Full-day kindergarten

Schools that offer kindergarten educate children aged 4 to 6 through a formal program conducted in the year prior to first grade. Full-day kindergarten programs run 5 days per week and last at least 5 hours per day (CG-TFR Education). In 28 states, full-day kindergarten days have the same duration as first grade days (ECS-Parker 2016a).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased academic achievement

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased self-confidence

  • Improved social emotional skills

  • Increased school readiness

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that full-day kindergarten (FDK) improves academic achievement more than half-day kindergarten. However, differences in achievement appear to fade by third grade (CG-TFR EducationWSIPP-Kay 2014). To sustain academic gains for children from low income families, researchers suggest following full-day kindergarten with additional interventions as children continue through school (, , CG-TFR Education).

Academic effects are strongest for FDK programs in urban areas and for programs that last 6 or more hours a day (). Children in FDK have greater gains in literacy and math scores than children in half-day kindergarten. English language learners (ELL) who complete a year of full-day kindergarten have math scores similar to non-ELL peers; differences in literacy scores among ELL and non-ELL children exist for children in FDK and half-day kindergarten (). FDK is associated with increased reading and math scores for children with disabilities, and with increases in problem behaviors and lower levels of self-control, perhaps due to the length of the day (). A Canada-based study suggests that FDK increases numeracy for girls from low income households, but has limited additional long-term effects (Brownell 2015).

FDK can increase children’s self-regulation, school readiness (Pelletier 2014), self-confidence, and ability to work and play with others more than half-day kindergarten (), especially when programs use a play-based approach to learning and development (Pelletier 2014). In some circumstances, attending FDK may also reduce the short-term likelihood of grade retention among ELL children (). Parents of children in FDK report less stress and fewer daily hassles than parents of children attending half-day kindergarten (Pelletier 2014).

A Washington state-based analysis estimates that expanding from half- to full-day kindergarten would cost about $2,650 per student. If academic gains were prolonged, the societal benefits of FDK could outweigh the costs (WSIPP-Kay 2014). Overall, early learning strategies such as preschool interventions have demonstrated higher cost effectiveness than FDK because such interventions’ effects last longer (Reynolds 2008). 

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

As of 2016, 13 states and the District of Columbia require schools to provide full-day kindergarten (FDK). Only 5 states report FDK attendance rates above 90%, and 35 states report between 70-89% of students attend FDK (ECS-Parker 2016a). 

Implementation Resources

CDF-FDK - Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Full-day kindergarten (FDK).

NCSL-FDK resources 2008 - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Resources on full- and half-day kindergarten. 2008.

NEA-FDK 2006 - National Education Association (NEA). Full-day kindergarten (FDK): An advocacy guide. 2006.

Citations - Evidence

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CG-TFR Education - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Task Force Recommends (TFR) Education Programs to Promote Health Equity.

Cooper 2010* - Cooper H, Allen AB, Patall EA, Dent AL. Effects of full-day kindergarten on academic achievement and social development. Review of Educational Research. 2010;80(1):34–70.

Cannon 2011* - Cannon JS, Jacknowitz A, Painter G. The effect of attending full-day kindergarten on english learner students. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2011;30(2):287–309.

Reynolds 2008 - Reynolds AJ, Temple JA. Cost-effective early childhood development programs from preschool to third grade. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. 2008;4:109–39.

Hahn 2014* - Hahn RA, Rammohan V, Truman BI, et al. Effects of full-day kindergarten on the long-term health prospects of children in low-income and racial/ethnic-minority populations: A community guide systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2014;46(3):312-23.

WSIPP-Kay 2014 - Kay N, Pennucci A. Full-day kindergarten: A review of the evidence and benefit-cost analysis. Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP); 2014.

Bingham 2013* - Bingham GE, Hall-Kenyon KM. Full- and half-day kindergarten programmes: Examining impacts on second language learners. Early Child Development and Care. 2013;183(2):185-199.

Gottfried 2016* - Gottfried MA, Le VN. Full- versus part-day kindergarten for children with disabilities: Effects on academic and social-emotional outcomes. American Educational Research Journal. 2016;53(3):708-744.

Brownell 2015 - Brownell MD, Nickel NC, Chateau D, et al. Long-term benefits of full-day kindergarten: A longitudinal population-based study. Early Child Development and Care. 2015;185(2):291-316.

Pelletier 2014 - Pelletier J. Ontario’s full-day kindergarten: A bold public policy initiative. Public Sector Digest. 2014:41-49.

Citations - Implementation Examples

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ECS-Parker 2016a - Parker E, Diffey L, Atchison B. Full-day kindergarten: A look across the states: 50-state review. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States (ECS); 2016.

Date Last Updated

Nov 16, 2016