Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Half-Days or Full Days of Kindergarten? How and Why Parents Decide

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Half-Days or Full Days of Kindergarten? How and Why Parents Decide

Article excerpt

Background to the study

Tasmanian children attend kindergarten when they are four to five years of age, with each kindergarten being located at, or attached to, a local primary or district high school. The school principal is responsible for the leadership and management of the kindergarten, with each school setting catering for children from kindergarten to Grade 6 (or Grade 10 for district high schools). Over the past decade, the Tasmanian Department of Education has focused on developing strong links with parents of public school students. This approach has had an emphasis on fostering effective dialogue between school and community members, with parental input into a school's operation being encouraged at each site.

Furthermore, the Department of Education (2000) recognises the importance of responding to changes in family structures and employment patterns within their operation. One of the changes being experienced in schools relates to the mode of attendance by kindergarten children. This change has involved a move from half-day kindergarten sessions (of three or four days a week) to full-day sessions (comprising two full days a week). In a study by Boardman (2002), Tasmanian kindergarten teachers reported increased pressure from many stakeholders in their schools, especially parents, to change from half-day kindergarten attendance to full-day provision, Teachers highlighted family reasons (including issues associated with working families, child care and travel), school-based reasons (issues related to maintaining enrolment numbers and accommodating part-time teachers), and educational reasons (including preparation of children for full-time schooling, enhancement of social interactions, and extended periods of time for learning) for this changed provision.

A similar change in kindergarten provisions has also occurred in the United States over a longer period, with a number of early researchers (including Greer-Smith, 1990; Gullo, 1990; Rothenberg, 1984) indicating that changes in families have been instrumental in the move to full-day kindergartens for five- and six-year-old children in that country. These changes include issues relating to working parents, single parents, family mobility and an increase in the number of children in child care. More recently, West, Denton and Reaney (2000) have highlighted environmental factors such as family situation, type of schooling provision, and involvement in alternative childcare arrangements as affecting the child and his/her readiness to commence kindergarten.

As parents are key players in this debate, it is important to investigate their perceptions regarding the changed attendance mode for kindergarten children. The provision of full-day kindergarten sessions allows families to cater for the complex demands involved when both parents work, or where children come from single-parent families. The decision by schools to move to full-day kindergarten attendance has the potential to assist the family with transportation and childcare needs (Gullo 1990; Housden & Kam 1992). Research in the United States by Housden and Kam (1992) indicates that parents seem to prefer full-day over half-day attendance, as it reduces the need for childcare services and thus reduces the number of transitions children experience in a typical day (Housden & Kam, 1992). Gullo & Maxwell (1997) say this is one way to ensure that 'children are receiving a consistent experience, with a single person, with consistent expectations, rather than experiencing multiple setting(s) with multiple caregivers having multiple expectations' (p. 120). However, Greer-Smith (1990) points out that the decision to move to all-day kindergarten provisions may suit the parents, but not necessarily the child.

A further reason behind the parental push for full-day kindergarten programs pertains to the renewed interest in early academic preparation for children, designed to lead to later school success (Rothenberg, 1984). …

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