Why I’m Opting Out of Full-Time Kindergarten

Photo: thestar.com
Photo: thestar.com

The province of Ontario is in the process of switching over to full-time kindergarten. That means that all four-year-olds (and three-year-olds who have yet to turn four this year) are supposed to attend junior kindergarten (JK) from 8:45 a.m. until 3:10 p.m. There is no nap or quiet time in the afternoon; it’s a regular full day of school, with three recesses, two snacks, lunch, and various subjects spread throughout. I’ve heard from multiple people about how exhausted their kids are, and one teacher said they have to make sure the little kids don’t fall asleep while putting on their backpacks at the end of the day, crashing backward into their lockers.

I can understand how full-time JK would be a godsend for some families, primarily those with parents who work outside the home and have been paying extravagant daycare costs. After all, the provincial government’s decision to implement full-time JK came after a debate about whether or not to offer provincially subsidized daycare. That plan went nowhere, so now full-time kindergarten has moved into the foreground, thanks to Ontario’s former deputy minister of education, Charles Pascal, who wrote a detailed report called “With Our Best Future In Mind.” Pascal had a unique vision for Ontario’s education system, and he got enough political support to turn it into a reality:

A seamless network of child-care, early learning and parental support programs centred in the province’s public schools—a holistic, comprehensive, integrated approach that would unite everything from prenatal care to nutritional education in a ‘one-stop shopping’ model for parents. (Macleans, “Why Full-Day Kindergarten Doesn’t Work)

While Pascal’s plan sounds impressive, I just don’t like it. It is far too streamlined, institutionalized, and impersonal for my tastes. Where is the room for individual preference, for expression of different lifestyles, for choosing what we truly want for our kids? It feels too much as the government is deciding how every child should be raised.

I am new to the public school system this year, and I distinctly feel as if full-time JK is being shoved down my throat. When I first asked the principal of one school if I could opt out of full-time JK, she sighed and all but rolled her eyes, saying, “I’m legally obligated to tell you that you have the right to do so, but I don’t recommend it.” She proceeded to proclaim the benefits of “all-day learning” and say that it would be unfair to my child to take him out early: “Just you wait and see – he’ll want to stay within a few weeks.” I didn’t bother telling her that that wasn’t the point. Even if he wants to stay, I don’t want him to stay for full days – and I’m the boss. (We’ve since changed schools and feel much better about the teachers’ flexibility.)

Everyone is surprised to hear that I insist on picking up my child at 12:45. I say it’s because of his afternoon nap, which is partly true, but a large part of it is that I don’t want to leave my four-year-old in institutionalized care for almost seven hours a day. I’m at home anyways, and we live across the street from the school, so it doesn’t make much difference to my schedule. If I worked elsewhere, it’d be a different situation. This is why I’m choosing to opt out of full-time JK (reasons in no particular order):

First, if he goes on to university, he’ll have another twenty years of schooling ahead, so why rush it?

Second, I don’t think my four-year-old is capable of ‘learning’ for seven straight hours. Even I can’t stay focused for that long! I believe in the importance of down time, of hanging around the house, of playing with his sibling, even of boredom and learning how to occupy and entertain himself.

Third, new studies are showing that full-time kindergarten does not give kids the long-term advantages that it claims. Initially, the full-time kids are ahead of their half-day counterparts, but, by grade one, the gap starts closing, especially among minority students – the very ones that the full-time program was hoping to help most. Economist Philip DeCicca, who holds a Canada research chair at McMaster University, stated: “There was a short-term positive effect, but by the end of the first year, it was essentially gone.”

Fourth, some research suggests that full-time school at age three and four actually slows development and can create behavioural problems down the line. In “Hold On To Your Kids,” author and developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld writes: “Children begin forming attachments at their level, with their peers instead of with their parents, and this pulls them out of the orbit of their parents and truncates their development.” I’ve read elsewhere that starting kids too early in school can destroy the appeal of academic learning for them.

I think it’s great that full-time JK is available for working families and I hold no judgment toward stay-at-home parents who support all-day learning. I’m just glad that full-time JK is not mandatory and that I have the luxury of being able to create my child’s own schedule. This way, we’re able to get the best of both worlds. My son is stimulated during the morning, well rested from his nap, and gets to hang out with us in the afternoon. I couldn’t ask for a better arrangement.

You might also like:
A Mother’s Letter to Her Son on the First Day of School
Junior Kindergarten Dis-Orientation
Why I’ve Got the Junior Kindergarten Jitters

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16 thoughts on “Why I’m Opting Out of Full-Time Kindergarten

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! I am so happy that there was no full time kindergarten when my kids were little. I was a stay at home mother and, I know for my own children, it would have been much too long of a day, and I think at that age if they can spend more time with their own families they are better off. Both of my kids could read when they started kindergarten, because of the time we spent together on that activity. They were also very calm about leaving me for a few hours knowing that they were coming home soon.

  2. It’s ridiculous that they don’t have nap/quiet time in all-day JK. Poor kiddies, and poor teachers! So many 3 and 4 (and even some 25) year olds really need an afternoon nap or they turn into tantrum monsters.

  3. I agree with you as well. My son started Kindergarten here in Maryland in the US. You have to be 5 before Sept 1 to start. He takes the bus and is gone from 8:30-3:30 and he’s exhausted. There is no way he would have been ready any sooner. Last year he only did preschool 2 days a week.

  4. My three children have attended full time JK and in my experience it has been great. I was like you and against it with my oldest. I soon saw I was doing him no favours by keeping him home. Kids were finding their friends and he was being left out. He begged to go to school it was like he craved time with people his age (as do I somedays). His siblings at home were not challenging him in a way his classmates could. They don’t have “nap” time but there is supposed to be a quiet corner and a child is supposed to be able to rest when they need it. I since then have sent two more kids to all day kindergarden and all have adapted well to the schedule. My kids also have an hour bus ride on either side of their day and are still energized when they get home. I agree all day is not for everyone but it’s not a bad thing either. I would also like to note I was at home for the first year so if they needed a day off, they could have it. Though they rarely ever did.

  5. In Seattle, they have also moved to full day. Technically, the state pays for 1/2 day (and parents pay monthly for the other half of the day), but all the classes are structured as full day classes. Parents can elect to pick kids up early, but the day is structured in a way that virtually ensures the 1/2 day kids miss core subjects. Our age cut offs are different from yours. My son was nearly 6 when he started and all kids in the class were at least 5. Plus, they had rest time every afternoon. The lack of rest time seems positively shocking to me.

    Have you read the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain? I recommend it if you haven’t. It talks about introverts and has several sections about how our US school system (and I suspect Canada’s) favor extroverts. The lack of down time is one example of a total lack of awareness of the needs of 33-50% of the class.

  6. My is son is starting kindy next year 2015. I was taken back that he would have to be there for 7.5 hours, what a long day, school only goes for 6 hours, when I ask the provider if I could pick him up earlier she was persistant in saying I wouldnt be allowing my son to get the full benifit of kindy. I think it way too long for my son to be at kindy for 7.5 hours for 2 days and I think its a degrace that the option for half day or what time you would prefer is frowned upon. What happened to the parent making the decisions for ther children.

  7. THANK YOU! I have been picking mine up @ 1 p.m. since September. The principal had no problem with this , but has since joined a chorus along with other kindergarten teachers.of ‘ so MUCH has been missed ‘ ect. …. We mothers know what is best for our children , and I refuse to have my 5 year old sitting in a chair, without ANY play learning,
    for 7 hours so the schools can get their government subsidies. Seriously considering homeschooling next year! I had no idea how regimented kindergarten has become in the U.S….. no play time, no time to eat lunch!!! Hmmmm wonder why obesity is becoming an epidemic among children in the U.S. !!!!

  8. Thank you for your words. I have done the same research that you have done, but it is nice to hear others with the same view. My son will start JK in 2015 – half day! I think the government and educators have missed the mark. Who is full day kindergarten really benefiting…..? The propaganda that it’s for the children doesn’t sit well with me. If it’s purpose was to prepare them for the future…there should have been more questions asked regarding why they got rid of Grade 13. Now we have kids ill prepared to start university.

    1. That is so true, well said. I am currently debating if we should keep our son home for JK in September. Not sure….
      I just know that I don’t like the government telling us what is best for our kids.

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