The past year has led to a lot of questions about what school should look like and the best way kids learn. It was only a matter of time before the traditional school day itself entered the conversation!
Bells, recess, changing classes, 6-8 hours on average spent in a school building: pretty standard, right?
But does it need to be that way?
Many parents are wondering if an educational option outside the typical school routine is right for their child. And the format and length of time kids spend in the building is a natural place to start thinking about this.
A shorter school day opens up a world of possibilities and potential benefits for kids both in and outside the classroom. So, let’s take a closer look at what that could look like for learners.
Benefits of shorter school days for kids and teens
Naturally, there are countless factors that go into determining the right length and format of a school day, along with the right amount of homework for kids and the myriad of other important issues in the education world. There are pros and cons to the most common model currently in K-12 and every alternative to it.
It also goes without saying that every student is unique and will have different educational and developmental needs. With this in mind, it’s all the more worthwhile to examine the potential benefits of a shorter school day and what that could mean for how kids and teens spend their time!
1. More time to explore hobbies
And no, that doesn’t mean more time for social media or phone-scrolling. Many kids (and parents) sometimes feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to squeeze in after-school activities while juggling school schedules and homework. Add in carpool and the logistics involved in the balancing act, and daily life gets even more hectic!
After-school online programs alleviate some of the logistical stress, but there’s no doubt that finding time for kids’ hobbies can be a challenge. With shorter school days, things like athletic practice could start and end earlier, and kids could have the time they need to explore coding, creative writing, music—whatever piques their interest, on a more manageable schedule.
2. More sleep
A good night’s sleep is critically important to kids’ - and especially teens - development, wellbeing, and success in school. So why is it so hard to come by?
The traditional school schedule certainly doesn’t help. The CDC recommends that middle and high school start no earlier than 8:30 am, but the vast majority of US schools start at earlier hours. Shorter school days that start later in the day could alleviate this problem, promoting healthy habits and the many benefits that go with a solid sleep routine.
3. More time to focus on mental health
In the typical K-12 schooling model, mental health education is too often shunted aside. With shorter school days, kids can have more time to de-stress, reflect, and practice mindfulness. And it's so important that they have time to do that!
Troubling research indicates that rates of high-stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues are rising in kids and teens. By shortening the school day, kids could have more time to decompress with intention and make time for pursuits that manage stress. That would mean more time for journaling, exercise, a creative project, or whatever works for each child.
4. Increased concentration in class
There’s a limit to how long kids can focus, sit still, and still give their best effort in school. Especially for younger children, sitting at desks or even on the floor for extended periods of time is a challenge.
So why does the traditional school model center on quietly sitting in one place most of the time?
Shortening the school day could give kids and teens more time for movement, brain breaks, and other activities proven to boost learning outcomes among other benefits. With more opportunities to move around and worry less about following classroom rules, kids could be better prepared to focus when it counts.
5. More opportunities for specific academic support
Again, stating the obvious: kids have vastly different learning needs. And yet most kids spend the majority of their time in large-group learning environments. Of course, great teachers and schools implement differentiation strategies to tailor each class to each individual learner, but there’s only so much that can be done.
A shorter school day could mean that kids who need an extra challenge or additional support could spend more time meeting with their teachers in a 1-on-1 or specialized small-group setting. More field trips could appear on the calendar. Certainly some kids would benefit from the additional time to pursue a passion project connected to their academic studies, but might not make the cut in a typical school year’s curriculum.
Spending less time spent in a whole-class, lecture-based environment could open a world of learning possibilities that could better support each student’s learning journey.
6. Increased family time
School closures at the height of COVID-19 were eye-opening for a number of reasons, including how the traditional brick and mortar schooling model cuts into time spent with family.
A shorter school day could mean that time spent learning from family members, intergenerational bonding time, and just more precious unstructured time with family.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that many parents will magically have a few free hours throughout the workday to spend with their children. But with more time for homework, extracurricular and activities, the family schedule and after-school routine could become balanced in a new, beneficial way.
Whether enjoying a game night (or family-friendly video game night) completing a project together, or doing an educational excursion as a family becomes a lot more doable with the gift of time.
Catch up and get ahead this school year
We (unfortunately) don’t have a crystal ball to know what the future holds for the education world. We do know, however, that we are excited to help kids get back on track and get excited about learning again!