I always love the beginning of a new school year because it’s a chance to start over, reorganize daily schedules and get back into a routine. The mornings, however, are tough. Between dragging the kids out of bed, packing lunches, brushing teeth and unsnarling hair, it can sometimes feel like a day’s worth of work before you even get out the door!
As a parent, the morning hustle ends with the ringing of the school bell. As a teacher, I saw the other side of the bell. Running late every morning takes a toll on kids. Multiple studies have shown that chronic tardiness affects academic achievement. Even for kids who do make it on time, a stressful start to the day can leave them feeling insecure and unhappy at school.
I try my very hardest to keep mornings running smoothly around our house so that my kids arrive at school rested, encouraged and ready to learn. My teaching days taught me the value of routines and systems and I’ve applied the same strategies at home. I don’t claim to have perfected the morning routine (yes, I have been that mom screeching up to the curb and practically shoving my kids out the door while yelling at them to “Run, the bell is going to ring!”). But I have figured out a few simple strategies that make everyone’s life a little easier on school mornings.
- Buy your kid an alarm clock. My children are going into preschool and first grade. And they both wake up to an alarm clock every morning. If I go in to wake them up it always seems to turn into ten-minutes of me trying to convince them to get up or, worse yet, resorting to a bribe of some kind. My kids learned quickly that an alarm clock, however, cannot be negotiated with and will continue to beep incessantly until they get up and turn it off.
- Lay clothes out the night before. It takes two minutes at bedtime to pick something out for the next day. When outfits are chosen the night before, we don’t spend time in the morning choosing clothes or, in the case of my first grader, arguing about what is appropriate for school. Plus, when they’re already laid out, my kids can start getting dressed before I even come in the room. It’s amazing how quickly they get into the habit of getting up and getting dressed without any fuss.
- Have some kind of visual reminder for tasks that need to be completed in the morning. Both of my kids have magnetic responsibility charts hanging in the hall outside of their room. They each have a few basic responsibilities in the morning—getting dressed, making their bed, brushing teeth, and combing hair. For younger children, especially, they need the visual reminder to follow multiple step directions. Our charts have smiley faces to put next to each task when they complete it, which is surprisingly motivating for young kids! Having a way for the kids to complete these tasks independently frees up my time to make lunches or get myself dressed and ready on days I’m headed to work.
- Sigh—the bane of every parent’s morning. I just can’t seem to get lunches packed the night before which would seem like the logical time-saving strategy. By the time I get kids in bed, I’m pretty much only interested in plopping down on the couch and catching up on a couple of House of Cards episodes. So, I’ve learned to prepare ahead instead. If dinner the night before is something that can be sent for lunch the next day, I’ll pack it up in Tupperware so it’s all ready to go in the morning. I also try to buy as many fruits and vegetables in individual portions as possible. We have a “lunch drawer” in our refrigerator where I keep everything we’ll pack for lunches during the week. When everything is packaged and ready to go, it’s easy to grab a few items and put them in lunch boxes in the morning. This year, I’m even hoping to get my first grader in the habit of packing her own lunch.
- Have a designated area for all the school stuff. There is nothing more frustrating than heading out the door on time only to have your morning be completely derailed because one kid’s backpack has simply vanished into thin air. Our rule is that backpacks always stay on the hook in our mudroom. Shoes and coats come off as soon as we get in the house and go in the same place in the front closet. We get homework out, complete it and then put it back into backpacks the night before. I also try to make sure anything that needs to go to school in the morning—permission slips, stuffed animals for show and tell, etc. is loaded up the night before so the kids can grab their backpack on the way out the door and know that everything they’ll need for the day is in it.
Routines take time to teach so I like to have a couple of practice mornings before school starts and we have to get out the door on time. Last year, we practiced the day before school started and then headed to Snooze for breakfast. My kids will humor me with almost anything for pineapple upside down pancakes. With a little planning, a few simple tweaks and a lot of routine, school mornings can go more smoothly. Here’s to new beginnings, happy kids and stress-free mornings for everyone!