School Mornings Made Simple: Life Hacks Parents & Kids Love

Updated April 26, 2021
Girl leaving for school

You've got one kid on the toilet, reading a Dora the Explorer book in a Yoda voice. You've got another kid "helping" pour cereal all over the kitchen counter. You've got five minutes to get dressed, fix your hair, and make lunches, or the kids will miss their school bus and you'll miss your staff meeting. No, you don't need to spike your orange juice with Grey Goose. You need a handful of tried-and-true, stress-free hacks for school mornings to make it though the morning hullaballoo.

Oh Mighty Checklist

Let's face it, most kids couldn't map their way out of a paper bag much less plan and execute the many steps they must take to get out the door clean, fed, dressed, and equipped for their day. Time to introduce your tribe to the God of Sane Mornings: The Mighty Checklist. Whether your checklist takes the form of a magnetic board with "to do" and "done" columns or is a list scrawled on a paper bag, the function is the same: the checklist tells your kids what to do so you don't have to.

When making a checklist, decide what the kids can handle independently and what is practical. This depends on your child and their level of development. Tailor checklists to abilities, ages, and the individual child.

The Great Reward

Getting your crew into the car on time without the yelling (them) or tears (you) might be all the reward you need, but the kids are going to want a little something for their efforts. Nobody in this world works for free, including kids. There are a gazillion methods to teach children reward and consequence. Do a bit of research and find something that you feel will work for you and your children.

A simple reward system is the marble jar method. Give each kid an empty jar and a supply of marbles. For each Mighty Checklist task they complete independently, they put two marbles in the jar. If they need a reminder to complete a task (because let's face it, they're kids,) they earn one marble. If you dole out more than one reminder: no marble, but they have to complete the task anyway. When they've filled the jar, they earn a reward. What will it be? Five bucks? A trip to the ice cream shop? A new app for the iPad? That is also up to you. Discussing what the prize will be before the start of the week will give kids something personal to work towards.

Sane Mornings Begin on Sunday

Okay, so maybe you're not a "planner." Maybe you're a spontaneous free spirit who sees routine as a weapon of the dominant paradigm, anathema to creativity, oppressor of the masses. Maybe that's why your mornings suck? Time to compromise your principles in service of your goal. Dedicate part of Sunday to setting your family up for weekday success.

Sunday Hack #1: Conquer Clothes Woes

Choose five outfits for each child (or let your children do the choosing if you are adventurous.) Select items from hats and hairbands all the way down to the dreaded bunchy socks (could someone, anyone design a sock that won't ruin everyone's lives, please!) Place each outfit in a bin or a bag of your choosing and label each one with the days of the week. Kids are completely capable of going to the Monday bin, bucket or bag and getting their clothes out. They have lockers, bins, and cubbies at school, and they handle this independently.

Sunday Hack 2: Food Prep

Remember how Carol Brady and Alice (bonus points if you can answer the Brady Bunch trivia question "What was Alice's last name?") stood at the kitchen counter, constructing six school lunches, assembly-line style? Didn't that look fun? (Pretend it did.) Guess what? Your turn! Prep the week's lunch foods on Sunday afternoon. No, you shouldn't make Friday's tuna sandwich on Sunday (unless food poisoning is your idea of a good time), but you can prep and bag carrots, grapes, hard-boiled eggs, and many other snacks that will make lunch packing easier during the week. If you don't have an Alice available to help, you can get your kids in on the game. (Nelson. Her last name was Nelson.)

Named packed lunches on table

Clothes on Last- Even You!

There is nothing worse than getting everyone cleaned up and dressed on a Monday morning only to notice that your kids have orange juice and jelly on their shirts, and you have a shirt cuff painted with coffee. At this point, you have two choices: drag everyone upstairs kicking and screaming as you scramble for new outfits, or head out the door looking like a bunch of trolls.

One surefire way to thwart this common setback is to get everyone dressed last. East breakfast, brush teeth, and spray down all hair before putting clothes on. Moms and dads are no strangers to early morning stains and spills, so wear your robe over your clothes as you serve up morning meals. When there is no more threat of mess, dramatically throw your robe off in total superhero fashion because face it: You're a total baddie.

Make Me Time Bright and Early

Parents need a minute each morning to slam their coffee and orient their minds before the list of demands and cacophony of screams set in. Set your alarm for a time before the kids waking up and give yourself that space to get into zen, or warrior, mode. Depending on how much time you take before the morning meltdowns ensue, you might be able to squeeze in a workout, get a shower and get dressed, or get a bit of work completed. Sometimes even 15 minutes of darkness and quiet is plenty of time for parents to breathe deeply and sip their coffee as they review their plan of morning attack.

Create a Hair Caddy Near the Kitchen

Life happens in the family kitchen, especially on school mornings. Once kids travel down the stairs looking for food and television, keep them down there. Don't waste time running back up the stairs to dress or do hair. Bring the morning outfits to the kitchen and set up a hair caddy in a powder room or in the kitchen itself. Fill the caddy with detangler spray (why do people still try to live without this), hairbands, hairbrushes, and bows. Attack the unruly manes of your children while they are occupied at the breakfast table or in front of the television. Catch them in a moment of weakness.

mother braiding hair of daughter

Take Breakfast Orders Early

Kids are fickle eaters at best, and many children will devour pancakes one morning and scoff at them the next. Breakfast time is maddening to parents because they will prepare a dish and then watch their children act horrified at the culinary creation. Who knew cereal could be so offensive? They consider letting everyone starve, but no parent can stomach the thought of kids headed to school hungry, so they make another...and another...and another meal...until finally they cry a little and pass out cheese sticks and pudding cups at 7:30 a.m.

Start taking breakfast orders from your tiny, non-paying customers early, like the day before early. Give them three options and make them commit to one. Honoring commitments is an important life lesson for children. Teachable moments people! Make sure they know what they choose is what they get. Stick to your guns here. Don't budge. Don't let them see weakness. Don't cave and reach for that cheese stick.

Set Up the Kitchen for Go Time the Night Before

Kitchens are busy spaces in the morning time. You likely find yourself flying around the kitchen at 7 a.m. thinking that you are running a small diner as you take orders, deal with ornery customers, wipe up spills, and wish you had any job but this one. You can't stop the madness, it's coming at you every single day, parents, but you can manage the madness, and you do this through organization.

Set the kitchen up for breakfast time the evening before. Put out plates, cups, and silverware at place settings. Pre-make your coffee so it is ready to roll. If your kids enjoy boiled eggs or sausage, make these the night before so that you only have to warm them up.

Pack Backpacks at the Same Time Every Evening

Packing backpacks in the morning is a terrible idea, just going to say it and own it. Why do parents even still try to do life this way? Making lunches and packing backpacks in the morning is like shoveling in a snowstorm. It's pointless, a waste of time, and you are very likely to pull a muscle doing it. Seriously though, as if you need one more morning chore to squeeze into the weekday mornings.

Pack backpacks the day before and do it at the same time each day. Some parents may find that as soon as the kids come home, emptying bags, getting to homework, and packing snacks is the way to go. Other families take on this task around dinnertime, since this is a period of the day where they are stuck in the kitchen anyhow. Still, other families wait until the children are all tucked into bed, and then they creep downstairs to assemble tomorrow's needs in the gift of silence that nighttime brings. All of these options are great, packing in the morning...not so great.

Put Stickers in Shoes

Shoes are the last thing to go on kids before everybody hits the door in a mad scramble to beat the bell. If you have young children, you know shoes are ready and waiting to take you all down. The left ends up on the right, the kids refuse to switch them, you begin to yell, they throw themselves on the floor and you start to question all of your life choices, right there in the front hallway.

Use. Stickers.

Stickers are a parent's best friend, a steadfast ally in life. They can be used on behavior charts, as rewards, and to help kids master the art of left shoe versus right shoe. Take a sticker and rip it right down the center. Put the left half of the sticker in the left shoe, peeking up at your kid and the right side of the sticker in the right shoe. Now, shoe time is a fun little puzzle that ensures shoes get put on the correct feet, and you get out the door in record time. Stickers for the win.

Child putting lace-up boots on herself

Give Yourself Some Grace

In the end, you get no medal for a perfectly executed weekday morning. No one is coming into your home with a clipboard and score sheet, rating your ability to start the day off smoothly. Figure out what works for you and give it a whirl. Start with one or two tips or tricks and build on them once your families get the hang of the simple stuff. The entire point of hacks is to make life easier, so the last thing you want to do is pile on the hacks and overwhelm yourself and your kids.

If you try everything on here and are still a hot mess, you know what? You tried. Keep trying. Trying is the only thing that actually matters in parenting. Give yourself some grace on those mornings where nothing goes right, and keep doing the very best that you can.

School Mornings Made Simple: Life Hacks Parents & Kids Love