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Mon., May 7, 2007

After spring break, most families begin counting down the days until school’s out for summer. But parents of 5-year-olds are already thinking about September, deciding whether or not to enroll their child in kindergarten.

Spokane Public Schools and the Mead School District offer only traditional half-day classes. But other local districts and private schools offer full-day programs in addition.

In Deer Park, all-day kindergarten is the only option, prompting this posting on the Parents Council blog: “I’m not sure how my energetic young boy would do in an all-day kindergarten.”

A flurry of responses followed, with parents weighing in on the pros and cons of full-day vs. half-day kindergarten. One dad sent two of his children to full-day kindergarten, and they had a wonderful experience. But other parents worried about the long day, and several mentioned homeschooling as an alternative.

I read the posts with interest because it wasn’t long ago that I faced the same dilemma. I wanted my son to get into a full-day program. He’s the youngest of four, has a fall birthday and sailed through preschool. I felt he was ready for all-day school, and frankly, I was more than ready.

Every parent who’s lived through the bifurcated schedule of preschool knows there’s no joy in dropping your child off, only to make the return trip a scant two hours later. If you’re working outside the home, transportation and childcare are issues. If you’re an at-home parent, what do you do with those meager two hours? Is it enough time to get to the gym? Run to Costco? Take a nap?

I’d already served seven years of half-day hard time with Sam’s older brothers and I didn’t want to do it again. But after filling out the application and having Sam evaluated for kindergarten readiness, I began to have second thoughts. I knew I was ready for Sam to go to school all day, but was he?

Jeanne Bauerle has been a teacher for 29 years and taught kindergarten for the past 15 years at Northwest Christian School. She said, “It’s not as much about academic readiness but about emotional and social maturity. Can he share? Can he sit and listen? How is he away from mom for more than two hours?”

She said she advises parents to make their decision based on what’s best for their child. “I tell them, ‘you know your child better than anyone.’ “

Bauerle taught half-day kindergarten for many years, but she’s taught full-day for the past five years and enjoys it even more. “I loved teaching half-day,” she said. “Now I teach the same program but at a slower, more relaxed pace. I can read so many more stories because I have the luxury of time.”

Ultimately, half-day seemed the best choice for Sam, and I reluctantly resigned myself to one last year of a half-day schedule. To my surprise, I savored those afternoons with Sam. I didn’t schedule after-school programs or enrichment activities. We just hung out. Read books. Baked cookies. And that enriched us both.

Fortunately, parents have many options. You don’t even need to send your five-year-old to kindergarten. You can wait if you feel your child isn’t ready. As one mom posted on the blog, “You have to trust your instincts.”

Time has proven our decision to be a good one. Sam has excelled in first grade this year. He’s a voracious reader, tackling books his brothers read in sixth grade.

Full-day programs and after-school enrichment classes are terrific options for many kids, but Sam doesn’t seem to have missed out on anything.

And if I’d chosen the convenience of a full-day schedule for him, I often wonder what I would have missed.

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