Research is mixed on the spreading phenomenon of full-day kindergarten

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2003

The research is mixed on the benefits of full-day kindergarten, and it's not necessarily applicable to Juneau, teachers and school district officials say.

Researchers nationwide have compared half-day kindergarten programs to full-day programs. Juneau already offers more than a half-day of kindergarten, and it's not clear whether researchers would classify Juneau's 4 1/2-hour class time, plus a half-hour lunch, as a full day.

Certainly, full-day kindergarten is the trend. The number of full-day kindergartners has tripled since 1970. About 60 percent of kindergartners now spend between five and six hours in the classroom, according to a report last year by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland, Ore.

Students in full-day kindergartens progress further academically during the kindergarten year, but it's less certain that the gains persist beyond first grade, according to Purdue University researcher James Elicker, who also has reviewed others' research.

Full-day kindergarten may have longer-lasting benefits for children from poor families, he said. There's no evidence that it harms children.

"Critics of full-day programs cite the possibility of increased stress to students from an already difficult curriculum," Elicker wrote in 1997. "They also suggest that 5-year-olds may become overly tired during a full day of instruction. But we found no evidence of any detrimental effects of developmentally appropriate full-day kindergarten."

Bill Blair, a kindergarten teacher in Chehalis, Wash., who also instructs teachers about kindergarten, said tiredness hasn't been an issue in his school. He's taught half-day and full-day kindergarten and doesn't schedule nap times, but children can grab a pillow any time they want.

The Chehalis schools began offering full-day kindergarten six years ago, and now about 90 percent of parents prefer it to half days, he said.

In Anchorage, none of the schools that went to full-day kindergarten in the late 1980s have asked to return to half days, a study for the district said.

Blair, who taught a full-day kindergarten-first grade class this year, said it's been a success. He appreciates the longer time with kindergartners, either in a class by themselves or a multi-age class.

"It wasn't that our curriculum was broader necessarily," he said about the full day. "We were offering kids an opportunity to practice and explore and deepen. Finally it felt like we were doing what we should have been doing all along, but we finally had the time."

It's not certain what Juneau's kindergarten teachers would do in the extra 90 minutes if students attend all day. The teachers will be asked to look at models from around the nation and decide how to schedule the day, said Jean Ann Alter, a temporary administrator in the school district.

"We definitely are not trying to make kindergarten into first grade. We'll retain the same kindergarten philosophy," she said, which is to develop social and language skills.

Mary McBride, a teacher of a kindergarten-first grade class at Riverbend Elementary, said kindergarten teachers may feel pressure to include more academics in class, which wouldn't be appropriate for children that age.

Conversely, teachers may feel obliged to schedule time for snacks, naps and play, and the extra 90 minutes would amount to day care, she said.



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