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Ask an Expert: Full- or half-day kindergarten for special needs child.

Terri of Arvada asks: What questions should I be asking when deciding between full- and half-day kindergarten? Our home school offers full-day kindergarten this year, although I don’t know that will be the case next year. I suspect my grandson may not be ready for a full-day program, judging from his preschool experience this year. Before looking at schools, I’d like to know pros and cons of full- and half-day programs, especially from the viewpoint of first grade teachers. My grandson has a sensory processing disorder, and a school’s success with working with that will be the most important factor.

A. There are many factors when considering a full- or half-day kindergarten, and you have already touched on many of them. Academic readiness for first grade, the stamina required to attend school all day, and the “bigger picture” of wanting him to have a positive experience all inform this decision.

Proponents of full-day kindergarten cite the academic benefits of the extended day. Students who attend full day kindergarten score higher than their half-day peers on measures of vocabulary, comprehension, letter naming, and mathematical calculation and reasoning.

The second part of this story of increased academic achievement is that the benefits gained during the kindergarten year are no longer evident by third grade. If you had two groups of kids, and one went to half-day kindergarten and the other went to full-day kindergarten, the full-day kindergartners would demonstrate higher academic achievement at the end of the kindergarten year. If you tested the same groups of children in the third grade, their scores would be statistically even.

The drawback to full-day kindergarten for some children is that it can be too much of a good thing. Some kids need to develop the stamina to be in a loud, bright, and busy environment for the entire day.

You mentioned that your grandson has a sensory processing disorder. Have you connected with your local Child Find services? Child Find organizations are run through every school district in the country and provide services and referrals to families who have young children with disabilities. They may be able to support you and your grandson with the transition into this new phase of his life. In fact, every district and BOCES in the country is required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide screening and support services to children from birth to age 5 without charge. The language in the legislation is that they are to “seek out” these families, although that doesn’t often happen. Ask the principal for more information, or call the district’s special education office for more information.

The question that I am left with is this: Is kindergarten somewhere your grandson wants to spend his whole day? It sounds like you do quite a bit with him and he may not be ready to give up his time with you. Either way, it seems as though his buy-in would be paramount.

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