Full-Day Preschool Increases Kindergarten Readiness

Preschool School WorkThe need for preschool for all young children has been widely debated in recent years. Now a new study sparks the debate on whether part-day or full-day preschool programs are better for preparing a child for kindergarten.

Previous studies have added to the growing body of evidence pointing to the benefits of preschool for school readiness. Researchers generally agree that children who receive a preschool education perform better academically in kindergarten than children who did not attend preschool.

Despite the research on the academic benefits of preschool, only 15 percent of three-year-olds and 42 percent of four-year olds currently attend publicly-funded preschool programs such as Head Start and state pre-kindergartens. The majority of preschools provide only part-day services, and quality differs from program to program.

For the present study as published in the journal JAMA, a research team led by Arthur J. Reynolds, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis evaluate the association between full-day and part-day preschool programs and school readiness, attendance, and parent involvement.

To evaluate the effects of preschool on kindergarten readiness, the researchers compared 982 predominantly low-income, ethnic minority children between the ages of 3 and 4 in eleven Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CPC) that offer both full-day (7 hours) and part-day (3 hours) programs. Of the total children involved in the study, 409 enrolled in full-day preschool and 573 in part-day preschool.

Because of the  high likelihood of non-adherence by parents and school resistance, the researchers did not randomly assign children to the full-day and part-day groups. The researchers did use three criteria to assign children to full-day preschool:

  • Children aged 4 years rather than 3 years
  • Parental preference due to employment, education, or transport barriers
  • Lack of available care for the other part of the day

All the children participating in the study attended preschool five days a week for at least three months beginning no later than January 2013.

At the end of preschool, the researchers evaluated school readiness skills, attendance and chronic absences, and parental involvement.

According to the study, children enrolled in full-day preschool performed better in tests of kindergarten readiness in six categories compared to children in part-day programs:

  • Language: 39.9 versus 37.3
  • Math: 40.0 versus 36.4
  • Socio-emotional development: 58.6 versus 54.5
  • Physical health 35.5 versus 33.6
  • Literacy: 64.5 versus 58.6
  • Cognitive development: 59.7 versus 57.7

Furthermore, 80.9 percent of the children in full-day programs performed at or above the national average in four or more categories compared to only 58.7 percent in part-day programs.

Children in full-day preschool also had higher attendance rates and lower chronic absence rates compared to children in part-day preschool with full-day attendance at 85.9 percent and part-day at 80.4 percent.

The researchers did not find any significant differences in parental involvement among the full-day and part-day groups.

Comments Reynolds on the findings:

“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.

“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.”

However, in an accompanying editorial, Lawrence J. Schweinhart, PhD, of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, Ann Arbor, Michigan cautions that the results of the study “may not be substantial enough to justify the larger expense of full-day preschool, essentially twice that of part-day preschool.”

Schweinhart adds:

“This must be debated and discussed by parents, educators, and policy makers and the longer-term effects and economic returns studied. In part, the importance of the study by Reynolds and colleagues is that it represents a contemporary sample of children and their families.

“The study by Reynolds and colleagues provides evidence that high-quality, full-day programs are educationally more valuable than part-day programs.”

The results of the present study warrant further investigation into the academic benefits of full-day versus part-day preschool.


Association of a Full-Day vs Part-Day Preschool Intervention With School Readiness, Attendance, and Parent Involvement:
Full-Day Preschool Associated with Increased Readiness for Kindergarten:
The Value of High-Quality Full-Day Preschool:

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