Letter: Full-day kindergarten restores important balance

To the editor:

If you are like me, you are probably wondering whether full-day kindergarten is the right move for kids.  When I volunteered to sit on the All-Day Kindergarten subcommittee, this was my question too.  As a school psychologist, mother of two, and consumer of educational research, I wondered whether full-day or half-day was a better model for kids.  After careful deliberation, I am in support of All-Day Kindergarten in Barrington because it aims to restore the balance between academic instruction and social/emotional development.

For me, the fight for full-day isn’t a ploy to cram more into my little girl’s smart, sweet, and curious brain…it’s an attempt to salvage her kindergarten experience.  Years from now, as she walks across the stage to receive her high school diploma, I want her to love learning.  For the next 13 years, I want her to wake each morning excited to go to school, just like she does in preschool.  I want her to ask questions of the world and have time to seek the answers.  I worry that the hectic, hurried pace of a 3-hour part-day program will not start her off on the right foot.  I worry that she will pick up on the anxiety to do more in less time.  I worry that she will always feel (or worse, be) behind.  Ultimately, I worry that she won’t enjoy school.

Many adults recall kindergarten as a relaxing, welcoming first learning environment.  Listening to the current half-day program described, I realized that kindergarten in Barrington has morphed into a model adults would not recognize and certainly would not condone.  In less than 3 hours, half-day kindergartener teachers must teach children to read and write and perform basic math  (review the new standards: http://www.corestandards.org).  Adding time for transitions, using the restroom, having snack, recess, and attending specials, there is much to learn and not enough time to do so.  With the pressure to teach children all they need to learn for first grade in the allotted time, there is little time for dramatic and free play and instruction in other subjects, such as science and social studies.  Although equally important for a five-year old, social and emotional development has taken a back seat in the kindergarten curriculum. Kindergarten is no longer the bridge year between play-based preschool and the formal, structured instruction of first grade.  It’s a crash course.

Yes, in a longer day there will be time for one more hour of instruction related to the Common Core, but also two more hours to develop socially and emotionally.  There will be more time to explore, acquire depth, form relationships with teachers and peers, acquire problem solving skills in social situations, learn how to be a good friend, and acquire school behaviors that support learning. In my mind, the push for full-day is a push for the entire kindergarten experience- one that addresses the needs of the whole child- not just the academic child.

This is the reason why I will be voting in support of All-Day Kindergarten at the Financial Town Meeting.

Sincerely,

Ivy Rollins Milliken, Ph.D.

Barrington

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3 Comments

  1. Emily Conner said:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on kindergarten. I agree that if the current kindergarten half day does not meet the standard you suggest (balance with academics and social /emotional needs, calm pace, positive first school experience), there is indeed something wrong. But is the answer to add more hours? I do not believe so. The current discussions have brought us to an important crossroad where I feel we must take the cue to re-examine what is an appropriate kindergarten curriculum.

  2. Tad Segal said:

    I agree Emily. I’ve been looking for information (not propaganda) that would credibly back up the claims of the Common Core proponents that these standards and curricula will produce the incredible results they claim. But so far, I haven’t been able to find anything substantial.

    If Common Core proponents would provide credible studies showing the effectiveness of this approach, it would go a long way towards informing those of us who simply don’t take these things on faith just because a bunch of large corporations, high-ranking politicians and education department administrators say so.

    This article about the effectiveness the Common Core approach is interesting. But I’d love to read credible studies showing that this radically new approach will work.
    http://www.kdp.org/publications/pdf/record/winter11/RW11_Tienken.pdf

    Sincerely,

    Tad Segal

  3. Amy Segal said:

    I don’t think spending 4 hours on academics in a 6.5 hour day is balance. In kindergarten, when children are just 5 years old, 4 hours spent on literacy and math instruction is just too much. With a half day, the kids will spend 3 hours in school and the rest of their day filled with playdates, trips to the playground, library, or museum, maybe a class learning a sport or an instrument, or just in the backyard lost in their imagination, all of which provide social/emotional growth as well as a learning experience. With 6.5 hours, my child will probably come home exhausted and with little energy for any of those things. I don’t rely on school to provide the bulk of my child’s social/emotional development and I see this as more of an issue about how much time a 5 year old should spend on academics.

    You mention what adults recall about kindergarten and I don’t recall any academic instruction at all. It was all play. How did we get to this point where 5 year olds must spend hours on academics? That will not make children love school. We didn’t learn to read or add until first grade but somehow a large number of us graduated from college and beyond. The same still holds true for Finland and they have some of the top test scores in the world.

    I don’t want to see Barrington jump into a full day of kindergarten just because the State of RI has handed down a curriculum without any public input and no way to pay for it.

    This issue of full-day kindergarten has opened up a broader debate into the Common Core curriculum and for that I am grateful. I hope that this momentum continues and we all do some research to understand where this came from and why our state chose to adopt it so quickly. The fact that some states like Indiana are now looking at repealing the adoption of Common Core makes me want to take a much closer look and I hope others feel the same.

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