Kindergarten in New Hampshire

What residents should know about half and full-day programs and enrolling their child

The beginning of the school year is a frenetic time for any parent, but especially for those enrolling a child in kindergarten for the first time. Moreover, recent changes in the law regarding kindergarten may confuse even seasoned parents who enrolled another child in previous years.

Half-day or full day?

Until 2009, kindergarten itself was not necessarily available in every town, as New Hampshire was the last state to require that every public school district offer a minimum of a half-day kindergarten program. The availability of half-day kindergarten in every town is not the only change, however, as many school districts in fact have begun to offer full-day kindergarten as well.

According to statistics released by the NH Department of Education, the trend toward full-day kindergarten began 15 years ago. In the 1999-2000 school year, full-day kindergarten was available in seven school districts, followed by 12 in 2000-2001, 16 in 2001-2002, and 21 in 2002-2003. By 2013-2014, the last school year for which data is available, this number had grown to 83 school districts.

Why the change?

According to Dottie Bauer, early childhood education professor at Keene State College and former kindergarten teacher, the trend toward full-day kindergarten reflects a wealth of research into its long-term benefits.

“Full-day kindergarten is important, because it provides learning opportunities for social and academic skill development throughout the day,” she said.

According to Bauer, children with more early education experiences tend to better excel for years.

“They do better in school, more likely to graduate, and have less behavior problems,” she said. “Structured early education impacts future learning processes and helps children become more curious about reading and the world around them – that’s very important.”

Changing legislation

Recent legislation, including No Child Left Behind, have also provided tangible reasons as to why more districts statewide are now offering full-day kindergarten.

“These changes have increased academic pressures down through the grades,” Bauer said. “The expectations now for a child in kindergarten are what used to be expected of a first-grader 15 years ago,” she said.

Such an increase in expectations, in fact, has led to formalized (and recently developed and implemented) Kindergarten Readiness Indicators in New Hampshire. “These are standards for what is expected for any child who enters kindergarten in the state,” Bauer said.

Kindergarten readiness is defined as “children possessing the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for success in school and for later learning and life.” Endorsed by the NH Department of Education, NH Head Start State Collaboration Office and NH Head Start Directors Association, these indicators are found in the following domains:

1. Language Arts & Literacy;

2. Cognition & General Knowledge: Logic & Reasoning/Mathematics;

3. Cognition & General Knowledge: Science & Social Studies;

4. Approaches to Learning (Including Creative Art Expression & Music);

5. Social & Emotional Development; and

6. Physical Development & Health.

According to a published report by the state Department of Education on New Hampshire Kindergarten Readiness Indicators, they are meant to support “a developmentally appropriate approach by acknowledging learning in multiple domains, recommending differentiated teaching approaches, and in considering the collaborative role of families, schools and communities to ensure children’s success in school and in life.”

While acknowledging the impact of research and legislation on kindergarten in New Hampshire, Bauer said an equally critical aspect for any child’s success is family support and involvement.

“It is so important for the parents to be involved and support an educational environment,” she said. “They should demonstrate an interest in their child’s learning. It could be as simple as asking about their homework or doing a homework activity with them. It sends the message that learning matters.”

The most important thing, however, may be to simply read to them. “Talk to them, tell a story, just read to them – those things make a big difference,” she added.

Enrollment cut-off dates

Kindergarten is designed for five-year olds. Enrollment cut-off dates in New Hampshire for kindergarten range from Aug. 15 to Dec. 31; dates are individually set by each district.

For information on current enrollment practices, including whether half-day or full-day programming is available in a particular school district, parents, child-care providers and service providers in early childhood should call their local SAU office.

Is kindergarten mandatory?

School districts must offer kindergarten, but parents are not required to send their children to kindergarten. According to the state Department of Education, education is compulsory when a child reaches age 6. However, a child who reaches their sixth birthday after Sept. 30 is not required to attend school until the following school year. 

Rob Levey loves to write and believes a well-crafted story can change lives. He is the founder of Exponential Squared, a strategic marketing and business development firm.

Categories: Preschool