Picking a Preschool Schedule

It seems there’s a never-ending list of decisions parents need to make in their child’s early years. Then comes preschool. Where will they go? What type of school should they go to? When will they start?

Parents can find the answers to most of those questions with the help of handy guides, but other decisions aren’t so cut-and-dried. When it comes to picking a preschool schedule for toddlers, is a half-day preschool schedule better – or should parents be opting for a full-day preschool schedule?

Full-day vs. part-day preschool

Full-day preschool schedules, sometimes called a “school day schedule,” run roughly the length of a typical first-grade school day, where as a part-day preschool schedule may only be in session for a couple of hours of the day.

While some schools and centers don’t offer schedule choice, there are many that do, meaning parents have to decide what works best for their family.

There’s been a push for more full-day options in recent years. A study released in 2014 revealed there are many benefits of full-day preschool for kids when compared to half-day education. The National Education Association has been advocating for full-day options since 2006.

Here in metro Detroit, a quick search with Great Start to Quality’s preschool search tool turns up more full-day publicly funded preschool programs (Great Start Readiness Program and Head Start) when compared to the programs’ part day offerings.

“With the Great Start to Readiness Program, founded by the state of Michigan, majority of our programs are school-day,” explains Helen Oliver-Brooks, Ph.D., an early childhood consultant for Wayne RESA, which serves Wayne County. While there are still part-day programs in the county, she notes many are transitioning to a full day.

Benefits of full-day preschool

There are reasons full-day preschool has been touted as a good option for kids (and parents). Oliver-Brooks explains in a school-day preschool schedule, children spend more time “on task,” meaning “absolutely mastering” skills. There’s also more chance for repetition of a routine.

At Apple Tree/Gilden Woods Early Care and Preschool Centers, with locations across the state including in New Hudson and soon in Howell, parents have schedule options, but Melody Stewart, curriculum, training and quality director, says, “we really pride ourselves on our full day preschool programs for several different reasons.”

Because of the way their custom “C.O.R.E. Curriculum” is built – filled with Spanish, language and literature, fitness and more – kids in the full day program have an advantage, she says.

“When a child is attending a pre-K program all day they’re getting more opportunity for those large and small group opportunities throughout the day,” multiple times a day, she says. That repetition helps with learning and retaining the information.

Additionally, teachers will have more time to get to know each child and how they’re developing.

“The other benefit that I think is important for families – and I know this was important for me when my child was this young – when we have a child who attends a full-day preschool program, we’re also laying that foundation for them (and) preparing them for those longer days in kindergarten,” Stewart adds.

Carissa Knoles, a United Way of Southeastern Michigan quality improvement consultant who worked as an early childhood teacher for 8 years prior to her current role, says she found attendance and parent engagement were “more apparent” in the full-day programs when compared to part-day programs.

For parents who work or plan to attend college, full-day schedules are convenient, and “parents see their children thriving in a program and are more apt to bring them,” Knoles adds. Plus, she noticed, “parents really had a strong bond with the teachers,” who were spending many hours with their children each week. “I would often see more parents coming to events.”

Upside to part days

Despite all of these full-day schedule benefits, some parents prefer part days – and experts stress it isn’t a bad option, either. “A part day is preferable over no day,” Oliver-Brooks says.

Here in Michigan, preschool isn’t required, though early childhood experts point to its many perks, urging parents to sign their child up, period.

“Clearly there are benefits to just basic needs of a child, which include socialization in those social-emotional fields that are necessary to be successful at kindergarten level,” says Denise Smith, vice president of early learning at the nonprofit group Excellent Schools Detroit. “Even a half day is better than nothing.”

Stewart emphasizes the same. With the way Apple Tree/Gilden Woods’ curriculum is structured, children attending part days still get exposure to the critical academic areas the centers’ curriculum covers.

For parents who have the option of choosing, “if they’re making that specific consideration,” Knoles says, “think about, what is the child’s temperament like? What have their past experiences been? Have they been in care before?” Then, determine whether they might start out in a part-day program and “eventually transition to a full-day program” to ease into kindergarten.

Other considerations, resources

Most importantly, parents need to care about finding quality centers.

“Quality programming for children is definitely what is best for them,” Knoles explains. “We only want children to be involved in the quality programs.”

Smith recommends parents do their homework on the preschools they are interested in. “When they go in (to a preschool), they want to make sure that it’s safe and it’s clean and those are important,” she says. “But … I will always recommend that they always take the time to visit.”

Parents can reference this checklist so they know what to look for upon visiting.

There are many resources available on the web to help local families prepare their child for future success, including United Way of Southeastern Michigan’s Bib to Backpack site, a child development resource that can aid in school readiness. There’s also the Great Start to Quality website, which allows parents to search for programs by specific criteria and compare quality ratings. Parents in the Detroit area can also reference Excellent Schools Detroit’s Early Learners Scorecard, which considers instructional quality, interpersonal relationships, the state’s quality rating and more.

Browse these Metro Parent resources for additional advice on choosing a preschool for your child:

Which schedule option did you choose for your child? Why did you choose it and how did it work out? Weigh in below.

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