Routines That Support Learning Pt. 1

We have a brand new school year coming up soon.  Are your children ready to learn?  Children who are ready to learn are well-rested, fed, and dressed appropriately.  They arrive at school on time, with completed homework in their backpacks.  They have a healthy lunch or money to buy one.

The easiest way to make sure that your children are ready to learn, every day, is to establish strong routines at home.  A morning routine, evening routine, and homework routine are powerful ways to support your children’s education at school.

We’ll start with the morning and evening routines, and continue next week with the homework routine.

Morning Routine
Getting everyone up and out the door in a calm, organized way is one of the most important parts of your day as a parent.  An effective morning routine takes care of the stress and the screaming, and sets everyone up for a good day at school and at work.

Here’s the action plan:

  • Spend 15 minutes every evening getting ready for the next morning.  Lay out clothes.  Set out cereal bowls and boxes.  Put non-perishables in lunch boxes.  Sign everything that needs to be signed, collect homework, and put it all in backpacks.  Put backpacks by the door.  Check the calendar for the next day.  Is there a field trip or a project due?  Get ready now!
  • Get up at least half an hour before the kids.  We all do better if we have a chance to get showered and dressed and have a cup of coffee before the kids need attention.
  • Children are responsible for getting up on time!  Even elementary school children can use an alarm clock.  Set up rewards and consequences for getting up on time if it’s a problem.
  • Make a written (or pictured) schedule for everyone.  The schedule says when to get up, dress, eat, and go.  Work backwards to figure out when everyone has to get up to be ready to get to school on time.  If there is a traffic jam in the bathroom every morning, stagger the schedules.
  • In many families, the use of media in the morning takes up way too much time.  If this is a problem, make the morning a media-free zone.
  • Provide healthy breakfast foods that children can handle on their own, and require them to make and clean up their own breakfast.  Even a kindergartener can get a bowl of cereal and then put the bowl in the dishwasher!

Remember that you are training your children to be self-sufficient, so following the morning routine is their responsibility, not yours.  When my kids were in late elementary/middle school, I was stressed every morning because they weren’t ready to go on time.  Since it was possible, although not pleasant, for them to get to school on their own, I announced that the car left every morning at 7:30, and they were either in the car or not.  Not surprisingly, they were all in the car and ready to go.

“Natural consequences” is an approach to discipline that allows children to experience the naturally occurring consequences of their actions.  Natural consequences work well for morning routines.  For example, if a child isn’t dressed when it’s time to leave, he goes to school in his pajamas.  If a child hasn’t gotten his lunch packed, he has to eat the school lunch that day.  You get the idea – and you usually only have to do it once if you follow through.  Morning routines are a way for you to stay sane, but they also teach your children that they are responsible for themselves and that their behavior has consequences for them.

Sending everyone off to work and school in a happy, calm, relaxed mood is a wonderful gift that you can give your family every day.

Evening Routine
The purpose of a good evening routine is to get everyone calm and settled enough to get to sleep at a decent hour.  When children do not get enough sleep, their school work and school behavior suffers.  Sometimes children who haven’t gotten enough sleep act tired and groggy, but just as often they act wild and inattentive.  School-age children need 9-10 hours of sleep every night to be healthy and mentally alert, so if your child gets up at 7 a.m., he has to be in bed by 9 p.m.  And many parents do not get enough sleep either!  You cannot be healthy and take care of your family if you are exhausted.

Two things have to happen before a family can have a good evening routine.  First, the homework routine has to be in place.  When evenings are spent in a battle over homework, no one can be calm and settled.  Second, there has to be a family policy about outside commitments.  If every afternoon and evening is a constant round of activities, there is no time for homework, family dinner, and an evening routine.  I suggest that you limit everyone in the family to one or two outside activities at a time.  Otherwise our lives get as cluttered as our homes!

Here is an action plan for a good evening routine.

  • Everyone gets home from work, sports practice and after-school care around 5:30.  While Mom or Dad gets dinner going, the kids work on homework.
  • After dinner, everyone has some time to finish homework, play, talk, read, or watch TV.  Do not allow children to get overstimulated with wild play, violent video games, or scary TV shows.  Keep it calm and easy.  Most elementary school children are supposed to read to a parent every night, and now is a good time to do that.
  • Start the bedtime routine about an hour before bedtime.  Have it written down and posted for each child.  Each child is responsible for their own routine. A good bedtime routine for elementary school children includes getting the backpack packed up and ready to go, laying out clothes for the next day, washing up, brushing teeth, getting in pajamas, and having some quiet time with Mom or Dad.
  • If you do exactly the same thing at the same time every night, then your child’s body will be trained to fall asleep at the end of the bedtime routine.

Middle and high school kids still need a routine, although it will be different and they have to be part of establishing it.  Preparing for the morning is still appropriate, as is some quiet time reading in bed before going to sleep.

Once the children are in bed, it’s time to wind down and get ready for a good night’s sleep yourself.

Next week we’ll discuss the Homework Routine.  Strong routines at home are a powerful way for us to support our children at school.  Pick the routine that will serve your family best and start working on it, one baby step at a time!

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