Our local council are changing the school day to 9:30 - 15:00 for my youngest son, my eldest in a different school starts at 8:20 and finishes at 15:20.

I believe that children are more productive in the morning but do not have any specific research to confirm this.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know what you're after. If you want to help your children, then the best answer will depend on the person. Some are early risers (larks) and mentally fit early in the morning; others are late risers (owls) and mentally fit in the evening. So even if on average a certain time is the "most productive", for individual children the "most productive" time may well lie elsewhere. As for the average child, google something like google.com/search?q=chronobiology+performance+children $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Feb 6 '15 at 10:04

A caveat: "productivity" is not a term used much by cognitive science, so I'll talk about cognition instead. It's not necessarily the same thing, but it's more of an answered question.

And as a general issue: any time a question has "more" in it, the real question is "more than what?" More productive early in the morning than later in the morning? More productive in the morning than the afternoon? More productive in the morning than adults?

There is little work comparing children's cognition across the daily cycle; a good review of mostly adult work can be found here (Chronobiology International (2000), 17(6), 719–732, doi/abs/10.1081/CBI-100102108). Non-experimentally, there is some research supporting the idea that starting school later in the morning--particularly for adolescents--improves performance.

This blog post details an analysis of test scores from Wake County North Carolina (where start times vary), and shows "delaying school start times by one hour, from roughly 7:30 to 8:30, increases standardized test scores by at least 2 percentile points in math and 1 percentile point in reading. The effect is largest for students with below-average test scores, suggesting that later start times would narrow gaps in student achievement." Obviously, there could be major confounds here: we don't know if start times correlate with performance-relevant but unmeasured characteristics--although the author seems to have done a reasonable job of controlling for measured characteristics, and compares students that are similar at similar schools with different start times.

This New York Times article cites several cases where attendance and performance rose after pushing back start times from 7.30 to 8.40, but again, the lack of a controlled comparison means that there's no particular reason to think that generalizations from this case are valid.

There are problems with this approach, of course--for starters, there's no way to control for the effect sleep duration or quality, which might be expected to covary with start time, on performance.

  • $\begingroup$ I have been searching for these data like crazy! This is exactly it! +1 $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Feb 6 '15 at 13:38

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