KNIGHTSEN -- Kindergartners here will have a longer school day when classes start later this month and they won't be spending the extra time just on fun and games.

Knightsen School District trustees in May voted to extend first-time students' 3½-hour day by 2 hours and 20 minutes, a change that will affect the approximately 50 youngsters expected to enroll in the district's two kindergarten classes.

The goal is to help them meet the state's higher expectations, Superintendent Theresa Estrada said.

"Kindergarten is more rigorous than it used to be. We want to get as many kids as possible reading before the end of (it)," she said, noting that these days they should be able to recognize and correctly pronounce short, common words such as "the" and "can" by the time they enter first grade.

Similarly, 5-year-olds not only need to be able to count but to understand the concept of addition and the size of numbers relative to each other, Estrada said.

Some studies indicate that kindergartners who have a longer day do better on tests and are less likely to be held back, she added. That's because teachers have additional time to give children individual attention as well as conduct small-group activities, and their students enjoy more chances to use their imagination in unstructured play, Estrada said.

Full-day kindergarten also appeals to teachers who wish they had more time to spend not only on reading and math but art lessons, helping children acquire important social skills, and having them do exercises that will develop their motor skills such as skipping, throwing a ball, holding a pencil and using scissors to cut a straight line, she said.

When classes resume July 29, kindergarten classes still will start at 8:15 a.m., but they'll end at 2:05 p.m. instead of 11:45 a.m.

Factor in a 40-minute lunch break and they'll be getting 1 hour and 50 minutes more instruction, the same amount as first- and second-graders.

Knightsen School tried the longer kindergarten day a few years ago at Old River Elementary School, but budget cuts forced the district to close the facility and eliminate the additional costs incurred by extending the schedule.

With the economy slowly turning around, however, the district now can afford the additional $19,309 to have its previously part-time kindergarten teacher work full-time.

Knightsen School also will introduce "transitional kindergarten" in a morning session for children who aren't old enough to take the conventional classes.

A state law that took effect in 2012-13 moved up the qualification date by one month so that children are more mature when they enter school; youngsters this year must turn 5 on or before Oct. 1 to be eligible for kindergarten.

Transitional kindergarten accommodates those children who don't meet the deadline and helps them acquire the language and social skills they'll need the following year.

Knightsen School District also will hire a part-time teacher and reinstate music instruction this year after axing classes three years ago because of budget constraints. Students in grades K-5 will take a weekly class in which they'll sing, learn to read sheet music and about the fundamentals of rhythm. Older students can opt to learn to play an instrument instead.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.