"Today's kindergarten curriculum is more academic and skill-oriented than 25 years ago," says James Elicker, Purdue University assistant professor of child development and family studies. "Spending a full day in class may be less stressful for youngsters than trying to cram the demands of today's kindergarten programs into the traditional half-day schedule."
Elicker studied kindergarten classrooms -- eight half-day and four full-day --in a middle-class Midwestern community over a two-year period. His study is one of the most comprehensive to date in evaluating kindergarten content.
"Critics of full-day programs cite the possibility of increased stress to students from an already difficult curriculum. They also suggest that 5-year-olds may become overly tired during a full day of instruction," Elicker says. "But we found no evidence of any detrimental effects of developmentally appropriate full-day kindergarten."
On the contrary, the full-day approach seemed to be more child-oriented. "Teachers in the full-day kindergarten classrooms had more flexibility -- they had more time for one-to-one instruction and spent less time in large-group learning," Elicker says. Children in full-day programs also spent more time in learning activities of their own choosing.
Elicker says spending a lot of time learning in large groups may not be best for 5-year-olds. He says a learning environment that is inappropriate to a child's stage of development can put undue stress on the child.
Elicker found that large-group teacher-directed activities consumed the largest amount of time in both types of kindergartens: about half of the classroom time in half-day programs, compared to about one-third of the time in full-day kindergartens.
He says report card progress was higher among children in full-day kindergartens, and parents and teachers said they felt that children in the full-day programs were better prepared for first grade.
Elicker says parents also reported higher levels of satisfaction with the full-day kindergartens. "The parents appreciated the more relaxed pace of the full-day program," he says. "They also liked the in-depth explorations and learning that were possible because time was more available, and they appreciated the increased attention their children received from teachers."
Elicker notes that none of the parents in either group felt that his or her child's educational experiences were inadequate. However, he says some parents of children in the half-day kindergartens would have preferred more time for learning.
Other pressures were associated with half-day kindergarten. Working parents had to juggle their schedules to pick up children during the day. And children may feel stress if they have to go from a school situation to a day-care environment where different rules and philosophies may apply.
Despite the apparent benefits of full-day kindergarten programs, Elicker says that if he were a school administrator, he probably still would give parents the option of a half-day. "Some parents still felt that they wanted to ease their children into the school environment and that a half-day kindergarten was best for that. Others point out that learning experiences can also happen in the home, outside of school." he says.
The school system studied by Elicker randomly assigned students to either full-day or half-day programs. Elicker surveyed parents during the fall and spring of each year, and he gathered teachers' comments during a series of four interviews. Measurements of time spent on various activities were made by researchers observing the classrooms.
Elicker's findings will be reported in an upcoming edition of Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
Source: James Elicker, (765) 494-2938; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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