Representative Gile: How I became an advocate for full-day kindergarten

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Representative Mary Stuart Gile explained how she became involved in advocating for full-day kindergarten in New Hampshire in the Concord Monitor:

I am a full-day kindergarten convert. I have been a co-sponsor of legislation to fully fund extended-day kindergarten but after 40 years as an early childhood/child development professional and former kindergarten teacher, I had serious questions about the impact of the new curriculum expectations and how they could be translated into activities respectful of childhood, especially young children’s social, emotional, physical, language and cognitive development.

The invitation to join the Concord School District’s Early Childhood Steering Committee, which began meeting monthly in November 2015 and lasted through June 2016, changed my mind. The committee of 21 teachers, parents, principals, school board members and community folks like myself represented a broad range of opinions.

The study included a review of the literature and research. We divided into groups to delve more deeply into the research, review the connections with early childhood programs in the community and study the impact, including fiscal, of full-day kindergarten on the district and community. At the conclusion of the study, my questions were resolved and now I am an advocate.

The effects of the high-quality kindergarten and other early childhood programs on student achievement have been well documented. Students who attended high-quality early learning programs graduate from high school, have fewer retentions and placements in special education and remedial classes (saving districts money), are more likely to go to college, have higher occupational expectations and fewer arrests, are less likely to become single parents and are employed. Put simply, delaying full-day kindergarten could be more expensive for our children, families and taxpayers.

Early childhood is defined by the state of New Hampshire as the period between birth and age 8. It is a stage of life characterized by great variability in development. Teachers specializing in early childhood structure their classrooms with opportunities that are developmentally appropriate and that engage children in selecting and exploring learning materials and activities. High-quality, full-day kindergarten provides more time for teachers to observe every child and to plan in ways that are intentional in introducing young minds to the wonders of literature, the patterns and logic of numbers, and the worlds of science and nature individually, and in small and larger groups.

Play is a major feature in high-quality kindergartens around the world. According to Erika Christakis, former lecturer at Yale University and author of The Importance of Being Little, “play is the fundamental building block of human cognition, emotional health and social behavior.” Play promotes key abilities such as collaborative planning, impulse control, self-regulation, symbolic thinking , memory and language. Children attending high-quality, extended-time early-learning programs have opportunities to play at higher levels of complexity, creativity and engagement.

My involvement in the Concord study convinced me that full-day kindergarten is to the child’s advantage, and the key is the quality and depth of children’s experience. It is about ensuring the best start possible for our youngest students and allowing them to begin their educational journey at a pace that allows more time to explore, question, play, discover the 3R’s, make friends and ultimately succeed.

Read the full article here.