Research: Early start times for school aren’t the best for children’s health

Kids going to school early

Gone are those days when children were allowed to start school later than they do today. These days, children start school as early as when they are birthed. Funny, right?! Some babies start creche as early as 6 weeks and that is it! It continues for them till old-age.

The major problem for these kids stems from how early they have to wake up in the morning to prepare for school. Depending on the distance of the school from their home and traffic, some children are awake as early as 6 a.m, while at 5 a.m. Children often complain about how tiring this is for them.

And although some parents might brush off these kids’ complaints, new research has shown that early start times for school aren’t the best for children’s health.

The Anchorage School District in Anchorage, Alaska; is the latest in a long line that has found themselves in the middle of a lively debate: weighing research about the ideal school start times for kids against the resources of the district and the practical concerns of parents.

Research on ideal school start times has been around for decades, with numerous studies finding a correlation between later school start times and better sleep, improved attendance, decreased tardiness, less falling asleep in class, better grades, and fewer motor vehicle crashes.

It’s not a matter of coddling kids who don’t want to wake up on time for school, it’s about a quantifiable difference in health, school performance, and safety that later school start times have been shown to make.

As a matter of fact, the evidence is so compelling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Sleep Association (ASA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the American Medical Association (AMA) have all released statements encouraging districts to make the transition to later start times.

Most recommendations indicate that schools shouldn’t start any earlier than 8:30 a.m. Yet, across the world, many schools continue to ring their first bell at 7:30 a.m. or even, earlier.

These early start times, according to the CDC, are negatively impacting children in many ways. From jeopardizing their emotional and mental health to causing poor performance in school, the consequences are actually pretty severe.

And- unsurprisingly, for anyone with children, the majority of these issues can be traced back to one thing: inadequate sleeping schedules.

If your kid wants to get to school on time, they need to wake up the latest by 6:00 a.m. Which means, if they were allowed to sleep a full eight hours, they must have been in bed latest by 10:00 p.m. That might seem late, until you remember that high schoolers receive an average of 3.5 hours per night, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Let’s make it easy and assume your kid has no after school activities or work to do, your child won’t still be home until after 4 p.m. After homework, they have maybe three hours to socialize with family and friends, do chores, and get ready for bed- that’s obviously a lot for a teenager to maintain.

“The first districts that were making these changes were making them in the 90s. The fact that we’re still talking about this in 2018 is a reflection of how hard it is to accomplish,” Phyllis Payne, co-founder of SLEEP in Fairfax, an organization working to establish later start times for middle and high schools in Fairfax, Virginia, told Healthline.

“My school starts at 9:30 a.m. One year we flipped with the high school and started at 7:30 a.m. because of the research [on ideal high school start times]. It was an utter failure and lasted just that year,” Katie McNair, a middle school teacher in Florida, said.

Working parents have their own arguments against shifting school start times.

In addition to managing their work schedule while trying to get kids to and from school, some argue that earlier elementary school start times means having to come up with several hours of after-school care — putting a dent in the family’s monthly budget.

And then, there are those who believe that shifting school start times is simply coddling kids in a way that doesn’t prepare them for the “real world.”

However, Payne was quick to dispel that myth, saying, “The real world does not require everyone to get up at 6 a.m. We have choices as adults.”

She also pointed out that most adults don’t work 8-hour on workdays, then follow it up with 4-hours of team practices, after-school jobs, and homework.

“It’s pretty exhausting when you actually look at the schedules these kids keep,” Payne said.

The CDC suggests that parents contact local school officials about introducing later start times. They may be reluctant at first, but change may come eventually.
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