Full Day Kindergarten is a Terrible Idea

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My first job after college was a kindergarten teacher. I started in a district that had full day kindergarten, and they’d had it for a long time. There was an entire set of discipline procedures in place for misbehaving kindergarteners that was a little less strict and a little more forgiving than it was for older kids. I didn’t know any better, and in my book it was logical and fair.

A couple of years later, I went to a district that was switching form half day kindergarten to full day kindergarten. When I asked about discipline measures, and what we would do with kids that needed to be removed from the classroom, I was met with a lot of blank stares.

full day kindergarten

“We’ve never had to remove anyone from a classroom in kindergarten. That just isn’t something that happens,” said one teacher that was old enough she could have been my kindergarten teacher, so she totally knew what she was talking about.

I left it at that, not wanting to be the new girl rocking the boat or shaking things up. And we started school. Within the first week, there was an office full of kindergarteners. Kids who ran out doors and down hallways, kids who hit and fought, kids who missed their moms so much they were getting sick– an office full of kids who just couldn’t handle a full day of kindergarten.

In an emergency meeting the older teacher spoke, ” It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. These kids are out of control. How are we ever supposed to teach like this?”

I was the only teacher in the room with full day kinder experience, so I answered, “The problems we are having aren’t unusual, this is something we have always experienced at the beginning of the year. We just can’t keep relying on the office. That isn’t really the answer, and they can’t watch a bunch of barely five-year-olds down there all day.”

“Wait, this is what happens every year in full day kindergarten?”

“Yes, we just handle it a little differently than this.”

why full day kindergarten is a terrible idea

So, we implemented some of the plans from my old school. Sending kids to different classrooms for a change of scenery, having parents meet their kids at lunch if they need a little pick-me-up, making keychains for backpacks with pictures of pets and families from home for kids to look at and remember. We even had some kids bring security items from home. It worked out okay, but we still had problems. Problems that these teachers had NEVER in YEARS AND YEARS of teaching experienced when they taught half-day kindergarten.

And that’s when I realized what was happening, five years old is too young to spend an entire day in a kindergarten classroom. No matter what we did, no matter what kinds of plans we came up with, the school day was too long for these babies.

I know what you’re thinking, that there just isn’t enough time in the day for these teachers to teach what these kids need to know, but remember, these teachers weren’t being asked to teach more in a full day of kindergarten than they were in a half day. The state standards were all the same, they were just being given more time in the day to do it.

And that is why I think full day kindergarten is a terrible idea. We should let kids be KIDS for as long as we can. The sooner we toss them in a room, regulate their lives into daily school schedules and have them being taught all day, the faster we are asking them to grow up.

Bring back half day kindergarten. Please.

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  1. Couldn’t agree more. I’m a stay at home mom and it’s not I don’t have to work, we have to be VERY frugal in order to keep this luxury in place. I think it’s unfortunate that many times, this rigorous full day KG schedule is to a accommodate parents’ work schedules. Please give more options! Maybe some are, but my kids are not ready to start the M-F all day grind. And as much as the full day would provide freedom for me to actually get some things done..I don’t feel right about sending these kids out all day at the age of 5. It’s absurd.

  2. Well half day kindergarten is great if you are a stay at home parent. But most parents can’t afford to be so the kids have to be in either kindergarten or daycare. There’s often not much choice. Daycare can be too expensive and kindergarten is free. So until our economic model changes there seems to be not much choice for most people.

    1. Every time I hear parents use the “can’t afford to stay home” line I don’t know whether to laugh or roll my eyes. You all really think all us SAHM are rich and privileged don’t you? Well, hey, my husband is turning wrenches right now, probably splattered in grease. He has no college degree but plenty of years experience, some trade school, and a reputation for being clever, responsible, and working like a beast of burden. His friendly personality helps. But rich? We haven’t had a vacation since our honeymoon, 5 years ago. We had to go over a year with only one car – in a completely rural area – so I was marooned when weather didn’t allow my husband to commute on his motorcycle, thus saving money on gas and being able to leave me the car. We can’t renovate our kitchen. We just prioritize. Healthy eating of good food, me being home with the kids, are higher on our list of priorities. We also moved to a less expensive area further from the city, so we have a beautiful home and property for a fraction of the price. Husband’s commute is longer, but these sacrifices made for quality of life. That’s all. As such, I can cook good meals, grow much of our produce in my massive vegetable garden, take care of home, husband and kids, and our kids aren’t always sick or bringing home bad behaviors from daycare. And my husband is no chauvenist, he’s happy I’m home but would absolutely support my decision if I chose to work. He is helpful around the house even after a long day of work, with no asking or nagging on my part. And I am not a 50’s throwback, before I married and became a mom, I owned my own little home, worked, started a business renting my own office space, and supported myself for many years as a single woman. It’s all about priorities. Many of us SAHM find the money thing insulting. We are not all rich, none of the local SAHM are rich, in fact, their families earn less than mine does, they are blue collar, hardworking and simple people. PS, I’m an ex-city-slicker, so I’m not a rural chick by birth, either. Husband also grew up in the big city.

  3. Reading this article I couldn’t help but laugh and thought to myself “Are they throwing the children in at the deep end of the pool and expecting them to swim?”. I work in a what you might call a Child Care Center (Private Day Nursery) in the UK, many of my students are with us longer hours than most of the staff (07:30 – 18:30) and yet we don’t see a large amount of bad behaviour.

    Here many children start school the term after their 3rd birthday in a Nursery class which is usually half-day [until about 20 years ago any school with a Nursery unit frequently admitted children full-time anytime from their 3rd birthday]. In the September following their 4th birthday, children enter full-time school in the reception class. Compulsory education if from the September following a child’s 5th birthday. NB: Our academic year runs from September to August. It is rare for a child to delay starting school until they turn 4 and almost unheard of to wait until they turn 5.

    As you can see, by 5 years old most children have already been at school full-time for over a year and will have spent a year or more prior to that attending school half-day. I’m of an age where I have both been a student and a classroom assistant in classes of 5 to 7-year-old children that were expected to sit at their desks and learn – this is no longer the case but even then bad behaviour was the exception rather than the rule. Now our curriculum is less ridged but with more emphasis on learning through play. In my part of the UK, Early years education covers 3 to 7-year-olds regardless of whether they attend school or a daycare centre. If the way full-time kindergarten is structured in your area causes such behavioural issues, I would suggest you research how early education is managed in other countries.

    Justine, below, mentioned taking the children out to explore nature – this is definitely something the education structure in my area allows for as you can get so much out it educationally. e.g. counting the spots on a ladybug, learning the colours of the things you see, developing descriptive and positional language, and all this while the children think they are having fun.

  4. So because kids misbehave it’s a terrible idea? What about the kids who do just fine in daycare from 7am-6pm? I think they’d do just fine. As long as there is nap time, it shouldn’t be an issue. Most kids in half day end up going to before and after care anyway, so it’s not much different than being in school for the full day. I’ve been in child care for many years. Now I’m also a mother. I think seeing the situation from both sides is important.

    1. It’s sad that kids would be in daycare from 7am to 6pm. Extremely sad. Why would you have kids only to have someone else raise them 5 days a week for the majority of there waking time. Don’t bother having kids if you feel that it is ok to have them in baby prison, I mean daycare for 11 hours a day. Just sad.

  5. Amen! But then parents complain because they need the free “childcare” so they can go back to work.

  6. Hi!
    I, too, taught Kindergarten straight out of college. Then my 2nd yeaer (and current year) I’m teaching 1st grade. You would not believe the group of Kinders we have moving up next year… put it this way – the school I teach at, the kindergartners bring in the most office referrals because of diagnosed behavior disorders and I do believe the curriculum and full day is one of the reasons – there’s not enough play!
    I stumbled onto your blog because I’d love to try 1/2 day kinder in a district somewhere where play is seen as the main means of learning for kindergartners. Thanks for sharing your blog!

  7. YES! I do think kids who have been in daycare the previous year could probably handle full day just fine the kids who haven’t had that experience have a very tough time in full day kibdergarten. My almost 6yo gd had to be pulled from full day kinder because in the afternoon she was disruptive nearly every day and even left campus! There was no half day option. The school said it was too risky for her to be there. So now she stays with me all day since her mom can’t afford preschool. Other kids at her school were always crying. This was at a highly sought after public school. I think it would be good to have the option for half or full day kinder at each school. Full day isn’t for everyone.

  8. I taught all-day kindergarten a long time ago in Australia. It was brilliant because it was done correctly: Math and language arts in the morning, arts, science and social studies in the afternoon, and three recesses including an hour at lunch. They have done it this way forever and it has always worked. Given my experience, I believe firmly that the problem isn’t the length of the day. It’s the curriculum, which is decidedly not suitable for five-year-olds.

    1. That sounds beautiful, Lulu! I must go to Australia! I completely agree that the pressed and forced curricuclum that is not age or developmentally appropriate is the underlying reason why full day kinder is so hard for some!

  9. Our public schools have full day pre-K, starting at 4. Very few children opt out. Why would they pay for daycare when they can get it for free?

  10. When I was a Nanny in Connecticut in the 80’s the girls I worked with were in kindergarten and it started out half day. Part way through the year they added more time to the day and they did that through out the year so that by the end of the year they were going a full day. I thought that was a great way to do it.
    As someone who has worked in the child care business for years and years I’d say most kids who are used to spending 8-10 hours a day in some form of childcare/preschool can handle full day kindergarten.

  11. In Miami, Fl, Kindergarten is not playtime and naps anymore. It is actual work to prepare for first grade, where they take off full blast with the workload. With common core and the FSA’s to worry about, there is no time to lose. I’m not condoning this by any means, just went through it with my kids over the years.

  12. I’m not sure I completely agree with you. On the one hand, I think you’re right, kids do need time to be kids. But you also don’t know what they are doing when they are not at school. Sitting in front of an ipad, TV, or computer while Mom is “busy” isn’t a better solution. Students in my school also have the choice of full-day or half-day, but I strongly recommend to ALL parents that they sign their children up for the full-day program. This way, I can implement more play and inquiry into my day. I can take the students out for a romp in the mud puddles, catch tadpoles and chase butterflies. We take that back into the classroom to help us with our reading and writing. I think the thing that is wrong with Kindergarten is that we expect them to act older than they are. Sit still. Pay attention. Do you work. Be quiet. They aren’t ready for that and there isn’t really any reason for us to expect it ALL THE TIME.

    Full-day programs give us as teachers the opportunity to deviate from a strict schedule and encourages us to engage the students in things they are interested in without completely ignoring the standards. It take a huge change in your mindset, but from what I have seen in my classroom over the past 2 years it is definitely worth it.

    1. I find it offensive and narrow minded that you believe kids sit in front of TV/iPad/Computer when mom is “busy”. While that may be the case for some, it is not most. Romping in the mud, exploring, chasing butterflies are precisely what children should be doing at home, not on taxpayers dollars in full day kindergarten. It is sad that so many parents buy into the idea that being in a controlled environment with 20+ other children is what is best for their 5 year old. The stress of imposing a 30 (or so) hour week on a five year old cannot be of benefit in most instances. As an educator and mother of three, I would not recommend full day kindergarten for a five year old.

      1. My daughter is 3.5 and I have just said she will be doing half days as she is only turning 4 in June and had to start at the beginning of this yr. We have 4 yr old kindy then preprimary and then yr 1 in Australia.
        They do 2 full days 1 week then 3 full the next.
        She is 3.5 and never been away from me…I am relieved to have said no I want her to do half days. x

      2. AGREE!!! My almost 4 year old daughter is home with me full time. She has never once in her life used an iPad! She does not watch TV. She plays in the garden while I garden, she goes for mile long walks with me, she looks at books or plays with toys (like building blocks and lincoln logs, play kitchen, playdoh, she does many things, but ipads, TV and computer she NEVER does. We will introduce movies and such at age 5 when she can watch occasional quality programming and educational videos, and truly understand plots and whatnot. Computers will be used when she’s learning and they will be used for learning, not for video games or watching nonsense. We have no relatives or babysitters, so being screen free is a lot of work for us, but we prefer not using the ipad as a babysitter.

  13. Sounds to me like kindergarten teachers across the country need to start fighting for the best interests of their student needs…we are stronger speaking up together. An appropriate FULL DAY kindergarten setting would hopefully include a balance of academic instruction with social/emotional activities along with large/small motor activities. We need to be educating the whole child, not just the academic child. Policy makers are not trained in early childhood education….some feel they are experts just because they attended school. HA…NOT!

  14. When I put my son into private school, they had two options, full day or half-day kindergarten. I asked what they did after morning academics, the response was “lunch, recess, naptime, pre-pick-up, pickup”. Oh…, you do day care after lunch for parents who need it while they are working! This is the real reason for full-day school. It is free child care. Afternoons should be day care time if they have to stay all day. I agree that “Full-day School” is too much for little kids.

  15. I have taught kindergarten in California for 30 years. The last 20 years have been full day kinder. We have been teaching to heavy academic standards for all of the years we have been full day. I actually am enjoying Common Core because it is not as demanding and is more developmentally appropriate than the old standards. When we started full day many years ago, we would do the first few months half day and then transition. Bus concerns forced us to switch to full day from the beginning of the year about 8 years ago. The kids have handled it just fine throughout without all of the drama you mention. There are always a few who struggle but those few had issues with half day as well. The ones with behavior issues and ADHD type issues do not wait until afternoon for those troubles to arise. We also do not sit the kids at desks with worksheets all day. They do have to sit for rug time more than I feel is appropriate for direct instruction, but because we have a full day schedule I am able to keep songs, fingerplays, dramatic play, cooking projects, nursery rhymes, free choice play centers, and other activities that I consider to be very important for kindergarten students. I am able to do that and still teach them to read to what I consider to be traditional first grade standards. I would never want to go back to the half day schedule. I am sorry you are having so much difficulty with your littles in the full day program, but I don’t think half day would get many of those children home to their families. I think they would just be in some form of day care.

  16. I could not disagree more. If you incorporate play, and are patient, it is wonderful. I had my best year of teaching in over 20 years teaching full day kindergarten. They learned a ton, and had lots of time to explore and build social skills.

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      1. What does this have to do Sith kindergarten?????

    3. It’s imperative that more people make this exact point.

      1. As an early childhood educator + child advocate with twenty years experience… YES. Preach on my friend. We desperately need this perspective.

    4. You’ve really impressed me with that answer!

  17. I am going into my 3rd year teaching Full Day Kindergarten and I have never, ever, had any of the problems talked about in this artical. Yes, there are children who have a tougher transitions from parents at the beginning and may need a little extra comfort, but sending them away (be that to another classroom or the office) was never the way it was handled. They needed to leans to trust us, and that we would meet their needs during that time, not that we were going to send them away if they didn’t behave just right. Where I live, if a child will turn 4 by the end of the calendar year, they are eligible to start kindergarten; as a result, I had a child start with me this year who has a birthday on New Years Eve – she is the youngest child in the school and walked into my classroom at age 3 1/2; I have never once had an issue with her making it through the day, and my 5 year olds are MORE than okay with the full day!

    This artical is a terrible representation of a wonderful program; and clearly the educators the author was working with have no business implementing FDK.

    1. Lindsay;
      I urge you to have a look into the Forest School programs in either Canada (fairly new concept here) or in the UK (where they’ve been around for quite some time). It’s not that the educators have ‘no business’ setting up full time kindergarten. Kids are meant to move and explore and learn in ways that capture their imagination and allow them to learn through play based activities. They are naturally curious and more than willing to learn; they are just not meant to sit in a desk all day. Maybe the kindergarten where you work has already worked through these issues and have developed a status quo. As a Canadian, I’m very surprised though that a child would start kindergarten at 3.5yrs; here they don’t start until they are 5(or will be by year end). Schools in the UK begin around age 7..I would rather see that here in Canada too 🙂

      1. Jenn,

        I teach in Ontario. If a child will be 4 by the end of the calander year, they are eligible to start kindergarten in September. I had 4/10 JK children this year who’s birthdays were late September, October, November & December, so they were all 3 for a time during the beginning of the year. In our school, kindergarten children spend very little time sitting and doing overly structured activities. We have a very free flow program where our children can self regulate and learn however they feel inclined. They decide what they want to focus on at any given point in time, while we facilitate with activities that aid in their learning of things like math and literacy. Play Based Learning, or Inquiry Based Learning works wonderfully in a Full Day Kindergarten setting.

  18. Another idea is slow start. where the kids come in with their parents the first 3 days of school with only 2 or 3 kids at a time. It really cuts down on crying kids

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  19. Many of these kids will still end up in all day care – it’s just a matter of which daycare they go to. It’s not necessarily that parents are expecting their kids to be taught all day and not all could keep them home and choose to do all day K. Instead of thinking of it as parents expecting their kids to be taught all day, the afternoons can be more focused on free play and games, etc. Like kids would do in daycare but at least they’re not having to be transported to a different place and thus have less security and consistency in their day.

  20. I have a four-year-old who is currently in a full-day program in a Montessor preschooli based classroom.
    She started a year ago and is doing just fine with the full-day kindergartners. She will go into a full-day Kindergarten this coming fall and I feel it’s the best choice for her. Yes, this is different curriculum from what is offered in most schools but this incorporates more of the moving around and is small grouped.
    I use to work with a Kindergarten class in my lowest twenties and it was hectic with so many kids in one classroom who just turned five.
    Sitting in a desk for so many hours is not helpful for a child ..

  21. This hit home for me because I have a kindergartener who has been recently diagnosed with ADHD. I often question whether he really just has “I need to run around a lot and sitting still and writing and paying attention for 6 hours is not developmentally appropriate” disorder. He is doing much better now that he is in a small class where it is ok to get up and move around as he needs to.

    1. Yes! Jennifer, I absolutely believe that you have properly diagnosed your child. Kids are definitely meant to be on the move! They learn through play and natural discovery. My little one turns 5 in August and starts kindergarten in the fall. Currently, she is in a Forest School program 2x per week but I am a bit sad for her that she will soon be stuck inside a classroom being told to sit in her seat 5 days of the week.

  22. Really? Send kids to another classroom for a change of scenery? So they where full day in their classrooms? I would go mad, as an adult. My 2 year old is full day at kindergarten and they don’t have problems like this at all. There’s structured class in the mornings (sensory play, music classes, bring and tell, reading books etc.) and there is so much outside and free play. I really don’t understand this article. Only show’s that the kindergartens you worked at are unqualified to work with kids. But please don’t take their issues out on all kindergartens.

    1. Yes! I completely agree! This article was the most ridiculous thing I have read in a while. My daughter was in half day preschool at 3 and is in Half day PreK now at 4. She is excited and looking forward to staying all day next year! She begs me to stay longer now as it is. The school she was in just sounds incompetent when dealing with kindergartners.

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    2. You’re child is NOT in Kindergarten they are in daycare or preschool. Kindergarten is different. Maybe you are not from the United states? and maybe that’s where you are misunderstanding? teachers are not allowed to have their children be children. They are not allowed to have sensory play and engage on a lot of hands on learning. Most of the time they are forced to sit at desks and do worksheets, writing, reading, etc. That’s what kindergarten is. It’s not usually a lot of what happens during preschools. Preschool teacher let the kids play with toys, while also implementing lessons. Free play is not usually allowed in kindergarten and that is decided by school and state officials