Is a Long Day of Gan Good?

The education ministry’s extension of hours for state-run preschools and kindergartens raises practical and educational questions.



In the last several years, Israel’s education ministry has been gradually extending the hours of gan (preschool or kindergarten) for 3 to 5 year olds.

“Pre-pre-compulsory” (trom-trom chova) and “pre-compulsory”  (trom chova) frameworks for 3 and 4-year-olds, are not required for all children. All municipalities provide a framework for 4- and 5-year-olds, and many have them for 3-year-olds as well. In Petach Tikva, for example, only a percentage of 3-year-olds are in a municipal preschool, with the rest going to private programs or daycare. Kindergarten (gan chova)  is required for five-year-olds, and paid for by the government.

For many years, public gan operated from 8:00 to 13:20. Several years ago, the ministry extended the ending time by ten minutes. The education ministry provides the teacher, while the municipality provides the assistant (so they never go on strike at the same time). We paid for the food, via the municipality. At 10:00, the children had a sandwich with chumus, soft cheese, tuna or egg salad  along with vegetables. At 12:00, children got a taste, either a fruit, pretzel or cracker, or occasionally candy. In most municipalities, parents send food from home.

This year, all of the state-run ganim around the country operate until at least 2 PM. This is part of ofek hadash (new horizon), the master plan by the education ministry meant top improve educational outcomes by increasing the amount of time the children spend with their teachers individually and in groups. It helps teachers by increasing their salaries, as well as their hours. (The head of the upper school teacher’s union announced in radio ads that teachers’ pay has increased by 50 percent and there would be no strike this year. I gather we are supposed to be grateful.)

A large part of the motivation is economic. While the government will need to lay out more in teacher’s salaries, the additional weekly hours of childcare will help more mothers return to the workforce. And ultimately, gan for 3- and 4-year-olds will be both free and compulsory.

Educational Opportunity for Children?

Does the new arrangement benefit children? Elana Strobinsky, at the Life Center website, argues that more hours in a group setting hurts them.  The first showed that the longer preschoolers spent in a group setting weekly, the more behavioral problems they have including tantrums and aggression. A second study measured cortisol levels, an indicator of stress. Children who spent the day in a group setting showed increased levels of the “stress hormone” throughout the day, while those cared for by a family member or babysitter showed decreased levels.

Update: Elana sent me two links:

  •  The Dark Side of Preschool at Parenting Science has citations at the end.
  •  Children’s Elevated cortisol levels at daycare: A review and meta-analysis, from the Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

A Ganenet’s View

I asked a local ganenet (preschool teacher) for her opinion. This is the third consecutive year that her gan finished at 2 PM. During the first year, she taught three-year-olds. They had attended a daycare center the previous year, where they ate lunch at 12:00 and napped at 12:30. During the first week, she let the parents come early until the children adjusted. Some parents wanted to continue to pick up their children at 1:30 but they soon realized that the kids adjusted. The 4- and 5-year-olds have no problems.

The ganenet mentioned that there is another program called yom limudim aroch in Judea and Samaria and a few other places. There, preschool ends at 3:30 but the children get a real lunch. She thinks that neither of the options truly serves children, but prefers the 3:30 ending time because of the lunch.

I also asked her about the policy of the education ministry. According to reports, it has threatened to punish teachers who allow their parents to retrieve children early on a daily basis. A mother writing in the alon Olam Katan accused the ministry of Bolshevik tactics, effectively keeping their children prisoner to a long day that adversely affects their development.

The ganenet I spoke to explains why she supports the ministry’s policy of allowing early pickup on a one-time basis only.  “I plan my program around the hours that are given to me. If I teach a topic at 1:30 and a child is not there, the next day he will be behind the other children. I can’t plan a curriculum around two different ending times. I’m not in favor of either long-day option, but once implemented the ministry is right to enforce it.”

The article in Olam Katan mentioned that parents who want to take kids home early every day can coordinate it with the Education Ministry. I’m curious about how flexible they will be.

What the Parents Said

I took a poll both on Twitter and Facebook to get reactions. Here are some of the responses (thanks to everyone who replied!)

Tziona from Hispin: More hours of childcare, but 2 pm is late for such a young child to wait for lunch. Many kids this age are still napping in the afternoon and its a late hour to put a child down to sleep.

Chaya in Jerusalem: 4-year-old twins are adjusting nicely. The parents need to fill out a form if they want to get the kids early on a particular day.

Galit from Gan Yavneh: 2 pm is too late for my almost 3 year old. They neither get the rest they need nor the nourishment. Too tired to eat at home. I don’t find any benefit from 30 extra minutes of babysitting with this new Ofek– I believe its hard for the gan teachers as well. The Ministry note we got said they should be given food to alleviate hunger at 12 at gan. Why not just feed them properly? and they should be kept active in order to prevent falling asleep in the gan. Why not let them leave early at 1 or allow parents to pick up early so that they do rest? Or alternately provide for an adequate place to sleep in gan till 3 or 4? I dont like 2 pm. Its neither here nor there. Just like everything else in Israel, these things come before the proper infastructure is put in.

Leah Aharoni: “Almost 3-y-o, Finishes at 2 PM. The ganent and the parents decided to provide crackers/cookies for the 1 Pm snack so that everyone will say a uniform bracha (I think proper individualized nourishment is more important at this age, but who am i to argue) I don’t think we’ve had enough time to adjust yet, especially as she is used to having a nap around 1 PM, but she is fairly tired when she gets back.”

Devo from Ariel: My son finishes at 3:30, Tuesday at 1:30 and Friday at 12. For the most part since i’m a WAHM. But he comes home exhausted most days and by 5:30 is ready to go to sleep. Also pick-up for my Ma’on kid is between 3:30 and 4 so it’s run to gan then run to ma’on in the other direction. we don’t have a car.

Amanda from Jerusalem: I have a nearly 4-year-old who ends at 2.  It’s difficult to arrange things to synch up with the home schedule of the two younger ones, particularly naps. The oldest still pretty much needs one, but it’s hard to get the 2.5 year old to sleep at that time also (rather than earlier). Unless yo really make a pest of yourself trying to buzz in at the gate, I can’t imagine trying to get them out early on a regular basis.

Oshrat in Tel Aviv: My son is not yet 3. He’s in city “trom trom” until 2, afterschool daycare is till 4:30. Lunch is at 2:15. It’s a lot for such a little man to adjust to. It’s a special kind of jetlag.

Vasilisa from Jerusalem: “Character will have his fifth birthday in October. Last year – 3:30 total disaster. getting notes “you son slept during ‘meeting’ and missed important material. Please check his Iron” in all sort of forms. Young man was rising with the sun. This year: 2.00 wakes up at 7 and no more sleeping issues. Clearly this year made THE difference. Should have stayed in cozy nursery school with mattresses for one more year.

Gila from Modiin: I don’t understand why gan needs go to until 2 but 1st and 2nd graders can get all their learning in by 12:45.

Kate: I was originally extremely upset about the time change, because there was a half hr gap between pick ups from school and gan–which are about 100 feet apart. It actually is turning out great, b/c I can sit with my daughter in an empty classroom and do 25 minutes worth of homework with her!  I still maintain that 2:15-2:30 is very late for lunch for them–they have a snack at about 12:30–and it’s been hard to imagine that the extra half hour is going to achieve what the ganenet told us it’s supposed to (more time individually with her and/or in small groups).

You may also enjoy:

Is Junk Food in Gan Neglect?

First Gan Meeting

Thinking Outside the Misgeret: Israeli Childhood Norms

What Defines Israeli Parenting?

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  1. I think the EM has the right idea, they are just going about it in a really wrong way. 2:30 is too late to eat lunch for a 3 year old. I don’t know why they don’t serve lunch at 12:30, and have an hour of play after that. It seems like they are stuck on the old idea that hildren go home to eat lunch, but that’s only reasonable if you end the program at 12:45 the latest, like they did in the old days. Once you’re finishing at 2 pm, that thinking is already absurd.

    My son is trom trom this year and has loved the morning and afternoon programs from the first day, though he’s running at a bit of a sleep deficit. ( He could still nap 2+ hours a day if given the chance.) He seems to make it up on Friday and Shabbat. He proudly announced the second day that he’s a big boy and “not in the gan shel habochim” (since he never cried).

    They eat lunch at 2 together, since the whole gan is in the tzaharon.

    • As an American parent, I couldn’t agree more with Abbi. My daughter was always in full-day care–until 6 as a 2-4 year old and then school until 3:30. Naps were always a big part of her day. She could have napped in kindergartenm too. In day care, the post-nap period was very unstructured and that really worked. I think the problem is that the Ministry has these crazy notions of “teaching” such little kids instead of thinking about socializing–which according to studies I’ve seen is the better way to really have academically achieving kids. In other words, pre-school (and kindergarten) as socializing and doing some skills prep–like literacy and numeracy. And a long day with lunch (!) and a nap for pre-schoolers. I’m all for making it work for working mothers–and that’s all mothers of course, as your readers prove. The ones with other kids to take care of have to do crazy sprints . . .

  2. The more I know, the less I want to ever send my son to gan. I’m a SAHM by default, not because I particularly want to be, but at least I know he’s being fed and gets to rest when he needs to.

  3. This is really fascinating to read, since I kept my oldest (5) home until this year. He’s just had his first week of gan, and it’s until 2 but we have nothing to compare it to, and I think he’s ok. We have a big breakfast in the morning, and lunch is ready by the time he gets home. My two littles (almost 3 and infant) are still at home. We prefer to keep them home as long as I can stand it – I mean, as long as possible. 🙂

  4. There is no educational basis to the decision, in spite of what the Education Ministry might say. They simply can’t give teachers a raise without getting something for them, in this case, an extra half an hour which is simply spent eating the second snack so kids aren’t ravenous by 2pm. The biggest issue is the complete lack of coordination between educational facilities in Israel. I would much rather they went back to the 1.30pm finish time so we could eat lunch at a reasonable time.

    I don’t think my child benefits from finishing at 2pm. If I really wanted a longer day, I would enrol her in the afternoon program. I doubt any mother will be more inclined to return to the workforce because of a 2pm finish time instead of 1.30pm.

  5. alpidarkomama says

    *Compulsory* education for a 3-year-old is an anathema to me. Is that really the future plan of the EM??? Good grief!!!

  6. In America my kids went pre-school until 3 (ages 3 and 4) and until 4 (age 5). But we ate differently in America. The kids ate breakfast at home before school (usually a bowl of cereal, maybe eggs or oatmeal), had a snack about ten, sent from home, so that varied from total junk food to healthy fruits and veggies, depending on the family. They ate lunch about 12:30–also sent from home, usually a sandwich, although sometimes I’d send in dinner from the previous night, like rice and chicken. Finally another snack at 2ish, similar to the one at ten. Most of the “formal learning” took place in the morning. This was totally accepted. It never occurred to me that the day was to long for the children. They all loved school at those ages, were stimulated, social and well-cared for. For a working mom, (and a high percentage of women worked outside of the home in my community) than leaving the kids home with a caregiver. And even the moms who didn’t work sent their kids to these programs.

    • Baila, I think there are a few differences between here and the US. First of all, gan/schools starts at 8 and not 9, so there is less time for breakfast. It’s really too early, in my opinion. Second, lunch is the main meal here. Israelis are rigid about that meal–things are changing but traditionally it was soup, chicken, starch and a vegetable. Not something you could easily put in a lunchbox or serve to 35 kids from a tiny kitchen. Finally, despite modern dual-career family norms, the quaint idea that children should eat the main meal at home with their family remains in people’s consciousness.

      • Yes, that’s what I said, we ate differently in America. And I’m all for the idea of children eating the main meal at home in the middle of the day. But it’s getting more and more difficult. I’ve only been at my job here three years and I already see the women extending their day. Most of them still leave at 1, where the main meal has already been prepared and will be ready for their kids as they get home. But a number of them have been offered to stay later, for more money, obviously which they need. In that community the kids are still coming home to a main meal because Abba is learning in the yeshiva and gets his break at that time and holds down the fort.

        I guess my point was that the KIDS can manage the longer day assuming they are well-fed. How the parents handle it is a different story.

  7. To the gannet who was quoted in the article: “I plan my program around the hours that are given to me. If I teach a topic at 1:30 and a child is not there, the next day he will be behind the other children. I can’t plan a curriculum around two different ending times. For goodness sake what are you teaching these kids – the Pythagoreon Theorom? Astrophyisics? They are 3-5 year old?

    • The day has a set schedule. It’s not a question of what she is teaching them. It’s a matter of keeping 35 3-5 year olds organized and calm. When parents start coming a half hour early, it’s disruptive. I remember one of my daughters’ gans always did the shabbat parties on Fridays right before pickup. If every parent would have been allowed to pick up early, how would they have been able to every have a shabbat party? When you send your child to gan, you need to respect the gannenet’s responsibility to keep things calm and organized for all of the hours of gan.

    • While your argument makes sense in principle, in my mind it doesn’t apply here because of the high number of students per classroom in Israeli gans. It is perfectly reasonable for a teacher to ask that all children are picked up at the same time on the whole so that she can order her day and her plan. The ganenet here shoulders the least “blame.”

      ~ Maya

  8. I am really not sure I buy the “extended day is bad for kids” argument. I know many, many 3 and 4 year olds in full day nursery here (the USA)–when I lived in the UK, compulsory education started at 4. If anything, many children are happier in an extended-day setting because of the social group and structure–as an only child, my daughter adores full day school.

    The issue seems to be implementation. At my daughter’s school (she’s 4.5), full day kids have a snack at 10, lunch at 12, rest time from 1-2 (in the pre-K class, some children still nap, some only rest) and then another snack, finishing at 3:30. Her school serves lunch for kashrut reasons but other schools have kids bring their own. If you’re going to finish after 1pm you need to serve lunch, IMO. When she went half-days, she was ravenous when she came home for lunch at 12.

    • Totally agree Alexis. All of my kids have been in long day ganim from 18 months and they’ve always been much happier. I think increased aggression comes from ganim that have less control, but you have the same problem with some parents as well.

      • Yes, exactly. The kids can handle the hours if they are not starving. Also in the states, the “hard-core” learning–the theme of the week, major art activities etc. was done in the morning. In the afternoon there was story time, a smaller project, music, stuff like that. The kids who needed to, napped. (My kids always saved that for when they came home at 4).

        • yes, i worked in a 4-5 year old room at a preschool and even they had naps! It was mostly just quiet, darkened playtime for most kids, but some kids really did sleep. After naptime there was snack, some outdoor time and quiet play. I’m not sure why they can’t adopt the American model.

  9. So they have this “long day” now, but they are still doing absolutely nothing to prepare kids for kitah aleph. The ganenet was very clear at the parent meeting that this is gan and will be treated as such. Any learning that takes place will be done through games and stories. This is all very wonderful, but there is such a disconnect between gan chova and first grade that I wonder if they’re doing the kids a disservice. This year they play with blocks and dolls and trucks in the chatzer; next year they’ll be sitting for 5 hours with two short hafsakah breaks. They’ll be expected to sit, to pay attention, to have all their supplies and remember where they put them.
    I’m all for letting kids be kids, but maybe they could use some time in this longer day to prepare them for the expectations and demands of first grade, so they’re not walloped next year.

    • This sounds nothing like any gan my children attended.

    • And, a large part of the problem lies with the very high expectations for children in kitah aleph.

      • My daughter just graduated to kita alef this year and the next one is a baby, so I can’t say how good/bad the extended day is. I know my ganenet neighbors (3 of them)are all at lost with what to do. According to them, the kids were all ravenous by 1:30 last years already (they have the 10 o’clock snack but nothing at 12- and since most kids hardly eat before gan, they are ravenous by 10 too). So the ganenet has to give a 12 o’clock snack (ie time “wasted” on non learning/activities stuff + extra budget to ask from the parents for the snack- or else have less for educational material). Still according to my friends, the amount of extra learning/activity etc is hardly worth the extra 30 minutes of driving everyone crazy. Thirdly – why make the kids get used to a longer day when anyway in yesodi they’ll have a shorter one (my kids are back at 1:30 AFTER a 40 minutes drive in school bus!).
        From my point of view- 1:30 is a late lunch since we have dinner at 6 and go to sleep at 7 (they have school bus at 6:55 in the morning and have a full breakfast first, so we wake up at 6 in our house). Even in gan, they left by 7:30 and woke up early then too in order to have breakfast.
        When I host gan kids we only eat psst 2. by the time you’re done it’s 2:30- 3:00. add in homework and you hardly have time for going to the park/friebds/ spend time as a family before showers and sleep.
        Lastly- our gan was all about learning through play only. But kita alef for my daughter is also all about learning “be’roga” so she had no big shift (they have a doll and toys area in the classroom and the corridor for break time!). Even with my third grader, there is an option of playing games/reading books (during breaks) and the all learning idea of school was pushed very gradually.

  10. I don’t really identify with all the fuss about later lunch. A lot of kids benefit from eating meals at a consistent time each day, but I don’t think it really matter what that time is: 2 PM is unusual but they adjust quickly.
    From my perspective, this program gives parents another half hour of free childcare, and gives an opportunity to increase pay for gananot, which I certainly support!

  11. We’re very happy with the change.

    We ended up without tzaharon (long story) and it makes a big difference psychologically to be running out to pickup later for my work from home dh.

    The ridiculous thing is those who got tzahoron are still paying the same crazy rates when the kids are only there for 2 hours/day.

  12. There was also an article against this in the beshava paper.
    As well as a lot of disagreements on the kipa forum.

    The problem seems to be in small areas where 3 and 4 yr olds who are not really in Hova (compulsory aducation), but do not have the option of private kindergarten and have no choice but to send to the municipal framework, where they finish at this inconvenient time.

    For mothers who work until 16:00, this half hour does not make any difference and does not help. For those who stay at home it is irritating. There are a small percentage who benefit because they need this extra half hour to get home from their job that finishes at 13:30. (and our zaharon finishes at the same time). I understand that the ganenet would not want to let kids out early, as then those who stay might get upset. But apparently they also will be “punished” if they do so!

    Personally I think that the main problem is with lunch, The small children were used to eating at 12:30 and then sleeping. Staying in Gan till so late means that many get past their sleep and eating time and become irritable.

    Most adults eat a sandwich or lunch by this time and finishing at 14:00 is simply neither here not there, making lunch time really late and leaving them without appetite for supper later on

  13. My son has definitely noticed the long day and sometimes complains it is too long. But he is having a good experience in the gan anyway. His teacher allows pick up starting at 1:30. She says earlier than that is disruptive to the gan, and she plans games for the last half hour so it doesn’t matter if the kids leave early. I don’t take advantage of it because I work from home and like to get in as much work time as possible before the kids come home.

  14. For those not familiar with municipal gan, it is worth pointing out that they are (depending on the location and other variables) usually understaffed. A teacher and one assistant for up to 35 kids–who can range nearly a year apart in age? That’s the problem. Having gan till four in a properly staffed and run gan is not the problem.

    I agree with those who feel it should not be mandatory, but nor should it be a free for all with kids picked up at any hour. There should be two options for pickup times and that’s it.

  15. Just found this article about naps that I thought ties into the discussion of a long day (since I advocate for the American style longer day with nap time).

  16. “Cortisol went up in children whose care providers were intrusive or overcontrolling — measured by how much free play they had versus structured activities led by the providers that mainly involved rote learning.”

    The issue is the rote learning, not necessarily with day care/preschool per se. On the flipside, many kids who spend the afternoons at home do so in front of the TV. I’m not seeing the virtue in that choice either.

    • Abbi, the article you cite is not as reassuring as the headline would indicate, in my opinion. Also, the 35 children to two caregivers in Israel, a much lower ratio than in the US, would probably not be considered “quality” daycare. “Quality for childcare is usually measured by how much time the provider spends interacting with the children, as well as warmth, support and cognitive stimulation. Finally, in the same vein as you have respondeded to many breastfeeding studies: The children whose parents can afford quality daycare are likely to have academic advantages from the home environment and possibly genetics.

  17. I’m responding to your point specifically about cortisol which is why I quoted the link between cortisol and rote learning. I wasn’t really addressing the point about academic advantages. In my experience, I have yet to see a municipal gan that sits kids down with worksheets or that engages in any kind of rote learning, so I think this point is less relevant here in Israel than in America.

    With regard to the issues of quality, since we have universal preschool from age three, most parents, no matter what they can or can’t afford, get pretty much the same thing (in Ranaana it was still popular to send to a private gan at age 3 but I think that’s rare elsewhere). Quality varies from gan to gan depending on the personality of the ganenet and the makeup of the group. This year, I’m extremely happy with the staff in my son’s gan, except for one sub gannenet, whom it seems even the gannanot aren’t too fond of – but the rest are warm, caring and attentive and it’s clear they really want to be there.

    My niece got stuck at a gan in J-m with a first year ganenet who just retrained after being a banker for 15 years. :/ Her transition wasn’t that successful, to put it diplomatically. My second daughter’s trom chova ganenet was so sweet but it was clear she didn’t know how to handle really wild boys, which was a shame since she had about 11 of them.

    I did have one experience with a bad private gan- I sent my son to a gan around the corner when we moved to Modiin last July and both my husband and I noticed a marked increase in aggression and hitting after his first 2 weeks there. We sent him to a different gan in September and he was back to his old self. (The better gan happened to be cheaper by 100 shekel a month.)

  18. [Caveat: I’m speaking from an American perspective]

    I find the connections between daycare and stress/aggression to be concerning. Especially if the Israeli gan have only two teachers for 35(!) children. That’s unbelievable. In the US regulations require small children to have much smaller child-to-teacher ratios. My daughter’s half-day school requires two- and three-year olds to have only four children per adult. I do not know if this is a state regulation or just the school’s policy. The four year olds have a larger ratio, maybe six or eight kids per adult.

    And compulsory schooling for three year olds seems absurd. And lunch not until 2:30pm? I can understand a system where lunch is more like the Eastern European dinner, you have four meals/day – a light continental breakfast, then a light lunchy meal around 11am, then a main meal at 2 or 3pm, then a light supper. But breakfast at 7:30am and then nothing but two light snacks until 2:30pm? My kid would crash and burn.

    • Breakfast is at 10 am (Aruchat Eser). Parents are supposed to send in a substantial sandwich (cheese, tuna, egg, chummus) with vegetable, fruit and possibly another snack. We are also supposed to send in an additional fruit for the 12:00 snack time. So, breakfast is probably equivalent to an American lunch. My kids usually have cornflakes or a cookie and shoko before gan as well.

      As for the ratios in Israeli ganim, I’ve just started my third child in municipal gan and as I said above, the gan experience is pretty much dictated by the quality of the ganenet (which is pretty much what the article I quoted said). In my experience with this child and my others, I’ve encountered more good gannanot than bad ones.

      As for unbelievable cultural norms, I can’t believe people in America go bankrupt or die because of lack of health insurance, yet this is happens on an alarmingly regular basis there. That’s really absurd.

  19. My son (three years old) started this year in a gan that is half municipal- half nonprofit in terms of its funding and outlook.

    The hours are roughly the same as they were at his previous gan: 7/8- 4:00. As a mother who works full time plus, I don’t know how I could care for my family and career any other way.

    That being said, the 2:00 ending time rubs me the wrong way. It doesn’t take into consideration a child’s natural rhythms nor basic needs. Allowing for transportation, far too much time elapses for a three or four year old to eat at 7:00, 12:00, and 3:00.

    Additionally, I have the distinct impression that the core learning time happens before lunch. Despite my comment up-thread in which I expressed my feeling that a ganenet shouldn’t have to worry about multiple parents’/children’s schedules, after lunch and before nap seems like an acceptable transition time for children to leave.

    We’re currently in a growth spurt, but my son is ravenous all the time. I’m grateful for our gan’s timing, including their meal times of 9:30, 12:00, and another snack around 3:00 before pick-up. Those seem like natural times to me for a child to be eating. They also have water throughout and a nap after lunch.

    I also wonder how much time the children get outside?

    Thanks for continuing to raise important issues, Hannah.

    ~ Maya