Survival tips for the before- and after-school hours

You know, we have a lot of great contributors over at The Power of Moms, and three of them came through this week with a fantastic smorgasbord of ideas to help moms and families with their school-year routines. If you have something to add, please share it in the comments section below. Enjoy!

Mary Jenkins:

Mornings during the school year are some of the busiest times at my house. With that first beep of the alarm clock it seems I’m already behind schedule. After getting children dressed, teeth brushed, breakfast made, and lunches packed, I feel like I should get a medal —or at least a cookie! I’ve been trying to come up with ideas to create a happier, calmer rhythm in the mornings, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

1) Wake up before your children.

I personally struggle with this one because I am not a morning person. In fact, I am a night owl and my children are early risers. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? But regardless of how late I stay up, I always try to wake up before my children do. I have found that I am happier and more productive when I get up even just 10 minutes before my children. I have time to fully wake up, stretch and enjoy a few quiet moments before being pummeled with a million different questions, needs and requests. The more time I have in the morning to myself, the better prepared I am for the tasks ahead.

2) Prepare the night before.

This one is big in my house because I know that in order for our mornings to run smoothly, preparation is key. Like many of you, I am tired at the end of the day and would love to just curl up with a good book or TV show. However, I try to fight this urge as my children and I go around the house doing a few things tonight that will help with our morning tomorrow.

Some of the things we try to do include laying out the next day’s clothes, preparing lunches in advance, and even setting the table for breakfast after cleaning up dinner. I also try to involve our children in the process of preparing for the next day as much as possible. One unintended advantage of doing this is knowing when we are out of milk the night before. No last-minute morning runs to the grocery store!

3) Don’t rush.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Think of those moments when you might not have been at your best. Those times when you may have been short-tempered with your husband or children, cut corners, and/or felt frazzled. For me, that describes my behavior when I am in a hurry or running late. My children can tell the difference between “Let’s go.” and “Let’s go, let’s go! We’re running late!” Rushing changes how I feel and react, and my children tend to act the same way because they take their cues from me.

Last year, my daughter had a bus time of 7:20 a.m. There were some mornings that I found myself waking up and jumping out of bed at 7:1 a.m. I would race to get breakfast, find that homework page and tie shoelaces. I would throw up my daughter’s hair, give her a quick hug, and usher her out the door to the waiting bus. It broke my heart to watch the bus drive away thinking of all those moments I had missed. The familiar phrase “stop and smell the roses” reminds me not to rush — especially with my children. I want to cherish these moments and really enjoy them because I know that all too soon they will be teenagers running here and there and may not want that long hug from mom or that special morning time together.

Suzanne Ewer:

Sometimes I feel like a veteran mom now that I have three elementary school-age children. Other times I feel like a harried mom now that I have three elementary school-age children!

Let’s face it, school mornings are the worst. While getting three kids out the door by 7:40 a.m. is tough, it’s much more doable now that I’ve discovered a few must-dos for making our mornings flow.

1) Create a family launch pad.

Really, I call it that! It’s a spot on the bulletin board above the kids’ backpacks where I keep our weekly master schedule — a matrix that lists each day’s activity by child.

I look at it every evening to see what’s up for the next day (cello lessons, gym class, library) and then gather whatever items are needed (musical instrument, tennis shoes, library books) and place them by the children’s backpack. (Even better are the times when the respective child does it on their own!) The next morning, I take a second peek at the launch pad to make sure I didn’t miss anything from the night before.

I update the chart by seasons, because that’s generally when their activities and schedules change. And to keep it at-a-glance friendly, I color code it by child. (Using their favorite colors, of course!). I also place a hyphenated line between in-school and after-school activities for quick reference. It goes without saying that just when I’ve reached the point of memorization, everything changes again!  But that’s what keeps a mom’s life interesting.

2) Manage school papers.

As organized as I am with my launch pad, managing papers is my downfall. I hang onto anything I think I’ll need again at one point or another, ignoring the fact that I rarely do and that we have a perfectly good scanner!

Knowing I have this flaw, every afternoon when the kids get home from school we go through their backpacks while they’re having their afternoon snack. Homework, permission slips and other school papers are reviewed right then and there. Anything to be returned is signed, sealed and placed right back in their school folders. Nothing (other than the rare exception) is ever put aside to be dealt with later. This helps us avoid the craziness of searching in the morning for a particular school form or other important document.

Sure it’s a pain, and there are lots other things we could be doing during that time, but it takes 15 minutes tops and gives me a chance to check in with the kids and find out about their day — something I’d be doing anyway. Why not use the time productively?

3) Simplify breakfast clean-up.

One of the most important parts of a good morning is filling the kids’ bellies, but to avoid a big mess I like to use paper products whenever possible. I don’t even apologize for it anymore. (I’ve even been known to serve cereal in paper cups!) When we’re done, everything goes in the trash. No one argues over whose turn it is to load the dishwasher, clean-up is a snap and we’re out the door in seconds.

4) Use a shoe basket.

One of the biggest morning time stealers is hunting for shoes. I’m proud to say that we never have this problem and it’s as simple as keeping a shoe bucket next to the door. While it’s not the prettiest, it’s the go-to spot for the entire family for shoes, and we can tuck it away whenever company comes to visit.

Christine James:

There was a time when my family’s school morning routine consisted of a mad dash to get dressed while looking for shoes and backpacks. I would work hard to get lunches made and hair done while the kids ate their breakfast. I’d send them running out the door to make it to the bus stop in time–most days without success. It was an awful time of yelling and chaos.

One day, as wrath was spewing from my mouth because of another failed attempt to make it to the bus stop in time, I realized it was not my children’s fault. I was to blame. This was the routine I had taught them. They were never shown a different way! I realized I was not providing a peaceful haven for them. I was sending them out in the morning ill prepared for the demands they would face during the day. After figuring out how to forgive myself, I gathered the children into the living room and apologized to them for not teaching them a better way. The changes we made weren’t huge, but they were life altering. Here they are:

1) Get the children up earlier.

When it was chaotic and miserable, it was because I was demanding my children to get everything done within 30 minutes. There was no time to nurture any kind of relationship with my children when I was stressed and panicking, and so were they.

2) Allow your children to step it up.

The kids were very capable of making their own lunches, so some of them started making some or all of them the night before. My husband suggested allowing my older girls to do their own hair, so I started letting them do it on the weekends until I felt like it was presentable enough. My older girls now enjoy helping me do my younger girls’ hair which is a huge relief for me. There are times when I have to lower my standards and let the children go out looking less than perfect, but that’s OK.

3) Create a morning routine with your children.

With the younger children I found it was easier to explain the routine to them in words and then write it out or draw pictures for them so they would know what was expected of them. They loved having direction and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment. As the kids grew older, I had them take part in deciding what their individual morning routine would look like. Some children added things to their routines because of their own personal goals and ambitions. Some deleted things (with approval from me as long as it was done later in the day) because their mornings were already very full.

It’s been difficult to relinquish the control I had over the morning routine as the kids have grown, but I am satisfied that my children will leave home having the skills necessary to work out for themselves what is good for them. This gives them choices and ownership.

It has been five years since we made these changes in our home. There are still days when we miss the bus, and I get frustrated at yet another missing shoe. I still have improvements to make and more goals to reach, but our home is a far different place now in the mornings. It wasn’t until I realized how the crazy, awful mornings were affecting me and my loved ones that I was able to implement the needed changes. Now we’ve established a peaceful haven. My children are usually early for the bus, and I am at peace knowing they feel confident and able to take on the world.

QUESTION: What things have worked to bring more peace and order to your home before and after school?

CHALLENGE: Implement just one new idea from the suggestions above into your own family’s routine this week.

Photo by courtneysue75 at

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