A recent study done by University College London analyzed the daily routines of more than 10,000 children participating in the UK Millennium Cohort Study and came up with some surprising results related to the long-term effects of an irregular schedule on a child’s learning and development. The researchers looked at whether or not a child had a regular bedtime, and compared that to their results in school. They concluded that when children don’t follow a regular routine and get to sleep at the same time every night, it appears to lower their ability to score well on tests involving reading and math. What’s more, the researchers found that the effects of this irregular sleep pattern are cumulative, meaning that the longer they go on, the worse they are. While some aspects of the study were not completely controlled (for example, the researchers relied on the parents’ description of bedtimes) it seems fairly clear that two things help kids learn: getting enough sleep, and getting to bed at around the same time every night.
Going to sleep at the same time every night helps stabilize a child’s circadian rhythms. These are the dark/light-night/day patterns that develop over time, and this development is particularly important when a child is very young. Like any other pattern learned in the early years, it’s something that will stay with kids over time. As tests done on children at age 5 showed, the importance of regular sleep patterns is crucial during this first period of intense learning, when most children are focused on learning to read, write, and spell correctly.
Routines also help kids get comfortable and promote independence. It might seem odd to say that a schedule helps a child take control over their own life, but it’s true. If you’ve established that homework and revision is scheduled between 5pm and 6pm every evening, your child can learn to take the initiative and follow the schedule by themselves. This promotes good study habits as well as a sense of responsibility.
To help your child become a better learner and a better speller, make sure that they’ve got a supportive routine that includes enough time to review their lessons, and enough time to get the sleep they need to develop healthy, active brains.
You can read more about the study here.