5 ways I fixed my family’s formerly miserable morning routine

What is it about getting ready for school that makes kids forget how to put on their shoes? Or where the shoes are? Or whether they have any shoes at all?

As a mom who shuffles four kids out the door every morning I've seen my share of breakdowns -- theirs and mine. But when I just couldn't stand starting the day with an emotional hangover anymore, I finally took charge. A few proactive steps turned our formerly frustrating mornings into something down-right manageable.

Here's how I made my family's formerly miserable morning routine a breeze.

Organize clothes in hanging bins

Morning routine ideas

Why are clothes so hard, with all the washing and folding and needing so many little pieces to make an outfit? It's a wonder we don't wear jammies all day. Until we as a society decide that's just fine after all, here's my work-around: We found these handy vertical pockets made of fabric that hang from closet rods. They open like a deck of trick cards, revealing connecting pockets, one on top of the other. Now, on the weekends (say, Sunday night), we set aside a few minutes to stuff each opening with a full outfit for every day of the upcoming week.

Be sure to include socks and underwear. The whole point is avoiding a frantic rummage through the dryer to find a clean pair of either one. Then comes step two: line up all pairs of shoes on the closet floor underneath the hanging rack. I'm not gonna lie: This may take some time if your shoes are as far flung as ours. But trust me, you'd rather hunt for a lost sneaker on Sunday night than Monday morning. (I might have been known to offer a candy reward for lost items, and you wouldn't believe how interested my search party becomes!)


If there's one thing that kills me, it's saying the same thing over and over (and over) again. I just can't beg the kids to do the same basic steps without my brain threatening to explode. Enter the checklist.

When things get particularly hectic around here, I print out actual checklists for each of the kids to mark. With a pen. Every day. I include the most basic yet important tasks of the morning. Win: I don't have to keep reminding each child to do each thing. Win: They get to see it -- and cross it off -- themselves. All the winning! Our list includes things like:

  • Smooth bed
  • Brush teeth
  • Get dressed
  • Brush hair
  • Eat breakfast + put dishes away
  • Pack backpack (lunch + water bottle + snack)

Our kids also have one morning job, like feeding the dogs or taking out compost. Some families practice music in the mornings. Put all that stuff on here.

We don't always run on checklists. I only use this tool when we need a serious organizational boost. For my crew, the novelty works wonders -- at first. For at least four days I have kids bouncing around the house, gleefully checking off their to-dos like little cruise ship activity directors. But don't worry; by the time the fun of a checklist wears off, they've all committed the mornings' tasks to memory again. Mostly.

Make-ahead + super simple breakfasts

Morning routine ideas

Since cereal was originally a tool to get more protein-rich milk into growing kids and hasn't made much of a leap nor bound toward becoming nutritious itself, I try to stock our kitchen with lots of options for instant breakfasts on busy mornings. Kids are full, which means they're better students and more content human beings for the next few hours. Every little bit helps, y'all. Here are my kids' favorite fast breakfasts:

Make-Ahead Breakfasts

Instant Breakfasts

Get to bed earlier

Morning routine ideas

I know, I know. We've all seen the chart about how much sleep kids "really" need. But if there's one thing I swear by for sanity, it's early bedtimes. Rested kids are just happier kids. Happier kids are more cooperative, and that's all we're aiming for here. Not little soldiers lining up perfectly, but small humans who will generally follow basic instructions designed to set them up for a good day. My littlest kids (ages 7 and 9) go to bed at 7:30pm and get up at 6:30am. My older girls (ages 10 and 12) turn out the lights at 8:30pm. This may not be the schedule for you, but it works for us.

A big part of getting the kids to bed earlier is tiring them out during the day. Hiking, biking, dancing, sports, swimming, jumping on trampolines, marching through the woods. At least an hour of anything works wonders. But don't even try to put kids to bed during the summer months without light-blocking curtains. Best invention ever. (Except for maybe those hanging clothes organizers.)

Play a pump up song

During quarantine all of our kids logged in to school remotely. From my house. Every day. Without seeing a single friend for a solid school year, things got a little gloomy at the breakfast bar.

So I decided to set the mood. After everyone got dressed, smoothed their beds and followed the rest of our get-ready checklist, they all ambled out to the kitchen where I'd start blasting a feel-good hit. Some of them were family favorites and others rocked their worlds for the first time. It's one COVID tradition that we're sticking with. Here are a bunch of solid tunes ranging from the 1970s to 2020 to get started with:

  • "Love Shack" by The B-52's
  • "Dynamite" by BTS
  • "Nightingale Song" by Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant
  • "Celebrate" by Kool and the Gang
  • "Can't Stop the Feelin'" by Justin Timberlake
  • "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar
  • "La Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin
  • "Down Under" by Men at Work
  • "Happy" by Pharrell Williams
  • "Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra

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