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Half-Day Vs. Full-Day Kindergarten

The Great Kindergarten Debate: Half Day or Full Day?

My town's schools start tomorrow, and I can feel the excitement all around me. At my gym's child-care center, many of the moms are sporting the contented expression of a woman about to leave for a Caribbean vacation; our local Trader Joe's is inviting moms in for a mimosa-and-chocolate party after drop-off; and at Target, I've seen pens, markers, and erasers literally flying off the shelves (yes, I've been there twice already this week, and yes, it's Tuesday).

Sadly, I'm still a couple of weeks away from my daughter Mae's first day of 4-year-old preschool, and we're a year away from her first day of "real" school — kindergarten. But kindergarten has already been very much on my mind for some time, mainly because I'm confident our very good school district's program just isn't going to work for her.

My town abandoned its full-day kindergarten program a few years ago, replacing it with one that lasts from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., which, taking in all the preschool extras my daughter is eagerly participating in this year, would mean that Mae would attend kindergarten a substantially fewer number of hours than she attends preschool. I am not OK with this. She is not OK with this.

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I have heard many moms rally for half-day kindergarten and even opt out of full-day programs in their districts, but I am confident that my daughter's hungry mind needs more than a couple of hours of instruction to be satisfied. So what is a mom to do when you live in a wonderful school district, but you think its 2.5-hour kindergarten day kind of sucks?

I've been doing my research, talking to every mom I meet with similarly aged children about their own kindergarten experiences. Many of them have advised I move to the neighboring town, which offers a similarly wonderful school district with full-day kindergarten, but I love my house (and my sanity) too much to pack up and move for the sake of a single school year.

Others have advised I go the private route, so I've started looking into a few. The first one I found sounded amazing, but the tuition was more than five times what I paid to go to a year of college, so that quickly got nixed. The second was around the corner from my house, a promising start, but when I heard the class size was capped at 25, I began to question if my daughter would really get enough individual attention to warrant the thousands of dollars we'd be shelling out for her kindergarten education. Another private school I'd heard good things about does offer full-day kindergarten, but the full-day kids basically repeat the morning program with new afternoon students. Um, no.

Frustrated, I called my school district and asked if they had any suggestions. A very nice woman directed me to our local park district, which offers a kindergarten enrichment program, taught by licensed teachers, at each one of our local elementary schools. The program isn't cheap, slightly more than what we're paying this year for four days of preschool, but she'll get adjusted to her new school, and they promise that the program's goal isn't day care but actual education. It sounds like the best solution I'm probably going to find, but I'm still not totally satisfied with it.

I started feeling a little crazy about my preoccupation with full-day kindergarten. After all, it's only one year. Was this really about her, or was it about me not wanting her home being bored, frustrated, and probably driving me crazy? But yesterday, Mae, who has definitely picked up on my obsession, proved that I'm on the right track.

"Mom," she said, "Can I ride the bus to kindergarten tomorrow?" I explained to her that she still has another year of preschool, and that once she does start kindergarten, I'd be happy to drive her. "No, I want to take the bus," she responded. "I'm ready to go to school with big kids." I told her that I wouldn't be able to ride the bus with her and big-kid school meant she wouldn't see me from after breakfast until the late afternoon. "It's OK, Mom, my teachers will take care of me, and the bus driver will take care of me, and all my new friends at kindergarten will take care of me. Kindergarten will be so much fun because I love school." And suddenly I realized that my desire for full-day kindergarten isn't about trying to get rid of my daughter; it's about advocating for her.

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