With a daily routine of cows, off-farm jobs, errands and kids, most dairy connected families find themselves dreaming about smooth running morning routines. While the dream may not include time for feet up R&R, it is entirely possible to prevent the onset of C&C – or as I know it — chaos and craziness. Bathroom lineups, lost library books, lost keys, and lost homework are just the “last straw” on school mornings. It’s especially upsetting if any or all of these come after breakfast bedlam and the fear-filled observation as you step out the door “you can NOT wear your barn boots to school!”
As parents of three and having the privilege of grand-parenting eight more, hubby and I have learned a few things about getting mornings with school kids off to a great start. After all, whether they’re headed to school or if we are visiting during school days, no one wants to waste valuable time playing hide and seek with pairs of socks or racing the clock to find that permission slip that must be signed today!
THE KEY: “Don’t Wait Until Morning.”
Four keywords will turn your dairy/school mornings around: Don’t Wait Until Morning. Those dairy farmers with the best-running operations know that, if they wait until the cows are ready to be milked before they get the feed ready or the milking equipment cleaned, there will be far too much wasted time. Unreported illness (staff or bovine), missing or malfunctioning equipment can also mess up a barn morning. We all work hard to make sure that mornings are great in the barn. We can do it with school mornings too.
FIND YOUR CENTER: “Hang it. Post it. Pack it.”
I have always been somewhat of a morning person. I say somewhat because there are some who think my mornings start in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, those are my most productive hours. I don’t want them to be watered down because I become wrapped up in un-planned crisis management. These days the early morning chores are different, but I still enjoy time in the morning to see everyone off on the right foot and, hopefully, with matching shoes.
I am always searching for new ways to do things better. Pinterest is my addiction. However, my seeking has also been especially blessed with great role models. My daughter-in-love is one of mine. Last year she implemented three centers that have resulted in huge time savings in a house with three school children under ten. One is the command center in the family room the other. The second is the control center by the front door. The third is the lunch box center, which is a cupboard dedicated to kid’s lunchboxes in the kitchen. These three organized areas are indispensable to a smooth-running school morning.
With all the school papers, notes and notices that come into our homes, it is hard to imagine having them corralled in one area that is also attractive and functional. But such is the case for my Maple grandchildren and their parents. With three drawers for each of the three kids and three for the adults to share, all of the incoming paper has a place to go. The four hanging boards are magnetic, attractive and labeled with the name of the child. Chalk painted magazine boxes hold school notices, and the front lets everyone know when library books are due. Event notices, play dates, and doctor appointments are posted here and clearly visible from across the room.
At the front door, there are child-height hooks for coats and book bags, buckets for hats, mitts, scarves, and gloves. This amazingly useful area also has cubbies for shoes and a drainage tray for wet boots or Crocs. There are two extra large baskets which are perfect for whatever is necessary for the current after school sports activities or teams. Sunscreen and hand sanitizers are also stored, where else, but at hand. Once we identify everything that is needed for a quick morning exit, we make sure that it is stored in this easily accessible area. No adventures in hide-n-seek. No sending someone back upstairs, downstairs or to who-knows-where-for-who-knows what.
THE LUNCH CENTER
This is probably the smallest of the three centers, but the lunch center is one of the most important. This very accessible child height (under the counter) cupboard has some of the key components that make lunch packing quick and easy. This is where the kid’s lunchboxes, thermoses, water bottles, snacks, reusable food boxes and cutlery are kept. Not only, does this make it easy for them to be involved in making lunches, it also dramatically cuts down crisscrossing of the kitchen in search of needed supplies. When the dishwasher is being emptied, everything lunch related and non-perishable finds its way to this cupboard.
My dairy nutritionist daughter also encourages taking lunch preparation into the refrigerator zone. Since her children are slightly older, they are developing a system of washing, chopping and preparing fruit, veggies and sandwich makings for a few days’ worth of lunches. Ideally, this happens on grocery day or on Sunday evening. Small containers inside larger ones make it look inviting, organized and easy to select from when the girls make their lunches. It takes up very little space in the refrigerator and again condenses storage for fast access.
EVERY GOOD CENTER NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD ROUTINE
It’s one thing to have things organized. It’s even better if everyone, kids especially, knows how to make the system work. In the same way that a good morning milking routine needs to be replicated at every other milking, a good school morning routine has to have a complimentary after-school routine. With the centers we have been talking about, the kids come in from school … empty their backpacks (dishwasher, garbage, and lunch center), change their clothes, have a snack and play or have personal time for 20 to 30 minutes. Homework is started and completed before supper. School notes and homework for checking are placed on the shelf in the command center for Mom and Dad to check when they have time. While my grandchildren don’t live on farms, all three homes are dairy connected with parents working in marketing, semen sales or dairy nutrition. If they were on a farm, they might have chores to complete. As it is, on many days there are after school activities. Having an easily repeated routine working is as effective for kids in the house as it is for calves and cows. The last thing every night is a quick tidy of the control center, moving everything needed to the command center, showers teeth brushing and one load of wash in the machine. This pretty much guarantees that everyone will make a clean exit in the morning.
- BONUS TIP #1: “Get Dressed”
Having clothes organized is in the DNA of the female Hunt family and spouses. At our Huntsdale house, the next day’s clothes hang on hooks (five outfits at a time). Our American grandkids (Michigan and Wisconsin) have been raised with organized closets and drawers. Here in Ontario, the three kids under ten can find their school and play clothes easily because they are using a labeled drawer system. For them, a night time shower or bath means that just a few minutes are needed in the morning for hair-combing and teeth brushing.
- BONUS TIP #2: “Find Your Best ”
Some dairy ladies and their helpers do as much school prep as they can in the afternoon before chores. Others choose night prep. Depending on chore time or dairy priorities, it could affect when the kids do homework … and where. It’s amazing how much can be done in the barn office (feed alley or milkhouse). Been there. Done that. The training lies in the commitment to doing the homework EVERY time. You wouldn’t put an untrained heifer into the milking routine. Don’t expend an unprepared student to excel in the school system.
- BONUS TIP #3: “Need help? Use technology!”
Technology loves to help us get organized. You can synchronize Google calendars to your phones. If you can name the time management problem, you can probably find an app to solve it. When everyone involved in child care, pickups and deliveries are working from the same calendar; it is much more likely to run smoothly. I have prepared a basic grocery list that is always available for whoever finds themselves near the store on any given day. Like any system, though, you must use it, not lose it!
- BONUS TIP #4: “Magical Mornings happen when the kids participate too!”
Even the littlest helpers can keep the household running smoothly. Our Michigan girls have daily chores, and the Maple Loves are very good at putting their laundry away (in the aforementioned labeled dresser drawers) and picking up toys. Everybody is good at setting the table. Things are getting exciting as the older ones are starting to try their hand at meal preparation.
THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE
A new school year is always exciting and promises to have nearly as many memorable events on the calendar as a well-managed dairy farm. Starting each day in a way that builds confidence and reduces anxiety is the goal. Everyone here at The Bullvine wishes you the best school year ever as you find your best way to earn your dairy morning Ph.D.: “Post it. Hang it. Do it!” Whether it’s school mornings or dairy mornings, success is all about being well-prepared!