Why AE/MS Needs Full-Day Kindergarten

Half-day program is a disadvantage for Andover kids

By Laura Witt, AE/MS Kindergarten Teacher
AE/MS kindergarten teacher Laura Witt (left) and her assistant Cathy Fadden celebrated the Wild, Wild West with their morning kindergarten students on January 10. Students spent the entire week learning about the letter W. Photo: Heidi Unger

(For a photo of the afternoon kindergarten class, look here.)

A warrant article proposing full-day kindergarten at AE/MS will be voted on at School District Meeting on Monday, March 4.

As parents and as professionals, we have all felt the need for a few more hours in the day. This is certainly the case in teaching half-day kindergarten. I have taught both half-day kindergarten, at Andover Elementary/Middle School, and full-day kindergarten, in St. Petersburg, Florida.

There are definite challenges to teaching half-day kindergarten, especially when balancing the education of the whole child and also ensuring children are competent in state standards. AE/MS will soon be deciding on whether or not to offer full-day kindergarten, so I want to share with you my experience with both programs.

Let me describe what the half-day kindergarten program looks like at AE/MS. I have three hours a day with students to provide them with a well-rounded education that targets all areas of learning such as Language Arts, Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, and social skills. However, these three hours are not as they seem.

Generally, it takes students about ten to fifteen minutes to arrive, unpack, and get situated. Likewise, it takes another ten minutes at dismissal time to pack up and get dressed (especially in the winter months when there is more gear to put on). Many kindergarten students are practicing packing and unpacking for the first time without assistance from home.

We have a daily special, which is half an hour: gym, music, art, library, and computer. If you ask any kindergartner, this is generally a highlight of their day! We then have fifteen minutes for snack, and fifteen minutes for recess. This leaves roughly an hour and half (give or take) for instruction each day. Five and six year olds need many movement breaks and opportunities for social interaction.

In addition, this is an age group which is characteristically “leisurely.” Understandably, they have little concern with time constraints. This leaves less than an hour of instruction per day. This is a “regular day.” Many days will vary due to assemblies, practice for an upcoming school concert, and special guest speakers.

This final hour and half is spent teaching Language Arts, Math, Writing, Science, and Social Studies. Often, lessons must be prioritized and learning letters, letter sounds, numbers, and number sense rise to the top. There are many other skills that are equally important for a five-year-old to learn, however with limited time, priorities are set.

I have observed that the morning students are usually more focused, while the afternoon students come in a little worn out, especially those that go to morning day care. At AE/MS I have observed that the morning students generally miss some of the afternoon assemblies that create a sense of community at AE/MS, and the afternoon students miss morning announcements including the school-wide Pledge of Allegiance and Eagle Code. Snow delays, early dismissals, and ski-and-skate Fridays also impact both programs.

Imagine A Full Day

Let me contrast this description to that of a full-day program. In a full-day kindergarten program, I had a 90-minute literacy block which was dedicated to read- alouds, shared reading, literacy centers, and small group instruction. Math consisted of a forty- five minute block broken up between direct instruction, small group work, and math centers.

We dedicated 20 to 30 minutes a day to Science and Social Studies, and Science was hands- on and interactive. In the morning, we did all the core instruction, followed by lunch, recess, and a rest time.

The afternoon was designed to extend lessons in a way that was meaningful. For example, if we were learning about money, this was an opportunity for a dramatic play area where students could practice using money to buy items from the class store. If we were learning about nursery rhymes, we would use the felt boards and retell the stories. If we were learning about symmetry, students would make symmetrical paintings.

Granted, I am able to fit some of these ideas in a half-day program, but the extension opportunities are much richer and students are able to connect with their learning on a much deeper level in a full-day program.

Kindergarten students in a full-day kindergarten program are a part of the school community and attend all assemblies. By the end of kindergarten, these students transition more fluidly and are better able to meet the demands of first grade instruction. Kindergarten students in a full-day program are already used to the full-day schedule and adapt at a younger age, when the stakes aren’t as high.

As an educator, the full-day program is the clear choice. It is academically advantageous for students to be in a full-day program. The hurried nature of the half-day program can be exhausting for many children, whereas a full-day program allows for the needs of each child to be met more fully. It provides more stability in their schedule and it increases the student-teacher bond. It allows for rich extension lessons that explore topics in greater depth.

As a teacher, it allows me to fully teach the standards of the national Common Core. It puts your child on an equal footing with the increasing number of states and districts which offer full-day kindergarten.

The children of Andover will greatly benefit from the wealth of academic and social value that a full-day kindergarten program offers.