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On August 30, 2000, the Maryland State Board of Education made a request for mandatory full-day kindergarten to be added into their budget for the fiscal year of 2002. The Board’s goal is to have full-day kindergarten programs implemented in all state public schools by the 2004-2005 school year (Maryland State Board of Education [MSDE], 2000). Making this change from half-day kindergarten to full-day kindergarten, they hope full-day kindergarten will help children benefit academically in the long run. Despite these goals, it is unclear as to whether full-day kindergarten is actually beneficial to all children.
The first day of kindergarten can be an awful experience. I vividly remember how terrible the first day of kindergarten was for me. I cried until I had no tears left, and I clung to my mom’s side for safety. After several attempts, my mom and Miss. Mariner, my kindergarten teacher, were able to coax me to enter the classroom. They provided me with several reasons as to why I would like kindergarten, but it was that final argument that school was only three hours long, which convinced me to “brave” it out. I didn’t have any disorders. I wanted to learn, and I was by no means antisocial. I was afraid of leaving my mom, and I was uncomfortable of changing my normal schedule. Fortunately, I loved kindergarten and after that first day there were no more tears. However, I was still preoccupied with the fact that three hours of my life were being taken from me. After the third week of school, I told my mom I had to quit all my other activities because school took up too much of my time. I laugh now at how precocious I was, but in the eyes of any five-year-old, three hours is a huge chunk of their time. I cannot even imagine what my behavior would have been like if kindergarten was a full day. After three hours of school, I was exhausted and a little irritable. This transition from no structure to six hours of structured school time may be too much for a young child to handle. This is why kindergarten should focus on acclimating a child to the school day by allowing them to wade into the “waters,” instead of throwing them into the “deep end.
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There have been studies that show that kindergarten teachers feel that full-day kindergarten has adverse effects. In a small mid-western city, 37 teachers were surveyed after the completion of their first year of the changed kindergarten schedule. Due to the increased hours, the teachers reported that their students had poorer social skills “… because of increased fatigue, irritability, and aggression” (Good). Although, the students were given more time to learn and excel the full-day experience was too long and overwhelming for the young children to handle; teachers were then forced to spend a good majority of the school day preventing irritability with “nap-time,” and reprimanding bad behavior with “time outs” ( Good). Because of this the goal of full-day kindergarten was not achieved because the teacher’s attention and activities had to be focused on other areas of importance other than educating, behavior.
Parents also had similar opinions on full-day kindergarten. In a case study of Minnesota’s Rusford Independent School district #34, parents observed that their children would come home tired and irritated. Children began complaining to their parents about being ill so that didn’t have to attend school (Towers). Six hours a day was simply too much for the children of that age. Instead of enjoying kindergarten, children were trying to avoid it as if it were some type of torture. This is a dramatic contrast to half-day kindergarten experiences, where children are excited to go to school because of the easy transition time (http://www.ericfacility.net/ericdigests/ed256474.html) . Another concern of many parents in the Minnesota Case Study was that they would have to get their child ready for kindergarten, whereas in the past there wasn’t a need to get a child adjusted to kindergarten because the half-day provided a smooth transition for most kids. One parent surveyed worried that an all-day pre-school would be necessary in order to get a child ready for the dramatic schedule change (Towers). Is the jump to a full-day too much too soon?
Full-day kindergarten may not even be feasible for schools to afford or provide. The execution of Full-day kindergarten requires more classroom space to accommodate all the kindergarten students that before were able to share the classroom due to the half-day schedule. And more teachers would be needed to as well (Towers). Full-day kindergarten may be too difficult to accommodate in school where enrollment is already on the rise and crowding is a huge issue.
It is unfair to assume that the implementation of full-day kindergarten is a poor idea. Many studies have provided positive results from the full-day programs; however, these positive outcomes are marginal and do not always follow across the board (Fusaro). In fact, the academic effects of full-day kindergarten have been ambiguous. Tests have been taken to compare the difference between full-day and half-day students, but the results varied so much that a positive correlation could not be drawn. Full-day kindergarten students did score higher on arithmetic; yet, there was no difference of reading skills between half-day and full-day students. Surprisingly, half-day kindergarten students obtained higher social skills, while full-day students seemed to regress (Fusaro). Rothenberg believes that the reason for these results is contingent on whether the child is ready to skip basic skills and move onto a more academic curriculum. And this decision as to whether full-day kindergarten is beneficial should decided for each individual child (http://www.ericfacility.net/ericdigests/ed256474.html).
All-day kindergarten does benefit certain groups of children more than others. There are some socio-economic areas that would benefit from such a program. Several studies show that disadvantaged students as well as their parents would benefit significantly from the full-day program (Karwett). Full-day kindergarten helps lower income families in the area of childcare. By changing kindergarten to a full day, working families and single parent households are not financially burdened or consumed with providing additional child care services from their child. Not only it is cheaper for families, full-day kindergarten does help strengthen the skills of ‘at risk’ children (Towers). But, these children would still be vulnerable to the negative social skill results as mentioned earlier. With this information in mind, perhaps the Maryland State Board of Education should focus the program in areas where the children’s SES is below the national average, but even then full-day kindergarten would not resemble or yield the results it was designed for. Instead, full-day kindergarten would grow to be more like day-care; and therefore, it would not achieve the goals of catapulting five-year-olds into the education fast track.
If all goes as planned, Maryland Public Schools will find a new breed of kindergarten in the next year. The goal of this program is to prepare students for the “fast track” of education; yet, is full-day kindergarten is the best answer to this goal. And while this program may benefit certain groups more than others, it also puts the needs and interests of other groups to the side. An alternative solution to mandatory full-day kindergarten would be to establish programs where each student’s individualized needs are considered, instead of clumping them into one group.
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