Meadowlark Clark's kindergarten class at Tukes Valley Primary School sat on the floor with their legs crossed, eyes focused on their teacher as she pointed toward a grid of words pinned to the wall. As her finger hovered over each word, the students read them aloud.
Keeping five and six-year-olds this focused is no small feat, especially when they know that as soon as this lesson is over, they'll be shifting their attention to the day's art project: making and decorating construction paper jack-o-lanterns.
While Mrs. Clark's kindergarten classes have always combined foundational learning in reading and math with art projects, this school year affords her much more time to accomplish her various teaching goals. That's because this is the first year that Battle Ground Public Schools is providing full-day kindergarten at all primary schools in the district. Washington State is requiring districts to implement the full-day programs no later than next school year.
"One of the biggest benefits of the full-day schedule is that I don't feel like I'm rushing through my lessons and struggling to fit everything into less than three hours," Clark said . "Full-day kindergarten allows for more student discussions, peer interactions and application of our learning."
With the extra classroom time, the priority is building a solid foundation in math and reading skills. "Establishing early reading and vocabulary skills in kindergarten prepares students to achieve benchmark reading level by third grade, which studies show is vital for future academic success," said Dr. Paula Kohler-Martin, the district's executive director of curriculum, instruction and professional development. "The impacts from early learning foundations last a lifetime."
Full-day kindergarten allows for learning in many other areas as well. Students learn to deal with conflict, use their words, stand up for themselves, follow directions, and engage in activities—even when they don't want to. These are lifelong skills that Clark says need to be modeled, taught and practiced. "With half-day kindergarten, we often didn't have much time to dedicate to social skills. With full day, we're able to discuss issues as they arise and help our students learn to interact appropriately and positively."
Full-day kindergarten students are also able to focus more time on art, music, physical education and health. Each of these components is part of a well-rounded and balanced learning experience.
"When I was teaching half-day kindergarten, anytime there was an assembly, classroom visitor, fire drill, or anything out of the ordinary, I felt an internal struggle," Clark said . "I wanted my students to experience these important school opportunities, but also found that my core instruction would have to be sacrificed to make time for these things. Now, I have time for solid core instruction while also having time for all the other engaging parts of a primary student's school experience."
To help prepare teachers for the implementation of full-day kindergarten, the state of Washington provided them with three days of training on kindergarten instruction. Teachers could participate in the training in Battle Ground over the summer, and learned about child development, learning centers and learning environments. Throughout the year, kindergarten teachers also have regular opportunities to come together to observe lessons, collaborate, and discuss classroom instruction.
In addition to providing training and collaboration opportunities for instructors, the district also equipped every kindergarten classroom with new and improved materials and resources, including up-to-date leveled readers, large classroom libraries, current instructional materials, and numerous developmentally appropriate manipulatives and toys.
"I think our kindergarten teachers are feeling very supported with everything the district has provided," Clark said . "The district has done an incredible job of ensuring our full-day kindergarten program is off to a solid start."