Full Day Kindergarten- For a Fee

Deciding between full and half day kindergarten can send any level-headed adult into a tailspin. And I’m one of those who went off the deep end.

When the thick envelope of forms required for enrolling my son into our public kindergarten arrived I got giddy. Truly giddy. He loves school and I know he’ll be the king of kindergarten.  But let’s be honest, mostly I was excited because I’d avoid the expense of preschool for two (which would clock in somewhere around $10k, for 3 hours, a few days a week).

When I looked at my “options”  I was slapped in the face by figures as outlandish as those of our optional private preschool. My first thought, how can they charge for public school? Our school system, like many others, has found the loophole (a full day option is a requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act), and offers full day kindergarten as a choice, so the system does not have to cover the full cost of the additional time. Saving them lots of money while parents are forced to shell it out.

Did I want to pay for public school to gain a few extra classroom hours that clearly are not that important in our district since they’re offering a choice and not transitioning to a full day only model like many area schools?

My head began to swirl with questions:

  • Is my frugality a bad reason to choose half day?
  • Will half day kindergarten mean no chance at going Ivy?
  • Will my son feel like he’s not as smart because he doesn’t go to school all day and some of his friends do?
  • Will he have friends he already knows in his half day class?
  • Is the transition to a full day in first grade going to be a struggle?
  • Will he be on par with full day peers the following year and for years to come?

Once I stopped downing copious amounts of wine and ranting to my husband about the injustice of the paid public school. When I stopped fantasizing about writing a bill, starting a charter school, or asking who we sue to eliminate such an income based inequity in our public education system, I began to explore the difference between the two programs.

A former teacher myself, I started with my teacher friends, all of whom assured me that if I were working full time that full day kindergarten would be ideal. But I’m not, so their thoughts were all the same: do what worked best for my son and our finances.

Then I consulted the educational expert on my son- his preschool teacher; she has taken the time to get to know, nurture and love my child. This woman is my hero; her opinion the gold standard in my eyes. When she talks, I listen because wisdom pours from her mouth.

She knows pre-k kids better than anyone I’ve ever met, and she’s honest.  A kick ass combination in a women who influences kindergarten plans. Honestly, I often think about calling her for advice on weekends.

So, when we sat down to chat about the possibility of the impending academic doom I was associating with half day preschool, I found myself calm for the first time in days.

We talked about my son, and his needs. He’s a good student, social, without any identified special needs. He could listen more and talk less; he often rushes through his work; he needs constant feedback to feel he’s doing ok; he likes hands on activities and he loves to play outside; he’s almost reading. He’s ahead of many peers.

Pacing is the prime difference between full and half day kindergarten, and he picks things up quickly, and does not require a slower pace.

What I held onto from that chat was this, he’ll be fine, no matter what choice I make.

I’m 99% sure he’ll head off to free half day kindergarten in the fall, along with many of his friends who have a parent at home. I’m 95% sure I’m ok with half day kindergarten, and 100% sure my family is happy to hold on to the more than $4k for the few additional hours he’d have in the classroom. I know he’ll thrive as long as he puts forth the effort needed to succeed.

I’ll use the extra time to let him do things he loves after school for this one last year. He’ll have time and energy for skiing, skating and swimming; he can try something new, have playdates, and just run around outside. He can be a kid and enjoy it, because let’s face it, we’re cooped up and on a clock most of our lives, why rush it if you don’t have to?

Even though I’m doing what works for my kid and my family; I still believe there’s an inequity associated with paid kindergarten. I believe public school systems should not offer extras for those who can pay, but rather only one choice that’s covered by our taxes. Strong unions are needed to push for funding of full day programs, and eliminating paid options in general education.

Although I partially pick half day out of principal, ultimately, I come to this decision as a stay at home mom/freelance writer with no need for traditional hours of childcare.

“Learn as if you were to live forever.”-Mahatma Gandhi

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