Editorial: Full day for little kids

Change is not easy. That’s why it cannot be rushed.

A proposal to change Wilton’s extended-day kindergarten to full-day has caught parents by surprise. The proposal was announced at a Board of Education meeting in November. The board expects to vote on it in February. That is a three-month window of opportunity for people to hear about it and consider it. When it comes to little children and their parents, that is not enough time.

Parents who registered their children for kindergarten just a few weeks ago were told a full-day program was likely in September. It is not hard to see how parents with young or immature children might find this unsettling. They might feel pressured into quickly deciding whether their child should attend kindergarten or another year of preschool.

Full-day kindergarten is not a new idea. School districts across the state have been adopting it for years. According to Superintendent Gary Richards, the district has delayed introducing full-day kindergarten while it assessed how well the merger of the Tilford W. Miller and Ina E. Driscoll schools worked out.

He is correct in saying the transition will be smoother — practically speaking — than if the district were moving from half-day to full-day. But practicality is not the only issue. Some children are too young to be in school 32 1/2 hours a week, not including a bus ride to and from school. Some children could be putting in almost a 40-hour week! While they may be up to the challenge mentally, they may not be up to the challenge physically.

Clearly, school administrators are not trying to harm their youngest students. As higher-ups in government, business and education fret about the state’s — and the country’s — ability to compete globally, they heap more and more standards onto the curriculum. Districts — including already high-performing districts like Wilton — must comply.

How best to do that?

Full-day kindergarten is one way, but for it to be universally embraced parents must be convinced.

Are the benefits of sending a 5-year-old to school all day worth making it difficult — if not impossible — for the child to participate in after-school and social activities? Will it draw resources away from first and second grade classes?

While many parents are likely in favor of full-day kindergarten, a good number of parents remain unconvinced, and they deserve a better accounting of how this will benefit their children.

According to the National Education Association, there are academic benefits to be reaped from full-day over half-day, especially for low-income and minority students. That is not an issue in Wilton, where the vast majority of students presumably enter school having already benefited from many enriching experiences.

This is a well-educated community. A more detailed presentation of the benefits of full-day kindergarten needs to be provided. The presentation on the Miller-Driscoll website is not detailed enough.

Holding off on the decision might also help parents feel like part of the process. The district has had three years to assess the Miller-Driscoll merger. Why are parents getting only three months to assess the change to full-day kindergarten?

Parents and children deserve to start the school year on a positive, not reluctant, note.