Establishing a School Morning Routine
I have the school morning routine down pat! It wasn’t always that way…in fact, I have a decades-old history of oversleeping. Scrambling out the door wearing two different shoes. Hitting the snooze alarm 13 times and all those other not-so-fun ways to meet the sunrise! Just ask my mom, the poor lady who had the privilege of waking me throughout elementary school…boy, was I a groggy mess!
12 Tips for Stress-free School Mornings
I decided I didn’t want to spend the mornings with my kids stressed out, yelling or running late. Once my children were school age and ready for school, I implemented these secrets to successful school mornings. I’m here to tell you that having a morning routine is key to household happiness.
Nobody feels very excited about their day when it starts in a frantic rush. These are the must-read tips to streamline your school morning routine and keep yourself sane in the process. Ask me how many times my kids have been late to school and I will proudly tell you NEVER! Keeping reading for my 12 practical tips for a smooth school morning routine.
1. Prep for School Mornings the Night Before
Mornings don’t start in the morning, they start the night before! Prepare as much as you can the day and night before. This way school mornings are started off in an organized and calm manner. There isn’t any wild rushing around in search of things or trying to get too much done in a limited amount of time.
The following are 7 ways that you can streamline the school morning routine by prepping the night before.
2. Plan Outfits Head to Toe
Ever since I was in Kindergarten, I’ve planned my next-day wardrobe the evening before. My elementary-aged son has no issues with getting up, pulling out a shirt and shorts and easy-peasy, he’s dressed. But when pressed for time, some kids will have trouble choosing their outfits for the day. I swear it takes my teenage daughter 20 minutes just to find the “right” outfit (and then comes out wearing practically the same thing as the day before!)
Kids, especially younger ones, usually need a bit of guidance when it comes to choosing an outfit. Often they pick weather-inappropriate things (like a sweater when it’s going to be 90 degrees!) Helping kids decide on their outfits casually the night before takes the pressure off the school morning routine.
Even better? Planning the entire week of outfits in a single day! I work with my kids to plan outfits for the week and stack them inside a closet organizer along with socks, underpants and hair accessories. All the kids have to do in the morning is grab the next outfit and get dressed. Have your kids help choose their outfits on Sunday night and gather all parts (socks, underpants, accessories) so they have them together in one place.
For additional kid’s clothing tips, check out these back to school school shopping budget ideas.
Outfit Planning Isn’t Just for Kids!
I don’t stop wardrobe planning with the kids. I refuse to leave the house in my pajamas so at some point in the morning, I need to get dressed too. Every night I decide what I’m going to wear and set it aside in my closet. If I’m going to wear jewelry, I’ll pull that out too. In the morning I don’t even second guess myself, I just grab and go.
3. Everything Has a Place
No mad dash looking for anything in the morning because it will have already been put there the night before. Teach your kids to prep the night before. It’s a lifelong good habit of organization and timeliness!
Bedrooms are tidied up and toys and books are put away before bedtime. We have no morning scrambles for anything because it was already set in the right place the night before.
I recommend having designated hooks and/or storage bins for school morning items. I love using a label maker so there’s no confusion on where things go.
Backpacks – Every afternoon after school, backpacks should be cleared out. Then return all paperwork, permission slips, library books and homework to the backpack in the evening so it’s ready to grab in the morning.
Shoes – Shoes should be sitting together where you can step into them going out the door. We stack shoes on a shelf in our garage, making sure pairs are together each day.
Hair – Hair styling products like hairbrush, de-tangling spray and elastics/bows should be together so it’s easy to style in the morning. We keep all hair styling items in a bin under the bathroom sink so we can pull it all out and put it away fast.
Jackets – Jackets are on their own hook next to the backpacks.
4. Lunches Made in Bunches
Buy in bulk and portion items out into plastic snack bags. Again individual bins are great for storage! Have separate bins for the fridge and more for the cupboards to hold school lunch items. I store cold snacks in a bin in the fridge. Dry snacks are in a bin in the cupboard.
The only thing I make the morning-of is sandwiches. Everything else has already been prepped. In the morning all I do is grab a few pre-portioned bags to make a well-rounded meal. This job can also be given to an older child or teen to do (grab one items from each bin, so easy!)
Lunch Ideas to Help the School Morning Routine
As noted, I have items in separate bins for each grab-and-go lunch prep in the morning. A bin in the fridge for cold items, a bin in the cupboard for dry goods. Sandwich fixings are together. In the fridge, mayo, mustard, lunch meat and cheese are in a bin together. In the cupboard, nut butter and bread share a bin (I grab jelly from the fridge if using that for PB & J).
Purchase in bulk and prep everything at once. Think outside the expensive store-bought snack sized items like chips and crackers. Many portions are more than many kids should be eating (some are actually 2 serving size instead of 1). Pre-packed snacks are also more expensive (often costing twice as much or more than if purchasing in bulk).
Take for instance, apple sauce. Yes, those pouches and bowls are so handy but apple sauce bought in a jar is so much cheaper. And it’s easy to spoon it into small plastic to-go cups. Stack them in a bin inside the fridge to grab quickly!
Fast Grab & Go Lunch Items
These are some easy and fast lunch items to prep early in the week that will make your school morning routine run smoothly:
- Cheese cubes
- Cut fruit, like melons, apple slices, berries or pineapple
- Cold slice of pizza
- Carrot sticks
- Hard boiled egg
- Grapes (cut in half for little kids)
- Pasta salad
- Veggie strips, like green and red peppers or snap peas
- String cheese
- Green salad with a container of dressing
- Apple sauce
- Cherry tomatoes
- Chips, including potato and tortilla
- Crackers, like Wheat Thins, Goldfish or Triscuits
- Granola bars
- Pita bread, cut into wedges
- Trail mix
- Yogurt raisins
- Fruit leather
- Graham cracker
5. Set the Stage for Sleep
Sometimes I have to remind my husband that a tickle-fest right before bedtime is not going to get our little ones in the mood for sleep! Shortly after dinner, we start the routine of quiet playtime, reading in bed, a light snack and teeth brushing before turning off the lights. A warm bath or shower and lavender essential oil in the diffuser right before bed can also help kids relax. Read more about using essential oils in the bedtime routine.
We turn off the television long before bedtime to keep stimulus at bay. The pace is slow and calm and our kids know what to expect, even the toddler (don’t try to skip story time!). Keeping the nightly routine the same every evening can help sleep come quickly and have kids sleeping all night in their own beds.
6. A Reasonable Bedtime
According to the National Sleep Foundation website, elementary school aged kids need about 10-11 hours of sleep each night. My kids wake up at 6 am Monday through Friday so that means they should be going to bed no later than 8:00 pm.
With a preschooler, 2nd grader and two high school aged kids in our house, we have everyone in bed around the same time each night. Bedtime is between 7:45 to 8:15 pm and no later than 9 pm on the weekends. We aim for consistency on the bedtime and the kids show the consistency in their behavior and attitudes. They hop right out of bed in the morning, aren’t groggy in the afternoons and are sleepy enough in the evenings that they put themselves to bed on time each night.
Put Yourself to Bed at a Decent Time, Too!
I’m the worst offender of this in my family. After everyone else is in bed and I finally find time to myself I find myself puttering around doing nothing, reading too many Facebook posts and starting projects that really shouldn’t be started at 10:36 pm. And then I’m kicking myself in the morning when I don’t want to get up!
I’ve pledged to start getting to bed at a decent time, one that gives me more than 5 measly hours of sleep each night. Even after just a week of this I’m feeling better, waking easily and am not “hitting the wall” at 2 o’clock each day any more. And even if I you can’t get to bed early every night, aim for at least a few times a week when you can catch up on sleep.
A well-rested parent is a happier parent. And a happier parent is less likely to snap at 6 am getting kids ready for school. Check out these additional self-care ideas for moms.
7. A Restful Room is Conducive to Sleep
A slightly cool room, comfy bedding, white noise (like a fan), darkness, and a soothing scent (like lavender) can all invite refreshing sleep. On occasion (especially during periods of stress), my kids have enjoyed listening to a relaxing story tape or soft music with the lights out.
I’ve trained my kids not to require a nightlight because if the lights are on, they are more likely to have their eyes open. If it’s very dark in the room then what’s the point of having your eyes open? There is nothing to look at…close your eyes and go to sleep! I have more sleeping tips on TravelingMom.
Good Morning Sunshine!
After a peaceful evening the night before and a good night’s rest, your kids will be in a better position to have a happy school morning routine. Here are my tips for nailing the morning routine and getting the kids out the door on time.
8. Awakening to an Alarm Clock
If you have kids who struggle to get out of bed in the morning, get them used to waking with an alarm clock. Looking back, if I’d used an alarm clock as a kid instead of waking to my mom coming in to my room (over and over!) I would have gotten up the first time instead of the tenth. The alarm clock only goes off once unless you use the snooze button. But I’ve never taught my kids what the snooze button is (they assume that the clock goes off once and that’s it…tricky me!)
If you don’t get up you’re going to be late, easy as that. When MOM is waking you, as a kid you know that she’ll keep coming back in as many times as it takes. Eventually the kids and mom are trained in the wrong direction!
Are a habitual snoozer? Try to break yourself out of the habit. It’s not good quality sleep anyway. Get up right away. Either open the window to let in the morning sunlight or turn on the light in the room to get your body adjusted. Make your bed right away and you won’t be tempted to crawl back in!
9. The Most Important Meal of the Day: Breakfast
We never leave the house without breakfast. I’m surprised when my kids say that so many of their friends don’t eat breakfast in the morning. I can’t imagine trying to function for so many hours until lunch on an empty stomach. Leave plenty of time in the morning routine to fit in a good breakfast.
I get up early enough to prepare a quick and balanced breakfast for me and the kids. This could be scrambled eggs, toast and a slice of melon. Fruit smoothies with juice, milk or almond milk are a hit. Click through to see more high protein and low carb smoothie recipes that kids will love. Homemade oatmeal with diced apples and cinnamon is often requested. Or if we are more rushed, a simple bowl of cereal and a banana.
I like a bowl of Greek yogurt with fruit, agave and a sprinkling of granola. I often take mine “to-go” and eat it when I get to work. Sometimes the night before I will make banana or apple nut muffins to include with breakfast.
On weekends when I have time to make pancakes or waffles, I make extras and freeze them to heat up for breakfasts during the week. Add some whipped cream and a few blueberries and voila, a fancy breakfast on a Thursday!
10. Final Brushing Call: Teeth, Hair and Out the Door!
I have the kids take turns in the bathroom brushing teeth and hair. Mayhem and delays tend to ensue when kids attempt to share the sink! I usually give my daughter’s hair a quick style and maybe pop in a bow. We keep a box under the sink that holds hair elastics, a brush and de-tangling spray so everything is in one place. If a fancier hair style is requested (like for picture day), we allow extra time by getting up earlier.
11. The Countdown
Give kids the 10 minute and 5 minute countdown. Ten minutes before you need them out of the house, call it out. Then repeat at 5 minutes till. This isn’t micromanaging. If kids are busy getting ready they just aren’t going to be paying attention to the clock. A reminder is a good thing to keep everyone on track, so long as you aren’t having to remind ten times.
If you prepped the night before, shoes and backpacks should be ready to go. My kids grab their lunches off the counter on the way out and within a few minutes we’re in the car and on our way.
12. It’s Early…Know Your Limits
Don’t try and cram too many chores in the morning routine. I keep it simple by requesting that beds be made before we leave the house. My older kids also take turns emptying the dishwasher and reloading with the breakfast dishes. If complicated hair styles or made-to-order breakfasts are making your kids miss the bus, save them for the weekends when you have more time.
Do you have a slow-poke? Consider a timer. I’ve also been known to set the timer for my daughter when she dilly-dallies over her cereal bowl; when it dings she knows she has one minute to wrap things up and move on to the next task.
If you keep finding yourself running late, set the morning alarm clock for fifteen minutes earlier to allow a little extra time…there’s no harm in arriving early. Only you know where to draw the line so set the limits for your kids and it will set them up for morning success!
This is an update of a post originally published on August 28th, 2014.