3 Steps For Implementing a Back-to-School Sleep Schedule

Back to School Sleep SchedulesIt’s the most wonderful time of the year! And no, readers, I ain’t talkin’ about Christmas. 😉 It’s back-to-school season!

Here in the U.S., school starts soon, and that means those of us with school-aged kids are counting down the days until our big kids are back in the classroom. Not that we don’t love our big kids, of course — we do! But by August, most of us could use a break from them. Because we parents can only endure so many rounds of “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!” before we begin to crack…

As school approaches, we know many of you will be busy with back-to-school preparations – buying school clothes, reading supply lists, planning lunches, and filling out forms. But here’s something you may not have thought about yet: how are you going to transition away from your relaxed summer time schedule and into the school schedule? Because it’s not just big kids who are going to have to adapt to back-to-school schedules; babies and toddlers will be affected by school drop-off and pick-up times, and by after-school activities. Their schedules may need to be adjusted, too.

Lucky for you, we’re making it simple to do just that. Today, we’re bringing you a 3 step approach that’ll help you gently, gradually transition your children away from the their fun and chaotic summertime schedules and onto a back-to-school schedule that’ll work for everyone.

3 Steps For Implementing a Back-to-School Schedule

  1. Start reeling in the bedtime. No doubt you had plenty of fun in the sun to occupy your summer. But your summer fun probably also meant that bedtimes around your house were late, and that your kids had a chance to sleep in more often. This kind of schedule is great for summer, but it won’t work so well when school starts.

    With school approaching, you won’t want to wait until the first day of class to start waking up your child to get to school on time. In fact, if you started even 2-3 days before school, you’d likely have a cranky child by the first day of school. Instead, begin transitioning to earlier bedtimes and wake-up times about a week prior to school starting. Gradually wake your child earlier and earlier each morning (by 15 minutes or so) until she’s waking at the time she’ll need to once school’s in session. At the same time, make bedtime earlier by the same amount (or more, if it’s gotten out of hand). By time school starts, you will have a happier child in the morning. (Now, a child who’s happy about actually going to school? THAT, we can’t promise!)

  2. Reinstitute your daytime routines. Children thrive on routine. Having predictable patterns built into your days help children know what to expect, and it makes for a lot less negotiation when everyone knows what they’re supposed to do. During the summer months, however, you may have gotten out of your normal routines. It’s nice to have a break like that, but being out of practice with your usual daytime routines can make it hard to get back into “school mode.”

    Starting a week or so before school, slowly begin adjusting back to your school day routines. For instance, do you usually do homework right after school? Start reading or doing a little coloring or something more structured every day at your normal homework time. Once school starts, it will be “normal” to your child to sit down at that time of day to do “work.” Has your child been napping during the summer, but won’t be able to once school begins? Start skipping the nap every other day two weeks before school starts and then every day a week before school starts. Of course, missing naps may make your child cranky, so don’t forget that bedtime should be earlier, too, on no-nap days!

  3. Set firmer limits on bedtime routines. We all get a little lax about bedtime in the summer. Read an extra bedtime book here, allow a little longer playing there. In preparation for school, start firming up your children’s bedtime routines so that they aren’t taking too long, and so that your child can get to bed on time and you can have time to do what you need to do, like preparing lunches, folding school clothes, and checking homework folders.

BONUS TIP: Look how much we love you! So much, we’re squeezing in a fourth bonus tip. :) Once school starts, consider that your child will be coming home tired (and probably cranky). Prepare yourself now, so you can have patience (and perhaps enough wine on hand) to handle it. And you may want to make sure bedtime is even earlier that first week or two after school starts. Try to keep after-school activities light for that first week or so, too. After that, everyone will be back into the groove, and the school routine and schedule should start to feel normal.

Stay tuned next week for a guest article from us on the ZAZOO KiDS Blog with tips for how to help your baby or toddler adjust to the back to school schedule.

Do you have kids in school? How are you preparing to transition into a back-to-school schedule?

Shifting your child’s schedule may not be easy. If you need help in tightening up your little ones’ daily schedules, we’ve got you covered! Take a look our e-book, Shift Your Child’s Schedule. It outlines practical tips on how you can help your child go to bed and wake up at reasonable times. It even includes an actual sleep consultation, written out in case study form, that’ll help you formulate your own custom solution!

If you need help in getting your baby or toddler to sleep through the night, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.


  1. Mary says

    Should you every really change their sleep schedule even though school is out and it’s summertime? I’m just wondering if it is better to stick to the same routine you do all year long. I know there would be occassional nights that fall outside of the norm but should they be just that occassional and not a completely new routine? Then you don’t have to train again for the school routine.

  2. says

    So our son (2) has had the same bedtime during the summer as he did during the school year (it’s a morning toddler program). The difference is he’s sleeping about an hour and a half later in the mornings (and so am I!) That ends up making a big difference in the total amount of sleep he gets over time obviously… His naps on the other hand have been a bit iffy. My HOPE is that we can keep his bedtime constant, and he’ll make up for the time difference with better naps… do you think that’s reasonable? He didn’t seem to be sleep deprived last year…

  3. Emily DeJeu says

    @ Mary — I think it probably depends on summertime plans (vacations, traveling, etc.), unique family situations, and personality differences. My family’s summer schedule hasn’t looked much different than our school-year schedule; my kids are still in bed by 8 most nights, and still up by 6:30 or 7. Naps are wackier, but that’s to be expected, since we’re doing more running around. This works for my kids, and it works for my husband & I, since we have both work and need to maintain our weekday schedules.

    But I know other families who transition into true vacation schedules during the summer – late bedtimes, late wake-ups, fewer naps, etc. And that works for them. Plus, some kids have more ‘extreme’ school schedules. For instance, one of my son’s friends has to be at the bus stop by 6:15 (he has a long bus ride to a private school), which means he and his parents have to wake up at 5:30 or 5:45 on weekday mornings. I don’t think anyone in their family wanted to keep up that schedule over the summer! 😉

    @ Meagan – this sounds totally reasonable. I’d suggest waking your son earlier and earlier each day, starting about a week or two before preschool begins. Keep doing that until he’s waking at the time he’ll need to for preschool. And compensate for that earlier waking by making time for longer naps. You may have to deal with some crankiness at first, but that’s to be expected.

    Thanks for commenting, Meagan! :)

  4. mrs. j. ichipi says

    my boys don’t always sleep until mid night and they wake up very late in the morning, though after reading thru your articles I started trying to make them sleep on time ,but it is still not working so I don’t exactly know what to do to put them to sleep early enough and my senior son will be starting pre school by September.

  5. Emily DeJeu says

    @ mrs. j. ichipi — I’m sorry to hear that your’e struggling with your little ones’ sleep! You’re right in being concerned; midnight is very late for young children to be going to bed, and young children need to somewhat early (in order to be able to get ready for preschool, etc.) So I understand your desire to change your kids’ schedule!

    We have an e-book that’s specifically designed to help you shift your children’s schedule. It’ll help you adjust their late bedtimes and gradually shift them to an earlier point in the evening. This, in turn, should help them wake earlier, too.

    You can access the e-book here: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-waking-too-early/

    Hope this e-book is helpful to you! And do keep us posted on your progress. Feel free to ask any other questions, or to ask for more help, if you need it.

    Thanks for commenting! :)