5 Tips to Help Keep School Mornings Sane

09/04/2011 at 11:00 AM ET
Courtesy Mabel’s Labels

As a mother of six kids under 11, including a bright and talented autistic son, Julie Cole knows a thing or two about raising a big family.

And along with juggling her big brood, she also runs a successful business as vice president of Mabel’s Labels, Inc.

So getting herself and her little ones out of the door in the morning without a hitch is a top priority.

How does she do it?

With a lot of organization — and humor!

To help you fill your school day mornings with smiles instead of stress, she’s sharing her top tips and tricks.

Check them out below:

Set up a kid-friendly routine. Rather than wasting time nagging your kids to pack their homework or lunch, etc.,  give them the tools and encouragement to be more independent. At our house, we have a “Before School Plan” chart, which lists all of their morning duties. As they complete a task, they mark it off and then earn a reward point, which can be used to redeem prizes.

Organize yourself first. Get most of your to-do list — pack lunches, lay out school clothes — done the night before. I even put the cereal on the table! Once you’re organized, make sure everything your kid needs in the morning has a home. For example, create a cubby for each child to hold their school gear. You can even let them decorate it.

Streamline lunch prep. To save time, I freeze sandwiches to use throughout the week, or make casseroles and soups on the weekend to throw in a Thermos when the colder weather hits. And instead of including juice boxes, which are too sugary anyway, I like to use refillable water bottles. They’re much better on the environment.

Label look-alike items. I know it may be obvious advice from someone who works for a label company, but if you or your kids have ever found yourselves puzzling over identical looking clothes, shoes, school supplies or book bags, you’ll know what a time-saver labeling can be. Best of all, labeling (our Classic School Pack is great!) will keep stuff out of the lost and found and make sure it all comes home at the end of the day.

Enlist mini helpers. If you hate having to drag a toddler or baby to the bus stop every morning, especially in the dead of winter, so you can get your bigger kids on the bus, here’s an idea. Consider hiring an older kid who goes to the same bus stop and is happy to do the morning pick-up and afternoon drop-off for a cool $20 a week. “Bus buddies” are a very good investment for busy mamas.

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Showing 16 comments

Steph on

I am one of those moms who buys and tries almost anything. These labels are FANTASTIC- especially the clothing tattoos. The labels really do stay on in the dishwasher and washer/dryer.

crg on

The clothing ones didn’t work for me. I put them on just how the instructions said and they’d always come off. And I was using them for my toddler, so I didn’t want him peeling them off and eating them or something 😉 I contacted them twice and never received a response. This was several years ago, so maybe they improved them? I like the other labels, though.

Kristina on

I just bought the school pack in Ocean for my daughter, who is beginning preschool in a few days. … Can’t wait to try these out. If they’re as good as the first poster attests, I’ll be sure to recommend them to friends. I’m sure our kids’ teachers will also appreciate labels to prevent the wrong bags/shoes/lunchboxes/etc. going home with the wrong kids!

Alexandria on

I only have two kids to juggle in the morning and find it stressful!

And I’ve just spent the morning labeling my daughter’s school stuff – she’s off to SK tomorrow. Thank goodness for Mabel’s Labels!

Allyson on

We love Mabel’s Labels! I’ve used them on tons of different surfaces (lunch containers, clothing, shoes, etc…) and have never had any come off.

Great tips for back to school Julie! We have a teen and two little ones and mornings are always a mad rush!

Karina on

Great tips! It is the 1st back to School eve in our house so I need all the help I can get.
Max’s stuff is all labeled with his uber cute Mabel’s Labels so at least I have one thing covered.

Deborah on

Great back to school ideas!

Mabel’s Labels are #1 for organization in our house & especially for school supplies. EVERYTHING that goes to school has a label or tag on it!

Kim on

We have a “Mabels Labels” drawer so we always know where they are when we need them! The shoe labels always live longer then the kids shoes do!

Julie is an inspiration in every way!

Grandma on

Points and prizes for Putting on shoes and packing lunches? Sorry, but that does NOT make a child more independent, it makes her more entitled. Very sad.

crg on

Grandma, I didn’t read that part! As a Montessorian I just couldn’t see doing something like that with my kids. They should be able to get ready for school without getting a prize. Though if I had six kids I guess I would probably do anything to make them get ready on their own!

Danielle on

So to the haters complaining about rewarding the behavior you want in kids can mail me your next paycheck. The article is not clear, but I used a system similar and now they only get the points at random times (the best way to maintain behavior is intermittent reinforcement: Hello slot machines) Maybe they only get the points if they are not reminded.

It is a basic principle, reward the behavior you want. Ignore the behavior and it will go away.

My son goes to a Montesorri school and when he does not want to do his “job” the teacher tells him he can choose to do the job inside or outside while everyone plays. I guess he should not have the reward of recess? The punishment is set in place to encourage appropriate behavior, why is giving rewards for the positive bad?

Danielle on

To the person who said that a reward system makes someone entitled….did you ever have a chore chart for your kids?

giving a kid something without working for it and in excess makes them entitled. Not setting boundaries makes a kid entitled. Set the boundary of expected behavior and then it is the child’s choice to make the right choice or not. Then you can get rid of the nonstop nagging and yelling at a kid to do something. After all, the interaction from you could be reinforcing the behavior you dont like

KM on


A paycheck is not a REWARD, it is EARNED. Comparing them makes you sound ridiculous and idiotic. Putting on their shoes and small tasks like that are things children are SUPPOSED to do. Once we start throwing around award for things kids are SUPPOSED to do, where does it end? “Here honey, here’s a toy for breathing so well…”

annie on

I agree with Grandma and KM. Kids should know learn the difference between doing something extra for a reward (or allowance) and what is just expected of them as part of being in a sane, functioning family.

Grandma on

Danielle, your comparison to slot machines is exactly right. I, however, expected more from my children than a pavlovian response. If you teach a child that the only reason to get dressed in the morning is bc he will get a reward, well then you are raising a dog not a child. Children should be expected to contribute (age appropriate contributions) to the well being of the family. And, Likewise to society.

Unfortunately, far to many people choose to parent via rewards and this has most sadly spilled over into societal expectations, or lack there of – i.e. Schools paying students to SHOW UP for class. Paying (with points and prizes in this case) for a school-age child to get herself ready for school in the morning is the same thing.

Julie Cole on

Obviously this is a short article and there was not a lot of opportunity to go into length about the system I use. It is very effective and I can assure you, there is no sense of entitlement around here. To read more about my system, check out this blog post where I explain it. It is based on the principles of ABA: http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/keep-them-in-check