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Full-day kindergarten hits Zionsville, beginning the learning journey even earlier

Squier

Full-day kindergarten has arrived in Zionsville, as 355 children are enrolled to attend the newly-implemented program this month. Our town is not alone – similar increases in enrollment are also evident throughout the United States,where74 percent of almost 4 million kindergarteners are enrolled in full-day kindergarten.

The reason for the change? Researchers attribute it to the proliferation of single parent families and two working parent families, plus the fact that increased emphasis on school accountability and rising state standards heightens the pressure to progress students academically.

Eagle Elementary principal Christine Squier believes that Zionsville Community Schools’ move to full-day kindergarten is necessary, though she admits that in the past, a lack of overall uniformity in kindergarten meant that its curricula varied from school to school.

That is about to change, as kindergartens and other grades initiatecompliance under new National Common Core standards. Those standards will unify curricula from state to state, but the key to developing a full-day kindergartenprogram, Squier says, is to remember thatchildren learn at different rates.

“Having the standards is good,” she said. “But standardizing the program is not necessarily good because you still need to make sure that you are meeting the child where they are developmentally and moving them forward. (At Eagle) we are still able to do that.”

Townsend

Union Elementary kindergarten teacher Ruth Ann Townsend is thrilled kindergarteners will spend more time in the classroom. A kindergarten teacher for six years, this will be her first year with the full-day variety.

“Two years ago, Indiana decided each student needed a 90-minute literacy block and a 60-minute math block,” said Thompson. “But in half-day kindergarten, this was virtually impossible. Students had very little time to choose their own activities because their day was fully scheduled.”

Now, Townsend says, there’s also time for self-selectedactivities along with art, music, science and physical education. She touts the model as adherent to the cognitive needs of kindergarten-aged students, as well – children of kindergarten age generally have an attention span of 12 to 15 minutes.

“We are excited we can bring this level of learning up for our students and do more activities and hands-on instruction,” she said. “Lessons are short and quick because they are kindergarteners; we will do at least three different activities in a time period.”

Longer learning days have their benefits, as well. Research shows that students who attend full-day kindergarten have higher reading and math assessment scores as well as higher fine motor skill assessments.

Benefits aside, does full-day kindergarten rush students into school, pressuring them to succeed atan earlier level? Some critics concur, sothe question becomes:Is greater academic focus in kindergarten the best means of preparing for first grade?

Snow

Dr. Kyle Snow, co-author of School Readiness, Early Learning and the Transition to Kindergarten in the era of Accountabilityand the Director of the Center for Applied Research, National Association for the Education of Young Children says that full-day kindergarten definitelysupports this bridge to first grade. Snow maintains that it ispreparation for the next year, just as all the years from birth through schooling play a role in a child’s progressive development.

“Teaching children to read in kindergarten sounds very first-grade like,” he said. “But we know enough about how children learn to read that we can use kindergarten to foster ‘preliteracy’ or ‘early reading’ skills – things like recognizing letters and mapping speech sounds to letters.”

At a base level, starting earlier simply means that students will have earlier interventions for existing learning problems. And for at-risk students, withadded time comes added confidence from working in areas longer and participating in more activities that will enhance student learning, resulting, Townsend says, in “more success” in first grade and beyond.

  • What does full-day kindergarten entail?

The full-day program expands school time from two and one-half hours to a five and one-half hour day. The typical school day will include lunch, recess and instructional time.

  • Where did this research come from?

U.S.Census
“Back to School: 2011-2012”
“School Enrollment in the United States: 2008”

Review of Educational Research
“Effects of Full Day Kindergarten on Academic Achievement and Social Development”

National Common Core
www.corestandards.org/the-standards

U.S. Department ofEducation
ECLS-B Findings: Early Childhood Longitudinal Study — National Center for Education Statistics, 2009

  • How does it affect taxpayers?

$80 million in grants for schools offering full-day kindergarten were approved in March, coupled with $310 million in previously undiscovered state funds. As of right now, “FDK” is fully funded, at no cost to the taxpayer.

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