Full-Day Kindergarten Programs

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Nov 12, 2009

Changes in American society and education over the last 20 years have contributed to the popularity of all-day (every day) kindergarten programs in many communities (Gullo, 1990). The increase in single parent and dual employment households, and the fact that most children spend a significant part of the day away from home, also signal significant changes in American family life compared to a generation ago. Studies show that parents favor a full-day program which reduces the number of transitions kindergarteners experience in a typical day (Housden & Kam, 1992; Johnson, 1993). Research also suggests that many children benefit academically and socially during the primary years from participation in full-day, compared to half-day, kindergarten programs (Cryan et al., 1992).

Families who find it difficult to schedule both kindergarten and a child care program during the day are especially attracted to a full-day program (Housden & Kam, 1992). In many areas, both public and private preschool programs offer full-day kindergarten (Lofthouse, 1994). Still, some educators, policymakers, and parents prefer half-day, everyday kindergarten. They argue that a half-day program is less expensive and provides an adequate educational and social experience for young children while orienting them to school, especially if they have attended preschool. Many districts thus offer both half-day and full-day kindergarten programs when possible, but the trend is clearly in the direction of full-day kindergarten.

The Demographics of Full-Day Kindergarten

Well over 3.3 million children attend kindergarten in the United States, nearly as many children as attend first grade (Smith et al., 1994, p. 54). In 1993, about 54% of kindergarten teachers taught full-day classes, and about half of kindergarteners attended full-day programs. Two-thirds of full-day kindergarten teachers taught in high-poverty areas, while fewer than one-third (29%) taught in schools with a low incidence of poverty (Heaviside et al., 1993). Teachers of classes with high minority enrollments were also more likely to teach full-day classes than were teachers of classes with low minority enrollments (67% versus 43%). State aid for all-day students is often used to fund full-day kindergarten. One reason for the high ratio of full-day to half-day kindergarten programs in high-poverty and high-minority schools is that state and federal funding for at-risk students is often used to supplement all-day funding, since all-day programs typically require extra classroom space, increased staffing for special services and programs, and additional classroom kindergarten teachers (Fromberg, 1992; Housden & Kam, 1992).

Full-day kindergarten is also popular because it eliminates the need to provide buses and crossing guards at mid-day. A higher proportion of kindergarten teachers taught full-day classes in rural areas in 1993 (66%) than in city schools (59%), in towns (53%), or in schools in the urban "fringe" (39%) (Heaviside et al., 1993).

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