It's 7:29am, the school bus is pulling up in front of your house, and your child has one shoe on, can't find the other one, her homework is still on the kitchen counter, and the contents of her backpack may or may not actually be what she needs to bring to school that day. The morning routine is way off course.
You open the front door and wave the bus driver away...looks like another day of driving your kid to school, being late for work, and generally watching your morning collapse in chaos. Or is it?
FEN Learning's Education Director, Stephen Solomon, is a father of two girls who are ten years apart in age, and has spent years perfecting a finely tuned system to help get everyone where they need to go well-prepared and on-time. Read on to learn some of his morning routine hacks to set the stage for better mornings.
Prepare the Night Before
The easiest way to hit the ground running first thing in the morning is to get your ducks in a row before bedtime. Simply put, laying out/getting the next day's outfit ready the night before is key.
Hack: Make sure the ENTIRE outfit is assembled - shoes, accessories, everything. One missing shoe, mitten, glove, ball cap, etc. can be the catalyst for a morning meltdown of epic proportions.
Pro-Tip: Always have a backup outfit. When you fold laundry, take one extra outfit for each kid and put it in your bedroom in a bag. For some reason if something goes south, you can just grab something the shopping bag and run out the door to school or hand it to your child at the last second.
Prepare Lunches the Night Before, Too
If your child takes their lunch to school, assemble lunches and snacks in the evening and leave it in the fridge overnight. I make lunch assembly an after-dinner activity, and I actively involve the kids in the process. If your child buys or receives lunch at school, consult the next day's menu the night before. That way, if you or your kids think the school lunch might be "iffy," you can make alternate plans like bringing lunch or bringing an extra snack.
Hack: Partially freeze juice boxes and make that the last thing that goes into the lunch in the morning to keep cold food fresh until lunchtime.
Have the Right Supplies On Hand
A lot of being prepared is having things at the ready in a grab-and-go package. Sandwich containers are an easy, convenient way to pack lunches, and you can find them at most dollar stores. I'll buy ten in September, and over the course of the year, we'll lose nine. I also buy a lot of plastic sandwich bags for individual servings of fruit, vegetables, or goldfish. I hate to be putting everything into plastic bags, but I always ask my daughter to throw her plastic bags back into her lunchbox and bring them home so I can wash and reuse them.
Share the Responsibility of Being on Time with Your Kids
Helping out isn't just a chore – it's an empowerment opportunity. My kids understand that no matter what they have going on the evening before (softball, dance, girl scouts, etc.), helping with lunch and picking out an outfit is non-negotiable. The consistency is very helpful in eventually removing the "chore" aspect of it.
Curb Dilly-Dallying By Turning Getting Ready Into a Game
If you find your child staring into space or fooling around with her iPad when she should be getting her stuff together, turn getting ready into a game. I give my daughter three things she should accomplish in the next five minutes. If she can beat the clock, I'll let her take the dog to the bus stop with us – something she loves but I find cumbersome.
Hack: Don't give your child the opportunity to negotiate. You create the "game" and you set the rules.
Give Precise Directions
I wouldn't be human if I wasn't at some point yelling at my kids to get their acts together. To make sure my directions get heard, I try not to leave anything open to interpretation. I'm very direct about what needs to get done and when it needs to get done by.
Hack: Resist the temptation to throw in things at the end. I'll tell my daughter: "Go put your homework in your backpack." Not: "Oh, and by the way, feed the dog on your way." Because that can lead them way off course. Finish up each request by asking your child to let you know they've completed it, and then you can give them the next task.
Establish Check-In Times
I organize the morning routine using a series of well-established external check-in times. For example, both of my kids were big fans of shows like Curious George. So I built the morning routine around the time-breaks built into those shows. The end of the first episode meant it was time to get dressed. The end of the second episode meant it was time to bring the backpack and shoes down to the front door.
Tying getting ready to external reference points and milestones was helpful in establishing an easy, regular cadence for the morning that allowed for easily-managed tasks and check-ins. Done consistently, over time, it becomes an automatic cue for what's supposed to happen next. It won't be long before your kids will automatically get up after the first Curious George, for example, and carry their backpacks down to the front door unprompted.
Hack: When giving directions, always reference external sources, especially for kids who can't read a clock. It takes the responsibility of keeping track of time away from you and puts it on the kids.
Check In After School
Especially when kids are younger, check your children's backpacks in the evening. You never know what permission slips, teacher notes, or announcements might be lying at the bottom of a backpack. And once homework is complete or before bedtime, make sure that everything that came home from school that day is completed, packed, and ready to go back to school.
The mad-rush morning search for homework, "Oh can you sign this form (without reading it)?" and "I need to bring in $15 for yearbook deposit, today is the last day!" is much better managed at night (especially when you have only 7 crumpled dollar bills in your wallet).
Hack: Keep 10 $1 bills in a kitchen drawer, along with loose quarters and dimes. That way, if lunch doesn't get made, or you don't have the food for lunch, you can have money for lunch at hand at all times.
Choose Your Battles
Let's face it, at the last minute, when the bus is pulling up and you have to choose one or two things to let go - like bringing the lunchbox, finding the missing violin, or eating breakfast – a parent needs to make a choice. For me that choice was always centered around "What is the thing I am least likely to have to leave work to bring to school for my kid later on?"
Nutrition, appropriate clothes, and homework were usually the default choices for me. The soccer cleats, violin, etc. may not make the cut this time, but it won't be the end of the world if you sacrifice accessories in favor of making the bus and being on time for school.
Hack: Kids model adults' reactions. What they observe from you in a morning crisis situation teaches them how they should respond. I've found that redirection is really helpful - if my kids were stuck on clothing, for example, I'd ask them to do something completely different and out-of-schedule in that moment. Like asking them, apropos of nothing, what they wanted to do that weekend, to get unstuck and back on track.