- Education and Science
How to Get Your Children to School on Time
Don't Be Late for School!
Running Late for School: A Common Problem
Hectic mornings are familiar to every parent. In our own family, mornings used to be filled with stress and anxiety, as we tried to get two distractible boys dressed and to the bus stop by 8:00 in the morning.
The scene usually went like this:
- 7:00 am: Wake boys, who sleepily stumble down the stairs.
- 7:15 am: Encourage boys to eat their breakfast, while I make lunches.
- 7:30 am: Tell the boys to get dressed.
- 7:35 am: Realize the boys have run off to the playroom.
- 7:40 am: Find homework and library books, while calling to the boys to get dressed again.
- 7:45 am: Notice half-dressed boys have run off again, and are into the Lego bin.
- 7:55 am: Physically help dress the boys.
- 8:00 am: Run for the bus stop, barely making it there in time.
This "system" (or lack thereof) was not working for our family, and we needed a way to help our children focus on the morning tasks. We have found several techniques that have improved our time management before school, and the boys are never running "late" with our new system.
- Prevent clothing battles by choosing clothes the night before school.
Choose Clothes the Night Before School
Digging through a dresser drawer or closet wastes precious minutes in the morning. Children often can't find the clothes they like, or try to put on mis-matched outfits. Some children may be very picky about what clothes they will or will not wear on a given day.
To solve this problem, we placed a bookcase at the end of each boy's bed. Every evening, the boys select the clothes they will wear to school the following day. We have a hard and fast rule about clothes: once they have chosen their outfits, they may not change their minds the next morning. This rule caused some tears initially, particularly for our younger son, who is quite picky about his clothes. After about 2 weeks of tears, however, the rule has been a lifesaver and he chooses and wears his clothes without any trouble.
This routine has saved approximately 15 minutes of time in our morning schedule.
- Keep things organized to save time in the mornings.
Have a Dedicated Spot for Library Books and Homework
Special days at school, like library day or show-and-tell, create extra hassles in the morning. My boys used to leave their library books on their dresser, or on the dining room table... or in the closet. Finding library books or a special toy for show-and-tell was an extra headache on some mornings.
We installed hooks in our mudroom for each boy, and backpacks are always placed on the hooks. We have a dedicated shelf for library books and show-and-tell toys just above the backpack hooks. Once the library books have been read, they must be placed on the shelf the night before library day. Objects for show and tell must be placed on the shelf the night before school, and homework must be placed into the backpack the night before it is due.
- Use a timer to keep kids focused.
Use a Timer to Get Kids Moving
Race the Timer: Motivational Game
Children are very distractible, and may lose focus in the mornings. They would rather play with toys, or pet the dog, or do any number of things rather than getting dressed and brushing teeth.
One of our boys had a hard time keeping his focus in the mornings. We discovered a great way to help him keep his focus and get dressed within a reasonable time frame: the Timer Game.
"Matthew," I would say, "I bet you can't get dressed in less than five minutes!"
My son is extremely competitive and was up for the challenge.
"Yes I can! Start the timer!"
I would set the timer on the microwave to five minutes - he was always dressed within this time frame and would beam when the timer went off and he was standing in the dining room, completely dressed. He liked to beat the timer, and felt like he had won a fun game.
For the timer game to remain successful, there are some key points to follow:
- Do not set the timer for too long of a time period - if the "game" is too easy, the child may lose focus and not care.
- Do not set the timer for too short of a time period - the "game" must be winnable for the child. 5 minutes is a good time allotment for getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc. Easier tasks, like putting a backpack into the car, may only require a minute or two.
- Do not make the game stressful - the goal is to have fun and race the clock, not to create anxiety over time limits. If the exercise becomes stressful, discontinue the technique as it will become counterproductive.
- Reward responsible behavior.
Hectic School Mornings
Reward System for Finishing Tasks On Time
Instituting a reward system is highly effective in motivating kids to complete their morning tasks in a reasonable amount of time. If our boys are ready for school on time, they earn "time tickets" they can use later in the day. Each ticket is worth 15 minutes of time spent on electronic media - they can use the ticket to watch a TV show, play a computer game, or the tablet. Our kids are not allowed to watch TV without the tickets, so they have to earn this privilege by completing their required tasks on time.
They love earning the reward tickets, and I love the way this system limits the amount of TV they watch each day. This system can be altered to suit a family's particular needs: the reward could be a fun trip to the zoo at the end of the month, time on electronic media, or a trip to the dollar store to pick out a toy of their choosing.
My boys have learned that if they get their morning chores out of the way quickly, they have more time for fun things later in the day.
Reward Good Behavior
- Kids need to be held accountable.
Let Them Face the Music
Kids who are chronically late need to face the natural consequences of their actions. If they are not ready for school on time, then let them be late for school. It may help to discuss a plan of action in advance with the school guidance counselor or vice principal, who will know in advance that little "Jimmy" may be late for school the next day.
If your child chooses to continually dawdle in the mornings, let him explain himself to the principal when he arrives late at school. If she is running late and forgot to put his homework in his backpack, then let her go to school without her homework. This can be an excruciating thing for "helicopter" parents to do, but it is vital that kids learn their actions (or lack of actions) have consequences.
A famous psychologist by the name of Kevin Leman relates a story about a middle-school child who was always late for school. His mother needed him in the car by 8:00 every morning, and the child was never ready by that time. She carpooled several other children, and was stressed because her son's lateness made all the other children late, too. Dr. Leman suggested that she simply take the other children to school, even if her son wasn't ready.
The following morning, she took his advice and left promptly at 8:00 am. Her son wasn't ready, and wasn't in the car. She took all of the other children to school and returned home. Her son was standing in the garage, dressed, and upset.
"MOM! I'm late! Do you know what TIME IT IS?" the child demanded.
"Of course. It is 9:00," the mother answered, as cool as a cucumber. She drove him to school, where he had to face the consequences of being late without an excusing note. After the incident, however, he was never late for school again.