who can stay alert and attentive during the afternoon hours.
The fact that full-day kindergarten comprises more hours gives it the advantage of increased instructional time. Some proponents refer to this as “the gift of time.” Not only do these extra hours provide additional time for teaching and evaluation, but they can also contribute to a more relaxed classroom atmosphere due to the less rushed pace in which to conduct activities. The longer day also allows for enrichment activities, such as field trips and guest speakers, as well as more opportunities for play and social interaction.
Many adults are more familiar with the half-day model, because this was the type of kindergarten that they participated in as youngsters. Proponents of the half-day model suggest that the shorter day more realistically addresses the needs of the typical five-year-old, given the short attention span of children this age.
A primary argument for half-day kindergarten is that it provides a gradual transition into the school setting. However, now that an increasing number of two-parent households see both parents employed outside the home, children who attend daycare each day have already experienced being outside the home for several hours each day. Such transition is not necessary for these children. In fact, one concern regarding the half-day model is that it requires children to make too many location switches each day, between home, school, and childcare.
Characteristics of a Good Kindergarten
Those who favor either the full-day or half-day model have plenty of research to back up the efficacy of their favored kindergarten approach. The reality is that either model can be quite appropriate, depending on the individual child and the particular program itself. Beyond the time factor, differences between programs depend less on the length of the session, and more on educational philosophy, curriculum, and teacher quality.
Developmentally Appropriate – At each stage of learning, certain qualities unique to that age of child need to be acknowledged and accommodated. Regardless of the diversity of kindergartners’ experiences prior to this academic year, the fact remains that every student in that classroom will benefit from an awareness of the developmental needs they all share.
- Children this age are extremely active and should not be expected to sit still for long periods of time.
- They require at least an hour of play each school day. When weather permits, this should include outdoor playtime.
- Their social skills are rapidly increasing, and they may need guidance with conflict resolution, getting along well with other children and the teacher, and making new friends.
- They are developing a sense of their ability to make decisions, so they should be provided with plenty of opportunities to choose between purposeful activities.
Curriculum that Fosters a Love of Learning – Most kindergarten classrooms provide a fun, nurturing, stimulating educational environment. While cultivating a passion for knowledge acquisition is important at every grade level, it is especially critical in kindergarten, which is many students’ first introduction to academia.
- Children this age love to be read to, and the school day should provide many instances where the teacher is reading for a variety of purposes across all areas of the curriculum.
- Early reading education should include matching letters with their sounds; recognizing and forming both uppercase and lowercase letters; identifying certain high-frequency words by sight, such as “is” and “the”; combining initial consonants with spelling patterns like –un to read words (in this example, that would include such words as sun, fun, and run); and using this knowledge to understand rhyming.
- Early writing education should include capitalizing the first letter of one’s first and last name; writing for a variety of purposes (including stories, journal entries, and friendly letters); using early literacy skills to approximate spelling; and recognizing that writing includes complete thoughts that are separated by punctuation.
- Early math education should include plenty of opportunities for classifying objects based on a variety of characteristics; counting and writing numbers up to 20; naming and drawing basic geometric shapes (including squares, rectangles, circles, triangles, and ovals); recognizing the purposes of a calendar and clock; naming weekdays, months, and seasons; and experimentation with a variety of patterns.
- Early science education should include many opportunities for experiencing the scientific method (including hypothesizing, experimenting, and discussing the results); discriminating between the five senses (touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell); identifying objects in the daytime and nighttime sky; discussing weather conditions and appropriate clothing for each; and understanding that different living creatures live in different habitats.
- Early social studies education should include discussing human needs and how they are met in a society (addressing needs like food, shelter, clothing, and transportation); understanding a variety of different jobs and how they help people; identifying a map and globe; understanding rules and laws, and how they protect people; relating voting to decision-making; and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Nurturing Teacher – While it goes without saying that the kindergarten teacher should possess all of the necessary education and certification required for classroom instruction, she should also have a strong background in early childhood education and a keen awareness of child development. She should be particularly nurturing, and while this may not always mean “warm and fuzzy,” it should translate into vast amounts of patience, a sense of humor, and an appreciation for these small people we call kindergartners.
As you decide between full-day and half-day kindergarten, your best bet is to carefully evaluate the schools on your list, looking at not only how long each kindergarten session is, but also what is offered in each class session. Coupling those observations with your knowledge of your child’s unique needs and qualities will equip you to choose the classroom that is most appropriate for your child.