Tag Archives: routine

5 ways to be prepared for school

At the beginning of the school year you can usually find me kicking and screaming my way from summer vacation. Schedules? Homework? 20 more things added to my already hectic calendar? Nooo! Luckily, I’ve found a few practical ways to avoid being overwhelmed by the suddenly busy days of the school year.

School lunches
Probably the biggest time waster in the morning is the school lunch battle. I’m a firm believer that kids should be involved in planning their school lunches, even packing them on their own. But leave them to it on a rushed morning and they’re liable to snag a few convenient snacks as their lunch, ending up hungry by the end of the day. A better way is to start the bagged lunch planning before the week even begins. Sit down with them on the weekend and create a list of lunches together for every single day – from the sandwich to the snacks. Then, have them pack up anything they can the night before school so there’s barely anything left to do in the morning.

Create a routine
Left to his own devices, my son would come home from school and make a beeline for the fridge, and then to the TV. That’s why we’ve created a routine. He may get a snack first, but then he must finish all of his homework and have me check it before placing it in his backpack and by the door for the next day. Then he has chores he must complete that are clearly listed on a weekly chore chart. Only after all these are done is he allowed to watch TV or play outside. Before bed, clothes must be picked out, his lunch must be prepped, and then it’s shower time. A routine is even more vital in the morning, since kids tend to be groggy. This is also why we prep everything the night before. All my son has to do in the morning is wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, finish making his lunch, and then be out the door with all his belongings.

Keep your child’s space organized
If your son or daughter can’t find their clean shirt in the morning or don’t have a cleared off space to do their homework, things are only going to go downhill quickly. Get your child in the habit of putting all their dirty clothes in the hamper, and keeping their clean clothes in their drawers by category. Teach them to make their bed. Create a space for every one of their belongings so they can easily put them away when they’re finished using them. Help them keep their work station cleared off and supplied with pencils, scissors, tape, glue, and anything else they may need to finish their homework. File all papers worth saving (artwork, notes from teacher, project guidelines), and throw away everything you don’t need. An organized space does wonders for an organized mind! And you’ll be creating valuable habits for them to grow up with.
(note: we’re still working on perfecting this tip in my family)

Keep in contact with the teacher
Our most successful school years have been those when the teacher and I were conversing regularly about my child’s progress, and what was going on for the week at school. Some teachers keep parents updated through a website. Others use email or letters home. And in some instances you may have to visit the class regularly to find out what’s going on. Whatever the method, stay involved with what’s going on in your child’s class. This way there will be no surprise projects or reports due, and you will know how to help your child if they’re struggling in an area of school. Your child will see that you care enough to be involved with their education. And their teacher will fully appreciate your involvement in their efforts to educate your child.

Keep a detailed calendar
The start of school can be quite a culture shock to those of us used to the lazy days of summer. Suddenly there are new activities, sports, clubs, and responsibilities that dictate our days. And this usually means everyone is going in separate directions. It’s enough to drive anyone insane! We tackle the crazy schedules by keeping a huge dry erase calendar centrally located on the kitchen wall, detailed with all our schedules in time order, and color coded to show which schedule belongs to which family member. This helps us to know when there’s a conflict we need to work around, and also helps the kids know where they need to be and what they need to be doing every single day. There are no surprises. And it also helps us to avoid overscheduling by seeing at a glance what’s going on day by day.

Here’s to a brand new school year!

5 steps to smooth mornings

Mornings are rough – especially in a household where everyone is going in separate directions.  That’s why it’s vital to create a routine for the morning.  Here are some tips on how to make the most of the mornings and still get out of the house on time.

#1. Start planning on the weekend.
Create a Sunday routine of prepping for the week to come.  Plan out a lunch menu for the week, chop up veggies for lunches and dinners, and pre-bag any snacks your kids or you will be brown-bagging to make for an easy grab-and-go.  Pick out your outfits for the week and make sure that everything is neatly pressed. 

#2. Include the night before in your morning prep.
Bag up any parts of the lunches that can be made the night before without getting soggy or gross.  Make sure all papers and folders are signed.  Have your child pick out their clothes and lay them out. 

#3. Wake up earlier.
Always feel like you’re rushing in the morning?  Consider waking up 30 minutes earlier.  Those extra 30 minutes create time to brew your coffee, put the dishes away, start making breakfast, and have a few moments of peace and quiet as you mentally prepare for the day.

#4. Same ol’ routine…
When every morning is the same, things are less likely to be forgotten. Here’s my personal routine:

6am – wake up, make coffee, feed cat, and start cooking breakfast (oatmeal for kids, eggs for me). Daughter is already up and taking shower.
6:30am – wake son up (he takes his shower the night before, as do I). Both kids dress and eat breakfast.  I go upstairs and finish getting ready (hair, make-up, clothes I picked out the night before).
6:45am – kids put their dishes away and make their lunches. 
7am – I’m done getting ready, put my lunch together (generally leftovers already boxed up and ready to pack).  Make sure kids have everything they need for the day – papers signed, gym clothes in bag, lunches packed, teeth brushed, shoes and socks on. 
7:20-7:30am – make sure lights and coffee pot are off and leave for school and work.

Your routine will look different, depending on how much your kids are able to do by themselves, and how much you have to do for them.  As it is, our routine actually has extra time factored in.  This gives the kids time to lag in the morning, as kids are prone to do.  I totally recommend giving yourself more time than you need, just in case milk spills, breakfast burns, someone has a bad hair day, or a kid oversleeps or prefers to lay on his floor for 30 minutes rather than getting ready. 

And don’t underestimate the power of bribery.  My son was a classic example of never being ready on time because he would lag way too much.  But being the video game junkie he is, I bribed him by allowing him to play video games in the morning only if he has everything ready for the day.  No joke, he now gets ready in 15 minutes flat so he can have 30 full minutes of mind-numbing play time.  If you have a kid who lags, consider rewarding promptness as part of their requirements for earning allowance, for extra TV time, or anything else that is going to encourage them to get off their butts and get ready.

However, even the most anal routine is still prone to hiccups and forgetfulness…. 

Last night I made egg salad for the kids’ lunches, and packed up a couple containers of leftovers for my own lunches.  I got ready in record time and even had time to run a fresh iron over my shirt for extra crispness.  My daughter’s freshly laundered gym clothes were in her bag, and both their lunches rocked.  I dropped each kid off at school early, and was early to work.  And it wasn’t till I was sitting down at my desk did I remember that my son’s homework folder, the one that I needed to go through every weekend and then sign before he returned it on Monday, still lay untouched in his backpack without my signature.


And this leads me to step #5 (one that we still need to implement):

#5. Create a checklist of must-dos.
…and teach your child (and yourself) to check off each item as they’re done.  Best place to keep it?  By the door so you’re sure not to miss it.

What do you do to make mornings go smoother? 

Automatic Pilot

I got up at 6 am this morning, just like usual. I started the coffee and cleared out the dishrack while it brewed. I got out my small pan and threw in a scrambled egg to make my goat cheese and avocado omelet. Then I sat with the newspaper and got caught up on the news. The kids’ alarm went off at 7 am, and we started the hustle and bustle of getting ready in 45 minutes. Quick shower, hair and make-up, the long process of figuring out what to wear – all while the kids got themselves dressed, made their breakfasts, and packed their lunches. A couple of the usual reminders that hair and teeth needed to be brushed and shoes needed to be put on, and we were out the door. We started down the road while I mused once again if I had remembered to turn off the coffeepot. I always did without thinking, a habitual flick of the switch when I set my coffee cup with its traditional third of a cup left unsipped. I thought about turning around again since we were on time, but decided against it, placing faith in my automatic pilot to have done it for me.

We merged into traffic on the 12, getting behind the same car that we have followed many times before. They must be on the same schedule as us. I dropped my son off first, signing all of his homework at the very last minute, as usual. Then I dropped my daughter off. We listened to the same radio morning show we always listen to and piped in to answer the questions to their latest contest in the privacy of our own car. And then, before I knew what was happening, I was at work.

Yesterday I was driving home from work to go pick the kids up from my parents’ house. A Pink song came on the radio and I hummed along. It made me think of her amazing performance at the Grammys. I thought about the feedback she must have heard after the show. She must have had friends and fans alike telling her how awesome it was, probably still to this day. And what about her family? Pink is notorious for her outbursts and wild nature. I remembered a story once of a Thanksgiving she attended at her in-laws house. She and her husband got into a full on fight at the dinner table and starting throwing food all around the dining room. Her in-laws must have been amazed that she was capable of something so raw and beautiful.

And that’s when I realized that the ground was moving below me, and my stomach actually jumped. I had been so engrossed in daydreaming that I had actually exited the car and was floating in oblivion while my body kept driving the car to my parents’ house.

The routine is never changing, always the same. A deviation in it would throw our whole schedule off. But because it is so routine, I find that I can do it half asleep and never remember what is going on in between Point A and Point D. It can be a little jarring when I get so caught up in doing the same thing every day that I am doing it without thinking. I can’t tell you how many times I have driven somewhere and, once at my destination, I literally can’t remember what happened during the drive. I don’t even remember driving!

Are you the same? Is your schedule so intact that you can do it without thinking? Between kids activities, the school and work routine, and all else that takes up your time as a busy mom, do you find yourself most days on Automatic Pilot?

Getting Back into the School Routine

It’s the time of year when kids cringe and parents jump for joy. Gone are the days of going to bed late and waking up around noon. No more video games for 4 hours straight, knocking on friends’ doors all day long to see if they can play, and seeing if it actually is possible that pajamas will stick to their skin if they wear them for a week without changing. It’s when your child, who has been looking at you for months through shaggy uncombed locks, suddenly looks like a shiny new kid with a haircut and unwrinkled clothing, a new backpack slung over their shoulder…and a scowl on their face.

I can’t promise you that the scowl will disappear completely. But I can guarantee that, in most cases, it does get better. And, with the help of some local moms and teachers, I have compiled a list of some definite DO’s to help get your child on track in the transition from the lazy days of summer to the busy days of school.

The first, and most important, is to set a bedtime and stick with it. Caren McLerran, a kindergarten teacher at R. L. Stevens Elementary, suggests that routine is vital when it comes to bedtime. “Begin early enough to get ready and have a settle down time to read a story. It should be consistent every school night. Children thrive on routine.”

On that note, reading to your elementary kids is an extremely vital part of a kids’ development. I admit it, I have gotten out of practice when it comes to reading to my kids now that they are at an age where they can read by themselves. Problem is, kids don’t always read on their own time. But there are reasons why kids need to be read to. It helps them to be able to hear more carefully the emotions involved in reading so that they can read the same way on their own. And Caren gave a point that I had never thought of, to use reading as an opportunity to “discuss the story and ask them to make predictions. Talk about the plot, the characters, the setting, and the problem and resolution. Ask what they liked or disliked and why. It’s important to stretch those summer-mode attention spans and re-spark those higher order thinking skills.”

Timeliness is another important factor, and it sets the tone for the day. It’s those extra few moments spent at home that can determine whether your child will be there on time, or if they will have to get a tardy slip. And being tardy not only reflects on your child’s school performance, it is incredibly disruptive to the class. The teacher must catch the tardy student up to speed while the rest of the class must wait. Santa Rosa mom, Kari Cagle, came up with a simple solution. She has her daughter, Kassidy, “put her outfit out the night before and pack up her backpack and homework the night before as well.” You can even go one step further and have the kids plan out their lunches, and pack as much as they can the night before. This way they aren’t wasting time standing in front of the refrigerator trying to decide what to eat. It also helps to have a lunch meal plan for the week, easily accessible on the refrigerator so that there is no guesswork involved.

Ask any teacher what their number one hope for every student is, and organization will be at the top of the list. Kari told me, “One thing we always do is restock her home supplies as well as her school supplies. It’s always a good idea to get them excited about homework. New fun things like new pens, pencils, color pencils, crayons, erasers and other supplies seems to get my girl in the mood to do homework. There’s nothing like breaking in a new crayon!” Another important tip is to “make up a homework kit,” Caren McLerran offered. “Have all of the pencils, erasers, crayons, scissors, glue, paper and folders that they will need for the year. Get a container to put the supplies in and figure out a quiet spot that will be designated as the “homework spot”. This way when they actually start getting homework they’ll be ready to hit the ground running. Homework should be done early and not right before bed when our brains are sleepy.”

High school teacher, Jessica Dennis, gave a different view, “Since I’m a high school teacher, it’s a little different, I suppose, because we treat students like mini-adults. You know, school is their “job” so once summer is over, they’re back on the clock, so to speak, and we simply expect them to start being responsible. Organization is obviously important, so it’s vital to have all the school supplies ready to go early on….but with high schoolers, they need to do it themselves, so parents shouldn’t dictate an organization system, but rather work with kids to develop one that works for them individually. Not all students can have immaculate binders, and not all kids can use a daily planner.”

In my family, the one item we cannot do without is our dry erase calendar. Listed on that calendar is every single thing we are doing each month. The kids know where we need to be at any given time, and that takes the surprise out of it. It helps them to prepare for the day, and to know what’s going on for tomorrow. If they have soccer practice the next day, they know that they are going to need a clean uniform and will have to locate their gear. If they have a book report or a project due, it is listed on the calendar so they can be aware of the date every day, and work towards being done by the due date.

Perhaps one of the most important tips is YOUR involvement in your child’s school life. Parents, even junior high and high school parents, need to keep involved at the school. It is important to meet and keep in contact with your child’s teachers, go to the PTA meetings, and attend Open House and Back to School night. To better understand your child’s workload, check your student’s planner and homework lists every night, and look at their homework. There will come a time when the work they are doing will surpass even your knowledge, but you can at least be familiar with what they are expected to learn. “The advice I’d have for my parents is to be excited for school to start, and to share that excitement with the kids,” Jessica Dennis said. “Talk about what this year is going to hold, and discuss ways your kids can get involved in the school community, whether through sports or clubs or other activities. A student who is “plugged in” will always be more successful than one who feels like they’re just going through the motions.”

It’s not like school is a kid’s favorite place to be. And no wonder when they have to break free from waking up in the afternoon and beating their high score on Guitar Hero. But with a little prompting and a lot of organization, school won’t be faced with feelings of dread. And this school year could be your child’s best year ever.

(See a version of this article in today’s Sonoma Living section of the Press Democrat)


Have more tips on getting back into the school routine?  Share them here, or on the forums at SantaRosaMom.com.