Kids, School

Kids + school start times

I’ve been wanting to write a post on this topic, mostly just because I find it an interesting conversation for discussion. I think it’s been a hot topic nationwide in recent years.

This year, our local public school district decided to make a big shift in the start times, causing the elementary kids to start earlier and the high school kids to start later.

The primary reason for this was to allow middle and high school aged kids (teenagers) to sleep in longer, better aligning with their natural sleep patterns. (I’m no sleep expert, but apparently teenagers are basically wired to stay up later/ sleep in later.) Research says that later start times for high school are linked to better grades, better attendance, better behavior, fewer traffic accidents and better overall mental health.

Previously, our district’s times were:

  • elementary 8:20- 3:18
  • middle 7:40- 2:56
  • high 8:00- 3:22

The new times this year are:

  • elementary 7:40-2:40
  • middle 8:25-3:25
  • high 8:35- 3:45

Keep in mind, these are the BELL times- like, butt in seat in your classroom time. So the kids are bussing/ driving to school quite a bit before these times.

Anyway, of course, with any big change comes a lot of debate. I was not personally involved in any of the task force meetings, and I’ll admit I didn’t even follow the topic too closely. My kids don’t currently go to one of our public schools, but the public changes affected my kids’ K-8 school times, too (in part due to bussing issues- they HAVE to stagger the start times in town to spread the bus drivers around). In our case, it meant we had to shift to the earlier (7:40- 2:40) schedule this year. (Even though my kids are middle schoolers…. but our school is a K-8. So more elementary than not.)

The “word on the street” (that I’ve heard from older swim families, etc.) is that there are a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think everyone agrees that more sleep = good. But it seems there is concern that many kids will basically just end up staying up later, meaning no extra sleep, anyway. (Though one could argue that even if total hours of sleep are the same, if the sleep schedule is more in line with their natural, physical rhythm, it could still be a better thing.) Some parents don’t like that they’ll need to leave for work before their teen is maybe even awake now!

Other concerns (for the older kids) involve extracurriculars. This is a big one I’ve heard a lot. If the kids aren’t even released until 3:45, sports practices and clubs can’t start until at least like 4:00….. Not to mention weekday “away” games that require bus travel, etc. – everything gets pushed even later into the evening, theoretically. Also, some kids have after school jobs, and the later time makes it harder to fit that in + homework, showers, etc. in a shorter evening window.

One interesting thing I’ve heard lately is that some clubs/ sports are opting to instead use the “extra” time in the morning to have practices before school…. but that makes me ask: Doesn’t that then totally defeat the purpose of moving the start time later in the first place?? I will also say, I’ve seen a good number of high school kids up and at the gym around ~7/7:30 a.m. before school these last couple weeks. I suppose people are free to do whatever they want, but I kind of hope there won’t be a huge trend to move too many “required” activities to before school. Just feels counterproductive to the whole idea of trying to allow the kids more sleep (and avoid early mornings in general)! But if your team practices early, how do you really just opt out? (Although, I can totally see the advantages to wanting to squeeze things in early, to free up the evenings.)

Then, of course, all of this affects the little ones- who now start much earlier than before. The reasoning here is that little kids naturally go to bed earlier and wake earlier, so it’s more in line with their needs (plus, the need to spread the bus drivers out). There’s no shortage of pros/cons on this side either.

Some issues I’ve heard involve:

  • bus times being super early (meaning in the winter, kids could be waiting for bus in the dark…)
  • issues with after school care (bigger gap to fill for working parents)
  • earlier mornings NOT great for some younger kids who don’t like mornings/ have trouble going to bed at night
  • issues with getting kids off to school so early/ work issues (I feel like no matter what time school starts, it’s never going to be perfect for working parents…. so hard.)
  • concerns about extracurriculars and club end times

And probably other things, but like I said, I haven’t been too involved. I am sure some families love the earlier end time- I can see how it would allow a more relaxed afternoon/ evening. More time for extracurriculars, homework, family dinner, etc. without needing to rush as much to get to bed on time.

Anyway! I feel generally indifferent to it, at the moment… I personally kind of like our earlier start time (selfishly), because it gets the kids off and out of the house earlier- allowing me to get my own day started earlier! I don’t love that the boys have to get up by 6:30 or so now, though. Last year they slept until almost 7:15! But I’m lucky in that my job is flexible and I work from home, so for the most part, we can make either time work.

I think that based on what I know about the topic, it does seem that the later time for older kids seems to be the better option overall…. being tired is so hard! High school is challenging, and if you’re dozing off in class, well, it’s just not good. But I think it’s a pretty complex topic, and I can also appreciate the various pros and cons on all sides.

What do you think? Any opinions on school start times?

Daily Gratitude:

I am grateful for some cooler fall temps moving in! I love the warm weather, but always welcome fall, too.

14 thoughts on “Kids + school start times”

  1. These changes have been going on in my area a bit too – but it’s not at all consistent. I’m in a fairly large suburban district and our start times are super random to me:

    One K-8 school starts at 7:30
    Elementary K-6 schools start at 9:30
    Middle (7-8) starts at 8:05 (one school)
    High School starts at 8:05 (one school)

    My neighbors go to the K-8 school and their bus comes EARLY!!! Like pre 7am. I think they chose to drive, but I wouldn’t know because I’m barely awake by then!

    We’ve gone to the school that is 9:30-4, and that time always felt SO late. I do think 8:30 might be a sweet spot, but it allowed our mornings to be pretty chill. It worked ok because my husband told his job when he started that he’d be starting late because he’d be getting our kids on the bus, and then eventually they could do that on their own so it was fine. We also obviously had 2 full years of covid and everyone working from home most of that time anyway!

    My daughter is now in middle school, and I thought the shift in start time would be really rough for her – her bus comes at 7:18 (which yes – if you do the math, is an insanely long bus ride – but what can you do?? I’m not willing to drive her because her school is quite far away in the opposite direction of my office – there’s only one middle school in the district and it’s all the way over on the edge of the district, so lots of kids on my side have long bus rides). She leaves the house at 7:10, and has been getting up at 6:15 – this has actually been fine for her, despite her tendency to sleep until 8:30/9 when given the opportunity.

    Anyway, I know it’s all a huge puzzle and there is absolutely no way to please everyone – so that is my long way of saying that I get all the different perspectives and I don’t know that there is a perfect way to do it! What is really tough is all the people who have multiple start times for different kids in their family – this is the case for a few of my friends in a neighboring city district – some have a full 2 hours between start times for their kids – 7:30 for one, and 9:30 for the other.

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    1. Exactly, I feel the same way! There just can’t be one option that will work for everyone, I’m sure. I would agree that 9:30 feels really late! My high school started at 8:00 back in the day, but I could see an 8:15-8:30 time being nice. The long bus rides were something I had too. I think I was one of the first stops to get picked up, and I got picked up a full 45 minutes or more before school started. My boys are lucky because they are the last stop on, and the first stop off in the afternoon! We live close to school, so if they had a long ride, I’d probably just go get them, but I love the bus to avoid getting into the school parking line mess.

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  2. It always amazes me how varied school start-times are!

    We used to be the latest school start around: 8:40 am – 2:50 pm. A few years ago we shifted to 8:20 am – 2:35 pm. I preferred the 8:40 am start at the time (because my son was still a toddler), but now that both kids are at the same school (K-8) it works pretty well for us.

    We are all up by 7 am. Finished breakfast by 7:30, and then headed on our walk to school by 7:50. IF we are running behind, we can drive and not have to leave until 8:10. So it’s a pretty good start time.

    I do wish their school day ended slightly later. Like 3 pm. Getting home at 2:50 is an annoying time for picking them up off the bus. 3:15 would be SO much nicer to schedule meetings around, as I mostly have to have a hard stop by 2:30.

    When our daughter starts high school the start time is something like 9:15?!

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    1. Yes, there is something odd to me too now that the boys get out of school at 2:40. Like, 2:XX is early, but 3:xx is fine. haha. They ride the bus too, and usually just walk home alone now (together) from the bus- but sometimes I meet them or I drive to pick them up if the weather is crummy. But their school ends at 2:40, so they don’t get home from the bus until after that.

      9:15 sounds very late for high school!! I know my elementary school started at 9:00 back in the day, but that was the latest I ever started.

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  3. I think a lot of the problem comes from the fact that teens have too much going on to get enough sleep. Whether their start time is early or later something has to be pushed very late or very early to fit in. Kids can’t have extra curriculars, a job, homework, and sleep. The time math is impossible.

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    1. Very true. I remember feeling like this in high school- like there just literally was not enough time to go to volleyball practice, eat dinner, do homework, etc. Just not enough hours in the day! I worked, too….it can be very difficult for busy kids. I think it’s worse now that many activities and sports are year round. Back when I was a kid, you had volleyball season for a few months, and then it ended and that was it. Then you went on to something else. But now it seems like so many things, all at once… very complicated.

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  4. This is all so interesting to me. I went to a K-12 school and our school day was 8:35-3:40 for everyone, which aligns with the latest start in your district. It didn’t seem to impact extracurriculars, though, but it’s all I ever knew. Granted we had way fewer extracurriculars since our school was so small. It wasn’t too early or too late of a start for my family but it was probably ideal to have us all on the same schedule so the older siblings were home to watch the younger ones. Well, when they didn’t have extracurriculars.

    I don’t think my school district has adopted this kind of schedule, though. I am pretty sure elementary starts on the later side as kids get picked up at 7:40. The bus stop is right across the street from us. I don’t know how often our kids will actually take the bus as they’ll need before and after care given the early start to our workday. Maybe Paul can take the bus on the days one or both of us WFH but we’ll see how things unfold next fall – but it will be nice to have it right in front of our house! Because of our work schedules, we end up being kind of indifferent to school schedules because we’ll use before/after care. I don’t know how we’d swing things otherwise and our kids are used to being in daycare from 7am to 4:30-5pm. It is a long day but they are used to it. I am sure some would be horrified to read that our kids are in daycare for 10 hours, but there are other kids that are there for a similar amount of time. I am soooo excited for Paul to go to school next fall. I know he is going to love it and while we love our daycare, the nap situation has been so frustrating. Last night Paul was still awake at 9:15!! Then he ends up being so cranky in the morning. It’s brutal. But in June we’ll hopefully be sending him to the public school summer kids program where there is NO NAP!! Another daycare family did this w/ their son this summer and they said they had a great experience.

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    1. Yes, your times basically perfectly match what our district has gone to! I’m not sure how they are handling the extracurriculars, exactly- I just know when I was in high school, we ended at 3 pm and start VB practice right away, which ended at 6 pm for Varsity! It was almost 3 full hours of practice every night, back in the 90s! I would assume practices are similarly long nowadays, but I really don’t know- no kids officially in high school yet! Soon though! eek.

      Your kids do have longer days with that early start time, but as you said, I’m sure they are just used to it and it’s fine! Unless parents have staggered start times, there’s no good way around this. (I used to start at 7, but my husband often started later, so he would do drop off a bit later… although when I worked 12 hour shifts, I couldn’t do drop off OR pick up….what a mess. He had to race to get there by pick up cut off, since he got out later, due to his later start time. I think mine didn’t get picked up until 5:45 most days!! Which if you think about it, say a 9-5 or 9-5:30 job…plus a commute? 5:45 almost seems way too early for some families to be the cut off time.)

      The nap thing is so tough though. Hoping that the new setting next year will be MUCH better!

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  5. To provide an international perspective, my son is 11 and in the final year of primary school (ages 3-11). He starts at 8.45 and finishes at 3.45. This is pretty standard in the UK. Most schools start around 8.30/9 am. I think some of these starts sound insanely early!! And not just for teenagers.

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    1. Interesting! I feel there has been a definite push here in the U.S. to move the start times later, especially for older kids. I know in my town growing up, we had two high schools. Due to bussing issues, one started at 8:00 (mine) and the other started at I think 7:15 or 7:25. I was always sooooo glad I attended the later school! I mean, think about how early you’d need to get up to get a teenaged girl ready, dressed, drive to school, etc to start class at 7:15?

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    1. My middle and high schools were 8-3, and I always thought that was a good schedule! Not too late, not too early… but I guess I didn’t really question it too much back then. The other high school in town started even earlier, so I was excited just to be at the “late” school.

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  6. I think the change is likely the hardest part! Once people settle in, everyone will adjust bc there is no perfect schedule. My kids have different start times this year with middle school being the earliest at 7:50 (which equals 7:20 bus pick up) but our district is so large, even elementary school times vary due to busing. Our old one prior to moving was 9:20 and new one is 8:40 so adjustments all around. Generally our district is middle school early, high school in the middle (8-something) and elementary after that. I am sleep obsessed for my kids so I HATE having to wake them up for anything and have become a nagging mom in the evenings to ensure they get enough sleep. And BTW we have such shortages of bus drivers they have already said there might be times when you don’t have a bus for a period of time and it happened last year for a couple different weeks, so I will take staggered starts if it helps alleviate that!

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  7. I also prefer early morning as we all sleep in early and get up late. Girls are morning persons and don’t do well late night so shifting to later in the day means late for everything else. Agee that maybe the hardest part is to adapt to the change as everyone got used to one schedule.

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