We talk a lot about your school schedule and how to make it work for you and your students. But what about that block of time before school starts? That part of your morning can have a big impact on your school day.
If breakfast is pleasant, chores get done, and the children gather in good time to start lessons, that atmosphere can overflow into the lessons themselves and give you good momentum.
But if breakfast is late because you have no idea what to do about it, and the children dawdle over their chores, and you feel like you are herding cats to try to round everybody up and get them into the living room for school sometime before noon, that mood can also overflow into lesson time. It’s hard to overcome a sputtering, haphazard start to the day.
So let me give you five tips for your mornings before lessons commence. Think of these as ideas to help you and your children enjoy a smooth start that will carry you into school time with a calm and happy spirit.
Tip #1: Start the night before.
“Wait! That’s cheating!” you might protest. “We’re talking about a smooth morning, not the night before.” But it can be really helpful to think about your day in the same way that Scripture does. The Bible often talks about “evening and morning,” starting with the night before. For thousands of years, the Jewish Sabbath has started, not at sunrise on Saturday, but at sundown on Friday evening.
And if you start thinking about your day in those terms, it will give you an advantage. It makes sense to plan and prepare for your day, then rest up for it, then carry out your plan. So try approaching your morning in that way.
Take 15 minutes the night before to decide what you’re going to have for breakfast and to do any prep work that needs to be done. Check your calendar to see if you have any outside appointments or commitments that will affect your morning. And glance at your school plans and make sure you have everything you will need for them.
That’s it. Just 15 minutes the night before can give you such a great head start on your morning! In fact, I challenge you to set a timer for 15 minutes this evening and see how much you can get done in that amount of time with full attention. (You may be surprised.)
Set yourself up for a calmer morning by doing that little bit of preparation the night before.
Tip #2: Set an alarm.
If you tend to sleep in later than you should, and you wake up feeling defeated already, consider setting an alarm to help you rise early enough so you feel prepared for what is ahead.
But first, let me encourage you to make sure you are getting to bed at a decent time to get enough sleep, so you can function optimally in the mornings.
One of the blessings of homeschooling is that it eliminates the draining routine of waking up in the dark, exhausted and groggy, every morning and prying yourself out of bed so you don’t miss the bus. Do you remember those days? How many years did we have to do that when we were growing up? It is not a pleasant way to start the day.
So I am very thankful that homeschooling gives us the option to wake up gradually, if needed, or even to push our start time back some mornings if everyone was up late the night before.
We have such freedom as homeschoolers: we’re not tied to class bells or tardy slips. But let’s be careful that we don’t go to the other extreme. Homeschooling is not an excuse to sit up late every night and stay in our pajamas all day. We should be using the freedom we have to serve our family well, not to encourage sloppy habits. Yes, sometimes the situation calls for flexibility. Absolutely. But be careful not to use that flexibility as an excuse for becoming lax. Or worse, for robbing your children (and you) of much-needed sleep.
I remember once in high school I was staying up late and getting up early as a rule and thinking that it wasn’t affecting me. Then one evening I went out to eat with my parents and another couple, who were friends of theirs. As we sat at the table in the restaurant, my parents and their friends started talking about other mutual acquaintances whom I had never met, so I didn’t have much interest in their conversation. The next thing I knew, I woke up and caught myself falling off the chair. I had fallen asleep in the middle of a meal!
Your body has a way of telling you when it’s not getting enough sleep. Pay attention to what it is saying. Sleep is so important for functioning at your best!
I realize that during some seasons of life, you have no choice. When you have a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night yet, it’s going to be a challenge. But I just want to encourage you not to buy into the idea that feeling exhausted and sleep-deprived is a badge of honor. It’s not. Sleep is a gift from God. Adequate sleep can actually help us to problem-solve in our home schools, to read the faces of our children so we have insight into what they are thinking, to help us create an atmosphere of peace and love and grace, and to be at our most productive level as we go through our morning and our entire day. Why would we intentionally neglect that gift? If you have the choice—and most of us do,—make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
(And by the way, while we’re talking about enough sleep, let me just throw in a reminder that most kids need more than eight hours of sleep. If your children are perpetually cranky or lethargic or struggling to pay attention, it might be their bodies’ way of letting you know that they need more sleep.)
OK, have I said enough about getting enough sleep as the prerequisite to this tip? It’s important. This tip probably should read Get enough sleep and set an alarm. When I recommend setting an alarm for yourself, I’m not telling you to cut back on your sleep. I’m recommending that you shift your sleeping hours, so that you still can get enough sleep but also rise at a time that will give you a little head start to the morning.
I hate the feeling of getting up and feeling behind right from the start. Then I feel like I’m playing catch-up all day long. That’s not a pleasant way to go through the day.
So maybe instead of sleeping from midnight to 8:00, you shift it back an hour and start going to bed at 11:00 and getting up at 7:00. You’re still getting eight hours, but you’ll be waking up an hour earlier in the morning and giving yourself time to prepare for your day.
I’m not telling you what time to get up; that’s a personal choice based on your unique family’s circumstances and family culture. I’m simply saying that getting up early enough to feel prepared for your day is a whole lot better than feeling like you’ve been thrown into the deep end as soon as you open your eyes.
So consider setting an alarm to help you get in the habit of entering the day more calmly and intentionally prepared. That habit will certainly make for a smoother morning.
Tip #3: Post a chore chart.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a chart; you might have a list of responsibilities instead. But make sure every child in your household knows what he or she is responsible to do every morning.
Posting those chores does two things: (1) It helps the children know what your expectations are, and (2) It eliminates your having to remind them what to do every morning. It transfers the responsibility onto their shoulders and gives them great practice in applying the student motto: “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”
If your children are not used to chores or personal responsibilities, you will need to take some time to get those habits in place. Don’t just throw a list at them and expect them to know how to handle it. Take some time during the afternoons, after lessons are done, or take time on the weekends to teach one chore. Show them slowly and carefully what they are to do. Let them practice.
Any chore or responsibility that you want your child to learn can be taught with a simple 5-step process:
- I do it and you watch me.
- I do it and you help me.
- You do it and I help you.
- You do it and I watch you.
- You do it and I inspect it.
How quickly you move through that process will depend on the particular chore and the child. It might take a few afternoons or weekends to get one up to speed, but don’t rush it. The time that you are investing now will be repaid many times over.
At our house, we got up and got dressed, then met for breakfast. After breakfast, the children were responsible to do their chores, including brushing teeth, making their beds, and some of them cleaned up the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher with the breakfast dishes. Kitchen duty was usually rotated between the three meals every week.
You don’t have to run your morning that same way, but just having those chores posted where everyone could see them made our mornings run much smoother.
Tip #4: Give little ones attention first.
If you have a toddler or a preschooler, spend time one-on-one with her while the older ones are doing their assigned chores. That individual attention will help immensely when, later, you want her to play alone for a bit during a lesson.
And when I say “one-on-one time,” I don’t mean drilling the child on her ABCs or 123s! This should be a play time or reading books time or whatever helps your child feel loved. Give her your full attention; make this a special time.
When you take the time to “fill up her love cup” first, she won’t feel neglected or abandoned when, later in the morning, you ask her to entertain herself so you can work with her older siblings on their schoolwork.
Obviously, this “together time” isn’t a magic solution to all behavior problems for the whole day. You will still need to train her and practice playing quietly during school time, but that focused attention given first will go a long way toward a smoother morning.
Tip #5: Create a morning playlist.
Once breakfast is done and the children scatter to do their chores, how do you regather everyone in a timely manner to get lessons started? If you are truly going to help cultivate that habit of personal responsibility and encourage your children to pay attention to their chores and get them done without dawdling, you don’t want to walk the halls and check the rooms, nagging and reminding and prodding everyone to be ready on time. That behavior only sets up a habit of depending on you to make sure they get done.
Well, here is an idea that will leave the responsibility on the shoulders of the children while still getting everyone gathered when it is time to start schoolwork—and without any hollering.
Create a playlist of a few songs and make it a part of your regular morning routine. If the playlist is ten minutes long, start playing it ten minutes before you want everyone gathered for schoolwork. Let the children know that when they hear the music, it’s time for them to finish up and get to the living room (or table or wherever you want them to gather). It will take only a day or two for them to figure out which song is the last one and to adjust their speed accordingly.
By making the playlist ten minutes or fifteen minutes long, you are giving them enough time for a heads-up, to finish up what they are doing, and to get to the schoolroom. Then you have only to apply an appropriate consequence for any who are not in their places when the music stops.
Of course, you don’t have to use a playlist, per se. You could use a bell or some chimes, ringing them once 5–10 minutes before lessons begin and then once again when it is time to start. But think about how much music can affect us. If you select songs that lift the spirit, energize the body, and guide the mind on the right path of thinking, you will help set up a great atmosphere for your lesson time!
One mom who uses a playlist like this told me that she picked two of her personal favorites for the last two songs in the set. Somehow hearing those two songs in the morning helps her start the school day in a good mood. And that’s worth a lot!
Use the same playlist for a while—long enough for everyone to know when they are to be in their places,—but feel free to change it every term (or every month, if you want to) just to keep it fresh.
How about you?
Those are my five tips to help you have a smooth morning leading up to lesson time. How about you? Do you have any other tips that you would like to add? Leave a comment and let’s help each other get off to a great start every day!