Back-to-School Routines

As the kids go back to school and fall gets into swing, it’s a perfect time to re-establish or create new expectations around the household. Be it expectations with your children, planning with your husband, or new habits for yourself, everyone can benefit from routines that keep the household running smoothly.

A few tips for helping establish routines for your family around:

I recently attended a seminar on Executive Functioning, which is the set of skills related to paying attention, organizing and planning, initiating tasks and staying focused on them, regulating emotions, and self-monitoring.

The seminar was eye-opening, because it made me realize how much I’d come to simply “expect” my child to know how to be responsible, self-monitor, and be organized when it comes to schoolwork and daily activities.

I suppose being a  naturally more organized person made it difficult for me to understand others who struggle with organization, but I’ve also realized there is very little emphasis on “teaching” organizational and planning habits to our young kids. In fact, the first time I remember being taught how to organize my time was at my first job!

The more that we can guide our children, with small steps, to becoming responsible for themselves as early as possible, the better prepared they are going to be in school, in work, and in life.

Morning routines

Getting kids ready in the morning can be as stressful or as easy as you make it, from my experience. Taking yourself out of the role of chief corraler can be helfpul if they are old enough to tell time and self-monitor  (~age 6-7 and up).

  • Establish a task list of what kids need to do each morning
  • Create guidelines for the time each task should be done
  • Recognize routine tasks, and create systems and cuing related to those tasks. Example: Every morning lunchboxes need to be put in backpacks: have the kids know that after they finish breakfast, they need to put their lunches in their backpacks.
  • Get up earlier than your routine with the kids starts, so you have some time to yourself. Feeling like you are constantly in crisis or response-mode is a very exhausting way to start your day.
  • Allow kids (age 5 and up) to make their own breakfast, pack their own backpacks, and choose their own clothes. Put items they need in reachable places for them (Tip: if needed, buy special tools that allow this task to be done on their own, such as lighter dishes, etc. We used to refill a lightweight pitcher with milk for cereal for our kids since gallon sized milk was too heavy)
  • Establish a place for each child’s backpack, shoes, and activity bags that they can have ownership of and store/replenish on their own.
  • Create a spot for last-minute notes, reminders, or “take-with-you” items. (I just bought this little organizer to put notes by our front door, and since it has key hooks it’s likely not to be missed).
  • Don’t think the time you must leave the driveway the same as the time you need to get out the door. Allow a few minutes in the schedule for this transition (because you never know what might come up in those last few minutes!)
  • Don’t take on all the responsibility to herd the kids to do each task. Be ok with some failure – failure hurts in the short run, but teaches lessons and helps with ownership in the long run. Sometimes a day without their water bottle, or with forgotten homework, is a good reminder of their own responsibility to perform necessary tasks.

Daily chores

The amount of chores you give your children depends a lot on your household, but even if you don’t feel you “need” your kids to do chores, it’s an important way of both teaching responsibility and giving your kids a sense of ownership to the family’s well-being.

  • Set up a system for chores and expectations for each child
  • Make sure at least one chore benefits the entire household, not just the child (i.e. cleaning their own room does not benefit the entire house, putting away groceries does).
  • Don’t set up chores and then not have consequences if chores are not completed (especially if some children are more on top of them than others). Make sure there is a consequence – either positive when the chore is completed or negative when it is not completed – so you are reinforcing the expectation.


Our assumption that our kids will simply know how to be organized or create systems for good homework habits leaves a lot of kids struggling to be succesful with homeowrk routines. Good homework habits can and should be taught.

  • Get them a planner or calendar they can use to track assignemnts. Have a requirement for kids to schedule time in advance for homework assignments that will take multiple days of work. I’ve now set up each of my kids with their own Google Calendar account, and on a daily basis, they are to add any milestones for assignments due over a week away, as well as schedule the work time (on their calendar) they expect it will take for them to complete the assignment.
  • Provide small incentives along the way for kids who really struggle. Example: after 15 minutes of work, reward them with giving them 10 minutes of something they enjoy.
  • Create larger incentives for ongoing challenges for your child. Example: a student who frequently misses turning in assignments could be given a weekly outing only if all assignments were turned in and up to date.
  • Don’t save putting homework into backpacks for the morning – make that part of “finishing” their homework the night before
  • Don’t “save” your kids when they forget something at home. Help them learn to be responsible on their own


  • Teach kids to create their own reminder systems. If they frequently forget things, ask your child, “Where could you put a reminder for yourself that would help you?” Having a child not just follow reminders on sticky notes, but make them and place them themselves, helps them learn how to eventually create their own reminders when needed.
  • Use nonhuman systems when possible. A timer, an app with a to-do list, or a handwritten note helps take the emotion out of a request or reminder. It is much less emotionally draining to provide a child a checklist, than to ask them on a daily basis if they remembered to do various things.
  • Teach kids to be their own team captain to improving methods.
  • Approach reminding children as a collaborater, not as a boss. Remember that we are all works-in progress and take a coaching attitude with the goal of helping teach children to eventually be able to help themselves.

Family Time

Recently, I asked a friend of mine, who has 5 children (the oldest is now finishing high school) how she has ensured that all the younger years with her kids didn’t just fly by. She told me that she established weekly family routines.

This last year, I put her advice into practice. We established Thursday night TV show night (we usually don’t have TV on in our house), Friday night homemade pizza and game night, and Saturday night movie night.

The kids just love it – but I believe it’s created a very strong family bond as well. In fact, when the kids have an opportunity to spend time with their friends on the weekend, they often ask how they can do so without missing out on our family traditions.

  • Find quality moments or routines that the family can look forward to on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Allow kids to provide input for family vacations and time
  • Consider a weekly family meeting
  • Don’t simply think that family time should be about kid-centric activities. These activities tend to make the kids happy but aren’t necessarily interactive between parents and kids. Think about what your kids and you, as parents, all really enjoy doing, and how you can build quality time around that. Hiking, baking, and board games are all things that our family likes to do that make for great family time in our house.
  • Consider a mealtime discussion that allows kids to reflect on what’s working and not-working in a low-pressure format (we use the rose-thorn-bud format at dinner time at least once a week).
  • Balance the household so that out-of the house time does not overimpose upon quality family time
  • Create limits for device-use: screen time can be limited by amount of time, time of day, and/or where it’s used. Example: some families don’t allow devices between 6-8pm, or at the dinner table, while others restrict screen time to an amount per day (in our house, it’s limited to 20 minutes on school days).

Back-to-school time is the perfect time to examine what’s not working, consider what you systemize, and establish new routines.

If it seems like a lot to consider, think about where your biggest challenges are as you send your kids off to school in the coming weeks. When are you feeling the most emotionally drained? What are your kids responding poorly to and what motivates them?

Start with one thing.

We are all, after all, works in progress.