Last year I homeschooled my kids for the first time due to COVID, and to survive transitioning from parent to teacher I studied structuring our time. We took time to experiment with options and eventually settled on a morning routine that worked for us. However, with the kids returning to school in person this year, I became anxious wondering how to maintain our routine. I knew that with the amount of time we would have in the morning some modifications would need to be made.
I had just conquered the mornings; I did not want to go back to the stress I felt rushing the kids out the door. The panic from the thought of missing the bus, when Bella would say she wanted cold lunch 2 minutes after we should already have been out the door. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed, and this would be the first year that all three kids would need to get ready for school at the same time. How could I work to mitigate that feeling of being overwhelmed?
The first step was to sit down as a family and list out all the things that needed to be done in the morning before getting on the bus. Our list included: getting dressed, brushing teeth, washing faces, brushing hair, eating breakfast, watching CNN10, doing chores, checking backpacks, and packing cold lunches if needed. We even included a transitioning period based on some of the skills learned from Lindsay McCarthy’s CHARM program (more details on this in a future blog).
Once you have the list of what you want to get done in the morning, estimate a time frame for each item. We decided to be a little generous for our time frames to leave leeway for the morning. Here are the times that we used for each item: CHARMS (20), Breakfast (20), Dress/teeth (15), Backpack check (5), Lunch (10), Hair brushing (5), make bed & chore (10). This meant that our routine would take us 1.5 hours each morning. The bus comes at 8:42 so we decided 7:00 am was wake-up time. We choose to give them a 10-minute wake-up time because our kids like to move a little slow in the morning.
Understand your schedule is unique to your family, so our 1.5-hour schedule might need to be adjusted for you. This also meant that we need to adjust bedtimes because the kids had gotten used to staying up late and getting up late; therefore, with this shift to an earlier morning came earlier bedtimes.
One thing that I learned that worked really well from homeschooling was using songs as transitions. The kids would have the entire song to transition to the next activity and it creates a prompt that was not dependent on me; therefore, I decided to integrate this into our morning routine. We have echo dots in each of the kids’ rooms as well as an Alexa show in the kitchen area. At 7:00 am each kid has picked a wake-up alarm or routine in their echo that goes off.
We have also picked a song to play when it is time to get outside for the bus. Our song is Wagon Wheel (my kids call it Rock Me Mama) by Darius Rucker, and we picked it because the kids have always loved the song, so it helps brighten the mood as they get their stuff on. They have until the end of the song to get outside, but we leave a few minutes buffer to give them extra time if needed or time to play outside with their friends as they wait for the bus. There have been very few mornings when I have had to say it’s time to go outside or hurry up you are going to be late. Those words used to be part of our daily routine, along with the headache and stress that accompanies them.
Another useful trick I have learned for Lily, age 5 who usually wakes up before the alarm, does better when she lays her clothes the night before. When she wakes up, she picks up her clothes and walks out of the room to get dressed downstairs. This serves two purposes for us. First, she is quiet, and she shares a room with Bella who usually sleeps to the alarm making this is a huge benefit. Secondly, it avoids the fight about what clothes to wear in the morning. I used to have my husband spend 15 minutes helping to find clothes and get her dressed. Since she has picked them out the night before all of that fighting has been avoided. Most days she is the first one dressed in the house.
How do I keep my kids on track every morning? Well, there is no secret here, just try different methods until you find one that resonates with your kids. I have tried many check-off lists, but my kids do not enjoy checking stuff off or erasing it to start fresh every day so that becomes more of a problem than a help. I have some of those check-off lists attached below for those that want to try that option.
For my family, I have found simply having a Self-Directed Morning List of what is expected each morning works best. Lily really took to this list, she could not read it at first, so she would always ask someone to read it to her until she finally memorized the whole thing and could verify everything was done for herself. This sheet was the solution for my family because that reference point alleviated so many of the comments, reminders, or questions that I would get in the morning and cause me frustration. We had tried the check-off lists, the popsicle sticks moving from one jar to the other, but this was the one that finally worked for us.
Targeting the events that caused me to stress each day, one of our biggest problems each morning was what is for breakfast. Every day it was a question and answer session with the kids, and I swear they each picked a different thing just to have something to argue about. So instead, we came up with a schedule for some of the meals they like. Mondays are the oatmeal day, Tuesday and Fridays are egg day, Wednesdays are waffle day, and Thursdays, their favorite, are cereal days since mommy does not let them have their sugar cereals all the time. This really helps us in the morning, Bella says the best part is not having to fight about or think about what’s going to be for breakfast. We also eat together as we watch CNN 10, which was a habit we picked up during homeschooling that we wanted to keep.
Hot lunch vs cold lunch was another issue for us. We will let them have hot lunch if they like the main dish that is being served if not, then they need a cold lunch. Therefore, we have printed a copy of the lunch schedule and days marked for those who want cold lunch. This helps as we check it in the morning to see if cold lunches need to be made. And oftentimes I will forget, but having the printed calendar on the wall prompts one of the kids to tell me if lunch is needed. As well as the morning check-off list which asks them to think about what they want for lunch.
This is our ideal morning schedule. It is a target that we work to hit each morning, but many times we do not get CHARMS in or the bed does not get made or one kid has a meltdown and I have to drive them to school as nothing is perfect. However, as I discuss writing this blog with my husband, he looks at me and says, “You never want to give yourself credit. You forget how much you used to struggle to get the kids up and out the door in the morning. You used to look beat before 9 AM each morning, and you would barely recover by the time they got home. Now you are working on your projects by 9 and still have the energy to make it through the day. Remember not to let perfect get in the way of better. Look at how much accountability they take in getting ready, they are no longer waiting for you to do it for them.” This structure has really brought calm to what used to be such chaotic mornings.
Remember to intentionally choose your morning because it will set up your day!
Now give these steps a try for yourself using the attached handout. Comment below on an idea you might adapt to your family's morning time.
Our Circle of Grace Morning Planning Chart
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Our Circle of Grace Morning Routine Editable Samples
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