It’s Academic

In the past, traditional kindergarten was viewed as an introductory period for children transitioning into compulsory grade levels. Its primary purpose was to get young learners accustomed to leaving the familiarity of the home environment in favor of a structured learning venue as a matter of routine.

The purpose of kindergarten has evolved into a far more intentional and instructionally impactful activity geared towards maximizing children’s academic performance and giving them an “academic boost.” As a result, many school districts are moving from half-day to all-day kindergarten (ADK) programs.

Studies support the wisdom underlying this trend. For example, schools with students attending all-day kindergarten in 2004-05 improved their third-grade reading scores on the 2007-08 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests twice as much as schools without all-day programs, according to an article in the Jan. 14, 2009 issue of the Reading (Pa.) Eagle.

Three main drivers are behind the implementation of ADK.

First, the increased attention paid to instructor accountability has many school districts looking for ways to maximize student performance. ADK provides one such option to make a difference in the educational outcomes of students.

Second, economic realities are forcing more parents to generate two full-time employment levels of income, making mid-day drop-offs or pick-ups difficult, if not impossible.

Third, the nature of kindergarten itself is changing — early childhood education programs have taken over much of the traditional role of kindergarten and allowed kindergarten to become more focused on academic pursuits.

All-day kindergarten impacts learning spaces in several ways. At a basic level, many school districts offering all-day kindergarten find themselves deficient of instructors and space. A district with three kindergarten classrooms used by a morning and afternoon class each will face such a shortage if a need arises for six all-day kindergarten classes. So, to begin with, some expansion or renovation will probably be needed in most schools.

This need for expansion means that kindergarten classrooms have more square footage than typical grade-level rooms because of the varied activities and dynamic nature of the education going on in them. These spaces typically have their own entrances and exits to the outside. They tend to be larger than typical classrooms and feature a non-traditional polygonal shape to accommodate multiple activities at one time. As with spaces used for early childhood education, restrooms are often located nearby. Instead of desks and chairs, the children use tables and chairs to promote social and collaboration exercises.

As public schools reach out to serve students with a wide variety of needs, the environments that we create for them must be increasingly agile and adaptive. Furniture must be moved and repositioned at a moment’s notice to accommodate activities from storytelling to reading, large-group exercises to individual discussions. One area of a classroom might be divided from other areas with soundproof walls and have carpeted floor surfaces. Another area might have a tile floor surface to suit water-based assignments or messy art projects.

Valley View School District 365U, in southwest suburban Chicago, made customized accommodations in all 12 of its elementary schools for an ADK program that began in the 2012–13 school year. To make room for the new program, the district put additions on nine schools and renovated three others, using Wight & Company’s design services.

The new additions were designed to keep the kindergarteners in the same zone of the school buildings. The rooms have a modern, casual look and are lively, stimulating environments that make ample use of daylighting. The classrooms are equipped with smart boards and wireless technology. Casework creates opportunities for cubbies and bench seating to accommodate children’s private time.

When it comes to designing schools and classrooms for all-day kindergarten, no single approach is suitable. Classroom design must stress flexibility and customization for better overall learning outcomes. 

Active members of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI), Craig Siepka is the PK-12 design leader and senior designer, and Kevin Havens is senior vice president and director of design for Wight & Company, Darien, Ill.


About the Authors

Craig Siepka is PK-12 Design leader and Senior Designer for Wight & Company, Darien, Ill.