One of my favorite parts of summer is that I don't have to wake my children up at the crack of dawn. But as those lazy summer mornings begin to slip away, it is difficult to transition back into the school morning slog, when one kid doesn't want to get out of bed, another can't find her shoes, and a third is experiencing an existential crisis about which cereal to choose.
Two years ago, my husband and I became completely overwhelmed with the school morning routine. It was a horrible start to the day, battling with my children to get out the door. It impacted the way I walked into work and I remember thinking, “if this is how I feel starting my day, how are my children feeling as they start theirs?” The next day, I sat everyone around the kitchen table to create some structure out of the chaos, organize our morning tasks, and keep everyone moving.
As you begrudgingly wrap your mind around returning to school mornings, a schedule can assist the family to stay on task, encourage everyone to help a sibling out, and hopefully survive morning drop off with more smiles than tears.
Here are 7 suggestions to create a schedule for school morning sanity:
1. Get your children's input
The age of your children will help determine their level of contribution. When I did this, my oldest was in third grade, my middle was in kindergarten, and my youngest was in preschool.
I started by having them identify tasks that needed to be accomplished in the morning. They came up with this list: lay in bed, get up, get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth/hair, pack lunch/backpack, and for fun they decided the last task was to "tickle mom and dad." I then asked them how much time would be needed for each task. We began by determining the time we needed to be out the door and worked our way backwards. During the first round, wake up was at 5:45, which we all agreed was unacceptable. So I asked my children where they thought they could move a little faster to give them more time to sleep in.
2. Post the schedule
My children copied and decorated the schedules we made together. We placed them in key spots in the house: their bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen.
My children got into the habit of checking the schedules as they moved through their morning. This helped them become more independent in time management. They also shared the information with each other, especially my youngest, who couldn’t tell time yet. When one of my older girls checked the schedule, I encouraged her to let her brother know how much time he had left for a particular task.
3. Prepare the night before
The morning runs much smoother if you prepare what you can the night before. My children pick out their clothes and shoes so there are no wardrobe emergencies. This is true even though my children wear uniforms. I am always surprised that there are preferences for shirts—all the blue polos look identical to me.
Have your children organize snacks the night before and if there are lunch items that don't need to be in the fridge, get those foods packed as well. Also, take orders for breakfast. I realized that we saved a solid 10 minutes by not having a groggy-eyed child slump at the breakfast table swearing she has no clue what there is for breakfast even though the options hadn’t changed in the past 24 hours.
4. Schedule time for you
Setting aside time to get yourself ready will make you more available for your children and avoid becoming a crazy person to get everyone out on time. This can mean one of two things: either get yourself fully ready before your children wake up or if there are two of you in the house, tag-team and take shifts. I highly suggest that you get as much ready for yourself the night before as well.
5. Stick to the schedule
Let your children know, in a calm tone, that there are only 5 more minutes for breakfast. Once that time has passed, really try to have that activity end. They can finish part of their breakfast in the car or have messy hair for a day. Hopefully if you stick to the schedule, the natural consequences of going slowly will help quicken up their pace the next morning.
6. Stay calm
When I rush my children with a high level of intensity, it actually slows them down. They become frantic, leading to crying and drama, which just takes more time. So, if you have a tortoise one morning instead of a hare, make yourself available to help. Instead of yelling from the front door "IT'S 7:30, WE NEED TO LEAVE," walk over and ask, "Who needs help?" This promotes a lower level of stress and is focused on helping your children find a solution. If your child is running behind schedule, he probably needs help. Assisting him will get you out the door quicker than pressuring him to rush.
7. Adjust as needed
If after a few days you realize the initial schedule is not reasonable, change it. This may be an adjustment for everyone, so be ready to tweak the time allotted for each activity or perhaps the order of events. Maybe your children prefer to get dressed after brushing their teeth so that they don’t get toothpaste on their school clothes.
You can even attempt a dry run on a weekend morning, although hopefully a few hours later. See how long it actually takes for your children to brush their teeth or eat breakfast. See where the expectations are unreasonable and adjust them. The schedule should provide structure to help everyone function more efficiently, not make you into a taskmaster.
Enjoy these last few coveted weeks of summer and good luck getting back into the swing of school!