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Working Toward Back To School – The Daily Routine

by Laurel Plum

I don’t know about you, but I think one of the cruelest parts of going back to school is that it comes just after I have really settled in to living without a watch for a good portion of the day. In Summer a large portion of activities are time flexible. To successfully get through the school year without a lot of crazy nights, you need to set the time of activities consistently.

If you can get those bodies to expect certain things to happen at the same time every day, they will be able to concentrate when they need to and there will be fewer unusual mood swings. You will be able to see patterns in mood that could be fixed by adding something simple like a break or a snack. With our teenager, it helped us to figure out that eating certain foods and doing certain break time activities made her… less pleasant to be around. Finding alternatives helped our relationships AND her grades.

Your year will run smoother if you can start with a fairly consistent daily schedule that you stick to throughout the entire year. So today I am writing up a daily school routine.

Setting Our Internal Clocks

I start with the biggies. They include anything that works with our internal clocks. Missing, skipping, or varying any of these will get you moody kids and arguments. When these events are consistent, your body gets use to expecting them to occur at those times.  For the most part if you can keep these activities at a regular time of day, your energy levels and concentration levels will also become consistent to work for you.

  • Time to Wake Up
  • Bed time
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Snacks

If you are a parent of an older child, have them do this with you. The wake up/bed times will be theirs. If you have little guys, those are probably going to be your wake and bed times (or shared with your spouse) with theirs sandwiched somewhere in between.

Keep these set in stone as much as possible. If you wake up late when you can, the early mornings are going to be tough. If you have varying bedtimes, you are going to have a harder time winding down on the nights you need to go bed earlier. If you eat your meals at about the same time everyday, your body will learn to expect food at a certain time. Once your body acclimates,  your energy levels at a given time of any day can better be anticipated. You will quickly realize when/if you need to add a snack time (no, energy drinks do not count) to keep your momentum steady.

By the way, the teenager and I both are sensitive to season changes. Basically, the change in day light messes with our internal clocks. We get moody and can show various signs of depression in the Winter. We are energetic, overly gregarious with frequent insomnia in the Summer. Using a consistent schedule helped us to recognize it as well as the simple things that helped each of us. You may have heard someone talk about SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder before. People are affected to different degrees and there are several things that can be implemented to alleviate the affects the most common being simple light therapy. If you think someone in your household may have SAD, talk to your doctor and see what suggestions they have for you.

Then I Include Have To’s

The Have To’s are anything with a time restraint that is given by someone else.

  • The time school starts
  • The time school ends
  • The start and end times of any lessons, clubs, or other extra curricular activities
  • These lead to the time to leave the house for each one based on transportation, driving time and parking available.

College students would add the blocks of time for classes if they change through the week. You may need to make some adjustments from day to day, but try to keep the internal clock items including meals as close to the same time.

Then I Include This Before That

Almost everything else. Homework, getting dressed, getting a bath, etc.

Sometimes where you slip them in can make a difference. Let me give you a few examples.

Our little guy can be messy. He is also independent and likes to dress himself. If I can get him use to dressing after he eats every day, it will save me a lot of unnecessary laundry and lost time on those mornings.

Whenever our teenager worked on homework after dinner, she was sluggish, interrupted often with phone calls, and less likely to complete it before bed time.  Having her do it immediately after school improved her concentration. She was able to do the same amount of work in less time. (And there were fewer arguments over us making her get off the phone.)

Some of these can be scheduled to become transitional cues for other activities. What do I mean by a transitional cue?  Think of a toddler who has a set bedtime routine every night. Bath, story time, quiet time, then sleep.  Then think of a second toddler of the same age that gets their bath at irregular times. Sometimes it is when they wake up, sometimes before they go out, sometimes when they have been into something messy and sometimes at bedtime if they haven’t had one already. The first toddler will probably begin to slow down when they hear the water running into the tub or smell the soap. For the other toddler a bath will probably not much affect their wakefulness.  A bath each night can transition toward sleep. A bath each morning can transition toward being alert. It is all in how we learn to perceive the activity.

Prep Time

All of the things that can be done tonight to reduce the rushed feeling in the morning. Also would include anything that is my responsibility like checking homework.

  • Setting out tomorrow’s outfit
  • Checking the lunch menu, packing lunches if needed
  • Going through the book bag for any teacher correspondence

Here is another tip! Add a pocketed file folder that always stays in the back pack specifically for any notes, permission slips etc. I prefer the vinyl folders over the card stock because they can last for years. Pick a solid, plain color so that it does not get commandeered by the student for something else. For older kids, make them responsible for adding pages to it. You will need to talk to the teacher for the little guys. Go for parent of the year – if the kids only have one teacher and reasonably small classrooms, find out how many kids are in the class and buy one for each student and offer them as a gift to the teacher at the beginning of the year explaining their purpose.

Final Draft

I would not recommend you think of your schedule as “final”. You will continue to tweak it as the year goes by. But you will have a head start for next year.

Don’t think of it as regimented either. This is not about blowing a whistle at specific times to make everyone move on to the next activity. It is a guideline to find consistency. To make sure that play time and study time are balanced. To establish basic structure that will help you and your child successfully get through the year.

Our bodies acclimate to the consistent and resist the unexpected. Everything about the school year (or work day) runs by a clock. If we can not acclimate to that clock, our minds and our bodies are constantly picking up on miscues and working against us. If your body lives to an out of sync watch, when you try to place an unexpected time restraint on it or your mind, you will struggle.

The Lists

Take another look through your routine. Think of all of the things you will need for each activity.  Does your child need an alarm clock of their own? Do you have after school snacks ready to go so they won’t ransack your kitchen everyday? Do you have somewhere to put all of those things or keepers to hold them?

Add everything to your list and see what you may have on hand.

Other Considerations:

We forget just how early their lunches can be scheduled. Their blood sugar levels fall well before dinner. Adding a healthy snack immediately after school can keep them from wanting naps and help them focus on homework.

Here most of the schools are on semesters or quarters. But most of the extra curricular things that change up the average day schedule, keeping us in a state of flux, seem to fit into a Fall, Winter, or Spring season. Most practices/lessons will occur right after school. Try to keep dinner time and homework time based on the latest running activity.

Consider making adjustments to the time of day some activities occur to turn them into transitional cues to alleviate a problem. Take bath time again. If they have a hard time waking after getting out of bed, consider a morning shower instead of a night time bath. If they have a hard time getting to sleep, go for the night time bath (maybe using lavender scented products). If you have sporty types or ones wanting to nap, putting it after school could help refresh them to keep them going through their evening activities.

For a child to develop socially and balanced, they need at least one hour for breaks and another hour for socializing with friends and family. The hours can be broken up into smaller chunks. Clubs and sports can count for part of those hours, just keep the physical and mental demands of the activity in mind before substituting all of that time.

Kids and teenagers especially need a minimum of 8 hours of sleep. Sadly, our sleep is where we all tend to cut into to find more time. Please, don’t.

If you see that the schedule is over extended or too tight for comfort anywhere, now is the time to make hard choices.  Do not make promises to one another and try to make it work. Use the schedule to reason with them instead of just saying “No” and becoming the bad guy. But remember, you are the parent. It is your job to guide them in the right direction. Sometimes you are going to be the bad guy no matter what you do. Just keep telling yourself that they will thank you “someday”.

Really. Keep those homework times consistent. If you get the internal clock set to a regular routine, the brain will begin to anticipate the times of day when you will expect higher activity. Not only will the kids learn good study habits, but their grades and comprehension will benefit.

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January 29, 2010 at 6:13 pm

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gary October 12, 2009 at 5:16 pm

I just tried something new with my 9 year old. I’ve asked her to keep a calendar of all her school, after school and social activities. The act of keeping the calendar has transferred the responsibilities from me to her. We have opted to use a shared online calendar for this task. For her it seemed like less work than a paper calendar. I guess you can use any family site, we are using She really has embraced the idea and the responsibility.

Give it a try … has help us get organized.

2 Paula, LCSW June 10, 2010 at 9:35 am

Hi Laurel, I just discovered your blog, looking for home organization tips. I am a marriage and family counselor and just want to say this is some of the most excellent information I have ever come across regarding setting up family routines–so many great ideas and helpful things to consider. I’ll be referring many clients your way. Thanks for sharing your family life wisdom!

3 Lara April 26, 2011 at 7:02 am

I found your tips to be spot on and really handy. I think the “prep time” tips make the most difference to our household. I know that when we have a “rushed” morning, it can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. So making sure uniform is out and ready, books are packed and teacher’s correspondance all dealt with in time makes huge difference to starting your day well and ….CALMLY!
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4 charu dixit October 24, 2011 at 7:08 am

it is a really boring site i needed a daily routine for a child like me(8th class) in small small points but in this site there is nothing related to that and i m really disappointed after reading this whole para…….. Truly wastage of my precious time,that i would have utilised in playing or something…… I m sorry but it is true…….

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