How I Taught My Kindergartener to Get Himself Ready for School (on time without nagging)

If your house is anything like ours, mornings are hectic as we prepare for the day and try to get our son off to school on time.  Before our daughter was born, I wanted to make him responsible for getting himself ready for school in the mornings so I didn’t have to be all, “eat breakfast . . . get your shoes on . . . have you brushed your teeth yet? . . .  HURRY UP!!!!” everyday.  That hurry-up and yell routine stressed us both out and certainly wasn’t the best way to start the day.  I’m usually pretty patient with my son, but if there’s one area I find myself quick to lose my temper it’s when I’m trying to get us both out the door on time, in a hurry, and he’s dilly dallying around after I’ve told him 10 times to do something.

I knew we needed a new system to give him the tools to get himself ready for school and what we did has been working pretty well for us.  It’s not 100%, but I’d say he’s ready for school 4 out of 5 days on his own, without any prompting from us.  If not, the consequence is he doesn’t get to play on the iPad after school, a strong motivation for him.

Our son is in kindergarten, so he’s physically capable of getting himself ready in the morning, he just needed a structure to follow.  He’s the kind of kid who thrives with routine, predictable systems, and charts (wonder where he gets it?) so I knew if HE KNEW exactly what was expected of him each day, and he was given a timeline to complete each task, he could do it on his own.

We started implementing this system at the end of Christmas break last year, before his baby sister was born.  I wanted to give him time to adjust to this change before the other life change occurred.  I sat him down a few days before school was about to start back up and explained that he was going to be in charge of getting himself ready in the morning and that I wasn’t going to tell him what to do at all. We discussed that he was a big boy and that he didn’t need me ordering him around in the mornings, he could get ready by himself, all on his own.  I think having him take ownership made him feel excited about the challenge and proud to be getting this ‘new’ level of independence.

Together (doing this whole thing together is key because it encourages the independence), we talked about everything that needed to happen in order to be ready for school in the morning and made a list:

Wake up
Make bed (I showed him how to make the bed, but I don’t require perfection)
Get dressed (he lays out his clothes the night before)
Put pajamas away
Put shoes and socks on
Eat breakfast (I make it)
Brush teeth
Pack lunch and snack (it’s ready to go in the fridge, he just has to put it in his backpack)
Get backpack 

Before we made this list, he never made his own bed in the morning and did not put his pajamas away.  I wanted him to start doing this chore, so I figured now was a good time to implement it. He’s also starting to learn how to fold clothes, so folding and putting his clean pajamas back in the dresser drawer is also appropriate.

Next, we made two lists, one for the things that happen upstairs, and a second chart for the downstairs chores.  I prepared them on my computer, but he helped, choosing the clip art and the color of the words. He also chose where to hang the paper so he could see it. I laminated both pages to keep them lasting longer.

Spelling out each task for the morning and having it where he could easily see it was the first step, the second was setting timers so that he could complete everything on time.  Many kids tend to get distracted or don’t have a great sense of how long it takes to do something so we set a few alarms on my phone. And to make it fun, each alarm is set to play a song he likes and chose.

6:30 a.m.  I make sure I’m awake to go put my phone in his room.  Then I leave and go about getting myself ready, making his breakfast, etc.  (since our daughter has been born, my husband takes James to school though).

6:35 a.m.  The alarm goes off playing “Freedom” by Pitbull.  That ought to get you going in the morning! Then James is supposed to make his bed, put his pajamas away, get dressed and come downstairs.  (I originally had the wake up time at 6:45, but realized he needed an extra 10 minutes, so I moved the wakeup time back).

7:00 a.m.  Alarm goes off that signals he should be downstairs by now.  This was something I added after a couple weeks into the routine because sometimes he’d get distracted or maybe start playing or even crawl back in bed, whatever he was doing up there, but he needed to know it was time to be downstairs without me having to be the one to remind him.

When he gets downstairs, he still needs to eat breakfast, clear his place (had to add that), put his lunch/snack in his backpack, brush teeth, put on shoes and socks.  The whole time, he’s got the countdown on my phone so he can see how much time he’s got left.

7:30 a.m.  Alarm goes off for a warning that we need to leave in 5 minutes.

7:35 a.m.  This is the time he must be all ready or no iPad privilege.  

We actually can leave the house at 7:40 to make it to school on time, so if he’s not ready at 7:35 and I have to get onto him or help, we have that 5 minute cushion.  IF he gets everything ready with time to spare, he can play on his iPad before school.

Day 1 – he was up and at ’em without any prompting at all!  It was the first day back to school after the holiday break, so his momentum was high and he was eager to be responsible for himself.  He was ready a full 10 minutes early (that never happens!) and so, so excited and proud of himself!! Seeing how good it make him feel, made me feel great too.

Day 2 – same as Day 1.

Day 3 –  I find that Wednesdays are the hardest days to get our mornings going, and this one was no exception.  James was really tired and had a hard time getting up and did not get ready on time, but it was still better than before because I didn’t nag at all.  I just told him very calmly after he missed the deadline that he wouldn’t get to play on the iPad after school and he accepted it because he knew what to expect.

Since then, he’s done so super well and in retrospect, I bet we could’ve started this system at the beginning of the kindergarten school year.  He loves to watch the timer countdown to zero, and is always shouting out how much time he has left.  I had to explain when he’s eating breakfast with 30 minutes ’til we have to leave, that he’s got plenty of time and doesn’t have to scarf it down!  Now, he’s getting a better understanding of how long things take.

The best thing has been, I literally don’t tell him one thing to do in the morning (that’s the whole point!), even though I had to catch myself a few times when I wanted to “check” on him or make sure he’s getting ready.  I remind myself that we’re teaching him independence and part of that proud feeling he gets by being independent would be robbed if I didn’t keep up my end of the deal.  No nagging, Mom!

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  1. May 9, 2016 / 12:53 pm

    Hooray for phone alarms! I have a similar system in place with my Kinder and 2nd grade girls. It would really help if I had the written list with pictures. As of now they know what to do with each ring tone, but the list would keep them from having to ask me what's next. Definitely not too late to get something in place for the last few weeks of school. My son starts kindergarten in 2017, so I'll have all 3 to get ready on time. Yikes!

    • May 9, 2016 / 7:07 pm

      Oh wow, three to get ready! I was struggling with just one! The combo of pictures AND phone alarms helps set them up for success.

  2. May 9, 2016 / 1:40 pm

    Love this! I am still the "nagging mom" and my boys are 10 and 12! Some days are better than others but I really need to work on this. Generally, during the week, I end up making their beds but they have to on the weekends. I think I am going to revamp our morning routine and whip these boys back into shape! Thanks for the motivation! Hope you had a Happy Mother's Day!

    • May 9, 2016 / 7:09 pm

      Go mama! I'm figuring out where our son can help more around the house. He recently started helping with the dishes and loves folding clothes. I could see how as kids get older, it's even harder to motivate them. Hopefully, starting now will just be the way of life that sticks!

  3. May 9, 2016 / 2:13 pm

    Kids need routines, and it is good for them to take responsibility (to the extent their age allows, of course). And visual guides are perfect for his age.

  4. May 9, 2016 / 2:40 pm

    This is awesome! Do you keep your phone with him once his alarm rings for him to get up? Or does he use a different alarm in his room? Also, when are you going to do James' big boy room tour? I know you have your hands full right now – but I'm super anxious to see it! Hope you had a great Mother's Day with your TWO little gems!

    • May 9, 2016 / 7:12 pm

      Yes, he does keep my phone with him after he gets up, which isn't necessarily ideal, but it's got all those alarms on it. We haven't finished his room yet- got about halfway and lost steam. I still need to figure out the final design plan and implement it. He's got bedding and drapes, a dresser, bookshelf and desk, but need to do something with the walls. It's on the list!! 🙂

  5. May 9, 2016 / 3:04 pm

    Such a great plan! I SO need something like this, as mornings are a constant nag battle in our house. It starts my day (and theirs) on the wrong foot and I hate that they are always waiting on me to tell them what to do – even though they know good and well what needs to happen next. I'm not sure I want to start this at the end of the year, but I'm bookmarking this for next year! Thanks so much. I love it.

    • May 9, 2016 / 7:14 pm

      I know those kind of mornings well and I hate them too! I know the timing of this post isn't the greatest, but I wanted to get it out there while it was fresh in my mind. Hope it helps!

  6. May 9, 2016 / 8:19 pm

    This post came at the perfect time. My son is in kindergarten and I have been telling him at next year some things are going to change, I am on him constantly to get around in the mornings.
    Would you by chance be able to make your charts available for download?
    Thanks again!

  7. May 9, 2016 / 9:59 pm

    Wow, this is great! I need to get my daughter into a better morning routine. Love the laminated lists, I'm totally trying this.

  8. May 10, 2016 / 1:17 am

    If you're looking for an alternative to your phone, you can get a Time Timer. It's a therapy tool, but my son has one in his classroom and he loves that it's a countdown!

  9. May 10, 2016 / 8:30 am

    What a brilliant post! Absolutely love this! Will definitely keep this in mind when my son starts school. He's only 3 and currently at creche/preschool. But he is at that stage where he wants to do everything by himself…from dressing himself to buckling himself up in the car seat. Can't wait to try this. Thanks once again.

  10. May 10, 2016 / 10:55 am

    I do the same thing with my 4th and 3rd grader in the morning AND after school. When we get home, they get a snack and a "brain break". Then it's a simple check off list (with pictures) of everything they need to do..unpack backpack, show me all work, papers I need, unpack lunch bags in the sink, homework, repack backpacks with snack and then the backpacks get hung up at our station. Makes for no lost homework…."where's my agenda????" and no chaos in the mornings.
    I work hard for calm mornings and evenings….its makes a better school day!

  11. May 10, 2016 / 1:33 pm

    I need to do this for my soon to be kindergartener. Where did you find your clip art? Great tips, thank you.

  12. May 10, 2016 / 8:40 pm

    Genius! We had an almost hour get ready session with my fourth grade daughter this morning. She doesn't understand time in any way. She started a complicated french braid, and was successful on the left side, but couldn't get right side to work. She worked on her hair for 30 minutes! I really needed some fresh ideas for the morning routine. Her brother will start high school in the fall and he cannot be late!!

  13. May 12, 2016 / 12:21 am

    Your son doesn't even wash his face in the morning?? (let alone SHOWER?!?)

    • May 12, 2016 / 3:34 am

      He showers at night Valerie. Don't be rude.

  14. May 13, 2016 / 10:27 am

    Love his method and believe me sometimes also Adult need one:D

  15. June 1, 2016 / 1:21 am

    Hi Megan! I am totally copying you with this list and timer routine! Great idea! I know my 4 year old will respond to this and I don't want to be the nagger. Being in a rush does tend to make me irritable too, and that is a horrible way to start the day. Any way you would be willing to share your lists for print out? I'm sure I could make my own, but yours are just perfect (and finished!) LOL
    Love your blog! (First, maybe second time commenter here:)

    • June 1, 2016 / 1:31 pm

      I'd love to share my lists with y'all- I just need to figure out how to make a printable! I'll have to work on that!

  16. December 10, 2016 / 7:06 am

    That's wonderful! My son is 17 and he's always late for school because he wont get up 🙁 I think its too late to change him :/

  17. Meladie
    August 24, 2019 / 4:58 am

    Thank you for this! I’m going to try it! Mine is going into 1st grade. I think this is doable with your plan!

    • August 25, 2019 / 9:09 am

      Happy 1st grade! I’m so glad this post is helpful. It worked really well with James!

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