Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hot topic: Early start times

An SF K Files visitor suggested the following topic:

“Our daughter has two months of K under her belt, at a 7:50am start time school. It is a wonderful little school, it works for us in so many ways, has a great community, and after waiting for months to land any school, we are so happy here. With one major caveat: the start time. It feels much too early for our daughter. She is adjusting beautifully in all respects except that one. Even though she has to get up only about 30 minutes earlier than she otherwise would, she is just exhausted in the AM, and very edgy in the afternoons. We let her sleep until we are almost surely running late – and morning inevitably becomes a huge hustle that requires a lot of focus on her part (and ours!). Earlier in the week, it is OK. By Thursday or Friday, we practically have to peel her out of bed. She seems to recover on the weekends, but even with an early bedtime – 7:30 or 8pm at the latest – she seems to have no reserves.

I am wondering – and would love to hear especially from veterans – whether this is a normal adjustment period? How long before things normalize? Whether it gets easier once the kids are in older grades? Any suggestions to make the transition easier? Do those with later start time schools experience any of these challenges?

Your collective wisdom would be most appreciated because we are seriously considering applying for a transfer for next year to a later start time school, but don’t want to be hasty with such a decision. It would be great to know whether this is a common challenge that works itself out or whether our kid is simply not a morning person (neither of her parents are, so this would not come as a surprise).”


  1. Just this morning as I was late in getting my daughter to her school, which starts at 7:50 a.m., I was thinking that it would be so great if her school could start at 8 a.m. That would make such a huge difference. I think the early start times are especially silly in this city because you have parents driving all over the place. At our school, we have families who are driving 30 minutes across town. They're getting up at 5:30 and 6 a.m. That's too early for kids!

  2. 7:30 or 8 is not that early a bedtime for a kindergartener. I would move it back a half hour. Also, maintenance of an early to bed routine over the weekends is important so that she doesn't end up readjusting every Sunday night.

    I also don't think the early start time is a good reason to uproot her from her school, if other things are working (which it sounds like they are).

  3. I think the first few months of kindergarten are exhausting for kids regardless of the start time. We are a non-morning family at a 7:50 school as well. I wouldn't change schools if you're happy with everything else. We also love our school and hate the start time. The first year we had a terrible time getting to school on time with a lot of morning drama and a nightly struggle to get the kids asleep early enough. Mornings were especially hard with a kindergartener and a preschooler. Each year it got easier, our kids stamina really improved from kindergarten to first grade. They seem to need a little less sleep as they grow. Now our 1st grader & 3rd grader get dressed and eat pretty fast in the morning and it's frequently the adult holding things up. Hang in there, it'll get better!

  4. don't forget also, we change the clock this coming weekend. it won't be dark at 7 anymore and that always makes a huge difference in our household.

  5. We've had a 7:50 start time for 6 years now. You will totally adjust. The first couple of months were hard, as I recall, but it's long since been incorporated into our routine. In fact, though I've never been a morning person, I've learned to love the early start time. I get so much done between 8 and 9 in the mornings.

    The other thing is that the return to standard time will make a huge difference, as you won't be rising in the dark anymore. Hang in there.

  6. Veteran parent here. It gets easier. A few things:

    Organizing EVERYTHING the night before really helps. I know one kid who sleeps in her clothes (really). I take my showers the night before, organize backpacks, sign papers, and make whatever part of the lunches that I can, including putting perishables in their little containers in the fridge, ready to go. We have the time down to 20 minutes from rising (for the kids) to walking out to the bus stop.

    Also, the point about the time change is real. I hate the dark. Next week, no more dark in the mornings.

    Bedtimes. Go for 7pm if your kid needs it. Start with bath and reading a book, a real routine if she is having trouble going down early (mine do--we are all night owls).

    Finally, as the kids get older they need a bit less sleep, so it does get easier. You just get used to it. Lots of kids have to get up early in lots of places, due to commutes or whatever else. You just deal. The first few months are the worst.

    I wouldn't change schools if you are happy in other respects.

  7. I love when it gets dark early because I can cheat and send my kids to bed at 7 or even 630. Use it. They're young. There is nothing wrong with sleeping for 11 or 12 hours. In fact, at this age, I recommend it.

    It makes YOU happy, right? And Happy Mama = Happy Kid.

  8. The topic poster describes a typical kindergarten experience: exhausted and melting down by the end of the school week, and sometimes by the end of every day. I was amazed last year when my otherwise vivacious and easygoing daughter spent the first three months of kindergarten exhibiting melting down at the drop of a hat on the way home from school nearly every day despite having a wonderful time (according to her and her teachers) during the day. She was overtired from the full day of school, hungry always, and sleeping more deeply at night than every before. After a few weeks of school I began hearing dozens of similar stories from other kindergarten parents. We had all been afraid to talk about it, I think.

    My solution was to scale everything back... no extracurriculars, no dinners with friends mid-week, and more quiet time right after school by allowing my daughter to do quiet activities on her own and just decompress rather than peppering her with questions about her day. After such an overstimulating experience, she truly needed the simplicity of home.

    To this day, well into her first grade year, she is still tired after school, but the meltdowns, when they happen, are on Fridays. Maybe by next year they'll lessen, too. : )

  9. i've said it before, but i think i need to say it again...my family avoided early start schools because we knew it wouldn't work for our family. it is a reasonable choice to make if it doesn't work for you.

    i'm not saying it isn't working for you, but i'm validating the issue.

    i think that, if you feel like you will all suffer because of exhaustion, it's worth changing her school. my daughter is in school from 9-4, but we walk, so we leave at 8:15am. it's a longer day than public, but she is not exhausted at the end of the day. happy, spent, but not exhausted. she goes to bed at 8.

    the bottom line is your daughter will survive...but only you know your families quality of life with the early start. if quality of life is suffering, change something...become an early to bed, early to rise family, or change her school.

    One parent posted an idea that i sometimes use--put your kid to bed in their school clothes. It is nice on cold mornings when getting up is extra hard (if we stay out the night before,for example, we dress her in comfy school clothes for bed.) Maybe this will help you guys??

    best of luck!

  10. I am the parent who posted the original topic, and just wanted to say how much I appreciate everyone's comments and insights!

    We are counting the days until mornings are light again. And considering shifting her after-care schedule which will enable her to spend more time at home. Small steps but a good start...

  11. I can't get out of my head the knowledge that school start times are set up to accommodate busing schedules, not the developmental and educational needs of children. The previous poster makes an excellent point about kids "surviving" - and whether that is the expectation we should aspire to. On the other hand, the realities of our school district are such that even if someone wanted to shift schools, the chances of that happening are so slight, we almost have to make do with what we have.

  12. We are also at an early start school and all of us night owls. We have a 30 minute drive to school and so we leave here at 7:10, which means we (the parents) get up at 6:15, and wake our son up at 6:45, get him dressed, have a quick breakfast and leave.

    Our main problem (aside from the adults functioning on a lot of sleep deprivation) is that no matter how tired our son is, he won't go to sleep when he gets into bed at 8:00. He usually falls asleep (finally) anywhere from 9pm to 10pm. He is exhausted! But there is nothing we can do about it. I'm also hoping it will change.

    To the poster who said they avoided early morning start times: we went 0/15 and this school was our best choice (in fact, in open enrollment all of the choices we had, even the ones we didn't like, were early start times!)

    When our younger kids start preschool, we'll be in even more trouble, as the preschool doesn't start until 9am, which means one parent driving one child across town to school and starting work early, the other one starting work late and driving the younger ones to preschool... crazy!

  13. the poster who writes about creating more simplicity at home is right on. it's not just the particular hours, it's what we do with whatever time we have (whether that starts at 7am, or 8am, or 9am and goes to 6-7-8-9pm). More simplicity is good for the soul (at least in my experience) and young kids love time hanging out with family, playing games, drinking cocoa, reading books. Also gives more time to do the nighttime preparations like laying out the next day's clothes, packing lunch items, etc.

  14. For what is it is worth, Karen Kesti, a sleep consultant here in the Bay Area, told me that until the beginning of 2nd grade, kids should be going to bed between 7:15and 7:30 pm and waking between 6 and 7 am. I know that is hard with parents working and all but it makes sense and seems to work better that way.

  15. We have a night owl five year old who also has a hard time falling asleep before 9:00. Morning organization is everything. Our kid can eat, get dressed, take his asthma medication, wash his face, brush his hair and brush his teeth in 20 minutes. If an adult gets up early enough to do the morning chores and get showered and dressed before we wake him up, then we can focus our energy on helping him do what he needs to do.

  16. I rejected a school b/c of the early start time that I later transferred my son into in 2nd grade. it has been a year and although I have become used to the 6:15 wake up, I still struggle with getting him out of bed by 7. He does dress, eat and brush his teeth in 15 minutes, but until 2 weeks ago, we were late every day to school. AS the year progresses it gets a little better, but in the summer the kid gets so off track that it seems to take 6 weeks to get back on the early schedule. I still hate the early start time and am counting the years (now 6) until I am done with it. But I do like the school.

  17. SFUSD teacher, here. I've taught at an early start 7:50 and a 9:30. Here's what I have observed. I find the kids at the early start more focused, and on task. Oddly enough, less tardies.

    9:30 starts are harder. Most kids have been up for hours and they are less focused. By 2:30, they're done. More meltdowns, kids falling asleep, etc. I taught K at both schools.