Parents can tell if all-day kindergarten works for kids
'Was your daughter a bear when she came home from all-day kindergarten?"
I heard it nonstop last year from parents of kindergarteners, and I'm hearing it again from parents of new kindergarteners.
Yes, she was a bear in full growl. Yes, she was exhausted yet refused to nap because she gave up naps years ago. Yes, she begged to go back to half-day preschool, even though her favorite day was the one that she attended all day.
Still, she survived all-day kindergarten and loved it by the end of the year. She made new friends, she loved art class, she said 'Awesome!" in the same tone of voice as her teacher, she could read small books by the end of the year. All's well that ends well, I suppose.
But would I put her in all-day kindergarten from Day One if I had a do-over?
Would I encourage other parents to put their children in all day?
Is all-day kindergarten really the way to fix our schools?
I can't answer the first question because I'm still not sure, though I wish she spent the first semester going for two-thirds of a day or only three long days.
I can't answer the second with anything other than, 'It depends upon your child." My second daughter will be older when she starts and has a different personality, so she may avoid her sister's problems.
But I can answer the last one with a resounding, 'No!"
Some 5- and 6-year-olds can easily spend all day at school. Some cannot. Objective measures don't account for hurt feelings that can sour children for months, as happened with my daughter. She went from 'eagerly ready" to 'not ready" in two weeks.
Many children who dropped naps are toast by the end of a kindergarten day, particularly if they're taking a first-grade curriculum. Pity the poor nap-needer. Even my daughter, who dazzles baby-sitters with her ability to snore through crying infants and roaring ambulances, couldn't sleep in an exciting room filled with peers.
Even kids from so-called ideal households – their parents are married, college-educated and eager to work with teachers and principals – can find the day too long and frustrating.
What about kids from unstable homes, whose parents don't see benefits from education, whose parents are too intimidated to question doctorate-holding principals, whose parents doubt they can help their kids as well as college-educated teachers? Surely these kids are having the same problems. Yet it's in their name that we're foisting this experiment on all children.
All-day kindergarten's defenders say that its effects carry on long after the kids have turned the yarn tassels on their construction-paper mortar boards. American students' standing among those of other countries has fallen behind, and we must do everything we can to put our kids back on top. That includes all-day kindergarten.
However, studies cited by the Goldwater Institute, Thomas Sowell and others suggest that any education advantage of all-day kindergarten disappears by middle school, even among so-called at-risk children. Besides, our nation's elementary students with only half-day kindergarten already compete on even footing with students of other nations. Our students stay near the top until middle school. Seeing as our nation's education shortcomings start in middle school, putting the burden on kindergarteners seems misdirected.
Admittedly, schools with all-day kindergarten let parents choose half days. However, blind rules by created by government bureaucracies and contracts can mean parents lack the options of letting kids go all-day for two or three days, or leaving a little after lunch. My daughter's Catholic school, which is not bound by such rules, has an easier time accommodating unique needs.
Parents, if your kids are ready for all-day kindergarten, go for it. They'll learn a lot and love it
But if your kids are not adjusting, trust your instincts. Go for a half day, then do extra work at home, if needed. (It takes less time with only one child.) They will go from dreading school to loving it, which matters more in the long run.
Help your school become flexible if you want kids to transition gradually. Offer to volunteer at lunch and recess so there are an adequate number of adults, then take your children home afterward. Find other parents with similar concerns and ask if the two kids can class-share – much like job-sharing, they would split the afternoons with one child going two days and the other going three.
These children are not bragging rights for bureaucrats, politicians or principals. They're just little kids.
Our little kids.