Over the past several decades, the popularity of kindergarten education has increased significantly among parents and educators. Today, the majority of US children are enrolled in a kindergarten program. Yet, not all kindergarten programs are similar. In the past, half-day programs outnumbered full-day programs; cultural and socio-economic factors have propelled the growth of the number of full-day kindergarten programs. Furthermore, legislative requirements, which often differ from state to state, play a significant role in the full-day kindergarten (FDK) versus half-day kindergarten (HDK) debate
Keywords Academic Achievement; Child-Centered Education; Early Childhood Education; Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK); Froebelian School; Half-Day Kindergarten (HDK); Pestalozzi Method
Since 1977, the number of children attending kindergarten in the United States has steadily grown, and according to the US Census Bureau in 2011, there were 4 million children, age three and over, enrolled in kindergarten, which was up from 3.3 million in 1967. Although the number of enrolled kindergarteners was relatively unchanged from 1986 through 2005, the figure was up from 2005. Yet, despite widespread agreement on the benefits of kindergarten, disagreement persists over the form this type of early childhood education should take. Some parents and educators believe that children learn better in half-day kindergarten programs (HDK), while others hold that full-day kindergarten programs (FDK) provide the greatest academic and social benefits for young students. Contributing variables which often indicate parental preference can range from socio-economic factors to geographical and ethnic dynamics. Furthermore, legislative requirements, which often differ from state to state, play a significant role in the FDK versus HDK debate.
Kindergarten attendance as a common practice in the United States is a relatively new phenomenon. While public education in one form or another has been present in America since the colonial era, kindergarten did not appear on the American educational landscape until just before the Civil War in 1857. Imported to the US from Germany, kindergarten grew out of European Enlightenment philosophy espoused by such thinkers as Swiss philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. Swiss educator Johann Pestalozzi built upon Rousseau's theories and developed them into a more formal manner of childhood education. The Pestalozzi Method earned Pestalozzi recognition as a father of modern early educational pedagogy. Not until German educationist Friedrich Froebel coined the word in 1840, however, was the term "kindergarten" used to describe this method of early childhood education. Meaning "children's garden," Froebel's kindergarten was a place where children between the ages of approximately two and six could develop their sense of individuality and self through less formal, often self-directed activities such as crafts, physical activity, music, and interaction with other children and adults. As Fromberg (2006) notes, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and Froebel all built their educational models based on the four general conclusions regarding children:
• Children learn differently from adults
• Children require sensory experiences in learning
• Children benefit developmentally from studying the world around them
• Children are able to make choices
• Children benefit from playful activities
American Kindergartens in the nineteenth
This philosophy as a method of teaching crossed the ocean in 1856 with Margarethe Schurz's opening of the first Froebelian school in Wisconsin. Schurz, who herself was a product of Froebel's German kindergarten, established the private school in her home for her children and the children of friends and family. True to its European predecessor, Schurz's classes were conducted in German. Shortly after the establishment of the Wisconsin model, Elizabeth Peabody started the first English-speaking kindergarten in the United States. Like Schurz's school, Ms. Peabody's Boston-based kindergarten followed Froebel's model and philosophy of child-based learning.
Whereas Shurz's and Peabody's schools remained private, kindergarten soon made its foray into American public education with the establishment of the first English-speaking public kindergarten in 1873 in St. Louis, Missouri. Begun by the St. Louis Public School District, the kindergarten was for students aged five years and, although public in name, charged a fee for attendance. These early American kindergarten classes served middle-class children with school hours that lasted half a day.
According to Lee, Burkam, Ready, Honigman, and Meisels (2006), with the establishment of public kindergartens in the United States, the pedagogical focus began to shift away from Froebel's naturalistic ideals and toward purposes more in line with the goals of American public education: training children according to cultural and societal norms in order to develop them into contributing citizens of society. Nevertheless, although the overarching focus changed, the Froebelian methodology of education remained the prevailing means of achieving the end goal.
Through the turn of the nineteenth century, the popularity of self-directed learning through kindergarten education grew in America among both educators and the general public alike. As the agrarian way of life gave way to the Industrial Revolution, changing social philosophies regarding the place of children in society began to affect the provision of early childhood education. Social conscience movements that decried the prevalence of child labor in the workforce contributed to the increase in the number of kindergarten classrooms as private and religious organizations began to provide kindergarten at no charge to the children of working families. Fromberg notes that in this social atmosphere, educators and individuals such as John Dewey and Jane Addams left their mark in the form of their progressive educational philosophies. For Dewey, for example, "formal" education occurred best in "natural" environments in which children could interact with the world around them (Fromberg, 2006, p. 69).
As progressivism grew, so, too, did the emphasis on child-centered education. Rather than focus primarily upon instructional methods, child-centered education sought to help children develop through play, sensory experiences, and individual initiative such as the opportunity to make choices for themselves. Moreover, Fromberg notes that the federal government's involvement in kindergarten education also grew during the first half of the twentieth century. This was due to such initiatives and activities as the Works Projects Administration of the 1930s and the 1940s Lanham Act, which aided parents assisting in the war effort and marked the federal government's first entrance into the child care arena. Following World War II, half-day kindergarten classes remained in practice.
The Growth of Full-Day Kindergarten
Several factors have contributed to the growth of full-day kindergarten. Lee (2006) cites the three foremost among these as the increase in the number of working mothers with children under six years of age; the expanding popularity of day care and/or pre-kindergarten programs; and the significant increase in technological and economic demands of society which have raised the pursuit of academic achievement to new levels. The US Department of Education reported that a significant reversal in kindergarten program attendance occurred between 1977 and 2001. In 1977, 73 percent of kindergarten children attended half-day programs, while 27 percent attended full-day programs. By 2001, these percentages had changed drastically, with only 40 percent attending HDK and a full 60 percent enrolled in FDK (US Dept. of Education, 2004). By 2011, the US Census Bureau reported that 77 percent of US children attended full-day kindergarten (US Census, 2011).
Yet, FDK attendance is not constant across demographic, socio-economic, and ethnic lines, nor are the ratios the same for public and private schools. Fromberg (2006) indicates that rural...
(The entire section is 3653 words.)