These smaller classroom alternatives, however, come at a higher cost than the “free” public school option. Some parents say paying that extra penny for their child’s kindergarten education is worth it.
Wendy Deaton found out about Grand Haven Christian’s three-day, half-day kindergarten program the night before the school’s kindergarten open house. The next morning, she enrolled her almost 5-year-old daughter, Maya, in kindergarten there for the next school year.
“I am very much opposed to the five-day, all-day-long kindergarten,” Deaton said. “I feel like five days is just too much, too long of a day. It’s too big of a leap for me and I don’t think it’s fair to the kids.”
Currently, Maya goes to a local preschool three half-days a week — accumulating about 7.5 hours of schooling a week, according to her mom. If Maya were to attend the public’s full-day kindergarten program next year, she would be in school nearly five times longer than what she gets in one week of preschool.
Initially, Deaton said Grand Haven Christian’s three-day program is “100 percent” why she enrolled Maya there.
“Don’t get me wrong — the school systems here are good,” she said. “But the three-day program is the only reason we went to that open house that night. Then, after we met people and talked with people, we fell in love with it.”
Grand Haven Christian Principal Rick Geertsma said they haven’t seen enrollment numbers jump due to the changes in local public school kindergarten programs, but they have had more inquires because it gives parents another option.
“We’ve had parents express their concerns about full-day kindergarten and are asking us questions about our program,” he said.
The school is exploring adding other options — including an additional “morning-only” kindergarten program Monday through Friday; and a two-day kindergarten “enrichment” program the same time as its current kindergarten class (7:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), but on Tuesday and Thursday.
Geertsma said he sees some raised eyebrows when tuition is discussed with future families. While that may be a deterrent for some, 30-40 percent of Grand Haven Christian’s families take advantage of the school’s tuition adjustments, he said.
“We try to make it work for every family so they can attend here,” Geertsma said.
Deaton said she and her husband had some initial reservations about Maya’s kindergarten tuition. But for their daughter to be in three half-days of kindergarten, rather than five days a week, is worth it to her and her husband, she said.
“Every penny is worth it to us,” Deaton said.
Connie Behm, who has been teaching kindergarten at St. John’s Lutheran School since 1988, said her five-day morning kindergarten class is very busy learning and exploring the world around them. In just over three hours each day, Behm’s 12 children engage in calendar time, devotion, reading, centers, story and music time, math, recess, and free-choice time.
“It’s a busy day,” she said.
Behm said she has to incorporate the core kindergarten skills in her various units — otherwise, it would be difficult fitting in all those requirements in that amount of time.
St. John’s officials said they recognized changes were ahead for the public schools and surveyed their preschool parents. They asked parents how they felt about an optional after-school enrichment program for kindergartners, which would allow more “play time” and time for problem-solving.
Now in its third year, St. John's two-hour K-Club enrichment program is up from 10 students in the fall to 15 since January — when enrollment reopens for the program.
St. John's Lutheran School Administrator Laura Harvey said they will continue offering half-day kindergarten with the K-Club as an additional option, as their survey showed parents were equally divided on the issue. Parents, however, who wanted only half-day kindergarten were very “adamant” about that, she said.
“We’re allowing them to make that decision based on their needs, the time available and their children,” Harvey said.
The Lakeshore Christian Academy kindergarten class, called K5, gives children three full days of school, but two days off in between.
At the beginning of the school year, some students might struggle a bit getting through the end of the day, academy teacher Abby Hyink said. After a few months, most children adapt pretty well to the all-day setting, she said.
“They do adjust quickly with it,” Hyink said.
From 8 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. three days a week, children are involved in the core learning subjects; as well as circle time, Bible time, snack/recess, phonics and story time. Throughout the week, they alternate various “specials” — such as art, gym, music and movement, free time, and “Superstar” show and tell.
“We move around a lot,” Hyink said. “We try to get them involved as much as possible.”
The full-day schedule at Lakeshore Christian gets children used to the all-day school setting that they’ll experience once they reach first grade, Hyink said.
“With a half-day program, you get into teaching them something and then have to move onto something else because the day is almost over,” she said. “I think it’s a good in-between option of all the different options out there.”
In the end, officials from Grand Haven Christian, St. John’s and Lakeshore Christian Academy agree that it is the parents who will ultimately make that kindergarten decision.
“Every child is different,” Hyink said. “You know your own child and what’s best for them, and you have to make the decision based on what’s best for you and your chi