The benefits of full-day kindergarten in Canada

As full-day kindergarten programs continue to expand across the country, reviewing the effectiveness of these programs is essential to supporting effective teaching and learning in the early years. In contrast to the half-day option, parents might wonder if these programs better meet the needs of young learners. As part of a report provided to the Ministry of Education, Cynthia Prasow contributed to a position paper with Joy de Nance, the former president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Early Childhood Education Provincial Council.

With many provinces now offering full-day kindergarten, this report supported the move towards full-day kindergarten programs in Alberta – outlining the benefits and key elements of early childhood learning. As one of, if not the, first formal schooling experience for children, these programs must be appropriate for the age, experience, and understanding of four- and five-year-olds.

The document highlighted the importance of hands-on and play-based learning in these programs. In quality kindergarten programs, students experience and explore different topics to build foundational skills and knowledge. These programs can also promote creativity and social skills, establishing a journey of lifelong learning. In addition to academic and personal growth, these programs can also support families who require extended child care. Options for full-day, alternate full-day (every other day), and non-compulsory full-day are seen throughout Alberta.

Full- vs. half-day programs

In the full-day program, students receive approximately 5 hours of instructional time per day, as opposed to 2.5 in the half-day program. The core rationale behind the extended program is that more time in schools is generally beneficial for greater learning. Quality full-day programs offer more opportunities for educators to engage students in learning tasks, reinforcing or introducing concepts.

Several studies throughout North America have shown full-day programs to produce considerable learning growth as a result of participating in the program. As many programs focus on early literacy, strong gains in literacy learning are seen. This is particularly the case for second-language learners, who benefit from the additional exposure and use of the language.

More generally, full-day kindergarten also supports the transition into grade 1, for both curriculum and familiarizing children with the norms and routines of schools. There is evidence that full-day kindergarten programs are particularly beneficial for at-risk children. Full-day programs can narrow the achievement gap between those from low- and middle-class backgrounds. While it does not guarantee academic success in later years, it can be one form of intervention to support these learners.

While more work is needed to compare full- and half-day programs directly, current research seems to suggest that these benefits are stronger in full-day kindergarten. By developing academic skills, reading readiness, and language development, students in full-day programs are less likely to need remediation or to be held back in future grades. These perceived benefits add to the lower cost of child care for parents.

Continuing success

Of course, full-day kindergarten requires quality programming in order to be more effective. Simply increasing the time in school is not advantageous without well-design and implemented educational experiences.

Ensuring that these early successes are built upon in the elementary years is important to sustaining growth. While the results from full-day kindergarten are seen throughout the primary grades, the impact can fade if later educational experiences are not as effective.

The report recommended the Government of Alberta to continue to fund full-day kindergarten programs, training and hiring teachers with a sound grounding in the principles and practices of early childhood education. Providing access to students throughout the province requires ongoing support and planning, in order to realize the potential benefits.

See more from Cynthia Prasow on her profile

In the Media

Calgary Herald (2017). Case for mandatory full-day kindergarten