Full-day kindergarten

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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 day1. In 28 states, full-day kindergarten days have the same duration as first grade days2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased academic achievement

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased self-confidence

  • Improved social emotional skills

  • Increased school readiness

What does the research say about 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 grade3145. To sustain academic gains for children from low income families, researchers suggest following full-day kindergarten with additional interventions as children continue through school1, 3, 4.

Academic effects are strongest for FDK programs in urban areas and for programs that last 6 or more hours a day4. 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 kindergarten6. 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 day7. A Canada-based study suggests that FDK increases numeracy for girls from low income households, but has limited additional long-term effects8.

FDK can increase children’s self-regulation, school readiness9, self-confidence, and ability to work and play with others more than half-day kindergarten4, especially when programs use a play-based approach to learning and development9. In some circumstances, attending FDK may also reduce the short-term likelihood of grade retention among ELL children10. Parents of children in FDK report less stress and fewer daily hassles than parents of children attending half-day kindergarten9.

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 costs5. Overall, early learning strategies such as preschool interventions have demonstrated higher cost effectiveness than FDK because such interventions’ effects last longer11

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated 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 FDK2

Implementation Resources

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

NEA-ECE - National Education Association (NEA). Early childhood education (ECE): Universal pre-K and kindergarten give children the foundation they need for a lifetime of learning and success.


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1 CG-TFR Education - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Task Force Recommends (TFR) center-based early childhood education programs (ECE) to improve educational outcomes that are associated with long-term health as well as social- and health-related outcomes.

2 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.

3 CG-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):312-323.

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

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

10 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.

11 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.