At the end of a long day, Beverly Reeves often asks the children in her kindergarten class at Rogers Elementary School to gather around and listen while she plays a soft song on her guitar. In the afternoon the children need the quiet time that her music affords--a rest from hard outdoor play, a full lunch and a heavy academic schedule.
Reeves' is no easy class and many of her 5-year-olds look forward to the break. Because, unlike kindergarten children in most other districts who attend school for about three hours, kindergartners in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District go for about five.
In September, the Santa Monica-Malibu district instituted its so-called "all-day" kindergarten program, becoming one of a growing number of school districts across the country to make the switch.
Demand From Parents
"The demand for the all-day kindergarten came from the parents in the community," said Assistant Supt. Rita Esquivel. "They contacted the school board and the board put it together."
Esquivel said that the program grew out of parents' convictions that their children needed more academic instruction. The half-day program also posed problems for working parents who rely on child care.
The Santa Monica-Malibu school board approved the plan to lengthen the day in 1983. School officials studied various proposals and evaluated all-day programs in the Pasadena and the Beverly Hills unified school districts before implementing one of their own this year.
"With the longer day there is more time and less pressure to do all the teaching we are required to do," Reeves said. "Kindergarten has become more and more an academic grade. It is no longer a play group. There is a lot of preparation for reading, writing and mathematics.
Under the old schedule, children in kindergarten attended school from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m. The new schedule extends the day to 1:50 p.m, adding a lunch period, a recess and an additional 52 minutes of instruction time.
If registration figures are any indication, the program is a popular one. When school opened in September, the number of kindergarten-age children registering for the school year increased by 12% over the previous year, from 595 to 673. The increase occurred at the same time that the district's overall enrollment declined by 3 1/2.
School board member Dianne Berman, who helped develop the kindergarten program, said that the district found that many parents were dissatisfied with the half-day kindergarten program. Working parents often felt that it was too short, so they kept their children in preschool programs that offered extended care, she said.
"Parents are looking for more structured programs for their children," Berman said. "There is a realization that kids have a lot to learn and the earlier they start, the better off they are."
The increase in number of students, combined with a new district regulation reducing the maximum size of kindergarten classes from 30 to 28, forced the district to add five new kindergarten classes.
The additional students also resulted in the need for more kindergarten equipment than had been anticipated. "We were running out of supplies, and kindergarten supplies (blocks, puzzles, paints and other materials) are often more expensive than supplies for other grades," said Darwin May, a district program specialist.
The district received some contributions from the private sector. The Jon Douglas Realty Co. purchased $3,100 worth of playground equipment for a new kindergarten playground at Franklin Elementary. First Federal Savings Bank of California donated $10,000 and Bentley Mills Inc. in the City of Industry donated carpeting.
Except for the increased cost of supplies, district officials said all-day kindergarten was not costing much more to operate than the half-day program.
Assistant Supt. Esquivel said that one of the advantages of a full day of instruction is that teachers are no longer rushed. "They are doing the same thing as before, they are only able to offer more," she said.
May agreed. "Kindergarten is a very special time," he said. "It is the first experience many children have with formal education and it often sets an attitude about school. If their first experience is a positive, one then it could set the tone for the rest of their lives."
But Lorna Round, assistant superintendent of elementary instruction in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said that research does not show that more time is better for kindergarten children. "The more recent trend is for pre-kindergarten instruction. Nationally the focus is on getting children in school earlier, not for academics but for language development."
Round said that the overcrowding problem in the Los Angeles district would make implementing an all-day kindergarten program in Los Angeles impractical.