All-day kindergarten

All-day kindergarten

Burriss, Kathleen Glascott

Although many school systems still provide only half-day kindergarten programs, the trend in the United States has been toward implementation of all-day kindergarten. In the early 1980s, only about 30 percent of U.S. kindergarten children attended all-day kindergarten (Holmes & McConnell,1990); by the early 1990s, the number had risen to nearly 50 percent (Karweit, 1992). By 1993, 54 percent of U.S. kindergarten teachers were teaching in fullday programs (Rothenberg, 1995).

This trend has grown as a result of both societal changes and educational concerns (Gullo, 1990; Holmes & McConnell, 1990; Karweit, 1992; Rothenberg, 1995; Sheehan, Cryan, Wiechel, & Bandy,1991). With greater numbers of single parent and dualincome families in the workforce, parents increasingly need full-day programming for their young children. Researchers (e.g., Hough & Bryde,1996; Housden & Kam,1992; Lofthouse,1994; Towers,1991)have found that most teachers also prefer all-day kindergarten programs.

Early research conducted on the value of all-day kindergarten yielded mixed results. In a review of research on all-day kindergarten conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, Puleo (1988) suggested that much of the early research employed inadequate methodological standards that resulted in serious problems with internal and external validity; consequently, the results were conflicting and inconclusive. A number of studies of all-day kindergarten were conducted in the 1990s. While they also provided mixed results, some noteworthy trends appeared.

Effects of All-Day Kindergarten on Academic Achievement

Although research on the academic effects of all-day kindergarten conducted in the 1970s and 1980s showed mixed results, it did point to consistent results for students identified as being at-risk (Housden & Kam, 1992; Karweit, 1992; Puleo, 1988). Researchers found positive academic and social benefits of allday kindergarten for children from low SES or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. Research reported in the past 10 years has found more consistent positive academic outcomes for children enrolled in all-day kindergarten (Cryan, Sheehan, Wiechel, & BandyHedden, 1992; Elicker & Mathur, 1997; Hough & Bryde, 1996; Koopmans, 1991).

However, Holmes and McConnell (1990) conducted a study in which they found very few differences between children enrolled in half-day kindergarten and those enrolled in full-day kindergarten. The study was done during the first year of a move to full-day kindergarten programming by a large metropolitan school district. Twenty schools were selected randomly to provide either full-day or half-day kindergarten experiences. Half of the schools for each group were chosen from Chapter 1 schools and half were selected from affluent areas of the city. Researchers used scores on California Achievement Tests for 311 children enrolled in half-day programs and 326 children enrolled in full-day programs to determine whether or not there were differences in academic achievement.

Only one of six achievement comparisons showed a significant difference that could be attributed to the kindergarten program: males in the full-day kindergarten program performed significantly better on the mathematics concepts and applications sub-test than did males in the half-day program.

Nunnelley (1996) investigated the impact of all-day versus half-day kindergarten programs on academic achievement levels of at-risk children. While no significant differences in academic achievement were found, only 19 children were included in the study (9 who attended full-day kindergarten and 10 who attended half-day kindergarten). Nunnelley suggested that further research with a larger sample was necessary.

A number of recent studies do show differences in academic achievement in children enrolled in half-day versus full-day programs. Cryan et al. (1992) conducted a twophase study that examined the effects of half-day and all-day kindergarten programs on children’s academic and behavioral success in school. In the first phase of the study, which was retrospective, data were collected on 8,290 children, from 27 school districts, who entered kindergarten in 19821984. The second phase was a longitudinal study of nearly 6,000 children who entered kindergarten in two cohorts, in 1986 and 1987. The researchers found that participation in all-day kindergarten was. related positively to subsequent school performance. Children who attended full-day kindergarten scored higher on standardized tests, had fewer grade retentions, and had fewer Chapter 1 placements.

Hough and Bryde (1996) also found that students enrolled in fullday kindergarten programs benefited academically. Student achievement was examined for 511 children enrolled in half-day and all-day kindergarten programs in 25 classrooms during the 1994-95 school year. Data were collected from: 1) classroom observations; 2) focus groups with children, teachers, and parents; 3) report cards; 4) parent surveys; and 5) achievement test scores. Children in the all-day programs scored higher on the achievement test than those in halfday programs, on every item tested. The children enrolled in the all-day kindergarten program also had a higher attendance rate.

Koopmans (1991) examined the effectiveness of a full-day kindergarten program for the Newark, New Jersey, Board of Education. Koopmans looked at two cohorts of students: one in its third year of elementary school and the other in its second year of elementary school. Students’ scores on the California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) were used for the analysis. Reading comprehension scores were somewhat higher in 2nd grade for those children in the first cohort who had attended all-day kindergarten. Comparison scores were significantly higher in both 1st and 2nd grade for those children in the second cohort who had attended allday kindergarten. Math scores were also significantly higher for all-day kindergarten children in the second cohort, although no significant differences in math scores were found between full- and half-day students in the first cohort.

Finally, a study by Elicker and Mathur (1997) also found that academic outcomes at the end of the kindergarten year indicated slightly greater progress in kindergarten and higher levels of 1st-grade readiness for children in an all-day kindergarten program. In addition, teachers reported significantly greater progress for all-day kindergarten in literacy, math, and general learning skills.

Social and Behavioral Effects of All-Day Kindergarten

Although most studies of all-day kindergarten have focused on the effect of length of day on academic achievement, some researchers have also examined social and behavioral effects. Cryan et al. (1992) compared both academic and behavioral success of children enrolled in half-day versus full-day kindergarten programs. Results provided strong support for the effectiveness of the full-day kindergarten program on children’s classroom behavior. Teachers rated 14 dimensions of children’s behavior on the Hahnemann Elementary School Behavior Rating Scale (Spivack & Swift,1975). According to the researchers, a clear relationship emerged between the kindergarten schedule and children’s classroom behavior. Of the 14 dimensions, nine were more positive in all-day kindergarten: originality, independent learning, involvement in classroom activities, productivity with peers, intellectual dependency, failure / anxiety, unreflectiveness, holding back or withdrawal, and approach to teacher. No dimension of children’s behavior was more positive in the half-day program when compared with the all-day program.

Other researchers who have studied social and behavioral outcomes found that children in all-day kindergarten programs were engaged in more child-to-child interactions (Hough & Bryde, 1996), and that they made significantly greater progress in learning social skills (Elicker & Mathur, 1997).

Attitudes Toward All-Day Kindergarten

While educators, policymakers, and parents are concerned with academic achievement, other aspects of children’s, teachers’, and families’ lives are affected by all-day kindergarten. Recently, some researchers examined parents’ and teachers’ attitudes toward all-day kindergarten.

Parent attitudes. In general, parents of children in all-day kindergarten programs were satisfied with the programs and believed that allday kindergarten better prepared their children for 1st grade (Hough & Bryde, 1996; Housden & Kam, 1992; Towers, 1991). In one study (Hough & Bryde, 1996), parents reported that all-day kindergarten teachers more often gave suggestions for home activities. Parents also felt that their children benefited socially in the all-day kindergarten (Towers, 1991). In a survey conducted by Elicker and Mathur (1997), parents reported a preference for the all-day program, citing such advantages as a more relaxed atmosphere, more opportunities for children to choose activities and develop their own interests, and more time for creative activities.

Parents of children in the half-day program were divided in their opinions about the length of the kindergarten day. Some parents appreciated having their children home for part of the day; others indicated that they would have preferred a full-day program, because they felt their children were rushed in the half-day program.

Teacher attitudes. Researchers who reviewed teacher attitudes toward all-day kindergarten found that many teachers preferred allday kindergarten because it allowed them more time for individual instruction (Greer-Smith, 1990; Housden & Kam,1992). Teachers of all-day kindergarten noted that they were better able to get to know their children and families and, therefore, were better able to meet the children’s needs (Elicker & Mathur, 1997). Teachers also cited the following advantages of all-day kindergarten: a more relaxed atmosphere, more opportunities for children to choose activities and develop their own interests, and more time for creative activities. In addition, teachers felt that all-day kindergarten programs were more effective than half-day programs in preparing children for 1st grade (Elicker & Mathur, 1997; Towers, 1991 ).

An interesting component of one all-day kindergarten program that both teachers and parents appreciated was an “easing in” process that allowed children to begin the year by attending half-day, then some full days; by the seventh week, these children attended full-day kindergarten every day (Towers, 1991).

Curriculum in All-Day Kindergarten

Several recent summaries of research (Housden & Kam, 1992; Karweit, 1992; Rothenberg, 1995) have suggested that the quality of the kindergarten experience and type of educational program, as well as the configuration of the school day, should be considered when kindergarten programs are evaluated. Some of the questions that have been addressed relate to what the children do while they are in the programs, how the teachers structure the programs, and how the teachers interact with children during instructional time. Full-day programs have the potential for offering more opportunities for the small-group and child-initiated activities that are recommended for early childhood classrooms (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). Researchers have found, however, that the greatest percentage of time in both full-day and half-day programs is consumed by teacher-directed, large-group activity (Elicker & Mathur, 1997; Morrow, Strickland, & Woo, 1998).

Large-group, teacher-directed activity. Elicker and Mathur (1997) defined teacher-directed, largegroup activity as a group of 10 or more children involved in teacherled activities such as singing, movement, and physical exercise, as well as more quiet participation in such activities as listening to stories or to teacher instruction. In a study conducted over a two-year period that compared one school’s daily activities in eight half-day and four fullday kindergarten programs, Elicker and Mathur (1997) found the greatest percentage of time in both kinds of classrooms was spent in largegroup, teacher-directed activity. Although the average time spent on teacher-directed activity in full-day classrooms (100 minutes) was greater than in half-day classrooms (83.5 minutes), the percentage of total time consumed by teacherdirected activity was 16 percent less in full-day classrooms. This finding confirmed data collected earlier by Cryan et al. (1992) suggesting that children attending full- and alternate-day kindergarten programs spent less time in teacher-directed, large-group activity and more time in active free play.

In a study designed to determine the effects of the length of the kindergarten program on early literacy development, Morrow et al. (1998) found that the majority of the instructional time for literacy was spent in whole-group instruction. In the all-day classrooms, an average of 108 minutes was spent in whole-group literacy instruction, which represented 83 percent of the total time spent in literacy activity. The average time in half-day programs was 54 minutes, which represented 85 percent of the classroom literacy activity. The results of this study confirm the findings of earlier researchers indicating that full-day kindergarten teachers, as well as half-day kindergarten teachers, utilize primarily large-group, teacherdirected instructional techniques.

Small-group and individualized, teacher-directed activity. Elicker and Mathur (1997) found very little difference in the amount of teacherdirected, small-group activity between the full-day and half-day programs. Teacher-led activities for groups of 2-10 children constituted only 2 to 3 percent of the day in both full-day and half-day kindergarten programs. Hough and Bryde(1996), however, found that full-day programs included a greater number of small-group activities, as well as more individualized instruction, than did the half-day programs; they suggested that full-day teachers, who had more time for instruction, may have felt less pressure to convey information expediently.

Morrow et al. (1998) also found that teachers offered fewer smallgroup and individualized literacy activities than whole-group instructional activities. All-day kindergarten teachers, however, utilized smallgroup instruction more frequently than did half-day teachers. All-day kindergarten teachers had 13 percent of their literacy activities taking place in small groups, while half-day teachers used only 8 percent of their literacy time in small groupsettings. Individual literacy instructional time occurred somewhat less frequently in all-day programs. Only 4 percent of total literacy time in allday classrooms and only 7 percent of total literacy time in half-day classrooms was spent in one-on-one teacher/student instruction.

Child-initiated activity. Good (1996) suggested that children had more time for play and for selfdirected activities when they attended an all-day, alternate-day program-for example, they were able to complete a project in the afternoon that they had started in the morning. Elicker and Mathur (1997) found that child-initiated activity increased by 7 percent in fullday classrooms; examples included more time spent in both indoor and outdoor free play, more extensive use of learning centers, and a small increase in cooperative learning. Children in full-day kindergarten programs engaged in child-initiated activity during 29 percent of the day, while children in half-day programs engaged in child-initiated activity for an average of 21 percent of their day.

By contrast, Morrow et al. (1998) compared the amount of time spent in child-initiated activity between full-day and half-day programs and found that while children in fullday programs had more total time per day engaged in free choice activity (25 minutes versus 19 minutes), the percentage of free choice time was greater in half-day programs (10 percent versus 13 percent). These researchers, however, noted that children in the full-day programs participated in more selfinitiated literacy activities during their free choice time than did children in half-day programs.

Research data in both the Good (1996) and Morrow et al. (1998) studies were collected during the first year of the all-day kindergarten program. The data in the Elicker and Mathur (1997) study were collected over a two-year period. After comparing the data collected from the first and second years of the study, Elicker and Mathur concluded that many of the differences between fulland half-day kindergarten programming became stronger during the second year and that “children in the full-day classrooms were initiating more learning activity and receiving more one-to-one instruction from their teachers, while spending proportionally less time in teacher-directed groups” (p.477).


Most of the recent research on allday kindergarten indicates positive benefits for children in terms of academic achievement and behavior. Parents and teachers seem to prefer all-day kindergarten over half-day kindergarten for a variety of reasons. However, Gullo (1990) cautions that the most important aspect of the full-day kindergarten may not be the length of the kindergarten day, but rather what occurs during that day. He notes that “allday kindergarten has the potential of being either a blessing or a bane for young children. This will depend on which type of pressures prevail in influencing the development of the all-day kindergarten program” (p. 38). Gullo and others (Olsen & Zigler,1989;Rothenberg,1995)have warned educators and parents to resist the pressure to include increasingly more didactic academic instructional programming for allday kindergarten, which, they contend, would be inappropriate for young children. Further research might help determine whether, over time, all-day kindergarten teachers can restructure the curriculum to conform to developmentally appropriate standards.

Educators, parents, and policymakers must remember that what children do in kindergarten may be more important than how long they are in the classroom each day. Results from recent research suggest, however, that a longer day can provide children the opportunity to spend more time engaged in active, child-initiated, small-group activities. In such classrooms, teachers seem to be less stressed by time constraints and may be better able to get to know the children. They report that they are able to work on themes in greater depth and can allow children more opportunities to choose activities and develop their own interests (Elicker & Mathur, 1997). Based on recent research, it appears that all-day kindergarten can offer children a developmentally appropriate curriculum, while at the same time providing academic benefits.


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Patricia Clark is Assistant Professor, Elementary Education, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana. Elizabeth Kirk is Assistant Professor,Teacher Education, Miami University, Middletown, Ohio.

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