Beat the Bell: 10 Tips to Get Your School-Aged Kids Out the Door on Time

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I'm not going to sugar-coat it; getting four kids up and out the door for school is a royal pain.  Especially so when I have to be at work in the morning, too, and can't do the drop-off in my pj pants, coat, and pontyail, coffee cup in my non-driving hand. 

The cast of characters in my house are in second, fourth, sixth, and eighth grades this year, so I've been herding them in the mornings long enough to: a) have learned how to make things (almost) flow, and b) tell you that it can get easier the older they get.  Not any less busy or loud our chaotic, but a little less hands-on. 

I'll start with my list of lessons learned and then go over an idealized version of a school morning at my house.  Every family is different, so of course your mileage will vary.  Got excellent time and sanity saving tips?  Please share them in the comments below!

The Night Before Stuff

1) Pack lunches and fill water bottles.  Doing it when it's late and you (or the kids if they're able) are tired beats racing to do it when it's early and you or the kids are tired.  Hot lunch family?  Put notes in your calendar to check the balance on the lunch account a couple of times a month (if your school offers that service) or make sure you've got correct change, with reusable, labeled baggies or envelopes maybe for the littlest or less organized ones.

2)  Choosing outfits ahead of time is a great idea, of course.  It also never hurts to have them pick a back-up in case they are in a snit and have changed their mind when it's time to get dressed.  That way, the potential ten-minute, "But I don't want to wear THAT today!" discussion can hopefully be tackled in two seconds with an, "Okay, here you go, then!" at-hand solution.

3)  Check for any due library books, permission slips, homework to turn in, etc. and be sure they are all filed in the right kid's backpack.

4)  Put the backpacks by the front door.  You'd think they're too big to lose.  You'd be wrong. 

5)  Have each kid put their shoes on top of their backpack.  Put a sock in each shoe. 

The Day Of Stuff

6)  No electronics until everyone is ready to go.  One kid gets ready early and turns on YouTube or a video game, and you are such a goner.  Kids ready early may read. 

7)  Stick to the either/or rule: "Red jacket or blue today?"  "Pigtails or ponytails?" rather than, "Which jacket do you want?" or "How should we do your hair?" 

8)  If they take any medicines in the morning, make sure they get put out on the table so they can be taken with breakfast.  If you sometimes have to serve them toast in the car while you drive to school because you missed that window for a sit-down breakfast, keep a bottle or two of water in the car to wash down the meds.  Favorite breakfast or energy bars are already stashed in your glove box, right?

9)  Monitor their overall progress and help them stay focused on the task at hand.  Give them both a ten- and five-minute warning before it's time to go.

10)  Set the mood.  Be mellow even if you aren't feeling it!  I discourage any competitive racing in the morning, especially at the breakfast table.  If I stay as calm and relaxed as possible, we are less likely to have upsetting and time-consuming blow-ups.  This is even more important if you are running late.  Things take far longer when everyone is stresed out. 

Bonus Tip!  Check your watch, cell phone, or timepiece of choice against the school bell to see if it rings when your clock says it should.  We once went through a phase during which the school clocks were set about three minutes ahead of my iPhone.  We were a little bit late a lot of the time until I figured that out one day. 

And now, here's how I attempt to weave all those tips into a fast-flying hour or so each morning:

Before it's time to get the kids up, I get up and get myself 100 percent ready to walk out the door.  This is the same principle as when you fly and the attendant stresses the value of placing your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.  I almost always get a few things done for work while my house is still quiet, so my cushion is about two hours. 

One hour before we need to walk out the door comes number one of usually six or so visits to the boys' room to ask them to please get up.  Now, here's a part sure to cause some consternation: I go into my girls' room (they're the second and fourth graders) and I get their clothes and bring everything over to their bed (they have bunk beds, but sleep together on the bottom like puppies all curled up).  While I dress them (that's the part I get grief for), I say, "Good morning, Lovelies!  Oatmeal or eggs?" or some variation on the this-or-that for breakfast question.  I avoid at all costs the open-ended, "What do you want for breakfast?"  Probably, they would want something I do not have and wouldn't have time to make if I did. 

Going through all the possibilities would waste lots of time and make me cranky.  It's important to have a default breakfast that they know they'll always get if they are too tired to choose.  At our house it is cereal. 

After I dress the girls, I wake the boys up again, figure out what they want to eat, and then get breakfast made.  My kids are old enough to cook their own breakfasts, but I don't let them because they take too long, my kitchen is teeny, and I don't want to deal with the mess.  They have other opportunities to prepare their own meals, and I get to be the doting mom.  It works all around -- for us.  

To get the girls out of bed, I tell them that their fish are starving, and they'd better come feed them quick.  Some days they hop right up and others I let them have a couple more minutes in bed while I go feed the fish.  Many times I have carried them to the table and put them in a chair while they were not quite awake.  It's entertaining except when they end up with oatmeal in their hair.

While the girls eat, I bring their shoes to the table and help them put them on.  I know.  Shameful.  But my coddling has a clear goal: It's all about being on time, and not about babying them.  They have, despite me, successfully learned how to put on their own clothes and shoes.  When they can do it fast as I can, we will revisit this one!  Generally speaking, as soon as the food hits the table, my dressed sons will appear.  Funny, that.  Lots of times during breakfast I find myself saying (okay, barking), "If you are talking, you are not eating and it's time to eat!"

Nearly ready!  After breakfast, everyone scrapes their plates and piles them in the sink to be washed later.  We head to the kids' bathroom and jockey for position at the sink.  They take turns milling about to the right spots to brush their teeth and hair.  I stand by to fasten hairclips, break up fights, check for wannabe cheater toothpaste skippers, and (this is key) keep things moving along at a chipper pace.  I make the kids floss every morning.  It doesn't take that long, really. 

And now we are done.  Lunches and water bottles come out of the fridge and go into the backpacks.  I try to remember one last check of the giant kitchen wall calendar for anything due I may have missed the night before.  Then we talk about what's happening after school and in the evening for that day as we head out.  If you can at all swing it, I totally recommend walking to school.  Our elementary school is a half mile away, and that walk is an excellent transition, wake-up, and exercise all at once.  I find that if we are fighting, or even just close to it, in the morning, it gets magnified once the minivan doors close.  I've driven the whole way to school yelling at my children, feeling absolutely horrid.  By the time we get to the drop-off, we're okay and kissing goodbye, but we never bicker when we walk. 

For a long time, one of my sons hated school.  When I woke him up, he'd tell me he wasn't ever going and that was that.  My tactic was to say, "Okay, then," leave him in his bed under the covers and hold my breath as I went about my morning.  Every day when it was time to leave, he'd silently appear at the door, dressed and with all his stuff.  I'd hand him a couple pieces of toast and some beef jerky or something and we'd walk out the door.  I don't know what I'd have done if he really did stay in bed, but I never had any time to spare arguing with him about it. 

Okay, spill!  What's your family like, and how do you find ways to streamline your morning routine?  What are your challenges?  Do you tend to beat the bell, or do you need help?





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