Full-day or half-day for K?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 9, 2012 06:00 AM

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Barbara,
I am hoping you could address some questions regarding kindergarten choices. I live in a district that offers half- and full-day programs, and I chose half-day for my son who will be almost five and a half when school begins in September. I think he'd do fine in full day, but I chose half for a few reasons: because I stay at home and enjoy our time together, because he sleeps 11-12 hours at night and I feel like we'd never see him, and - honestly - because I am just in no rush to put him (and me) on a big kid "fast track" lifestyle rushing from one activity to the next.

Unfortunately, I just found out our district is moving to an "embedded" half-day program, which means all the kids are in one class together, but the half-day kids (of which there are fewer) will be sent home before lunch, while the rest of the class will stay. Am I overreacting to think this is a slightly cruel thing to do to the half-day kids? I am imagining that the full-day kids will have more time getting to know their friends and their teacher, putting the half-day kids at a big social disadvantage.

I was a big fan of the half-day program, when it was a group of kids who were set as true peers in the classroom. This change has me considering a switch to the full-day program, which isn't at all what I'd envisioned. (My son is in his second year of pre-school, but going from three mornings a week to five full days seems like a drastic change for him.) Since he's my oldest, I don't know what to expect from kindergarten, but I assume there is a lot more traditional teaching, as opposed to the free play learning he is used to at preschool.

Also, and we are expecting a new baby this summer. I feel like all these changes may be too much for my little guy. I know they seem like a lot to me!

I would appreciate any advice you may have. Thank you.
From: Tracy, Scituate, MA


Dear Tracy,

I hear you loud and clear and I would probably originally have made the same decision. But, given the circumstance. I agree that you need to rethink. It's not because I suspect he will be at a disadvantage in terms of relationships or learning, but because he will be disappointed not to be staying. I could imagine him feeling deprived or left-out because he has to go home. Most kindergarteners are very social, even those who are happy to have down time. Plus, if his friends all stay, who will be available for an afternoon playdate? And here's something else: with a new baby in the mix, you may be grateful to have him occupied for more, rather than less, of the day.

I would talk to the school principal and, hopefully, a K teacher or two. I realize this is a new development and they haven't experienced it yet and likely won't know if many families will opt out of full-day. I'd seek their advice nonetheless. Can you wait until Sept to decide? If you go for the half-day and want to switch to full day, will you be able to? I'd also talk to the pre-school teachers. What do they think about full-day for him? You've got a bunch of months, as well as a summer program if there is one, to extend him from three mornings to four mornings to five, to even a full day or two, so he can get used to it. Lastly, talk to some other moms whose kids are going into K. What are they doing?

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10 comments so far...
  1. I really dont see the point to half-day kindergarten myself. My DD is in Kindergarten this year and loves it. Its not structured learning at her school. They do tons of fun play things. Plus your DS will end up bored at home once your baby comes and you have to spend the majority of your time feeding and tending to the baby. I think he'd be happier at school with kids his own age.

    Posted by Kristen February 9, 12 04:20 PM
  1. I don't really agree with Barbara's advice here. My daughter is essentially in the same program you're describing, but for Pre-K. Our small private school offers full day for Pre-K, but a handful of other Moms who stay home (and a few grandparents/nannies who care for children) pick up at noon. The other kids stay for lunch and all the way until 3:15.

    My daughter absolutely does NOT want to stay just because other kids are staying. And she's very social. She's happy to come home and have lunch with me - or go to lunch at a restaurant and go shopping, or go visit her grandmother, or whatever. She has her dance and karate classes early in the afternoon, so there are two more things we get accomplished before the rush hour. I am grateful for this because she is the younger of two children and I know what the late afternoon rush can be like. Try sitting down for a family meal when ballet class lets out at 5PM on the other side of town from where you live!

    If you're thinking "Gee, I don't think 4-5 year olds need karate and dance class," well...then you'll be surprised at how many of them will take these extracurriculars in addition to full-day K. Not that I think you should do things just because other people do. BUT - essentially you are thinking of choosing full-day K for that reason - because others are doing it. Your original reasoning and instincts still stand.

    If I could keep this schedule - half days - for one more year, I absolutely would do so. I can't because K is full day only at our school. Once they are in school full days, the time goes so quickly! I have so little time with my eight year old son because he does have other activities in addition to a full day of school.

    This time is precious and I think your original instincts are correct: they have their whole lives to be on the fast track. I think we get more out of half days plus fun activities than she would be getting out of full, long days of school.

    Posted by RH February 9, 12 05:13 PM
  1. My son did a half day program and was the ONLY child who left before lunch. I thought that he would mind being the only one leaving but in actuallity, he became the envy of the other students. The other students, even though they were having a good time, wanted to go home with their Mom too. My younger son was 1 at the time and it was actually good for the two of them to have some more boding time at home before the older one started full day the following year. Kids are actually more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. It may actually more the parent who minds and is feeling like they are depriving their child. Enjoy the time that they will have to spend at home with you and boding with their new sibling.

    Posted by Wendy February 9, 12 09:39 PM
  1. I would opt for the full-day kindergarten. Having a newborn, you'll appreciate the time the two of you will have together. Your kindergartener will probably appreciate having fun activities with friends at school. I would opt out of the extracurriculars (karate, gymnastics, swimming, etc.) if you are short on time, but I would sign up for the full-day kindergarten, especially if your kindergarten is not super academic. You can find out more about the kindergarten program by talking with the school principal and/or kindergarten teachers.

    Posted by K February 9, 12 10:53 PM
  1. Why don't you ask your son what he thinks? Everyone is suggesting that you talk to this person or that person about what to do, but why don't you ask the person who will have to endure the outcome? I realize your son is only 4, and I'm not saying that you should base your decision solely on what he wants (and I'm aware that he might not even know what he wants), but it might be nice to get some input from him. Perhaps he has ideas of his own. Listen to him and at least make him feel like he is somewhat involved in the decisions that affect his life.

    Posted by Vivian February 10, 12 10:40 AM
  1. I see the other side of this issue. I think full day kindergarten should be a must in this day and age! I'm fine with a half-day option, but it shouldn't be the ONLY option the way it is in our town and others that are nearby.

    I don't stay home, so of course I have a different perspective. I absolutely need full-time care. But beyond that, I've seen my 4 year old daughter thrive in preschool (she goes from 8-6) in a way she never did when we had a full-time nanny. Why do you need play dates when your child socializes all day long? (I realize they are also a socialization time for SAH parents.)

    Of course, a release at 2 or 3 will still give you plenty of time to spend with your child and visit friends. I also think your son is definitely old enough to last for a full school day, and Barbara is right. You can't imagine the difference a new baby makes. Somehow, having two kids is about four times as exhausting as having one! Good luck with your decision.

    Posted by momof2 February 10, 12 12:55 PM
  1. LW here - Just wanted to say that I appreciate the thoughtful comments. I still haven't decided what we'll do, but the perspectives are helpful. Probably he'll go full day and drop the extra-curriculars that he already does.

    To the commenter who suggested asking him. I have! LOL. His answer changes like the weather, but he knows Mommy and Daddy will make the final decision anyway.

    Oh, and the new baby is #3... DS already has a sister with whom he plays all afternoon, so I guess part of my concern is that they will miss each other too. Growing up though - such is life! Thanks again.

    Posted by Tracy February 10, 12 05:57 PM
  1. I don't think there is an "right" answer here. Our district does the same, there aren't enough 1/2 day K kids to have a full class so they mix them in with the others. I've had friends who have chosen both options and overall I think it really doesn't matter at all. If you'd rather have him home, keep him home. Kids are very adaptable, and if that's his normal situation, he'll be fine (you can probably always sign him up for full day later in the year if he's dying to do it, but my guess is he won't be bothered by it). The half day kids do bond as a group since they have playdates and extracurriculars together. But they spend enough time in the class that they make friends with the other kids too. Likewise, he'll adapt if he's there all day ('tho maybe be tired when he comes home!).

    I'd trust your instinct re. fast-track lifestyle. Many families need full day, but you don't. And it does go by so fast! It's only one year, the next he will be gone all day. Also, for your younger child, full day can be really hard to manage with nap time (the pick up time is awkward). It's different when you already have an older child that is there for a full day.

    Also, he can't make the decision... how can he understand at age 4 what those options really mean?! He'll be good with whatever you choose!

    FWIW, I have 3 kids, 2 school age, last one (sniff!) in preschool. My third will go to full day K because of his older siblings' schedule, but the older two did half day (oldest because of the same reasons you give, 2nd because I was home that year with the baby).

    Posted by CathieQ February 11, 12 11:34 AM
  1. I was going to vote for all-day--to give you more rest and time with the baby--until I saw your post about the "middle child" to be. :-) My middle child was going to K when baby #3 was born, so all-day was essential as it kept the older two on the same schedule. If your number 2 is in any sort of school program, I'd do whatever makes the pickup schedule easier for you! (And drop-off, if you do drop-off.) The less driving around with a new baby, the better, though some of it is certainly unavoidable. I also second cutting back on the extracurriculars until you see how he handles all day K. For my oldest, it was clear after a few months, that extracurriculars would be fine. But, it was nice to have a few months of "relaxation"!

    Good luck!

    Posted by Beth February 11, 12 03:41 PM
  1. As the mom of a newborn (going on 4 months) and a 3 year old...do the full day. You forget exactly how much work the new baby is and how tired you'll be. He will have far more fun at school than at home with a newborn and an exhausted mom.

    Posted by C February 12, 12 12:15 AM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. I really dont see the point to half-day kindergarten myself. My DD is in Kindergarten this year and loves it. Its not structured learning at her school. They do tons of fun play things. Plus your DS will end up bored at home once your baby comes and you have to spend the majority of your time feeding and tending to the baby. I think he'd be happier at school with kids his own age.

    Posted by Kristen February 9, 12 04:20 PM
  1. I don't really agree with Barbara's advice here. My daughter is essentially in the same program you're describing, but for Pre-K. Our small private school offers full day for Pre-K, but a handful of other Moms who stay home (and a few grandparents/nannies who care for children) pick up at noon. The other kids stay for lunch and all the way until 3:15.

    My daughter absolutely does NOT want to stay just because other kids are staying. And she's very social. She's happy to come home and have lunch with me - or go to lunch at a restaurant and go shopping, or go visit her grandmother, or whatever. She has her dance and karate classes early in the afternoon, so there are two more things we get accomplished before the rush hour. I am grateful for this because she is the younger of two children and I know what the late afternoon rush can be like. Try sitting down for a family meal when ballet class lets out at 5PM on the other side of town from where you live!

    If you're thinking "Gee, I don't think 4-5 year olds need karate and dance class," well...then you'll be surprised at how many of them will take these extracurriculars in addition to full-day K. Not that I think you should do things just because other people do. BUT - essentially you are thinking of choosing full-day K for that reason - because others are doing it. Your original reasoning and instincts still stand.

    If I could keep this schedule - half days - for one more year, I absolutely would do so. I can't because K is full day only at our school. Once they are in school full days, the time goes so quickly! I have so little time with my eight year old son because he does have other activities in addition to a full day of school.

    This time is precious and I think your original instincts are correct: they have their whole lives to be on the fast track. I think we get more out of half days plus fun activities than she would be getting out of full, long days of school.

    Posted by RH February 9, 12 05:13 PM
  1. My son did a half day program and was the ONLY child who left before lunch. I thought that he would mind being the only one leaving but in actuallity, he became the envy of the other students. The other students, even though they were having a good time, wanted to go home with their Mom too. My younger son was 1 at the time and it was actually good for the two of them to have some more boding time at home before the older one started full day the following year. Kids are actually more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. It may actually more the parent who minds and is feeling like they are depriving their child. Enjoy the time that they will have to spend at home with you and boding with their new sibling.

    Posted by Wendy February 9, 12 09:39 PM
  1. I would opt for the full-day kindergarten. Having a newborn, you'll appreciate the time the two of you will have together. Your kindergartener will probably appreciate having fun activities with friends at school. I would opt out of the extracurriculars (karate, gymnastics, swimming, etc.) if you are short on time, but I would sign up for the full-day kindergarten, especially if your kindergarten is not super academic. You can find out more about the kindergarten program by talking with the school principal and/or kindergarten teachers.

    Posted by K February 9, 12 10:53 PM
  1. Why don't you ask your son what he thinks? Everyone is suggesting that you talk to this person or that person about what to do, but why don't you ask the person who will have to endure the outcome? I realize your son is only 4, and I'm not saying that you should base your decision solely on what he wants (and I'm aware that he might not even know what he wants), but it might be nice to get some input from him. Perhaps he has ideas of his own. Listen to him and at least make him feel like he is somewhat involved in the decisions that affect his life.

    Posted by Vivian February 10, 12 10:40 AM
  1. I see the other side of this issue. I think full day kindergarten should be a must in this day and age! I'm fine with a half-day option, but it shouldn't be the ONLY option the way it is in our town and others that are nearby.

    I don't stay home, so of course I have a different perspective. I absolutely need full-time care. But beyond that, I've seen my 4 year old daughter thrive in preschool (she goes from 8-6) in a way she never did when we had a full-time nanny. Why do you need play dates when your child socializes all day long? (I realize they are also a socialization time for SAH parents.)

    Of course, a release at 2 or 3 will still give you plenty of time to spend with your child and visit friends. I also think your son is definitely old enough to last for a full school day, and Barbara is right. You can't imagine the difference a new baby makes. Somehow, having two kids is about four times as exhausting as having one! Good luck with your decision.

    Posted by momof2 February 10, 12 12:55 PM
  1. LW here - Just wanted to say that I appreciate the thoughtful comments. I still haven't decided what we'll do, but the perspectives are helpful. Probably he'll go full day and drop the extra-curriculars that he already does.

    To the commenter who suggested asking him. I have! LOL. His answer changes like the weather, but he knows Mommy and Daddy will make the final decision anyway.

    Oh, and the new baby is #3... DS already has a sister with whom he plays all afternoon, so I guess part of my concern is that they will miss each other too. Growing up though - such is life! Thanks again.

    Posted by Tracy February 10, 12 05:57 PM
  1. I don't think there is an "right" answer here. Our district does the same, there aren't enough 1/2 day K kids to have a full class so they mix them in with the others. I've had friends who have chosen both options and overall I think it really doesn't matter at all. If you'd rather have him home, keep him home. Kids are very adaptable, and if that's his normal situation, he'll be fine (you can probably always sign him up for full day later in the year if he's dying to do it, but my guess is he won't be bothered by it). The half day kids do bond as a group since they have playdates and extracurriculars together. But they spend enough time in the class that they make friends with the other kids too. Likewise, he'll adapt if he's there all day ('tho maybe be tired when he comes home!).

    I'd trust your instinct re. fast-track lifestyle. Many families need full day, but you don't. And it does go by so fast! It's only one year, the next he will be gone all day. Also, for your younger child, full day can be really hard to manage with nap time (the pick up time is awkward). It's different when you already have an older child that is there for a full day.

    Also, he can't make the decision... how can he understand at age 4 what those options really mean?! He'll be good with whatever you choose!

    FWIW, I have 3 kids, 2 school age, last one (sniff!) in preschool. My third will go to full day K because of his older siblings' schedule, but the older two did half day (oldest because of the same reasons you give, 2nd because I was home that year with the baby).

    Posted by CathieQ February 11, 12 11:34 AM
  1. I was going to vote for all-day--to give you more rest and time with the baby--until I saw your post about the "middle child" to be. :-) My middle child was going to K when baby #3 was born, so all-day was essential as it kept the older two on the same schedule. If your number 2 is in any sort of school program, I'd do whatever makes the pickup schedule easier for you! (And drop-off, if you do drop-off.) The less driving around with a new baby, the better, though some of it is certainly unavoidable. I also second cutting back on the extracurriculars until you see how he handles all day K. For my oldest, it was clear after a few months, that extracurriculars would be fine. But, it was nice to have a few months of "relaxation"!

    Good luck!

    Posted by Beth February 11, 12 03:41 PM
  1. As the mom of a newborn (going on 4 months) and a 3 year old...do the full day. You forget exactly how much work the new baby is and how tired you'll be. He will have far more fun at school than at home with a newborn and an exhausted mom.

    Posted by C February 12, 12 12:15 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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