Back to school time can be stressful, and the morning routine is the hardest time of the day for many families, including mine. With all four of my kids headed to school this year (my oldest three will be in elementary school all day, and my youngest in preschool), having a great start to the day has never been more important to me.
School mornings can bring out the worst in every family member. When my kids first hit school age, mornings were full of crankiness and arguments. They fought with each other and with me. They argued about what they would wear or wouldn’t wear. They didn’t want to get their backpacks ready and just seemed to wander aimlessly as I shouted the same directions at them over and over. It’s easy for everyone to be cranky, tired and argumentative during the short time between wake up and out the door, but over the last 6 years, with lots of trial and error, I’ve developed a few habits that have helped me make the most of those moments before they head off to school.
Start the Night Before
Planning for a great morning starts the night before. As a family, get everything ready for the next day, so there’s as little to do as possible once your kids wake up. Prep breakfast, review homework folders, sign permission slips, gather show and tell items, make lunches, pack backpacks, and take care of anything that can be done in advance.
Even your youngest kids can help make lunches by having sandwiches and snacks ready to grab from the pantry or refrigerator. Separate them into bins for pre-made sandwiches, fruits, veggies, grains, etc. and allow them to grab one from each bin and put them in their lunch box.
Keeping your child’s lunch at the right temperature at school is a big deal, especially because many lunch options can spoil if they aren’t kept at safe temperatures. Traditional lunch box ice packs are often filled with toxic gel or end up leaking as they thaw, and can easily get separated from a lunch box. Packit offers a convenient solution: freezable bags with gel built right into the box, so you’ll never have to deal with ice packs again!
The Freezable Classic Lunch Box by Packit has a top-load design that makes it perfect for lunch containers and bento boxes. The handle buckles onto backpacks and bags for convenience.
The Freezable Lunch Bag Zips at the top and folds down to lock in cool, dry air. This style also has a buckle handle, for hands-free convenience as your kids head out the door in the morning!
If you’re packing for a family day, or a picnic lunch with your kids who are still at home, The Freezable Picnic Tote will keep everything fresh and cool until you’re ready for lunch. With enough space for food to feed four people, this versatile bag will become a family staple.
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
With four kids in school, keeping books and papers organized feels like an impossible task. Each day when my kids come home from school, they empty their bags of everything but the extra change of clothes they keep in there. Books, papers, lunch boxes, water bottles . . . it all comes out. Then in the evening, anything that needs to be returned to school gets put back into the bag. This keeps backpacks clean and prevents you from finding rotten food or overdue field trip permission slips days later.
High Sierra backpacks are perfect for my kids because they’re roomy, comfortable and have sizes to fit each of my kids, no matter what stage they’re in.
My 5th grader uses the High Sierra Access Backpack. It’s multi-compartment design includes a computer sleeve and deluxe media pocket (for when he’s older) and several compartments to keep his belongings organized.
One of our favorite features of the Access Backapck is the rain cover! Keeping his belongings dry while waiting for the bus or walking to and from the car in the rain is a problem solved!
For my preschooler, the High Sierra Mini Loop Backpack is perfect. It is child-sized and easy for her to carry, but will still hold a traditional notebook or folder. The compartments are easy for her little fingers to zip and unzip and the padded back panel and shoulder straps make it very comfortable.
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
Wake Up Early
Waking up before my kids makes all the difference in how our mornings go. Even if it’s just 30 minutes to shower, get dressed, and grab that crucial cup of coffee, that little bit of a jump start makes breakfast and morning chores so much easier than it is if we’re all waking up at the same time. I will often start a load of laundry, get breakfast started or simply take a quiet moment to myself before I hear them stirring upstairs.
I work from home, so each day is a little different for me. I try to start my day in comfortable clothes that will allow me to work out after my kids are off to school, but aren’t so sloppy that I’ll feel embarassed walking them to their classes. Katie K Active helps me feel like I can drop my older kids off at school without looking like I just rolled out of bed.
Katie K Active is perfect for working out or just chasing your younger kids around the playground. It’s comfortable and beautifully made and is perfect for a quick work out or trip to the playground with my younger kids.
Katie K Active is an inclusive brand that fits women sizes small to 3X. Fitness trainer Katie Kozloff wanted to provide clothing that would be both fashionable and functional for all women, no matter their size. Katie used double fit technology (using size small and size 2X models for patterns, rather than just increasing the size of the small pattern) and that makes all the difference in how well this clothing fits.
In fact, it fits so well, that it attracted the attention of the costume designer on The Biggest Loser, and has been used by contestants on the show.
I love the Propel Collection. It features bright colors and durable fabrics that won’t fade or shrink. The seams are smooth (to prevent chafing) and they feature a side pocket for your phone or keys.
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
Set Clear Expectations
Make sure to establish clear expectations for what the morning will look like. I make weekly lists of things each of my children is responsible for in the morning before walking out the door. It starts with brushing their teeth and ends with putting their shoes on. If they get stuck and seem to be off track in the morning, I tell them to go to the list and see what they have left to do. Letting them help you make the list gives them ownership over their own morning experience. (Hint: Having a list of things to do when get home from school is helpful, too.)
Make sure they know what is and isn’t allowed, too. Screen time? Play time? Who will load their bags in the car? Do you expect them to help younger siblings? What can they do with any free time after their chores are complete? Answering these questions in advance can alleviate many common school morning struggles.
Choose Clothing They Love
While the $5 t-shirts at the local retailer are tempting and appropriate in some instances, I’ve learned that investing in quality pieces for my kids to wear is well worth it. Clothing that can be handed down and can withstand the activity level of active elementary aged boys and girls is important. Bonus: If your kids love the clothes, they’ll will wear them without a fight AND they’ll go to school looking presentable.
I have each of my kids lay out their outfits (right down to their socks and underwear) on Sunday night, so when it’s time for them to get dressed in the morning, we can avoid a “no you cannot wear your Princess Elena costume to school” debate.
We have a few brands that we choose because the durability and affordability of their apparel is hard to beat!
Boden is a clothing brand that has the whole family covered. Their line of kids’ clothes, found at Mini Boden, are equal parts comfortable, adorable and (most importantly for me) machine washable. From t-shirts to outerwear, this company has clothing to outfit your entire family!
My daughter loves to wear dresses, but can also hit the playground pretty hard at recess. The Pretty Cord Dress is perfect for her, because it allows for movement and tough play, while still allowing her to wear a dress. On cooler days, we layer it over the Breton T-Shirt, which coordinates perfectly and gives the outfit the playful look she loves so much!
My oldest son is (finally) getting to the point where he cares about how he’s dressed, but is having a hard time forgoing the everyday athletic shorts look because he wants to be comfortable. The drawstring waistband of the Cord Pull-On Pants offer the perfect combination of comfort and style.
He can wear the pants with a t-shirt or dress is up just a little bit more with the Laundered Shirt for a classic, casual look.
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
My kids love wearing clothing from Appaman, because of the brand’s trendy look and cozy fit.
The Maple Dress t-shirt dress is a great style for school or playground. The sweet bow print is beautiful and the assymmetrical cut gives it just a touch of edge.
We love the Sycamore Hoodie because it’s soft and cozy, but my daughter’s favorite part is the cute little ears on the hood (her nickname is “Claire Bear” afterall). It’s made of a faux sheepskin, making this the softest thing she owns.
I will never have to fight my second grader to wear this Baseball Tee! It’s his new favorite shirt and I have to talk him out of wearing it every day! The colors are cool and it’s a perfect complement to the Slim Leg Denim jeans
The Ludlow Hoodie is the perfect boys’ hoodie: Soft fleece on the inside, slouchy fit and medium weight. He can grab this hoodie on the way out the door and wear it with anything!
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
Something I learned early on in parenting is that boys’ shoes are rarely handed down. My oldest’s shoes will often wear out before he outgrows them, and I will always have to buy a new pair for his brother. The exception to that is dress-casual shoes from Florsheim.
Shoes by Florsheim keep my boys comfortable enough for all-day wear. With a memory foam sole, the Midtown Plain Toe Oxford Jr. shoes keep his feet feeling as good as he looks!
The Curb Plain Toe Chukka Jr. is classic and neutral and goes with anything. Whether he’s in khakis or jeans, this boot is the perfect addition to his everyday look! The entire footbed is cushioned and the sole is made of flexible rubber, giving him all of the comfort and support he needs for walking to and from the bus stop and playing hard at recess! And you won’t need to convince him to wear them, because he’ll be begging to!
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
The Chooze basics collection were the perfect choice for my Kindergartner this year. The Skip in Princess is a classic black shoe that she can wear with pretty much anything. She loves the sweet little heart ornament on the strap and I love the removable, padded anti-microbial insoles they come with.
These shoes are a staple in her wardrobe, and are available in a variety of colors and patterns. Chooze offers many different styles and colors of shoes, but we love that the black will be so versatile.
This brand not only provides great shoes, but they offer programs that train and educate women to move them out of poverty. We love knowing that our back to school shopping is going toward such an amazing mission!
My preschooler will be wearing shoes by Livie & Luca this fall, and I’ve never seen her more excited about footwear! The Gemma Mary Jane shoes are a gray suede with silver glitter dots, giving her the “sparkly shoes” that every little girl wants! The honeycomb rubber sole gives her the traction and flexibility necessary for an active three-year-old!
The Ruche Mary Jane has a shimmering champagne exterior and are stylish enough for any occasion. Thee sweet ruffle trim makes this shoe so beautiful and unique and she never wants to take them off!
Both sets of shoes feature a breathable inner sole and a hook and loop closing, making it easy for her to put her shoes on all by herself. She loves twirling, running and dancing in these shoes!
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
Eat a Good Breakfast
This is hardly new advice, but it’s important: Eat a good breakfast. Hungry kids are much crankier when they’re getting ready to leave in the morning. It’s hard for them to focus and concentrate at school, too. Some elementary school students eat lunch as early as 10:30 a.m., while some don’t hit the cafeteria until the afternoon. Be sure to fill their tummies with something filling and nutritious.
Because kids’ tastes vary so widely, this looks different for every family. Some kids just need a granola bar or cereal, while some might need a hot breakfast. My family’s breakfast favorites include scrambled eggs or oatmeal. If we’re running a little behind, a pitcher of fruit and yogurt smoothies in the blender are the best option. Do what works for your family, but be sure they don’t leave the house with empty stomachs!
Spend One-on-One Time
With four kids, I cannot give all of them my attention all morning, but I can give each of them my undivided attention for 2 or 3 minutes. Before my kids walk out the door, no matter how the morning has gone, I take some time to talk with them and make sure they know that I love them and that I’m on their team. Everything I do is for their own good (even when they’re not happy about it) and I want to be sure they understand that I’m always here for them when I need to be.
My kids are all too young for phones, but their watches by Tinitell are a great start to keeping us in touch. Tinitell is a wearable mobile phone for kids. It’s simple, fun and gives me tremendous peace of mind. It uses a reasonably priced cell service called Ting, and is offering a limited Back to School offer that gives you 3 months of free service.
The wearable device looks like the coolest watch ever and allows my kids to make and recieve calls only from the contacts I add using the app. Using the watch is simple enough that my 5-year-old can call me and answer my calls with no problem.
With Tinitell, there’s no screen to shatter and no extra bells and whistles to distract your child. It simply allows them to get in touch with you when you need them (and tells them the time, too). Because there’s no screen, it’s widely allowed in schools.
The app is very easy to use and allows you to manage up to 12 contacts. It also includes a GPS tracker so that they can be easily tracked on a map.
Before each school year starts, I take each of my kids on a “back to school” date where we go to a restaurant of their choice, buy any supplies they might need, and a shirt for them to wear on the first day of school. During dinner talk about their goals for the year which range from, “to make it across all of the monkey bars at recess” to “reading 1000 pages before Christmas.”
They always give me a hard time about never leaving home without my sunglasses, and I joke that “it’s because my kids are so bright.” So this year on our dates, I gave them each a pair of sunglasses of their own! I chose sunglasses from Real Shades, because I knew they would last them the year (and beyond).
Real Shades offers sunglasses in a variety of sizes, so it was easy to find a pair for each of my kids. These sunglasses are manufactured with the most durable materials available so they’ll withstand the wear and tear that kids can put on their belongings.
What makes Real Shades different is that they’re designed to fit properly, ensuring that their eyes will be well protected from the harmful effects of the sun. With sizing for babies, toddlers (2+), kids (4+) youth, (7+) and adults, you’ll have no problem finding shades for your family.
Real Shades’ goal is to protect as many kids’ eyes as possible from the damaging effects of UV radiation. It was launched when they couldn’t find an inexpensive pair of real sunglassses that would protect kids’ eyes.
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
My kids might be separated from me for 7 hours a day, but we also know that quality time always trumps quantity time. We make the most of their time at home, including the mornings. Especially the mornings.
Photo Credits: Sara Luke