By all accounts, Mike and Jessica had built a happy family life for themselves and their two children aged seven and eight. You only had to look at their smiling faces, or the adorable way they interacted with one another to know this was true. Well, most of the time. Then COVID-19 hit, upsetting their routines and forcing them to spend tons of time together at home. They made it work but were very relieved when in-person learning and summer camps opened up again in their community. The first few days were great because everyone was excited. But as the weeks wore on they started to dread one particular part of the day when their family rhythm just got completely out of sync: the morning rush. Their story is not unusual. It can be quite a challenge getting the whole family out the door in the morning for school and work under normal conditions, but now we’ve been home for so long that it feels a bit daunting. Does everybody have everything? Are you dressed appropriately for the weather? Does everyone have a mask...a clean one? Is anything special going on at camp or work today? Where’s my homework, Mom? No-- not that one! That’s last week’s! Hang on everyone-- Mom’s lost her cell phone. What, again?! Kids--keep those backpacks on and don’t you dare start switching shoes again! Uh-oh, I think the library books are due today! Where are they? We’re going to be late… again.
Mike and Jessica had taken several positive steps on their own to make the process easier. They hung the backpacks by the front door. They had a special bin full of snacks so the kids could choose their own each day on their way out. They purchased a stash of face masks in lots of colors for the whole family to wear. They even had a special cubbie just for umbrellas, sunscreen, and sunglasses near the coat closet so everyone could find what they needed. But all of this to no avail.
The kids still weren’t tall enough to hang their backpacks on the hooks in the closet or to take them down when they needed them. They spent hours of their lives searching in vain for that one blue baseball hat in the bin but they could never find it within the mountain of the whole family’s accessories. There were colorful masks littering the house but nobody could remember which ones were clean and which ones had been worn already. Library books were anyone’s guess because they were usually just strewn about the house wherever they read them--in the bedrooms, in the living room, even by the bathtub! The same was true for the homework papers. It was all the parents could do just to get the kids to complete the work each night. Usually by the end of the day they were too tired to put it in the backpacks and figured they’d see to it in the morning, but they never did. Sometimes they felt like they were drowning in a sea full of art projects and graded papers sent home from school. The real estate on the fridge had been completely filled up years ago.
At their wit’s end, Mike and Jessica turned to the professionals to help get them out of this mess and out the door in a calmer, more orderly fashion each morning. The first thing we suggested was to think about how the family comes into the house at the end of the day, not just how they leave in the morning. What every family with young children needs to do is think of the morning rush like theater--you need to stage everyone’s exit. What props does each actor need? And keeping in mind that there are no small parts, make sure everybody is tall enough to reach what they need!
In this particular situation, only a few gentle tweaks were needed to get things moving more smoothly. We started by hanging a utility wall rack on the back of the coat closet door. This gave each family member their own small bin for items like hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen. No more wasting time searching through one larger cubbie by the door, and when the closet door is shut, everything is out of sight.
Also in the coat closet, we installed some hooks at a low level, just the right height for the kids to reach. Now, each time they came home, the parents reminded the children to put their backpack on its hook so they would know exactly where it was in the mor
ning (and they could reach it too). These small changes freed up space in one of the larger cubbies by the door making it the perfect home for the library books.
Solving the problem of homework papers sometimes being in other parts of the house took commitment, but Mike and Jessica vowed to start the new habit of having the kids put the homework inside the backpacks before bedtime. It meant adding a new step to their nighttime routine but the family agreed to work on it because they were all tired of the chaotic mornings.
By the front door we installed small Command brand hooks just the right size for one mask each. Since we (hopefully) won’t need face masks forever, Command hooks are a great, temporary solution. They are clean and simple-looking, and their adhesive easily comes off when they are no longer needed. They are great for lightweight items like masks, and they won’t damage your wall surface. A clean mask is hung on each family members’ hook at bedtime or first thing in the morning, perfect for a quick grab when going out the door.
To complete our plan, we refocused on what happens when the family comes home, not just when they leave. Ultimately, we decided to add some elements in the kitchen to streamline the process at both ends. These included a small bin for the family to deposit their used masks at the end of the day. We labeled it “dirty,” so there was no confusion, and so that the masks could easily be thrown in the washer in the adjacent laundry room when the bin was full. We also placed three trays for papers in the kitchen (not near food prep or eating areas). This gave a consistent home to the papers the parents needed to read or sign, the artwork, and the already graded assignments. We added a magnetic board nearby for displaying special awards and artwork, and we incorporated a daily checklist hanging on the wall. This way, everyone could glance at the list which included items like homework, lunch, coat, snack, and library books, to make sure nothing was overlooked. Even Mom got in on the action, setting up a phone charging station in the spot where she kept her keys since she didn’t seem to lose the keys, just the cell phone.
By thinking carefully through their daily routines, giving items a consistent home, and making only minor changes, Mike and Jessica have reported that the rush to get out the door is going much more smoothly. The kids seem more relaxed, too. Though they might say just the opposite, kids thrive on structure and routine as much as adults. They feel more independent being able to reach and find everything they need on their own. And Mike and Jessica can even enjoy a second cup of coffee… once in a while.