habit shift: morning routine.

October 2, 2019
kid checklist | reading my tea leaves

We’ve entered the age of the frenzied morning. We had a whole year of school mornings and tumbling out the door together under our belt when this school year started, but we’ve also got a new set of proclivities and habits and personal preferences to manage from two growing kids. Mornings for the past month have emerged as more challenging than before.

One of the children in this tiny apartment rather likes to hop directly into school clothes. The other likes to eat several partial breakfasts starting at 6:00 am and running right up until the moment a toothbrush is being pointed in their direction. Someone always remembers to pee only after putting on their shoes and starting to walk downstairs. Someone (me) always lingers too long over their first cup of coffee and feels blindsided by the time.

kid checklist | reading my tea leaves

My kids aren’t resistant to getting themselves ready for school. Indeed, they’re both pretty fiercely independent when it comes to taking responsibility for themselves. But the challenge for all of us (with the exception of James who is generally a slightly maddeningly cheerful morning person) has been to marry our opposing need for a slow, sleepy morning with the need to deliberately and intentionally ready ourselves for the day. Believe me, I want to hang out in my pajamas and nibble on a third breakfast, too.

So, we made a checklist. The kids painted wooden discs and we glued magnetic strips to the back and together we came up with a list of things that we really need to do before heading out the door in the morning. (Rest assured: Their first iteration was filled with ideas that are decidedly not requirements for early morning preparedness.)

kid checklist | reading my tea leaves

The list is for them as much as for me. At two-and-a-half, Silas is still most interested in taking his magnets out of the bag that hangs on the doorknob and stacking them. At five, Faye is very into checking items off the list—the biggest deliberation in the morning being whether or not to complete tasks in order. (Anything goes from my perspective.) At 35, the list keeps me focused. And less caught off guard when it’s time to leave and the kids still haven’t brushed their teeth or combed their hair. With a list to remind us all of the basic necessities we need to accomplish before hustling out the door, we’re less likely to find ourselves in the hallway with one kid missing socks and one kid without a water bottle in their backpack. Most importantly, we’re all less likely to end up exasperated.

kid checklist | reading my tea leaves

It’s an interesting and humbling part of being a parent: realizing what behaviors we come by naturally and what needs to be learned, or shaped, or cajoled into being. For us, and for our kids. For right now, I’m happy to report that this simple checklist is keeping us more focused, less frazzled, and happily independent. Cheers to that.

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  • Reply anne October 2, 2019 at 10:43 am

    I love this idea, and honestly, I should do it for just my 31 year old single-childless-self who can never seem to make it out the door on time with my teeth brushed and my lunch packed….

  • Reply Jen October 2, 2019 at 11:30 am

    I love this and have been contemplating a less beautiful version, myself, so thank you for this inspiration. I too like to linger too long and I have a kid who likes to arrive earlier to school And greet the other friends with his teacher. It seems like a small miracle each morning, so I’m in awe of you accomplishing it with two. 🙂

  • Reply Sarah October 2, 2019 at 11:31 am

    This is so very timely. We’re adjusting to a newborn in the house, making mornings with a three-year-old an absolute nightmare. I’ve been thinking about an AM/PM checklist, but not super enamored with what I’ve found–but I love the way you’ve incorporated the kids with hand-painted discs and the little visuals on the list (the yellow drops on the “Go Pee!” had me giggling because, let’s face it, too real with small children!)

  • Reply Amanda October 2, 2019 at 11:48 am

    Oh my god YES. So frenzied. This looks so much nicer than my whiteboard with magnets!

  • Reply mado October 2, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    ahhh we have been struggling so much with mornings too this past month. We have an am/pm chart in the bedroom but we have not been referring to it directly very much (since a particularly wild fight about taking pants off was accompanied by my child tearing the cutout of pants off the chart so that it wasn’t on the list anymore). maybe something interactive would help!

  • Reply Rachel October 2, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    I do this for myself (29 and without children) using alarms! Every fifteen minutes from 7am to 8:30am, an alarm reminds me of where I should be in my morning to-do list before work: hydrating, getting dressed, packing lunch, etc. Lists are effective! I’d shout it from the rooftops!

  • Reply Kir October 2, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    this is so lovely. do you have magnet strips on the back of the paper or am I missing what the magnets are sticking to?!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 2, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Ah, sorry! We have a steel apartment door, so the magnets stick right to the door! Could also work on the fridge though!

  • Reply Ana October 2, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    This is such a great idea and perfect for preschoolers who are learning and adapting to structure and routine in the classroom! It’s great to model and reinforce what they experience at school at home.

  • Reply Trish o October 2, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    Great plan. I have teens and one trick we used when they were small and still use are music cues for when it is time to move to the next activity on the morning routine. I made a playlist and the music changes when the activity should change. This helped be a gentle reminder for time management and became key when my kids were slightly older and handled so much on their own They playlist did not change much as they were growing up, so pick something you will like for the long run. Also, I had slower music at first then faster paced music when an activity was something they lingered on generally.

  • Reply L October 2, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    I recommend a book related to this post, Now Say This, by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright!

  • Reply Christie October 2, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Mornings are the worst! Usually before it’s time to go, my two boys are wrestling, which starts out as mutual fun and then turns into hitting, throwing toys, and swearing. And then everything devolves into chaos. I’m several years in and we still haven’t sufficiently established enough of a rhythm to ensure that we all are ready to go in time. These ideas are helpful! It’s worth a try at least.

    • Reply Christie October 2, 2019 at 4:20 pm

      On another note, I’d love to hear your breakfast ideas. I’m the kind of person content with toast or yogurt and coffee. But my kids want something different or more or variety. I don’t know what. I just know that I don’t have a lot of time to fix it, given the limited amount of time I have to get four of us presentable-ish and out the door to work and school.

      • Reply Brittany October 2, 2019 at 8:04 pm

        Thankfully all of my kids will eat hard-boiled eggs. Those can be made the night before-though for me it’s always the morning of and I’m nearly burning myself trying to crack open hot eggshells! Anyhow, that’s an idea.

      • Reply Laurie October 2, 2019 at 10:42 pm

        I have a child who is a preschooler and our morning routine is:
        1. I drink two glasses of water and put a glass of water on the table for my son.
        2. We do yoga together, even if there’s only 10 minutes available.
        3. He plays whilst make my tea and prepare breakfast.
        2. At 7 AM we enjoy breakfast together. Usually I have prepared our porridge (oatmeal) the night before by putting the rolled oats, salt and water in the pot, which means in the morning all I have to do is stir the pot whilst drinking tea. Sometimes I cut up fruit to add to the porridge, other times I used blackberries from our freezer that we picked this past summer.)
        3. Immediately after my son is finished eating he takes his dishes into the kitchen.
        4. Then I get out his lunch from the fridge and he packs his lunchbox. He takes it to the door.
        4. Then I turn off all the lights, except the one in the washroom, where he brushes his teeth and washes his face with my help.
        5. From there I brush my teeth whilst he starts to get dressed. I then help him finish dressing.
        6. He then plays whilst I get dressed.
        7. Poof, if you can believe it, were in the car between 8-8:10 am ready to sing!

        At night, I check the weather forecast and lay out our clothes. After he is in bed I make his lunch and prepare our breakfast. For example, if we’re having a smoothie, I make sure the vegetables and fruit are cut up.

        • Reply Christie October 3, 2019 at 12:52 pm

          Having one kid sounds dreamy! My morning is:
          1. Wake up at 5:30 so I can have quiet time before my kids wake up
          2. Do yoga and 5 minutes of meditation (try to at least)
          3. 6:30-7, eat breakfast, drink coffee, read NY Times before hell breaks loose, which happens at 7 AM
          4. 7 AM kids 1 & 3 wake up and come out. Want cuddles. Then complain about breakfast options. #3 wants only chocolate chips.
          5. 7:15, Kid #2 wakes up. Complains about 1 $ 3 being too loud. # 1 makes fun of # 2. #2 throws a toy at # 1. I try to intervene, while making breakfast.
          6. Ask what # 2 wants for breakfast. More complaining before he decides on the usual: yogurt with chocolate chips and honey. He only eats the chocolate chips.
          7. While the kids are at the table, I quickly (very quickly) take a shower because if I’m out of the room more than 5 minutes, someone will get punched.
          8. When the kids finish eating, I ask them to get dressed and make their beds. One of the inevitably pushes the other out the door and keeps them from getting dressed.
          9. Eventually, after interference from me (and perhaps a time-out), we get everyone dressed. If we are really lucky, the toddler will poop 5 minutes before we have to. leave. But those are only on the especially lucky days.
          10. 5 minutes until it is time to leave, I ask the kids to put their lunches in their backpacks and shoes on.
          11. 10 minutes later, we are out the door, running to catch up to the walking group.
          12. We catch up with the walking group, and my 5 year old refuses to walk with them.
          13. Cajoling and yelling, and encouragement from the other kids, and I walk a little more of the way with them until I’m basically almost at their school.
          14. Run home with the toddler, grab my work stuff, throw everything in the car, and drive the toddler to preschool
          15. Drive to the other side of town for work. Sweaty, stressed.
          Thankfully, I did yoga and meditated so I didn’t totally lose my shit. Only partially.

  • Reply Grace October 2, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Love this idea! I am a nanny and get the kids out the door three school mornings a week. This could really help smooth things out and make the transition easier between mom-and-dad mornings and Grace-mornings if there’s an anchor of the exact same to do list.

  • Reply Brittany October 2, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    Ha! I’ve thought about doing something like this. I’m curious to know what was on your kids’ first list

  • Reply Selina October 3, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    Those are the exact same leave-for/come-back-from school tasks that we have for our TK and 3rd grader. But the posted list looks and feels so much calmer than our usual call outs across the house all morning! Even though we can get out the door, it’s something about the way we do it that makes all the difference. The calmer mornings almost always make for a better day for everyone. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Reply Liz October 3, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    I second every word of this! We actually home school but I gave birth to my fourth 2 months ago and our summer mornings and afternoons ranged from quiet and languid to frenzied and accident packed. Then I sat down with my 7 year old and explained how many hours we have in a day and how we could be using our time better. She had full input on my time blocks. Not only has it kept us on track with our goals, but also when they are interrupting me in the middle of frying eggs with reading questions, I just ask – what time is it? Let’s do this during reading time. Whining avoided. Wish we had done this months ago!!

  • Reply Marie October 3, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    The first years my daughter (mostly) slept when ever we put her down. Simple business. Then it changed and we didn’t really had a plan. After weeks of a loud ‘no! not yet!’ at bed time we finally pinned a simple note next to the digital clock in the kitchen with her bed time. To help her identify her bed time, keep track if she still has time and to remind us to stick with that time we had found out did the trick. It works like magic most of the nights. At first she asked ‘do I still have time ?’ by now she gets better with the numbers and anounces ‘I do still have time, right ?’. She speeds up if she’s late with pajamas and sings along if she has some extra minutes left.

  • Reply Donna Boucher October 3, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Where do you purchase the brown paper on a roll?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 4, 2019 at 10:06 am

      Details on that in this post!

  • Reply LiloP October 15, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    OMG this is the timetable i’ve been looking for!! can i steal the idea? it is simple, clear and straight to the point. Thanks again erin for a great idea. I have a question for you: where can i get the magnetic strips?

    Thanks for this post it is very helpful

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 15, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Any craft store!


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