09/25/2013 12:29 EDT | Updated 11/25/2013 05:12 EST

Full-Day Kindergarten Is Better For Parents Than Kids

Does six hours of school a day instil a love of learning in four-year-olds?

Most people would probably scoff at a parent who forces their young child to practise piano or dance for six hours a day. Ditto when it comes to gymnastics or swimming or even Canada's sentimental favourite, hockey. Thankfully, most moms and dads realize that for little kids, an hour or so is more than enough for most activities and any longer will only result in your child loathing the sport or hobby you hoped they would love.

So why the push for full-day kindergarten?

As a mother to three small children, one would think that I would be an ardent cheerleader for full-day kindergarten. In reality, I'm actually booing from the sidelines.

We are fooling ourselves if we think that full-day kindergarten is anything more than a glorified babysitting service. A four- or five-year-old child may benefit from a few hours of schooling each day, but six hours straight? Most kids that age have trouble staying focused more than 20 minutes. And this doesn't even take into account the before and after school programs. Some of these kids are spending eight or 10 hours per day at school.

Is this really for the benefit of the child, or the parents and well-paid teaching staff?

From a child's perspective, the ideal day would likely be going to school in the morning, coming home for a hot lunch and taking a nap. Being at school for a solid six hours every day seems like a jail sentence, not a fun introduction to learning.

Our neighbours to the south already tested the effects of all-day kindergarten when the U.S. introduced its lauded Head Start program in 1998. It has failed spectacularly. The results from the Head Start Impact Study Final Report show that "no significant impacts were found for math skills, prewriting, children's promotion, or teacher report of children's school accomplishments or abilities."

In fact, the study shows that among the Head Start group, 55 per cent of four-year-olds can recognize all their letters by the end of kindergarten. Compare this to the control group, where 58 per cent of four-year-olds can recognize all their letters by the end of kindergarten.

A 2010 peer reviewed study from Duke University shows that any benefits from attending full-day kindergarten "disappeared" by Grade 3.

Furthermore, "children may not have as positive an attitude toward school in full-day versus half-day kindergarten and may experience more behaviour problems."

As a parent, my greatest hope for my children's education is not that they will earn straight As or ace every test. My hope is that they will enjoy school and develop a true love of learning. I want them to be passionate about their favourite subjects and I want them to look forward to going to school.

A child who loves school will likely fare better in the long run than a child who dreads going to school.

If all-day kindergarten really is just about appeasing working parents who want free or cheap day care for their kids, proponents need to check the math again. This program is incredibly expensive (to the tune of $1.5 billion per year). Quality day care can be had for less and one way or another, parents are paying for this costly care.

A reasonable compromise would consist of offering part-time JK or SK instruction in the morning and allowing parents the option to pay for afternoon care if they so desire. This afternoon care could be delivered by a fully accredited teacher, an Early Childhood Educator, or a day care worker, depending on a parent's desire or ability to pay.

Kids First Parent Association of Canada is not impressed with the move toward all-day kindergarten. "There is not one peer-reviewed empirical study of long-term outcomes for children in universal 'early learning' programs that demonstrates benefits over costs. Not one."

McMaster economist Philip DeCicca echoes the findings of the other researchers. He finds that "full-day kindergarten has sizeable impacts on academic achievement, but the estimated gains are short-lived, particularly for minority children." As an economist, DeCicca questions whether the $1.5-billion cost of full-day kindergarten is money well spent.

As a taxpayer, I wonder too.

Lydia Lovric is a former opinion writer and broadcaster, turned stay-at-home mom. This piece originally appeared in The Hamilton Spectator.

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