Full-day preschool may prepare children better for learning and social development than part- time programs, new research showed, bolstering the case for putting kids in classrooms at younger ages.

The findings from a study of 982 low-income and ethnic-minority 3- and 4-year-olds, enrolled in Chicago’s Child-Parent Center Education Program, are reported in recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. They found that full-day programs improved four of six measures of school readiness as well as attendance.

“You can just go so much further in all the domains of learning in a seven-hour program,” said Arthur J. Reynolds, a researcher at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis who led the study. “These 30 to 40 percent differences in preschool turn into bigger benefits over time.”

The findings support the arguments of advocates who seek to expand early education more widely in the U.S. President Barack Obama has pushed for Congress to fund an expansion of all-day kindergarten and to make pre-kindergarten universal, saying that spending on the youngest students will pay off with better performance throughout their school years and careers.

The researchers found that children spending full days at CPC, the nation’s oldest federally funded preschool program after Head Start, had better socioemotional development, language, math and physical health, as rated by teachers, than peers in half-day programs.

Longer preschool didn’t affect all aspects of a child’s performance, according to the study. Literacy and cognition were similar whether preschoolers were full-time or part-time.

Children in both groups went to preschool five days a week for at least three months, starting no later than January 2013. The study included 409 Chicago children enrolled in the city’s full-day preschool and 573 in part-day classes.

Sending children to preschool for seven hours a day instead of three can also benefit their parents by freeing up time to pursue their own career or education, as well as increasing access for families that might not enroll in half-day programs, the study said.

“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,” Lawrence J. Schweinhart, president of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote in an accompanying editorial. What’s left for debate, he said, is whether the benefits of full days versus a few hours were enough to justify the expense of providing longer preschool hours.


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