Preschool: How Much Is Enough?

Full day preschool may boost social, emotional, math and language skills in children more than partial day programs

(RxWiki News) Preschool can help kids build the skills they need for school. Many schools offer full- or part-day preschool, but which is better?

A new study found that full-day preschool strengthened several school readiness skills — such as social, emotional, math and language skills — in children more than part-day programs.

The children who went to preschool for the full day also missed fewer school days than children who attended part-day schools, the authors of this study found.

"In addition to increased educational enrichment, full-day preschool benefits parents by providing children with a continually enriched environment throughout the day, thereby freeing parental time to pursue career and educational opportunities," these researchers, led by Arthur J. Reynolds, PhD, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, wrote.

Dr. Reynolds and team looked at the effect of full-day preschool (about 7 hours) on levels of school readiness, attendance, and parent involvement and compared that with part-day preschool (about 3 hours).

A total of 982 3- or 4-year-old preschool children and their parents took part in the study. The children were part of the Midwest Expansion of the Child-Parent Center (CPC) Education Program. They were mostly from low-income, ethnic minority families.

The CPC is a program started in Chicago in 1967 to enhance education and family services to school-age children, starting in preschool.

At the end of the preschool year, Dr. Reynolds and colleagues assessed and scored the children's development in several areas using the Teaching Strategies GOLD Assessment System. This system measured nine areas of development. The possible scores varied on each area of the test. For instance, social and emotional development scores could range between 20 and 81, language scores ranged from 15 to 54, math scores ranged from 8 to 60 and physical health scores ranged from 14 to 45.

These researchers found that full-day preschool children scored higher than children who went to preschool part-time in several areas. For instance, full-day preschool kids had higher scores in social and emotional development than part-time kids (58.6 versus 54.5). The same was true for language (39.9 versus 37.3), math (40 versus 36.4) and physical health (35.5 versus 33.6) scores.

Scores for reading, writing and thinking skills were not significantly different between the full- and part-time preschoolers, Dr. Reynolds and team noted.

Also, about 53 percent of the children who attended full-day preschool missed 10 percent or more of the total school days — compared to 72 percent of the part-day preschoolers.

In an editorial about this study, Lawrence J. Schweinhart, PhD, of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Ann Arbor, MI, said the research results supported full-day preschools.

"As the demand for preschool programs shifts from part-day to full-day, it is important to know whether this shift is educationally valuable as well," he said. "The study by Reynolds and colleagues provides evidence that high-quality, full-day programs are educationally more valuable than part-day programs."

The study and editorial were published online Nov. 25 in JAMA.

Grants from the US Department of Education's Investing in Education Fund and several private foundations funded the research. Dr. Reynolds disclosed that he developed the Midwest CPC expansion intervention. The other study authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 23, 2014