My 2-year-old daughter begins nursery school this year, and we’re all pretty excited—although, let’s be honest, nursery school is really just glorified daycare. In fact, as busy working parents, my husband and I picked our daughter’s school because of its similarity to full-time daycare, with extended hours, hot lunches and fewer holidays.
So when I got an email from the school announcing its “gentle phase-in” for the first week, I was taken aback. For a full week, my daughter would only be able to attend for a half-day. And for the first two of those days, I’d have to be with her. Um, excuse me?
Look, I love spending time with my little girl, but my employer has this funny little rule where I have to work if I want to collect a paycheck. And my daughter has been in full-time daycare since she was 3-months-old. There’s nothing gentle about the way she leaps out of my arms and into the room to play with her friends when we get to daycare. Yes, sometimes separations are hard, but for the most part, she’s a pro at exploring new spaces and making new friends. It’s just what she’s used to.
Who are these parents who can take a half-day off from work five days in a row? And then arrange for a sitter for the rest of the day? Do they have jobs? We’re still not sure how we’re going to make it work.
So imagine my surprise when I was chatting with a childhood friend who told me her school district only offers half-days for kindergarten. Kindergarten! And that’s in a district with wonderful schools and plenty of money.
I’m sure there are 5-year-olds who aren’t ready for a full day at school, and that’s totally OK, but I imagine the vast majority of them are. And just because it’s a classroom setting doesn’t mean pre-schoolers and kindergartners have to tackle advanced algebra. Play-based, full-day programs are a perfect compromise that would benefit kids and working parents alike.
The simple fact is most two-parent families now have both a mom and dad in the workforce. (According to a Pew study from 2015, 46% of families have a mom and dad who work full-time, while another 17% have a dad who works full-time and a mom who works part-time.) And two-thirds of single moms work outside the home. Therefore, many kids are used to a daycare or classroom setting by the time they’re 5, or in my daughter’s case, even 2. So why do so many of our schools still operate like there’s a mom at home and kids need to sloooowly adjust to being away from her? Can’t schools at least offer a full-day option and let parents decide if their kids are ready for it?
Instead, half-day programs force working families to pony up thousands a year for a sitter to fill the gaps—if they can find one willing to work part-time. It’s just another way we get the squeeze.