Back to school morning tips

My kids don’t go back to school until after Labor Day, but lots of districts are starting next week or the week after. Getting into a new routine can always be challenging, but I certainly don’t think mornings have to be this crazed circus. In the September issue of Parents, I shared several tips for making it out the door on time. Among them:

Designate a launch pad. We have a mudroom, and it is the best thing ever. Having one spot where backpacks, shoes, and jackets all go can save massive time and frustration. When kids come in the door, that is where stuff goes, and barring any toddler shenanigans, that is where the stuff stays until it is needed again. The shoes and coats don’t need to be lined up Pinterest-perfect. If you want to pin a photo of your mudroom that is your business, but the point is not appearances. The point is that the stuff is there. (Bonus: parents can keep keys, sunglasses, cell phone chargers, etc., nearby too).

Get better at lunch. Let the kids buy it! School lunches are, on average, lower in calories and sugar, and higher in fiber and protein, than home-packed lunches. If the kids can’t buy lunch for some reason, let them make it themselves. If they can’t, because they’re 3 years old and go to a daycare without a cafeteria, then yep, you’re on the hook for this one. But make it simple with lots of grab-and-go individual sized stuff, and cut up fruit for the week (or at least through to Wednesday) while you’re making dinner on Sunday night.

Don’t fight fashion battles. As soon as the kids can dress themselves, let them. Your sense of style isn’t theirs. If the kid comes down in shorts and it’s 10 degrees out you can say something but otherwise, let it go.

Get shoes on 8 minutes ahead of time. OK, this sounds funny in the magazine because it is so specific. But this year our bus came at 8:40, and I found that 8:32 was the perfect time to get the boys down to the mudroom for shoes and coats. If they were fast, we’d be outside by 8:35. If they were slow, it might be 8:37, but we were still OK.

Look at the calendar. I put any important school events and after school activities on my calendar so I know what’s coming up, and if kids need notes to stay for after school activities. I do planning on Friday afternoons, and then every evening look at what is happening the next day. Eventually the kids will need to be on top of this themselves, but given that they still require chauffeurs, I need to be somewhat involved.

Reframe mornings. So much of the back-to-school literature is about how this time is so crazy, and mornings are such a mess and so forth. But, as I told Parents, “Morning can be a good time to enjoy one another’s company…Family dinner might not happen if life after school or work is hectic, but family breakfast could happen. That’s quality time together.” A positive mindset helps the whole day.


19 thoughts on “Back to school morning tips

  1. My girls start school a couple of days after Labor Day so we’re still enjoying our summer here, too.

    We do a lot of these things, similar to you, though very few houses here seem to have anything like a “mudroom”. I think maybe it’s an East Coast thing? We have a fairly small entryway with a closet so it’s something everyone sees when they come in the house. To keep it from being a total disaster we installed 4 hooks from IKEA at kid-level so the girls can hang up their coats and backpacks. We added putting away those things to their after-school checklist (including unpacking their lunchbags) and that seems to tame the craziness.

    Your 8 minute rule is so perfect. I was having trouble figuring out why we were rushing to get out the door, and I realized I was not giving them enough transition time to stop playing, and go get their shoes/coats/backpacks on. Once I started building in about 5-7 minutes there, it suddenly got a lot more relaxed 🙂 Awesome that it’s a real thing!

    Their new school has a hot lunch delivery service (no cafeteria) and I think I might try it 🙂

    1. @ARC- mudrooms may be an east coast thing. I suspect one needs coats and boats for it to make sense. Often they’re by a garage too, so if the house isn’t built with a garage it wouldn’t make much sense. But boy does it make sense for us! It could be any spot in the house, though. Like a corner of the kitchen, or in a formal entry way. Just as long as it’s a spot and you pass through it as you’re going.
      And yep, 8 minutes. That took a while to figure out, but now I’m good!

  2. Add me to the list of folks who wish they had a mudroom (and I’m on the East coast).

    Great points. We find mornings pretty … uneventful, but I guess that’s a matter of personalities + just 1 kid and he walks to school. Not to say that there are never moments of craziness, but — eh.

    Specific tip that helps later in the year with just 1 day (or weekend), and that depends on the (absence of a) Sunday schedule but that I wish I’d figured out sooner — switch your household away from daylight savings time one day late (Sunday night, not Saturday). In my experience, the kid’s more likely to sleep in on a Monday (school) morning, so I get (more of) the extra hour of sleep, and one extra day of extra afternoon daylight. Of course, if we attended church early or similar, this wouldn’t work, but for the past several years we’ve had nothing scheduled early on Sunday, and it’s been lovely.

  3. I had a daily timer set to go off a few minutes before time to leave for school. In the winter it was close to 10 minutes early so we could don all the gear, in the summer it was 6 minutes, just to transition and put on shoes. My kids respond better to “the timer” telling them its time to go than they do to mommy telling them 😉
    Mornings are no longer “crazy” in our house but we also get less “quality time” together since the kids get up later.

    1. Yes! Timers really help — when we had to be out the door by 7:12 last year, I had timers set for every stage of the morning, from waking up to putting shoes on. It became a game to beat the timer, and I spent lots less time nagging.

    2. Ohhh, this is like the “next level” of parenting. I love this idea. Need to try it and take myself out of that frustrating loop of “yes, it really is time to stop NOW.” 🙂

      1. Well, tbh the timers are as much for me as the kids! I’ll get caught up in reading something with my coffee and realize it’s time to leave and teeth aren’t even brushed.

  4. We don’t have a mudroom — southeastern US — but I got a storage ottoman on sale at Target and stuck it by the door for shoes. Backpacks just go on the floor next to it (one day I’ll make it fancy, but not today). And 3 isn’t too young to make lunches — my 3yo makes his own school lunch. My kids make lunch while I’m pulling dinner together. It reduces the pre-dinner squabbling because they’re busy with something, and I’m in there to help with reminders (Did you add some fruit? Yogurt?). They also help empty the dishwasher and clean up their messes (PBJ can be a very messy undertaking for a 3yo, but it can be done). My oldest is only 6, so while he’s helpful, it’s not like he’s supernanny or anything.

  5. I like your recommendation to reframe mornings. My 15 year old is up at 6:30 to catch the bus by 7am. I get up with him and make his breakfast. People scoff at this, the kid should be making his own breakfast… stop babying him! But this is the only alone time we have. And with all the after school activities I find this little moment of peace with him. The other kids are not up yet, it is just us.

  6. I also live on the east coast and have a mudflow of sorts. It helps enormously because I have 5 kids. I have helped increase my organization by having all the school snacks on a repurposed bookcase right near my mudroom. That way I can pack snacks and lunches in one place. I also bought each boy a small bin for hats and gloves to help us get out the door in the winter.

    1. @Mary Beth – I hadn’t thought to put snacks by the mudroom. It could work. On the other hand, we sometimes have problems with ants, so I try to keep the food contained! In the pantry I have an area of individual-sized foods (squeeze apple sauce, juice boxes, raisin boxes, etc.) and this helps for lunch packing.

  7. I had to quit putting snacks out. My kids inhaled them in record time. (Teenage son) my biggest tip is that starting at 7, the child begins to wake by alarm. My 8 year old is the master. He turns off his alarm, and begins getting ready. I still have to do a drive by the bedrooms to make sure no one is side tracked or still in bed, but for the most part they are on it. Around 12, my oldest started to regress and try hitting snooze. His trade off is he can sleep later, but has to eat at school and shower at night. I don’t pack lunches. They are very capable of doing that. We print the school lunch menu and they highlight the days they are packing. It’s on the fridge. If they take too long getting ready, they have to eat at school because we walk out the door at 7:05.

  8. No mudroom here (East Coast), and very little entryway to speak of either. Boo.

    Luckily, mornings aren’t especially crazy here since my kids are homeschooled (although the older two have classes to go to a few days a week). But it’s staggered, so it’s not like we all have to be out at the same time, which helps.

  9. I love eating breakfast with my little guy. It’s our moment of peace before we have to get out the door. But I do feel like I need to whittle down the breakfast-making time. I’d like to have both of our meals ready in 3 minutes or less!

    1. @Leanne- I agree on quick breakfasts. The only reason I’m making elaborate omelets for myself is that I’m already up at the crack of dawn anyway. I’ve got time. Loads of time.

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