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My eight year old has just announced she needs enough cupcakes to feed the entire class, my five year old has his clothes on backwards, my newborn has a dirty nappy, my helper is frantically packing lunch boxes and we all need to be out of the door in 15 minutes.
This scenario, and variations thereof, were played out all too frequently in the Blair houshold last school year.
If it wasn’t for the honesty of my girlfriends – who assured me frayed tempers, manic scenes of chaos and raised voices are commonplace on school run mornings – then I may have given up all hope of ever seeing my children graduate primary school.
But that was the old way. September marks the dawn of a new era in our household … one where we wake to greet the new day full of anticipation and hope secure in the knowledge that we are a family united by organisation and routine. Well that is the plan!
“Operation School Run” – as I like to call my self-imposed organizational mission – has been gaining momentum in our house since July. Spurred on by the memory of the “I-forgot-to-tell-you-I-need-30-cupcakes-today” catastrophe, I have spoken to experts and devised strategies that will hopefully transform our mornings from chaos to calm.
My organizational overhaul doesn’t come a moment too soon according psychiatrist Dr Julie Coultas.
Dr Coultas says children are all too aware of tension in the home and a bad atmosphere increases anxiety and exacerbates the situation. “Children need to know everything is under control to make them feel secure and happy,” she says.
“Research shows that a lack of routine and regularity can contribute to behavioural problems in both preschool and school age children. Anything to reduce stress in parents’ lives will reap benefits for the whole family.”
Nagging, apparently, is not the answer. Dr Sylvia Rimm, author of “How to Parent So Children Will Learn,” says nagging is a poor way to get kids ready for school.
“All parents wonder how children will ever get out the door without their help,” she says.
It is possible, according to Dr Rimm, to teach children to be taught to remember to wash their faces and brush their teeth without having to remind them.
“Not surprisingly, routine is key. The routine, however, needs to be simple enough that it is easy to stick to and alleviates family stress rather than exacerbates it,” says Dr Rimm.
Throughout July and August I have followed the advice of Dr Coultas, Dr Rimm and hundreds of other organizational experts. I implemented a few simple strategies that made the summer school morning run a breeze. Here they are in all their simplicity. Fingers cross they work as well come September. I have faith, however, that it is possible to have a stress-free, even enjoyable, school run!
1. Get organised the night before
Everything that is needed for the following day should be prepared the night before and everyone, including children, can be involved.
Get your children to write (or draw) their daily programmes (for PE or any afterschool activities like swimming or music) on a colourful chart then stick it to the wall in the most visible place. Have them check their calendar to see what they need to take with them to school the next day. Sporting equipment, library books and musical instruments should be left by the door the night before so there is no fear of forgetting them.
Look over their homework the night before and make sure they have all their school papers and homework stored and packed into their school bags.
Be mindful of the weather report. Have your kids’ rain gear, winter coats or light jackets on hand in case of inclement weather.
Lay out the clothing they need before they go to bed. Always keep uniforms and shoes (in pairs) all together in the same place. Check their uniforms to be sure they are clean and ready to wear. If your child does not wear a uniform have them plan their outfit for the next day – this will avoid fights over what to wear and panic in the morning. Encourage younger children to choose from two or three items they want to wear until they are old enough to do it by themselves.
2. Make lunch the night before
Pack lunches the night before. Sandwiches will taste just as fresh if they are kept in the fridge overnight and take some pressure off the morning routine. If you decide to send your kids to school with lunch money make sure the money or lunch-order goes into their school bag the night before.
3. Get some sleep
Everything seems more of a chore when you’re tired, so ensure your children – and you – get enough sleep. So put your kids to bed at a decent hour. Give your children cosy bedtime routines – such as bath, story and cosy cuddle – to make it a pleasurable finale to the day.
4. Be an early bird
Get out of bed first, and get yourself ready for the day. If you can, try to squeeze in some early morning exercise (three times a week is ideal). Have a coffee, put on a smattering of make up and you will feel more human. Be the one to rouse your children, rather than the other way round. Remember to wake your family up with soothing sounds – it will start their day and yours on a better note if you don’t jar everyone out of their sleep.
5. Make time for breakfast
Get everyone to the breakfast table together. Avoid the ultimate goal being to get out of the door at a certain time, instead make it to have everyone at the table at a certain time. This is a great way to start the day. Once you’re all seated – don’t skimp on breakfast. Health experts worldwide are unanimous that it is the most important meal of the day. The UK Food Standards Agency suggests starting the day with fruit juice, wholegrain cereal and toast spread with peanut butter or cream cheese.
Children aged four and over are usually capable of dressing themselves, especially if their outfits have been set out the night before. Parents often continue to dress their children far after their children are physically capable of doing so. Give them a chance to get themselves ready. This will save you time, and give children a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.
7. Create a routine
Treat the morning like a military drill. This is especially important for younger children, who thrive on familiarity and routine. If you stick to the same procedures every day – get up, get dressed, have breakfast, clean teeth and leave the house – then it can almost be on auto-pilot. If you begin from an early age (as you do with the bedtime routine) then it won’t come as such a shock when they start school. Always keep a close eye on the time, and encourage children to help you make a poster showing the routine and schedule.
8. Bathroom bliss
If you have more than one child, let them plan their own bathroom schedule. If your children share a bathroom, show them how to negotiate who gets the shower at what time and rotate if they prefer.
9. Say no to television
This is open to debate. Some parents find it a useful tool. If strictly monitored it can be treated as a reward. One definite no-no is allowing them to have a television in their bedroom – it is far too great a distraction from the morning routine.
10. Set a time to leave
Always aim to leave home at the same time. Setting an alarm clock can act as a signal (for toddlers in particular) that it is time to go. Older children will be used to the sound of bells from school.
And finally, smile
Congratulations! You’ve made it in good time. Give your child a kiss and a hug and watch them skip into school or onto the bus. Treasure these moments, be proud of yourself, and breathe a huge sigh of relief. Mission accomplished! And what if you don’t make it before the bell rings? Well, there is always tomorrow!