Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/community/nw/columns/articles/0207simpson0207.html

All-day kindergarten not answer
Arizona Republic
Feb. 7, 2004 12:00 AM

Both sides of the all-day kindergarten debate are right.

On the pro side, many of Arizona's schoolchildren do need to arrive at school better prepared for learning.

On the con side, state-funded all-day kindergarten will be extremely expensive, and it is exactly what detractors call it: state-funded day care. While all-day kindergarten is very popular with two-income families who must juggle schedules and finances, more day care isn't really what ill-equipped children need. What they need is enriching, formative, experiences in a nurturing environment, at a very young age.

Since too many parents aren't supplying those experiences, teachers increasingly are expected to make readers and good citizens out of understimulated, undercared for, poorly disciplined 5-year-olds. These are the 5-year olds who do not know their last names or alphabet. They cannot tie their shoes or sit and listen to a story. They are unfamiliar with "please" and "thank you," and they do not know how to hold a pencil, much less a pair of scissors.

But longer schooldays for 5-year-olds are not the answer.

Sally Engram of Waddell has taught kindergarten for 12 years. She doesn't see the benefit of an all-day program. "Schools would need more space, more teachers, and more money," she says. And an all-day program doesn't mean more learning. "The all-day classes just stretch things out. They don't cover any more curriculum." Even if they did, how much information can a 5-year old absorb in one day?

Engram's concerns aren't just academic. "Even three hours is a long time for some of these kids. They get tired. They miss their moms. They want to go home," she says. "They are just 5, really babies, after all."

Mary Kae Vranesic of Avondale taught publicly funded half-day junior and senior kindergarten for 11 years in Toronto. That city faces many of the same challenges as Arizona, not the least of which is large populations of non-English speakers. The program takes kids as young as 3 and focuses on social and emotional development, self-reliance, reading readiness and phonics.

"The philosophy there is to get them younger, not longer," Vranesic says. And it works. "Their brains are such sponges at the younger age. They are less inhibited. It is a fun environment that fosters a love of learning."

Instead of throwing tax-payers money into all-day programs that simply warehouse kids for an extra three hours a day, let's invest in programs that will really increase the readiness of kindergarteners. We should implement or strengthen high school programs that address parenting with an emphasis on how early childhood experiences affect future learning. Then, we should offer half-day pre-kindergarten to 3- and 4-year-olds who are young enough to benefit from an early childhood development and school readiness program.

For the fortunate little kids who have nurturing, stimulating experiences outside of school walls, where they are engaged in physical, social, and intellectual activities with loving, attentive adults, all-day kindergarten and preschool must never be mandatory. These are kids whose after-school day-care provider takes them to a park and sings to them; kids who go to the zoo with mom, get a story on Grandpa's lap and get a regular nap. For these kids, premature institutionalization would mean the end of a rich chunk of childhood.

As for the free day care, it enables non-parenting. Our state Legislature needs to say no. That's not the mission of public schools and it is not the responsibility of taxpayers.

Kathryn Simpson was raised in Phoenix. She has lived in the southwest Valley for nine years. She is the mother of two and a community advocate. She can be reached at simpsonscolumn@ yahoo.com via e-mail. The views expressed are those of the author.

Home Page     Events and Information   Awards&Scholarships   AABE NEWS 2004      News( 2003)       News(2002)       Publications      Board_Information     Board Contact     Goals      Feedback     Research Links     Links