By Kristi York
One morning in the schoolyard, I overheard a frustrated dad mutter: “Getting kids to school on time should be an Olympic sport.”
He has a point. Even skeleton—where athletes slide head-first down an icy track on nothing more than a glorified cookie sheet—pales in comparison to the challenge of getting kids woken up, fed, dressed, organized, and out the door on schedule. Like an Olympic performance, this requires dedication, skill, focus, and training.
In the pursuit of an efficient morning routine, here are some strategies and tips from medal-worthy moms and dads.
The Night Before
The most popular advice, by far, is to prep as much as possible the night before. Permission forms, homework, library books, and reading logs should all be safely stowed in backpacks.
Then, of course, there is the dreary business of lunch-making.
It is universally acknowledged that making lunches the night before is an effective morning time-saver. “I get a lot of the week’s lunch supplies ready on Sunday,” Mom of two Gail Kipfer says. “I cut up fruit and/or veggies to fill little plastic containers with individual servings. I have their snacks and drinks set aside, too. The most I ever have to do in the morning is make a sandwich.”
Personally, I can’t always make it a reality. On late nights, I go with the “one less thing” principle. Even if I just fill the water bottles or set out the snack containers with their matching lids, that’s one less thing for me to deal with in the morning.
Get up, sport
Even with lunches out of the way, mornings are still a time crunch. When her alarm goes off, Lyndsay Woodard confides: “It’s hard, but I try to avoid the temptation to hit ‘snooze’ because if I’m falling behind and scrambling, that’s not helpful. I wake up early enough that I’m ready to go when my daughter wakes up. That way, I can attend to her breakfast without needing to do things for myself.”
Champions of breakfast
Breakfast at my house is like a crowded diner with grumpy customers, and I’m the only waitress on shift. My younger son will either want oatmeal, toast, or a combination of the two—and there is no way of knowing in advance which it is, or in what order.
My older son likes bagels, which doesn’t sound dangerous, but it is. My strategy was to stock up when they’re on sale and toss the bags in the freezer. This led to hazardous early-morning knife-wielding as I attempted to separate a previously pre-sliced bagel that was now an impenetrable cinnamon-raisin rock. I even tried one of those bagel gadgets that looks like a mini guillotine, but it only resulted in more struggling and gritting of teeth.
Then I got smart. I still buy the bagels in advance, but now I split them apart and freeze them in a rectangular plastic container, with parchment paper between the halves. This small step has revolutionized my ability to keep up with the breakfast orders—although the regulars still never leave a tip.
When it comes to the morning menu, mom of three Kim Straus says: “This is not the time to impress children with cookie-cutter pancake shapes or French toast with fancy toppings.” Generally, there is less preparation and clean-up with basics like cereal, toast, and fruit.
The Dress-age Event
To counteract what mom Joanne Smith calls “the ‘I am not wearing that!’ scenario,” she suggests setting out everyone’s clothes the night before. If fashion tastes change overnight, offer two outfit choices and move on.
Then there’s the outerwear—a huge obstacle, especially in winter. Leanne Uttley’s two boys attend the same school as mine, and they always arrive with plenty of time to spare, so I figured she had to have a brilliant secret up her sleeve. Turns out, it’s in her closet.
“My key strategy is to have everything organized,” Uttley says. “I have cubbies built into the hall closet, with specific spots for the kids’ school gear and papers. It has worked wonders, because we're not running all over the house looking for things at the last minute.”
While I now fantasize about installing hooks and shelves in our closet, my sons will have to make do with the bench-style ottoman that cleverly hides all our seasonal gear.
Motivation and flat-out poking
Maybe you have a natural slowpoke, a grumbler, or a kid who is anti-snowpants? Try these tips to help reluctant ones along:
Olympic sport or not, that’s an approach worth championing.
Kristi York has two school-aged boys and yes, everything in her household revolves around sports.