My love-hate relationship with full-day kindergarten

The demands of full-day kindergarten leaves one mom questioning whether or not to pull her child from the program.

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Gillian on her first day of full-day kindergarten. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

In the weeks leading up to my four-year-old daughter’s first day of school, I tried to keep my anxiety in check. Gillian was about to start Ontario’s full-day kindergarten program. My husband was a little worried, too.

“Remember how Isaac would fall asleep on the bus?” my husband asked. “And remember how grouchy he was all the time?”

Read more: Kindergarten: How to handle first-day jitters>

Barely potty trained at the time, Isaac was just a three-year-old when he started JK—but back in 2010, his school only ran a part-time program. Thankfully, my son had a day of rest between classes, but still, getting dressed in the morning was a battle and his exhaustion was a concern. If that’s how miserable my son was going to school every other day, how difficult would going every day be on my spirited daughter? And besides, wasn’t going to school every single day just a little too much for kids that young?

While her initial excitement at her new adventure buoyed Gillian through the first week of school, we quickly fell into a routine of tantrums, bribes and early bedtimes. Sometimes our daughter wouldn’t even make it to bedtime, often falling asleep in the middle of dinner. One night, she actually fell asleep eating a cookie (and, if you know how much my kid loves cookies, you’d know that she was pretty tired).

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“It will get easier,” promised a friend, who used to teach at a nearby school. “She’ll adjust and make huge gains!”

Instead, Gillian got sick—first with the usual back-to-school cold, then even more sick with urinary tract infections that required two rounds of antibiotics and several missed days of school.

The entire time I couldn’t help but think that parents in Ontario had been duped: Full-day kindergarten is not at all what we’d been promised.

While research shows that children who participate in a full-day kindergarten program transition better into the first grade and have better social skills, the downside of noisy, crowded classrooms and stressed-out children make me question if the program was rolled out too hastily. And I’m not alone in feeling this way, judging from comments on a Globe and Mail story regarding class sizes, as well as Spencer Callaghan’s Yummy Mummy Club post on the failures of Ontario’s kindergarten program.

Read more: Stay-at-home mom: The kids are in school, now what?>

In the last few weeks, my husband and I have seriously considered reducing the number of days our daughter attends school. But first, I brought my concerns to my daughter’s teacher who informed me that the emotional outbursts I see at home do not happen in the classroom. If anything, Gillian is one of her classes better behaved children, actively participating in schoolwork and games.

So, instead of pulling her from school like I had originally planned, my daughter’s teacher is providing me with tools to help Gillian transition from the classroom to home, where, quite frankly, is the place we have the most problems. The teacher also promised to ensure that Gillian is on a regular potty routine, to help avoid any further UTIs. For the short-term, Gillian will stay in class and we will reassess her health and behaviour after the holidays.

I can’t say that I feel comfortable with Gillian remaining in school full-time, what with stress and illness always on my mind, but I am reassured that she is in a classroom where she is respected and cared for and that the professionals in her school have an open mind and listening ear.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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