Getting kids out the door in the morning can go one of two ways: They wake up early and then dawdle, forcing a last-minute scramble, or they wake up late, forcing a last-minute scramble. I know very few people who get to school or day care on time and with serenity – maybe those folks who have a late start time and a short commute? But after a particularly spectacular late-fest in our household last week (late waking, breakfast eaten one crumb at a time, generic dawdling, forgotten backpacks), I decided to look around for some time-saving tips. Here are seven.
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1. Make a playlist so kids know exactly how long they have for each task.
If your kids wake up at 7 and you need to be out the door at 7:45, make a 45-minute playlist so they know that at the beginning of “Yellow Submarine”, or whatever, it’s time to put on pants. Mix up the playlist every few months so you don’t go totally bananas. Visual timers are another good option if your kids don’t understand the concept of time yet.
2. Put toddlers/preschoolers to bed in their school clothes.
This works if their school clothes are as comfy as jammies. My seven-year-old can get himself dressed pretty quickly, but I will often check on my four-year-old 20 minutes after I told him to get dressed and find him lost in thought, one foot with half a sock on frozen in the air. It’s much easier to just put him in the next day’s clothes after his evening bath. A colleague does this with her daughter – pyjamas are “special” and reserved for weekends.
3. Do as much as you can ahead of time.
This means backpacks, coats and shoes are ready beside the front door the night before. Clothes are laid out the night before. Breakfasts are pre-cooked oatmeal or muffins. If your kids are early risers and you aren’t, let them get their own breakfasts – put cereal on low shelf in the fridge the night before. Put petrol in the car the day before, or if you can, fill up once on Sundays. If your kids don’t wear their coats in the car (they shouldn’t, if they’re still in car seats) put their bags and jackets in the car the night before. I have a friend whose two kids eat only PB&J for lunch; she makes 10 sandwiches on Sunday nights, wraps them in cling wrap, and sticks them in the freezer. Each morning, bam, bam, sandwiches in the lunch boxes, a prepackaged side, and they’re out the door.
4. Rethink breakfast.
Breakfast does not have to be at the table or even in the house. Kids can eat a muffin or a waffle and a piece of fruit in the car, on the bus, or in the stroller. I have several friends who offer their kids breakfast out, either at a diner or a fast-food joint, if they leave the house by a certain time. For teens, a bribe of drive-through cocoa or coffee might speed things up. I know two different people who offer frozen yogurt pops if kids get their shoes on and out the door before anyone starts screaming.
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5. Use checklists and flip books.
I still coach my seven-year-old through the morning (“brush teeth,” “get dressed,” “put on sweater and shoes,” and so on) and frankly it needs to stop. Friends with kids my son’s age have checklists – the first item is “wake up” – for the morning routine, and it works pretty well for them. For pre-readers, flip books or picture charts with each activity printed on it will help them stay on task. (Pinterest has nine million ideas for morning routine charts; I particularly like the ones where the kid folds up the task when they’re finished with it.) For older kids, a weekly wipe-off chart will help them keep track of instruments, library books, permission slips and so on.
6. Optimise your morning work flow.
My kids wake ungodly early and want breakfast immediately, but getting them dressed can be a slog, so from now on I’m going to insist they get dressed before they eat. It buys me a little time and incentivises them to get that chore out of the way. Other friends keep kids’ clothes in the living room and get them dressed in there while they watch a show. Others brush kids’ hair while they eat. Older kids can pack their own lunches (ideally the night before), which minimises complaints, as well as get breakfast for themselves and younger siblings.
A friend with five-year-twins lets them feed the fish if they’re dressed and ready – for some reason this task is exciting to them. Another promises an audiobook in the car if they shake a leg. My older son is allowed to read for a few minutes if he gets his shoes and sweater on (I may change this to allowing him to read in our stairwell if he gets his outerwear and backpack on too – one less body in the entryway.) If we get to school five minutes early, we can sit on the playground or in the cafeteria and have a “second breakfast” – a granola bar. One member of my online parents’ group offers to let her kid listen to the audio of a YouTube story (today it was Corduroy) while she gets dressed.
It’s true that for some of us mornings are never going to be easy – it’s early, after all, and the space-time continuum is a cruel mistress. But at some point we might get better at it, right? Right? Now, off to buy some fish to feed.