Build a Better Morning Routine

Young girl feeding her father breakfast

Every year we think about how to switch from the summer groove to back-to-school routines. Do you reinvent morning routines for your family every year? You need a system.

It turns out I reinvent morning routines on this blog every year, too! I’ve been writing for EcoBabySteps for the past six years, and I write about school routines every year.

Morning routines specifically, though, set our children up to have great days, so I’ve pulled together several posts to share with you on morning routines for school days.

Family Systems

In business we call these routines systems, and I find that businesses function more efficiently when we don’t reinvent the system every time we do it. To build better systems, we document what we are already doing in a step-by-step outline then we improve the system by making deliberate changes.

If documenting your family routines and putting them in a family binder would help you, do it. Not everyone functions well that way, but some families thrive on having clear systems. Who can resist a beautiful 3-ring binder organizer for the family? I can’t.

Even if you don’t want to be so rigid as that, it helps to think through what it takes to help your day go well. Even a far more loosely documented system can be a routine that helps your family.

Are you wondering how to build a better morning routine? Here are a few of my past posts to guide you.

Morning Routine (2009)

Elements to balance every morning are: food, grooming and cleaning, passing information along, and just being together. I also walk through the details of my family’s morning routine. Looking back five years is interesting because the structure hasn’t changed much but what we actually do within that structure has changed a lot.

Easing Back into the School Routine (2010)

A smooth morning depends in many ways on preparation the night before, so I’ve included nighttime routines in this post. If you are a planner and calendar person, check out the charts, schedules, and planners.

My favorite part from this part is that you need to remember to make this FUN! “A new routine and a new school may be stressful for your child. Keep it calm and collected. Be positive. Focus on all of the great things your child will learn and do in school.”

Routines That Make Starting School Easy (2012)

Especially for a child just starting school, anticipating what is going to happen helps to ease any worry they might feel. I encourage you to talk through all of your child’s questions about school. Then, you start with your desired outcome and work backward to figure out what you need to do to get there.

Whether loose or tight, keeping your mornings moving along smoothly is all about having a morning routine or system that works for your family.

All the best to you and your children as you go back to school.

Image © Tatyanagl | - Child With Father Have A Breakfast Photo

Back-to-school Eco Baby Steps

Mother and daughter walking to school

For those of us who are trying to lower our overall social and environmental impact, every new situation is an opportunity to find new ways to improve.

Greening back-to-school time is not just about replacing high-impact products with other products. Sure, we can help you with school supplies if you need tree-free pencils or if you want a backpack that is ethically made.

To truly lower your impact, though, you need to think differently. You might want to ask whether you even need that stuff at all. Don’t just accept the models you are given and consume just as much stuff bought from a different shelf in the store. Do you need that stuff?

Where can you go deeper to rethink back to school?

Where You Might Take Baby Steps

Lunch. Waste-free lunch is a good example of greening a situation that can generate a lot of garbage: wasted bags, plastic utensils, plastic cups, sandwich wraps, and even wasted food when we send lunches that our children don’t like. It can take some training to help both you and your child embrace new habits, but lunch doesn’t have to generate waste. It helps if the whole school supports waste-free lunch, but you can make the choice as a family.

Clothes. School clothes don’t have to be a huge expense if you don’t mind used clothes. You can buy used at a consignment or thrift store, but you could also just pass clothes around. I was at a friend’s house last month. As I looked at her son, I suddenly said, “Hey, those pants look familiar! I think those used to belong to my son.” My son hadn’t worn the pants for 10 years, but here they were still circulating around town among my friends. Clothes sharing and buying used clothing isn’t just about saving money. It helps your family avoid the waste of new clothes worn for only a few months before your child grows out of them.

Transportation. We usually think of the stuff of school because that is the focus in the relentless advertising we see this time of year, but consider the other new situations you face with school. You need to get your child to and from the school building. If you live close to the school, how about walking. If you aren’t close enough to walk, are you close enough to ride a bike? Walking or riding a bike will give you exercise as well as sharpening your child’s focus at school. Getting to and from school could be a time when you and your child chat about the day without too many other distractions. Even riding the bus takes much less energy than driving your own car.

As you go through these first few weeks of the new school year, help yourself become aware of the choices you are making. Take steps to lower your environmental impact as you go. Greening your choices isn’t about being perfect. It’s about taking steps as you become aware of them.

Image © Monkey Business Images |

Green Your Child’s School Supplies

Child in the rain with water bottle

Does your child’s school give you a list of supplies for the first day of school? We can help you choose non-toxic, low-impact school and lunch supplies—and the bag to carry them in.

If you are working to avoid toxics at home, the last thing you want to do it give your child a bag full of toxic supplies to spend the day with at school. We have carefully built up our supply of school essentials with the lowest impact products we can find from ethical companies. Our children use these same products.

Kids Green Lunch Supplies

Our goal is to get good, healthy food to school safely without leaving a wad of garbage to throw away at the end of lunch hour. Waste-free lunch adds up.

Lunchbots Bento Box
Lunchbots Bento Lunch Box

We have a big selection of lunch bags and boxes. One of my favorites is the Lunchbots Bento Lunch Box. I like that it is stainless steel, and I don’t have to send partially plastic containers to school.

Sling Sisters Snack Bags

Reusable snack bags

For snacks and sandwiches, forget the plastic baggies. Sling Sisters reusable, zippered bags can be wiped out at the end of the day or tossed in the wash on cold.

Klean Kanteen Water Bottle
Kids Reusable Water BottleTo keep children from reaching for sugary drinks at school, we need to give them an easy alternative. A small, reusable water bottle is easy to carry around and to refill. The kid-sized bottle has a top that is easy to sip—without being a sippy cup.

Kids Green Classroom Supplies

Recycled Pencils
Recycled Newspaper Pencils

Kids go through a lot of pencils, so you want an option that is low impact without being terribly expensive. We like the Earthzone recycled pencils. They are tree-free, made with recycled newspaper. You can see the newsprint change as you sharpen the pencil. This will be a kid talking point as they figure out exactly how a newspaper was used to make a pencil.

Non-toxic Glue
Non-toxic school glue

Glue is one of those supplies that sneaks in some nasty plastic. It gets on the kids’ fingers; the fingers go in the mouth. You know how it goes. No worries with this glue. This is a safe, odorless, water-based adhesive that holds fast once dry but can easily be removed with water.

Natural Hand Sanitizer
Mint natural hand sanitizer

What do you do to clean up from all of those germy activities? Send your child to the restroom to use the synthetic hand sanitizer with Triclosan and Benzalkonium Chloride? No! This mixture of essential oils and natural materials gives your child a natural way to clean hands. It smells really nice, too.

Dabbawalla Backpacks
Cute kids backpack Dabbawalla

To carry everything, you need a backpack that is easy to clean, because you know it is going to get dirty and sticky every single day. Dabbawalla backpacks and lunch bags are a favorite every year. Kids and parents love these cute bags. Dabbawalla backpacks can be machine washed. The material is insulated as well, so they will keep the cold lunch colder longer and the hot lunch hotter longer. Durable as well as adorable.

Helping Your Child Get Ready for School

First Day of Kindergarten is OK!

Even if you are ready for your child to go to school, you know that the person who counts the most during this life-changing experience is your child herself.

Research and Resources for Parents

There is abundant research on the transition to school, and many practical guides are available. Most school systems share resources for teachers and for parents. Many schools offer guides in addition to open houses.

But, most of that information is for you, the adult.

Stories of Starting School

Sometimes a young child comes to understand a situation well through storytelling because he can focus on the feelings of characters without worrying too much about his own feelings. If the character is anxious or excited, he can hold off on his personal reaction until he finds out how things turn out for the character.

I am no expert on starting kindergarten. My children have not gone through this, since they are homeschooled. It was a long time ago that I was handed over to a neighbor boy to walk to my first day of school at a school that was new to everyone because it had just been built. I loved school. I don’t remember feeling anxious, and I don’t remember whether my mother, a teacher, helped me through the transition other than sending me to preschool across the hall from her office. It was a familiar situation for me.

If the transition needs a little more smoothing for your child, story books about starting kindergarten might help.

The person I would most trust to recommend books for your child is the local librarian. S/he will likely ask questions and tailor suggestions to your child’s needs. If you don’t have a local librarian to ask, try a librarian-compiled list of Books about Starting School.

If you create a familiar situation and answer any questions as they come up without adding to your child’s worries, starting school should be one of those transitions when your child is willing to tell you what is needed. Follow your child’s lead, and good luck!

Image © Pavel Losevsky |

Routines That Make Starting School Easy

Child going to school

Your child may feel excited or scared about starting school. Make this a smooth transition with routines that help your child become familiar with school and the new schedule as well as routines that help you stay organized to avoid last-minute stress.

What Is School Like?

It will be easier for your child to start school if she or he knows what to expect. Trial runs can take the edge off worrying about the new situation by making getting ready for school and being at school a bit more familiar. Your child might ask, “When will I eat?” “What if I need to go to the bathroom?” “May I come home if I don’t like it?” Try role playing each situation. Draw pictures that show how the day will go. Encourage your child to ask questions.

The School Morning Routine

School itself may be completely new, but there will also be a new way of doing things at home. Mornings will likely be busier. Talk through how school mornings and school nights will go and why it is important to stay on schedule. Make sure there is enough time to eat, brush teeth and hair, and get dressed without anyone feeling upset or pushed.

Set your timetable. Work backward. What needs to be done in the morning? How long will it take? What time do you need your child to be ready? How long will that take? Double that for the first few days. How much time do you need before your child wakes up? Do the math for all of this, then decide what time to get up.

Once you and your child are comfortable with your new routines, you probably won’t need to spend much time thinking about how to get everything done. Reaching that point of comfort depends on planning. If you want mornings to go well, use your evenings to prepare.

The School Night Routine

Give yourself enough time the evening before school to get everything done without rushing. Your school night routine is very important to the success of your morning routine.

Don’t give yourself a short night. You will probably need to get to bed earlier to get enough sleep. Set bedtime for you and for your child.

Then, decide what can be done the night before school. Set out clothes. Make lunch. Do this together. This is a great time to chat about expectations.

At the end of all of the preparations, allow plenty of time to talk then to read a story to wind down. If your child is anxious, you can introduce simple relaxation techniques like visualizations or attention to the breath. The book I’ve used for years with my children is Spinning Inward: Using Guided Imagery with Children for Learning, Creativity & Relaxation by Maureen Murdock. If your child understands how to relax and calm down, simple techniques can be used during the school day as well.

When you have prepared well the night before, you can focus your morning positively on the excitement of school.

New Routines for Parents, Too

If you are sending your last or only child to school for the first time, you may also need to think through new routines for yourself. What will you do now? If you don’t have plans, the few hours of a half-day of school will sail by. Prioritize your time and use it wisely.

If you follow us on Facebook, you may already have read the article we posted on preparing children for a new school year. There are 15 excellent suggestions that will help every child transition from the freedom of summer back to school.

Image © Thomas Perkins |