Creating effective school morning routines can mean the difference between having a great day and a not so great day. Really! They’re that important. By setting expectations ahead of time, both the kids and adults can start their days with that sense of calm and stability that can really set the tone for the day ahead.
Of course, we’re human and things can still go wrong. But having that sense of comfort that comes from a repetitive routine can help ease the transition from home to school. Best of all, it can help kids head off on their days happy and ready to learn.
Creating Effective School Morning Routines
Start with brainstorming
We like to begin planning routines by brainstorming. What are all the things that need to be done in the morning? Just write down everything that comes to mind. You can fine-tune this later.
Then, make another brainstorm list. This time, write down all the things that have gone wrong with your school mornings in the past. For example, for us, this would include a mad dash around the house looking for Walter’s sunglasses on a sunny day or trying to find another school uniform because the one he was wearing got all messy.
Check your lists
Look over your list of things to be done. Is there anything that could be handled ahead of time – like making school lunches the night before? Or meal prepping them on the weekend?
Look over your list of previous problem areas. How can you solve them? For example, we now have a basket where Walter’s outdoor accessories like hats, mitts, sunglasses, and so on are stored when not in use. Part of our after school routine is to put those things away in that basket as soon as he gets home. We have a spare uniform stashed away from the rest of the school clothes so we can always be assured of having a clean one available when needed.
What if this is your first child, heading off to school for the first time? Well, you don’t have any previous data to go on so you’ll just have to anticipate as best you can and then adjust as needed once school starts. Is your child very particular about what they wear? Does your child need some quiet time before they can tackle any outings for the day? Is teeth brushing a battle every single time? How might these affect the morning routine?
Make your plan
Once you have figured out the good, the bad, and the ugly of your previous morning routines, it’s time to make your plan. One thing that often helps with any child is to put the various things they need to get done in the morning on a chart.
Put it on a dry erase board, laminate it, or simply stick it inside one of those clear plastic page protectors. Being able to tick off things as they’re done can be a great motivator (not just for kids, either!). Or maybe your kids respond better to a sticker chart. They might also be more invested if you let them get involved in making and decorating the chart. Either way, it’s important to go over it with them before school starts.
Figure out the timing.
This can be one of the trickiest parts but based on what you know about your child when it comes to getting ready to go out of the house, try to estimate. Then, add 10-15 minutes as buffer. You can always cut the time back after you try out the schedule for the first week of school, but having to rush your kids through every step of the routine can be stressful for all of you.
I strongly suggest that if possible, you have 10-15 minutes on your own before the kids get up. This isn’t always easy to do (and in our house, it’s pretty much impossible) but if you can, it can give you those few minutes of peace to start your day. Then, you’ll be much more prepared to dive into the kids’ routines when they get up.
Once you have the timing figured out, work backwards from the time you need to leave the house, get the kids on the bus, etc. For example, if Walter has to get on his bus at 8:30, once we’ve calculated the time it will take him to get ready, with some buffer time added, we work back from there to determine a wakeup time for him.
Tip: Using a timer can be really helpful in assisting kids with transitioning from one task to the next. “In 10 minutes the alarm will ring and that means it’s time to go brush your teeth.”
Set up a staging area
I mentioned the basket that we have for Walter’s outdoor accessories. Consider other staging areas that you might need to ensure that the morning goes as smoothly as possible.
We like to get his backpack ready to go and place it at the front door so that we are sure not to forget it. Hang notes on the door if there is something important to remember that day. Be sure that for anything that could be needed for a child’s school day that it has a home and that it’s easily accessible.
Not only might you want to consider setting up a staging area or two, you might also want to designate some people for certain tasks so that in the morning you’re not playing a game of “well I thought you took care of that already!”. For example, maybe one adult puts together the child’s backpack (or checks it if the child is taking care of this themselves) and ensures that everything needed is in there. Another adult makes the lunches for the day. Who is responsible for making sure that there is clean laundry for them to wear? Planning for these roles ahead of time can save a lot of frustration!
Don’t forget about meals
Sometimes it’s those school day meals that can cause the most stress. Rushing around in the morning while making sure that everyone has breakfast and lunches for the day just adds to the chaos. Then comes that all too familiar question, “What’s for dinner?”.
Our number 1 tip –
Prep what you can ahead of time. If you can have breakfast ready to go in the morning (even to the point of having it in bowls in the fridge to grab and go), great. If not, be sure to set yourself up with some simple breakfast options that the kids can choose from which require minimal preparation on the day of. We’ve got some great breakfast ideas here.
With lunches, we generally pack these while doing dinner cleanup. As we’re putting away any leftovers, we are also getting lunches ready for any who need them. Check out our ideas for easy back to school lunches here.
For dinner, often while doing the final prep on the dinner we’re having one night, we will be doing the prep for the following night’s dinner too. Or double up on tasks. If you know that you need chopped onions for 3 meals this week, cut them all up at once.
Rely on dump and go slow cooker meals when you can. Make a list of quick and easy meals that your family loves and use that as needed. Keep your pantry, fridge, and freezer stocked with some basics. We always have what we need to make tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for a quick meal in a pinch.