The back-to-school season (or any change in seasons, for that matter) is a great time to re-evaluate our daily and weekly routines to make sure they're serving us.
Evaluating our back to school routines
Last week we started our Back to School mini-series by talking about helping our children be more productive. This week we continue the mini-series by taking a look at our back to school routines. Even if school isn’t a part of your day-to-day life, this change of seasons is a good time to review and make sure that what you're doing today is helping you move forward toward your goals.
Be intentional about activities
A change in seasons and schedules is a great time to take a fresh look at the calendar and at your commitments and activities. I encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself: what is my number one priority this season? You can then decide which activities you should prioritize.
We can’t do everything–nor can our kids–because time, energy, and money are finite resources. One way to prioritize among the many options is to consider which activities will have the most impact over the long run,
If each child in your household is signed up for multiple activities, consider whether that works well for your family. Look back at last year and see how you felt. If you and your children are extroverts and a really busy schedule works well for you, then go for it. But if life feels too full and everyone is exhausted and crabby and things aren’t as pleasant as you would like your life to be, then consider why you’re doing what you’re doing.
As parents, it’s important to model for our children the value of creating margin in their lives — time to breathe, time to think, to relax, and to connect. We talked last week about helping our kids be productive and part of that productivity is leaving time to create and to make a life that matters. Margin is important. If we're filling up every spare moment and leaving no white space in our calendars, is that really serving us and our family?It’s important to model for our kids the value of creating margin in their lives.Click To Tweet
What outcome do you want this school year and this season in your life? What activities should you be involved in or not be involved in, in order to get that outcome you want?If everything is a priority, then nothing is.Click To Tweet
When our children were at home, time together as a family was a priority. One way we did protected that time is that each child only signed up for one activity at a time. (We have five kids, so there was still a lot going on for our family.) Each kid had to choose what the most important thing was to her or him, and we'd re-evaluate that choice each season. We tried to have at least a couple nights a week to relax and spend time together at home. For us, the priority was family time and being able to enjoy each other.
The answer will be different for every family, but the important thing to remember is to think about what your priorities are and plan accordingly.
Streamline Life By Establishing Routines
We've talked about routines in past episodes (see, for example, episodes 27 and 141). We know that developing routines for certain times of day can help us to more efficient. They also help us with decision fatigue. We have to make decisions all day long and for many of us, making decisions the first thing in the morning can be hard.
As a parent, having routines in place is helpful because it provides a sense of security for kids and helps them to feel calmer. Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a psychologist and mom, has said, “Children especially need routine in order to feel safe and contained in a world that can be very busy and overwhelming. This is perhaps no more true than during times of significant transition, including the back-to-school period.”
Another writer notes, “When children can predict what's coming next, they feel competent and are much more likely to cooperate.” If your mornings seem like a struggle, consider establishing a routine so children know what to expect.
Mornings can be hectic and frustrating for anyone. One of the things I suggest would be giving yourself some “me” time before you start the day. This can be hard if your kids start school really early or if you have to commute and there just isn’t a lot of time. If you can carve out some time for yourself in the morning that can give you a sense of calm — of having the day in hand — rather than feeling behind from the beginning. Sarah Rudell Beach on the Left Brain Buddha said, “…during the school year, I get up well before my children, and spend at least 20 minutes in meditation. I love that I start my day with something that is just for me — I can savor my coffee, enjoy the silence, and write in my journal. It is a sacred time that gets my day off to the right start.” I realize this may not work for everyone, but even if you can get yourself up just 15 minutes earlier to have some ‘me’ time, it can make all the difference.
Sarah Rudell Beach on the Left Brain Buddha says, “…during the school year, I get up well before my children, and spend at least 20 minutes in meditation. I love that I start my day with something that is just for me — I can savor my coffee, enjoy the silence, and write in my journal. It is a sacred time that gets my day off to the right start.”
I realize this may not work for everyone, but even if you can get yourself up just 15 minutes earlier to have some “me” time, it can make all the difference.
Several articles recommended starting the day 15 minutes earlier than you need to so you have space for some actual connection with your kids. Dr. Lapointe suggests “Sitting down to a 15-minute breakfast together, snuggling up for a morning story, or sharing a warm cuppa something cozy are all ways you can get some QT in with your kids before sending them off into the demanding world of school. This routine settles their brains, priming them for an openness to learning, and shoring them up for the challenges that may come their way through the school day.”
If your mornings are already full and starting early, then please don’t feel pressured to add one more thing, but this is something to consider as a way you can shift things around.
Sarah Beach, whom I mentioned earlier, suggests morning to-do lists or charts of the things that need to get done. She recommends Erin Condren’s customizable charts (link in her article). Other people have suggested having the younger kids go through magazines and cut out pictures of the things they need to do in the morning to create their own custom to-do charts. This helps with the decision fatigue because we can just use the chart to check things off and get our day off to a good start.
Kids are not as attuned to the clock as adults are. It seems they are dawdling, but in reality, they just don’t have as good a sense of time as adults do. Help younger kids keep track of the time by using a visual timer. Dr. Lapointe recommends Time Timer (available as an app or an actual clock face) or a lighted timer such as Time Tracker, where the light slowly changes color as time ticks by.
I vote for skipping morning TV–both the kids and you. TV a distraction for the kids and doesn't necessarily get them in the right frame of mind for school. Similarly, the news is almost always bad these days, so watching the morning news shows might not support the tone you want to set for your day. Instead, perhaps play music that energizes or calms you (depending on what you need). I like to listen to podcasts while I’m getting ready, but we don’t necessarily always have to fill the silence.
After School Routines
Now is a good time to evaluate our after-school routines, as well. There are several resources to help listed below. Create a landing zone for backpacks and shoes, a place where everyone knows to drop their stuff when they come home, so it's corraled before it gets scattered.
Consider a wind-down time before the kids need to get to their homework. This might include a nutritious snack or time playing outside to get some fresh air. Some kids might even need a short nap. I would recommend not turning on the television for the first part of the afternoon; kids seem to get quite a bit of screen time these days.
Set up a special place for homework with all the supplies the kids (or you!) need. One article offered a link to get directions for building a cute, functional desk for under $100. I saw another cute idea (complete with photo) on babble.com for a homework station. These two articles had some great suggestions for ideas of creating a place for homework.
A good evening routine should include preparation for the next morning. What are some things you can do in the afternoon or evening before to prepare for the next day?
Do some lunch prep while you're fixing dinner.
Include a homework check after dinner to avoid a bedtime panic of forgetting to do homework.
Before you wind down for bedtime, see what needs to be done for the next day. Are there papers that need to be signed? Are backpacks loaded and ready to go? You can also choose clothes for the next day for yourself and your kids, have a certain time in the evening routine and lay them in the same place every night for the next day. Have it all out and ready to go. Some people recommend choosing the whole week’s outfits.
An important part of the next day is to get a good night’s rest. If you want to thrive and enjoy your day, then make it a priority get to bed at a good time.
According to experts, most children need between 9-10 hours each night to be at their best. Set the bedtime accordingly for the time you need to wake up.
What needs to happen so everyone can get to bed on time to allow everyone to get adequate rest? Get everyone in the household involved in that conversation.
Consider some pre-bedtime rituals, not just for kids, but for adults as well. One of my rituals before bed is to spend some time in my bullet journal. I fill out my trackers, set myself up for the next day and know what I need to do to prepare for tomorrow, and I can go to bed without worrying I’m going to forget something for the next day.
If you have children at varying ages, one article suggested, “have the younger children choose their clothes for the next day before they take a bath, brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. Get them in the habit, or routine, of following a specific pattern each night. If you have them choose their clothing for the next day, take a bath, brush their teeth, get into their pajamas every night before they go to bed, you’re transitioning them into settling down. Having a set routine such as this, or any schedule you use as a family, will give them a strong sense of continuity and help them wind down.”
Remember to turn screens off an hour before bed. It’s good for kids and adults. We know the lights on screens keep us awake. Do something else. Read aloud to the kids; this can help them wind down while giving you quality time together.
What if your child doesn’t cooperate?
If a child is generally not cooperative, this might require some thought and intentional action on your part. What is the root cause of that lack of cooperation? It’s not something you can quickly fix in the morning.
If a generally cooperative child is resistant in the morning, there might be an explanation for it. One writer notes: “Children may resist morning routines by arguing about breakfast food, debating about what clothes to wear, or playing when they should be getting ready to leave. Children often seek our attention in the morning, especially when we are rushing. . . . Our children soon learn that when they resist, argue, or stall, they get our attention.” This writer offered several suggestions for helping children gain a sense of control and responsibility, including:
- Encourage and remind, but try not to nag. Let them experience the consequences of procrastinating. This may mean missing breakfast or forgetting their homework.
- Create a morning routine chart with your child, and involve your child by asking, “What’s next on the routine chart?” They can help cut out pictures and design the chart. Have stickers for your child to place on the steps she completes.
- Avoid lectures. Instead, asking ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions – such as “what happens when you don’t get dressed in the morning?” and “How do you feel about missing the school bus?” – will entice conversation with our children. These questions help children think for themselves, whereas our lectures may make them stop listening.
- Plan ahead, and give your child enough time to succeed on his own. Remember to give reminders and establish clear expectations regarding his morning routine.
(These suggestions are from From “How to Get Ready for School: Finding a Morning Routine for School or Daycare that Works” on BrightHorizons.com. There are tons of other helpful resources at this site.)
One writer suggested creating a “Calendar Central.” This is one big calendar where everybody’s activities go; it includes after-school activities, school programs, sports and dance practice schedules, and school lunch menus, etc. If your kids are older then perhaps you could share a Google Calendar or this purpose.
Babble.com offered a post with 20 Organization Tips for a Low-Stress School Year, complete with photos. It had great ideas like a family bulletin board, an after-school snack station, cubbies for school gear, using a shoe organizer for school/homework supplies. This article is an excellent resource if you need ideas for getting organized for the school year.
When it comes to organizing your home and life, I always recommend Lisa Woodruff (our guest on episode 122) and her excellent Organize365.com resources. After I’d put my notes for this episode together I was catching up on podcasts while driving and happened to listen to the latest from Lisa's Organize 365 Podcast. I guess great minds think alike, because her episode 192 is on “Morning Routines for the Modern Day Woman“! I highly recommend you check it out. She shares in detail about her routines and why they’re different from what’s recommended by many productivity “experts.” She offers lots of great stuff in there, so definitely listen.
As we look for ideas and insights on how to manage our life and set up routines that work for us and our families, it's helpful to talk to and listen to a variety of people–not because we're going to copy other people's lives, but because there is no one right way to do things. No one system, routine, or approach that will work for everyone. The point is to be intentional about it, recognize what isn’t working and what is, and adjust as needed to make sure the routines you’re following are serving you and your household.
What do you think?
Whether you’re a student or a mom or both, any tips you could share on how to make your routines and systems work better at this back-to-school time? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
Resources and Links:
- Back to School — How to Get a Good Routine Going,” Child Development Info
- “Back-to-School Routines and Resolutions,” Sarah Rudell Beach, Left Brain Buddha
- “Back to School and Morning Routine Tips,” Simple Insights®, State Farm™
- “Do It Now! Tips To Get Ready For Back-To-School,” by Cynthia Ewer, Organized Home
- “Back-To-School — Start Your School Morning Right,” by Laureen Miles Brunelli, The Spruce
- “Six Simple Routines For Back To School Sanity,” by Dr, Vanessa LaPointe, HuffPost
- “How to make the back to school routine easy — according to the experts,” The Telegraph
- “25 ways to prepare for back to school,” by Becky Mansfield, Yourmodernfamily.com
- “Tips to Get Ready for Back-to-School,” Bright Horizons®
- “Parenting Tips: Morning Routine for School,” Bright Horizons®
- “15 Handy Tips for Getting into the Back to School Routine,” by Molly Thornberg, Babble
- “20 Organization Tips for a Low-Stress School Year,” by Jacinda, Babble
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