Kindergarten: Full or Half Day - TeachersAndFamilies

Full or Half Day

Suggestions for Parents
From the National Association
of School Psychologists


A Brief History

Over three million students are enrolled in kindergarten programs in the United States. Slightly more than half of these are enrolled in full-day programs; the remainder attend more traditional half-day Kindergarten. However, there is no consistency across states regarding requirements for kindergarten. In some states, public schools must offer kindergarten; in others it is optional. Some kindergarten programs are less than two hours per day while others provide six hours or more of daily instruction and activities. Typical "half-day" programs are about three hours in length, while "full-day" programs are five to six hours in length.

Kindergarten initially became popular after World War I, when part-day programs were first used to serve more children and save money. During the Depression, many school districts cut back on kindergarten, but the programs grew again following World War II. By 2000, 88% of all five-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in a school-based kindergarten program.

Because more and more children participate in preschool programs, kindergarten is no longer the first school experience for many children. Today, many five-year-olds not only receive more educational opportunities, but they also experience more social, emotional and physical life activities. Many are used to a full-day program and are ready for a full day of kindergarten. Furthermore, the increasing number of single parent families also means that more parents may seek a full-day kindergarten program to better accommodate work schedules and provide a more consistent learning and care environment for their children.

Finally, interest in academic preparation to ensure later school success has created a demand for early school programs. Full-day kindergartens appear to have many advantages to school districts and to parents. However, to be effective, both half-day and full-day programs must be geared to the development young children. Full-day programs designed to push children to learn academic skills before they are really ready are likely to backfire.



Parenting Start

This article is adapted from a handout by Mary Ann Rafoth, Ph.D., Beth Buzi, and Sara A. Grimes, to appear in "Helping Children at Home and School: Handouts from Your School Psychologist, Second Edition" (National Association of School Psychologists). Dr. Rafoth is Chair of the Educational and School Psychology program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; her co-authors are graduate students in the IUP program.
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