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How to Create a Back-to-School Routine for Your Kids That Saves Time, Money & Sanity

Parents approach back-to-school season two ways: They either cry with relief that summer is finally over, or they cry at the thought of buying school supplies, managing homework, and getting everyone out the door on time each day.

There are plenty of ways to save money on back-to-school supplies, but going back to school means a lot more than buying extra pencils and backpacks. It also means getting yourself, your kids, and your home organized so that your mornings are calm, setting the tone for a productive day for all of you.

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Follow these tips to create a morning routine that starts your days off right this school year.

1. Prep the Night Before

Everything that does not have to be done in the morning should be done the night before. Preparing for the next day the night before is a powerful way to be more productive at work and avoid the stress and chaos of doing everything last-minute.

Here’s what you should focus on getting ready by bedtime.

Clothing

Make sure everyone’s clothes are laid out and ready to go for the next day. You can take this a step further and plan out an entire week of outfits for your children on Sundays. Organize them with a hanging closet organizer, labeling each shelf with a day of the week. If you take time to create a minimalist wardrobe for your kids, dealing with clothing will be even easier during the school year. It will also save you money.

For younger kids, use clear plastic zip-close bags. Put together a week’s worth of weather-appropriate outfits and put each outfit in a gallon-sized bag. Your child can pick whatever outfit they want in the morning and easily pull out everything they’ll need to wear for the day.

Lunch

After dinner, pack a healthy lunch for your kids and put it in the fridge for the morning. You can streamline this chore by keeping all your sandwich supplies together in the fridge. Store meat and cheese, spreads, veggies, and extra sides together in an inexpensive bin or basket; the dollar store is a great place to find these.

You can also create a basket or bin system in the pantry for lunch items: drinks or bottled water in one bin, crackers or cookies in another, and so on. If you label each bin and put them on a low shelf, your kids will feel empowered to start helping make their own lunches.

Instead of buying lots of prepackaged snacks, save money buy purchasing items such as crackers and trail mix in bulk and creating your own snack-size bags.

Homework

Make sure each child’s homework is completed and in their backpack, ready to go, by the end of the night.

Checking off on homework can be a double-edged sword. You don’t want your kids to forget something essential. But on the other hand, continually reminding them to put essential items in their backpack won’t teach them to take ownership of their responsibilities, and it might even do more harm than good when they get older.

Some parents have a rule that they remind their kids one time to pack what they need. After that, their child is on their own. If they forget an assignment, they have to face the consequences the next day at school. It’s a bit of tough love, but kids quickly learn to be more responsible when they’re penalized. And you avoid having to leave work in the middle of the day to drop off a forgotten assignment.

Personal Prep

Another way to streamline your morning is to shower the night before, which could shave half an hour or more off your getting-ready routine. If you can talk your teens into doing the same, even better.

Consider creating a capsule wardrobe for yourself so that getting dressed is quick and easy every day. Lay out your outfit the night before to set an example for your kids.

2. Create a Routine Chart

Stop and think about everything that needs to happen for your kids to be ready for school, such as brushing their teeth, eating their breakfast, and putting on their clothes. As an adult, it’s easy for you to visualize these steps and even do them on autopilot. But it’s much harder for kids to remember everything that needs to happen and in what order.

A morning routine chart helps kids keep track of what they need to do to get ready. You can find a great list of free, printable routine and chore charts at Carrots Are Orange.

Routine charts are also helpful for after school; they can remind your kids to do things such as unpack their lunchbox and put it on the counter, give you any forms that need signing, and get started on their homework.

3. Get Up Before Your Kids

Get up a half-hour to an hour before your kids wake up. Yes, every parent needs all the sleep they can get, but having quiet time to yourself in the morning can give you the time and mental space you need to get yourself ready, do yoga or exercise, or even meditate or write in a gratitude journal.

This quiet time is a great way to set yourself up for success at work because you won’t arrive feeling rushed and stressed. Getting up early is also a well-known habit of wealthy and successful people. You may even be able to go to bed earlier in the evening to get in a full eight hours of sleep.

4. Make Breakfast the Night Before

Every parent dreams of sending their kids off to school after eating a large, healthy breakfast that gives them lasting energy to do their best during the day. But the reality often looks a lot different: scrambling to get them to eat cereal or a granola bar while shoving shoes on their feet or fielding early-morning work calls.

The solution is to find easy recipes you can make the night before that require minimal prep in the morning. For example, overnight oats are a big hit at my house; I use this recipe from Cookie + Kate, and my kids love it. All I have to do is pull the oats out of the fridge and add a bit of maple syrup, and they’re ready to eat.

Some other great options for make-ahead breakfasts are:

There tons of recipes online for easy breakfasts you can make the night — or even the weekend — before. So do some searching and find some options your kids might enjoy.

5. Keep Extra Supplies in the Car

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: You’re almost at school when your high schooler remembers she forgot her tablet charger, and your son realizes he left his calculator on the table. If you turn around and head back home for them, you’ll be late for work.

One solution to this common problem is to keep extra supplies stocked in your car, stored in clear zippered pouches so you can find them easily. You can stock these sturdy, reusable bags with extra chargers, pens, glue, and other supplies that your kids need and use regularly. You might also want to use one pouch to store personal items such as deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, face towelettes, and other items your kids will need on days when they forget to take a shower. Another bag can hold extra snacks and drinks.

6. Position Clocks in Key Areas of the House

School day mornings are often rushed and hectic. You’re trying to get yourself ready and out the door, while also trying to motivate your kids to do the same.

Keep everyone aware of what time it is by setting out clocks in key areas, such as the bathroom sink, kids’ bedrooms, and the kitchen table. These clocks should be large and easy to read and placed at a level where your kids can’t miss them.

To save money, shop for clocks at garage sales and thrift stores. You can often find wonderfully unique and vintage clocks for a few dollars apiece.

7. Make a Homework Station

Do your kids have a designated place to do homework? Many kids don’t, which means they end up doing homework all over the house. That leads to papers, books, and supplies all over the house, making it extra hard to find that assignment your kid has to turn in tomorrow.

Make homework time easier by creating a homework station, a dedicated table or corner where your kids sit and do homework every day. There are many benefits of doing this: books and homework stay corralled in one area, kids can focus on what they’re doing without distractions, kids develop a good work ethic, and you won’t waste money buying more supplies because you can’t find what you need.

Creating a homework station doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. Chances are you have most of what you need somewhere in your house. If not, you can always search garage sales and thrift stores for a table and chairs, as well as baskets and bins for organization.

Ideally, your homework station will be near or in the main living area of your home so you’ll be on hand to monitor progress and help with questions. That could mean moving a desk into the breakfast nook or reorganizing your rarely used dining room for afternoon schoolwork instead. You can even turn a long closet into a homework station by adding a desk and plenty of low shelving.

Keep supplies organized with a clear hanging shoe organizer that allows your kids to see everything. You can attach it to the wall or the back of a door to save space. Store extra papers, notebooks, worksheets, and forms in a letter-size wall folder.

HGTV has a genius art supply storage hack using inexpensive items from the dollar store. All you need is a bucket and a tool belt, and you have an easy art supply station you can keep on the homework table for younger kids.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, you can find plenty of thrifty DIY homework station ideas on Pinterest and Instagram.

8. Create a Launch Pad for the Morning Rush

Think of your launch pad as “command central” for everything you and your family need to get out the door. If you organize it well, your launch pad can help your family avoid running late and keep your home more organized when everyone gets home.

Think about everything you and your family need for school and work. That might include:

  • Shoes
  • Keys
  • Briefcase or purse
  • Laptops or tablets
  • Cell phones and charging cords
  • Backpacks (with homework packed)
  • Lunchboxes
  • Reusable water bottles
  • Gym clothes
  • Coats and other cold-weather gear
  • Afterschool supplies such as sports equipment or instruments
  • Permission slips and other school notices to return
  • Library books to return
  • Sunglasses

Once you have an idea of everything you need to store in your launch pad, it’s time to think about how to store it. There is an endless number of ways to do this.

You could put a low bookshelf near the back door to hold necessary items. Each family member has a basket or plastic bin on the shelf to store everything they need to get out the door. You can easily find a bookshelf at a thrift store or consignment shop. You can also purchase an inexpensive magazine holder where your kids can put papers that need your attention.

Another option is to arrange hooks for backpacks and coats and add some low shelves with bins for loose items. Hanging file folders can store signed permission slips and other papers.

You might also want to invest in a charging station that allows you to charge multiple devices in one spot. A charging station can help corral your family’s devices and keep your countertops free of unsightly cord clutter. Plus, if everyone plugs in their devices before bed, they’ll all be charged and ready, in one place, in the morning.

9. Organize Paperwork Ahead of Time

Going back to school means that starting on day one, your kids will bring a veritable mountain of paperwork into the house: assignments, tests, artwork, menus — you name it. It’s all going to come through the door and need a temporary or permanent home.

The flood of paperwork applies for homeschooling parents too; most states require you to keep a record of your child’s work to prove that they’re getting an education. So you need to hold on to a lot of paper as well.

To manage the paper flow, purchase an expandable accordion folder for each child, and keep it at your launch pad. Every afternoon, spend a minute filing away papers that need to be saved and recycling the rest. Devoting a minute or two every day to managing the influx will be easier than letting it build up throughout the week, making you face a much bigger pile on the weekend.

10. Let Your Kids Lead

Typically, Mom or Dad is in charge of getting everyone motivated, ready, and out the door on time. However, you can let your kids help do this by electing one of them as “Morning Leader.” The Morning Leader is responsible for certain tasks, such as making sure everyone has their lunchbox and homework ready to go. A different child gets to be Morning Leader each day.

This approach can teach your kids how to lead in a non-threatening environment. When kids know how to lead their siblings, they have the confidence and skills they need to lead their friends, schoolmates, and even colleagues later in life.

Putting one of your kids in charge each day might lead to some occasional bickering and power struggles, so it’s important to have a family meeting beforehand to explain how it will work. Many elementary school classrooms incorporate a “leader for the day” routine because kids love to help and be in charge. You may have to referee some scuffles and reign in some bossiness along the way, but over time, your kids will get into the flow of this routine.

Final Word

Going back to school doesn’t have to be expensive and stressful, and it certainly doesn’t have to involve a mad rush to the dropoff line and then to work. With a bit of planning and prep, it can be a smooth and fun transition for everyone.

What are some of your tips for launching a successful back-to-school routine? What do you struggle with most on school mornings?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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