A growing body of research suggests that preschool could help children perform better academically. But, between high costs and huge debates about whether or not it’s even beneficial, even parents that can afford preschool might be a hesitant to shell out the money.
So, what if those parents don’t have a choice because of work?
Well, there are, of course, publicly funded preschool programs, like Head Start and state pre-kindergarten (serving 42% of 4-year-olds in the United States). But most of them only offer only half-day services, and only about 15% of 3-year-olds enroll each year.
But are there really any benefits of half-day preschool? And, if there are, are those benefits comparable to full-day preschool?
Arthur J. Reynolds, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and his colleagues sought out to answer some of these questions (as well as some others). They theorized that a variation in quality and low enrollment rates that may have so many children behind when it comes to mastering skills needed to be successful in Kindergarten. To test their theory, looked specifically at the impact full-day preschool had on Kindergarten readiness, as well as attendance rates and parental participation.
Published in the November 26th issue of JAMA, the study compared 982 predominantly low-income, ethnic minority children aged 3 and 4 in the Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CPD) that run both full-day (7 hour) and part-day (3 hour) programs. A total of 409 children were enrolled in full-day classes and 573 participated in part-day classes at the 11 different care centers.
Researchers did not choose the children randomly. In fact, they set a very specific criteria because they were concerned about the high likelihood of non-adherence by parents and school resistance.
Criteria used to assign children to the full-day program included:
- Children that were aged 4 years, rather than those aged 3 years.
- Parental preference due to employment, education, or transportation barriers.
- Lack of available care for the second half of the day.
Both groups of children—full-day and half-day—attended preschool 5 days a week for at least 3 months and began no later than January 2013. At the end of preschool, researchers evaluated the children for:
- School readiness skills (in several subcategories).
- Attendance and chronic absences.
- Parental involvement.
According to researchers, full-day preschool children showed higher scores than their part-day participants in six subcategories:
- Language: 39.9 compared to 37.3
- Math: 40 compared to 36.4
- Socio-emotional development: 58.6 compared to 54.5
- Physical health: 35.5 compared to 33.6
- Literacy: 64.5 compared to 58.6
- Cognitive development: 59.7 compared to 57.7
And, out of the full-day classes, 80.9% of the children were found to be above the national average in 4 or more subcategories. This was compared to just 58.7% of the children in part-day classes who tested above the national average.
While no significant differences for parental involvement were found between full- and part-day preschoolers, children who attended full-day preschool had a higher participation rate than those that attended part-day participation, with full-day attendance coming in at 85.9% while part-day attendance came in at 80.4%.
“Full-day preschool appears to be a promising strategy for school readiness. The positive association of full-day preschool also suggests that increasing access to early childhood programs should consider the optimal dosage of services,” Reynolds told Medical News Today. “In addition to increased educational enrichment, full-day preschool benefits parents by providing children with a continually enriched environment throughout the day, thereby freeing parental time to pursue career and educational opportunities. By offering another service option, full-day preschool can also increase access for families who may not otherwise enroll.”
Lawrence J. Schweinhart, PhD, of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, Ann Arbor, MI, added in an accompanying editorial that, while associations found in this study were statistically significant, “they may not be substantial enough to justify the larger expense of full-day preschool, essentially twice that of party-day preschool.”
“This must be debated and discussed by parents, educators, and policy makers and the longer-term effects and economic returns studied,” he said. “In part, the importance of the study by Reynolds and colleagues is that it represents a contemporary sample of children and their families. They study by Reynolds and colleagues provides evidence that high-quality, full-day programs are educationally more valuable than part-day programs.”
Just coming from one parent who has experienced both full-day ad part-day preschool, I have seen the potential benefits for full-day preschool. With older children, it becomes more difficult to manage schedules when one is only at school for half the day. And, it seems to me, that we saw more gains in our current half-day Pre-K-er when he was enrolled in full-day pre-K at the age of 3.
That’s just my two cents. Did you think pre-school was beneficial for your kids?
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