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Debate Club: Should Kids Attend Half- or Full-Day Kindergarten?

The Benefits of Half-Day Kindergarten


Cheryl Maguire

“Can we go to the library play room and do a puppet show?” my daughter asked.

“Sure,” I replied. “Do you remember when we used to come here for story time in the morning before you went to afternoon kindergarten?”

“Yes, with Miss Carol! It was so much fun.”

I have positive memories of library story time with all three of my children, who each attended half-day kindergarten. Their school gives parents the option to pay for full-day kindergarten or send their kids for half days for free. If interested in the full-day option, you’re placed in a lottery system due to the limited number of spots available.

My twins were not selected for full day spots, but I discovered it was for the best. After this experience, I chose half-day kindergarten for my younger daughter as well.

No significant educational benefit

The main reason I wanted to enroll my twins in full-day kindergarten is because I thought they would receive more education, which would in turn help them excel academically the following year. Both of them have done well in school academically despite fewer hours in school.

Research by Philip DeCicca showed similar findings. He tested children at the end of 1st grade and found little difference in both the reading and math test scores of children who attended full-day versus half-day kindergarten. (Initial gains were evident, but short-lived).

More time to play

Half-day kindergarten allowed for more opportunities for unstructured play time, either alone or with friends. The benefits of unstructured play include a stronger bond with family members, better peer relationships, improved problem solving, and healthy development.

My children developed friendships during their kindergarten years that they still enjoy six years later. I also had the opportunity to meet and socialize with their friend’s parents. We engaged in activities (such as Miss Carol’s story time at the library), which provided some structure mixed with unstructured time to allow the children to socialize with one another.

More time with family

Research from the University of Illinois found that when families regularly spent time together – in this case, going on nature hikes – they functioned better as a family. The study suggests that time together enables families to better read social cues, which led to feeling less irritable and more in control.

I look back fondly on those extra hours I spent with all three of my children. In addition to story time, we also visited playgrounds, playgroups, and other local, kid-friendly activities. My kids will be in school for six hours a day for the next 12 years, so I’m grateful for the additional time with them.

Limited attention span

Most kindergarten age children have a limited attention span. According to the website Day2Day parenting, the average five- to six-year-old child can attend to something of interest to them for 10 to 15 minutes. This time frame decreases to five to 10 minutes for topics that don’t interest them.

A school day is six hours long. That’s a lot of five to 15-minute increments.

Costs less money

Full-day kindergarten can be expensive. In the school my children attend, it costs $3k per child ($6k for twins!). Instead of spending the money on school, I was able to save and use the remainder to pay for activities such as a gymnastics or dance class.

There are only 180 days of school, and some days are half days. With my twins, it wasn’t worth spending an extra $3k for only three hours extra per day.

What’s best for your child

You know your child better than anyone. If you feel he or she would benefit from a full day – due to your schedule or as a good alternative to day care – you’re probably right.

Full-Day Kindergarten Prepares Kids Better For Their Academic Future

By Kristen Polito

The decision between full and half-day kindergarten is a personal one for all families. Many factors come into play when considering what’s best for your child. Socioeconomic circumstances, social preparedness, cognitive proficiency, and family schedules are all something to consider when signing your child up for their first full school year.    

The term “early intervention” keeps popping up in discussions about schooling, teaching, and learning – especially as it concerns the year between pre-k and first grade. Early intervention is vital as it’s focus is to help ensure that children succeed in their education and on into adulthood.

Several studies have explored the differences between full-day and half-day kindergarten, examining school readiness, longitudinal test scores, overall school performance, and socialization outcomes.

As far as the earlier academic years are concerned, considerable evidence points to full-day kindergarten classes as being the more beneficial option when compared to half-day kindergarten classes. According to the anti-academic fade out article in The Atlantic cited above, “we have to build on what children learn in those preschools and match it with challenging but playful instruction in kindergarten and the early grades.”

Going from pre-k to half-day kindergarten is redundant. Graduating from pre-k to a full-day of kindergarten – provided it is stimulating and challenging – can help build on the early foundation of learning.

Ready for school academically

Studies show full-day kindergarten programs are beneficial to the growth of children’s academic skills during that critical year between pre-k and first grade by boosting children’s literacy and language development, reading proficiency, critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and social aptitude.

How? By maximizing and capitalizing upon learning time.

For one thing, full-day programs naturally offer increased flexibility and allow for small-group and individual activities. This takes the pressure off teachers of delivering an overwhelming amount of information to the entire class at once. More individualized attention produces results.

Additionally, full-day programs tend to result in improved attendance in kindergarten and beyond, yielding more classroom face time. Better attendance in kindergarten and through the primary grades translates to more overall learning time.

Improved cognitive learning

Full-day kindergarten programs substantially increase cognitive learning due to time devoted to collaborative group work, independent work, and child-originated activities. This includes activities such as free play outdoors and indoor time in learning centers. 

Chloe R. Gibbs at the University of Virginia recently completed a study examining the differences between full- and half-day kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten ranges between four and seven hours, and the study says that time should be used proactively instead of passively. The brain has the greatest ability to change under the influence of the immediate surrounding conditions early in life.

Advanced literacy and problem-solving skills

Full-day kindergarten students show faster gains on literacy and language measures when compared to half-day kindergarten students. Moreover, such gains may last over time.

One study, for example, showed higher reading achievement persisting through third grade and, in some cases, through seventh grade – a benefit that strengthens students’ overall school performance.

Social competence

Full-day kindergarten students have displayed notable gains in academic socialization and are equipped with stronger learning skills. They also show improved emotional and behavioral development, creating an environment where they can thrive socially.

One study found that full-day kindergarten students received significantly higher conduct marks through playing nicely, working well with others, demonstrating self-confidence, and obeying playground rules. Researchers determined this through a self-concept scale over time. 

Chidren who have an easier time socializing and playing with peers also have an easier time making friends and experience a smoother transition into later grades as reported by parents and teachers. 

Research comparing half-day and full-day kindergarten suggests that it makes more developmental sense for children to segue from pre-k to full-day kindergarten as part of an early learning sequence. Some experts believe that this contributes to higher academic achievement in later grades, reducing retention and remediation rates.

For Education Week, Reporter Deborah Viadero writes, “In a study of over 17,000 students in Philadelphia, researchers found that ‘by the time they reached the third and fourth grades, former full-day kindergartners were more than twice as likely as children without any kindergarten experiences – and 26 percent more likely than graduates of half-day programs – to have made it there without having repeated a grade.’”

Extended care for working families

Many parents are joint earners by necessity or choice. Either way, the need for daily, extended child care is a reality for many families these days. Besides an education, a full-day of kindergarten offers the convenience and practicality of all-day child care. 

Ultimately, the availability of full-day kindergarten funding for your school district may make your decision for you. Not all jurisdictions can offer full-day kindergarten free of charge just yet.  And having to foot the bill for the supplementary half day may be a non-starter for many families with relatively modest budgets.

When it comes down to it, full-day kindergarten is not a panacea that will remove all conceivable obstacles to academic success that struggling students may face. Consider full-day kindergarten as one part of a large, working plan that parents, teachers, and school administrators can utilize to ensure that children reach their full potential. 

At the end the end of the day, every child’s story is different, and every family’s needs are unique. Full-day kindergarten should be available to any and all, but the decision to utilize it should be made by parents – and not by school boards.

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[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Twinkling lights are everywhere I look, and the magic of the holiday season is filling our house. The kids are growing more excited each day anticipating Santa's arrival and gifts are accumulating, ready to be wrapped in beautiful paper and bows.

Elf and The Grinch have been playing on repeat and the nativity scene has found a safe spot among our decorations. It's one of the busiest times of the year and it can be hard to catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of it all.

But then something stops you.

Maybe it's a pang in your heart or a memory of someone dearly missed. Maybe it's a familiar feeling of emptiness—of wanting this person to be a part of this magical, joy-filled time of year.

It's so easy to forget that many people are struck with sadness around the holidays and are longing for someone who's missing from their lives. We give and give to our families and friends and communities this time of year—food for dinners, and toys for less-fortunate children—but people don't always realize that another type of giving is needed.

The gift of comfort.

Because someone who is missing their mother, father, brother, sister, child, friend or spouse needs your connection and warmth. They need a reminder of their loved one is not forgotten, and maybe above all—just needs a hug.

Family traditions are wonderful and cherished, but they can also feel incomplete when someone is missing.

For me, I love the holidays, and watching my kids experience all the joys this season has to offer truly fills my heart. Yet, not a Christmas goes by that I don't think about what Kendrick (my first child lost at 2 months old) would have thought of this time of year.

Would he have loved hot cocoa like his sister and brothers? Would he have gotten into all the ornaments on the tree as a toddler? What toys would he have asked Santa for? What Christmas wishes would he have made for others?

I am left to wonder these things without answer. And even though I fully embrace this time of year and relish the holidays, I can't help but miss him.

I wanted to share my story as a reminder that even though your holiday cup may be filled with joy, someone you know may be wrestling with sadness. With all the merry and bright and cups of cheer, it's important to be mindful of this and to treat people with extra care. Reach out to someone you know who has lost someone, and let them know you're thinking of them. It won't go unnoticed.

Many of us have dealt with loss at some point in our lives, and we've learned to carry these special people in our hearts so that they are always with us. But missing someone never goes away. There are so many experiences in our lives we wish we could just snap our fingers and have them right by our sides—the holidays being one of those.

So as you check off your shopping lists, make your donations, trim your tree, or light your menorah—please don't forget to show care to those who may be hurting a little this holiday season.


They're certainly in a position where they could buy every item on their kids' Christmas lists, but Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher aren't planning on piling up the presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"So far, our tradition is no presents for the kids," Kunis said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Mom to 4-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and 2-year-old son Dmitri, Kunis says she and Kutcher are determined to not raise entitled kids—and are learning from the mistakes of Christmases past.

“We've told our parents, 'We're begging you: If you have to give her something, pick one gift,'" Kunis said. “'Otherwise, we'd like to take a charitable donation, to the Children's Hospital or a pet... Whatever you want.' That's our new tradition."

The minimalist Christmas that Kunis and Kutcher embrace makes sense on a lot of levels: It teaches kids how to be more mindful consumers, removes the emphasis on material goods... And saves you from those chaotic trips to the mall.

Going without presents doesn't mean going without

Putting a halt on presents these upcoming holidays is one way to reinforce what the season is really about: Spending quality time together as families and cherishing what we already have. But "no presents" doesn't mean "no fun," either.

Some of our favorite non-material gift suggestions include:

  • Experiences
  • Lessons
  • College contributions
  • Coupon booklets
  • Piggy bank donations
  • Gifts for others

Or you could take a cue from Kunis and Kutcher without going all the way: Maybe you only focus on one or two quality gifts. Or pass on anything that will likely get discarded to the bottom of the toy box before next year's holidays.

Think of Christmas gifts for kids kind of like eggnog: A little goes a long way.

[Originally published October 11, 2017]

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