My Turn by Sharon Krumpfer

| 04 Apr 2012 | 04:55

    My husband and I have four children; our oldest is currently in kindergarten. I love the half-day program. I believe that half-day kindergarten is the perfect transition from pre-school to grade school. Or, if a child has not attended a pre-school program, the half-day kindergarten program allows a child to better acclimate to the school schedule.

    My daughter gets on the bus excitedly each day there is school, and comes home from school very happy as well. She has grown so much since September. She loves to read and eagerly completes the assigned homework. She’s gone to two book fairs, did some “holiday shopping” for our family, participated in a dance her class had been practicing for weeks, has celebrated several classmates’ birthdays, will be having a field day and going on a trip to a Japanese restaurant towards the end of the school year.

    In February I attended a school board meeting where I heard that kindergarten is like first grade because of what the students are now expected to achieve. Well, kindergarten isn’t first grade. First grade is first grade, right? Will five- and six-year-old children actually benefit from a full-day curriculum? If you compare a half-day program alongside a full-day program, there isn’t much difference in terms of academics. The lesson for the day will be expanded upon. As one teacher put it, “There will be more time to paint and build with blocks.” With a full-day program, kindergartners would eat lunch, have recess and yes, there would be a nap/quiet time each day. Is it right to expect children in their first year of school to be “on” for almost the length of an adult’s full-time work schedule? Even children already used to being away from home for several hours each day are allowed the down-time they need to relax, just as they would if they were in their own homes.

    If the half-day is rushed, how is there time now for so many extras? Don’t get me wrong, I believe my daughter is benefiting from the book fairs, dancing and the birthday cupcakes. That’s what kindergarten is all about. If it’s true more time needs to be spent with pencils in hands, we can afford to cut a few things without too much sacrifice so children will still have fun. No matter what changes, it’s unlikely most kindergartners will be at what is considered first grade level.

    The six-hour school day is long for any kindergartner. If there are children struggling now in the half-day program, there will be children struggling with the full day. Teachers will have to bring the students that need help up to speed and at the same time, keep up with the curriculum for the benefit of the stronger students. Each kindergarten teacher may need an aide so time can be spent most productively. Playtime is important for children who have been away from home in a structured environment for seven hours. Twenty minutes of recess after lunchtime each day and gym once weekly is not enough. We’re concerned with what our children are eating, but poor eating habits are certainly not the only factor contributing to child obesity and other health issues. If children in elementary school are going to be away from home for seven hours, five days per week, then the hiring of one gym teacher isn’t going to be enough. Ideally, all children attending full-day school should have gym at least three times a week.

    I choose to send my children to a pre-school program at three and four years old. For some it’s a difficult decision whether or not to send their toddlers to school. If kindergarten is no longer a half-day program, what about the children who do not attend any type of pre-school? Are the parents who wouldn’t otherwise choose pre-school for their children going to feel obligated to do so now, knowing that a full-day schedule waits in kindergarten?

    I recently read in the paper that over 1000 homes are available in West Milford. It was predicted that full-day kindergarten will attract home buyers to purchase here. In 2007 when my husband and I started looking at homes, the opposite was true- the half-day kindergarten program attracted us to West Milford. In the same article I read that it’s also predicted enrollment will go down over the next several years. How does attracting families with children to our town equal lower enrollment in the years to come? To me, the opposite would be true.

    This is my opinion that I formed based on my beliefs and after doing some research. Because of the potential for full-day kindergarten, I am happy my next two children that will attend school do not make the cut-off date. My youngest child does make the cut-off. If I send him at the age he is allowed to go, he will be four years old for the first three weeks of school. I can’t imagine him getting on the bus at 8 a.m. and not returning until after 3 p.m. Learning begins and continues in the home and as parents we are ultimately responsible for our children’s educations no matter how we choose to educate them. I know that for my family, the skills and academics I teach my children in our home at the ages of 5 and 6 will enrich their lives so much more than if they spent the extra time in a classroom. For young children, there needs to be more of an equal balance and if a choice must be made between the two, in my opinion being with family comes first. I won’t get this time back. Whether my children attend a half- or full-day kindergarten program will not make any notable difference in their performance and test scores later on in grade school, the colleges they may get accepted into, or their financial success and happiness later in life.