Especially for Elementary Parents


FAQs for Elementary School Parents (click to read)

From the literature:

In Minneapolis, educators noted many benefits to a 7:40 earlier start, including increased energy and focus throughout the day, increased learning, fewer before school transitions, fewer behavior problems, and benefits especially for students with ADHD. (Wahlstrom, Elementary Feedback on Changed Start TImes”, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, 1998).

Edina, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis served as a pioneer in the movement to adjust start times based on biological clocks,  changing HS start times over 21 years ago.  Two years ago, after many years of later HS start times and 18 months of study, Edina approved further change – this time flipping MS and ES resulting in MS starts at 9:20 and ES starts at 7:50 SY 2018/9.   They left 2 of 7 ESs at 8:35 and 8:40 and HS remains at 8:30.

In Monomoy (Cape), pre-change, teachers indicated students academically exhausted by 2:30.  After change from 8:55 to 7:45, the superintendent cited a 45% decrease in discipline referrals, a significant decrease in nurse referrals, an increase in academic performance and decreased early dismissals (Dr. Scott Carpenter, The Debate Over Later School Start Times, Monomoy Regional School District).

On bedtime:

Dr. Marc Weissbluth, from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 4th edition, 2015

“Please don’t think there is no lasting effect when you routinely keep your child up too late -- for your own pleasure after work or because you want to avoid bedtime confrontations --or when you cut corners on naps in order to run errands or visit friends. Once in awhile, for a special occasion or reason, it’s okay. But day-in, day-out sleep deprivation at night or for naps, as a matter of habit, could be very damaging for your child”(84).

“In general, the bedtime should reflect your child’s needs. With decreasing naps and increasing physical activity, your child’s night-sleep needs may increase. Therefore, the bedtime often needs to be a little earlier., and not later, simply because he is older “(526).

“Dr. John Bates’s study of 204 children 405 years old examined in great detail the home environment, behavior at preschool, and sleeping patterns. The researchers noted that the more variable bedtime, as well as the lateness of bedtime, predicted poor adjustment in preschool, even after considering the roles of family stress and family management/discipline problems”(526).

“Most children between 3 and 6 years of age, according to my survey, still go to sleep between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. and awaken between 6:30 and 8:00 a.m. As previously discussed, I think that these bedtimes, derived from survey studies, are too late for many children” (528).

From the doctors and researchers:

Kyla Wahlstrom, Director, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota

"Since I am an educational researcher, and not an M.D., I am VERY cautious about making concrete statements about human biology...From an educational policy decision standpoint, I am comfortable saying that young children generally do well with an early starting time, since they often "run out of steam" by about 2 PM. Late elementary starts mean late dismissals, and a dismissal time after about 2:45 can be very difficult for children who have been awake since 6 AM! Most school days last 6.75 hours for the students, so doing the math will tell us that elementary schools that start later than about 8:00 will have most children who are not fully engaged in learning tasks at the end of the day."

Dr. Eric Zhou (instructor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and attending Psychologist, Boston Children’s Hospital) posits, “For the elementary age group… it may be the case that [school] somewhere around 7:30, 8 o’clock in the morning is far more reasonable and aligned with their circadian rhythm naturally than for high school age children ”(Rath, What Earlier Start Times Mean for Young Brains, WGBH News, February 1, 2018.

Dr. Judith Owens, lead author of the AAP Policy statement on school start times and Director of Sleep Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital:

1) Elementary school children are much more likely to have a morningness circadian preference or chronotype and to be “morning larks” (fall asleep and wake earlier). The younger they are, the more likely this morning chronotype is their biologically based circadian rhythm. This is in direct contrast to adolescents who have a strong eveningness preference in association with pubertal onset.

2) Partly as a result of this circadian preference and as opposed to adolescents, they are biologically, environmentally and socially more amenable to manipulation of bedtimes (ie, to move sleep onset earlier)if required; this was demonstrated in the 2015 study in Sleep Health assessing the impact of changing start times from 8:20-9:15a to 7:45a in 3rd-5th graders. The resultant decrease in sleep duration was negligible in the 4th and 5th graders (-4 and -9 minutes respectively) due to earlier bedtimes largely off-setting earlier wake times, and the 3rd graders actually got 24 more minutes of sleep after the change due to earlier bedtimes and slightly later wake times. Thus, one could argue that elementary students (with parental enforcement of bedtimes and restriction of evening screen exposure) are not only able to obtain adequate sleep under conditions of earlier start times, but that this schedule change is more aligned with their circadian rhythms and thus actually benefits them in terms of alertness, cognitive function, mood. etc. On the other hand, adolescents biologically programmed to fall asleep 11p or later and wake at around 8am.

3) Little kids waiting for the bus "in the dark" is frequently raised as a concern. While absolutely legitimate, these safety issues: can likely be addressed (lighted bus stops, supervising adults present) in younger children more easily than adolescents who may be driving to school (see below). Morning civil twilight begins (civil dawn) when the geometric center of the sun is 6° below the horizon[and ends at sunrise or when the geometric center of the sun is 0°50′ below the horizon. The Sun is just below the horizon, so there is generally enough natural light to carry out most outdoor activities. Civil twilight is about 30 minutes before sunrise at MA latitude.

4) In contrast to elementary school children, the research is absolutely solid on the detrimental effects of insufficient and mis-timed sleep and early start times on adolescents and the stakes are extremely high.

Documented effects include:

  • Physical health (obesity, risk of cardiovascular disease (hypertension) and metabolic dysfunction (type 2 diabetes);

  • Mental health (depression, suicidal ideation);

  • Academic failure;

  • Emotional dysregulation;

  • Executive function deficits;

  • Impulse control issues (alcohol consumption, substance use);

  • Safety: DROWSY DRIVING, sports-related injuries, occupational injuries.

5) The recommended sleep duration for 6-12 year olds is 9-12 hours. Depending of course upon commute times, even for children at the upper end of the range (who are generally the younger ones) a "sleep window" of 7p to 7a is reasonable and achievable (and the vast majority of elementary students do NOT need that much sleep)."

For Further Reading:

Judith Owens reacts to Keller study 

Earlier School Start Times for Elementary School Students (Joseph A. Buckhalt Ph.D., Psychology Today, 2017)

In Defense of Absurdly Early Bedtimes, Slate, 2016

What Earlier School Start Times Mean for Young Brains”, Arun Rath, WGBH, February 1, 2018

Healthy Sleep Habit, Happy Child, Dr. Marc Weissbluth, 2015.

“Earlier school start times are associated with higher rates of behavioral problems in elementary schools,” Keller, Sleep Health, 2017

“School start time changes and sleep patterns in elementary school students,” Appleman, Sleep Health, 2015

The Association Between Elementary School Start Time and Students’ Academic Achievement in Wayzata Public Schools,” Dupuis, 2015

“Earlier School Start Times as a Risk Factor for Poor School Performance: An Examination of Public Elementary Schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Keller, Journal of Educational Psychology, 2015

Elementary Feedback on Changed Start TImes,” Wahlstrom, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, 1998

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