back to school

By Katie Shands

Katie Shands, author of Finding Franklin, which won a Janice Keck Literary Award. Learn more at Purchase Finding Franklin locally at Landmark Booksellers, Handy Hardware, or Bound Booksellers.

August can be an exciting month, packed with back-to-school shopping and fresh starts, but this time of year can also be stressful. Busier schedules and homework can become overwhelming for both kids and parents, and if you are anything like me, those early mornings can be pure torture. That’s why an organizational system is vital when starting a new school year. If you’re dreading those hectic mornings, check out my tips to reduce the chaos and create an efficient routine that doesn’t leave the entire family frazzled before the day has even begun.

1. Do as much as possible ahead of time.

This is the most obvious solution to the morning rush. Spend a little time the night before prepping for the next day—even a few minutes goes a long way.

  • Prepack lunches
    • Make sandwiches ahead of time and freeze them. To prevent sogginess, spread condiments between the meat and cheese. If it’s a PBJ, spread peanut butter on both slices of bread.
    • Stock your refrigerator and pantry with pre-portioned sides, such as small cups of yogurt, snack-sized trail mix, and granola bars. You could even pre-chop fruits and/or veggies and store in sandwich bags for easy access in the mornings.
  • Choose everyone’s outfits
    • Hang a week’s worth of your children’s outfits onto separate hangers (or assign your children this task). Collect socks, underwear, and accessories into gallon Ziplocks, labeled with the day of the week. Poke a hole in the bag and loop onto the corresponding hanger.
    • Purchase a five-drawer organizer and label each compartment for one day of the school week. On Sunday evening, choose outfits (or again, have your children pick them out) and accessories for the upcoming five days. Make sure you check the weekly forecast and double-check each night to make sure it hasn’t changed for the next morning.
  • Clean out backpacks and deal with homework, sort school papers, sign permission slips, etc.
  • Prep for extracurricular activities by gathering sports equipment, packing a change of clothes, and any needed snacks.

2. Create a morning command center.

A morning command center is an excellent way to teach kids responsibility and save your own sanity. Consider setting up a space for backpacks, shoes, sports gear, jackets, etc. Hang a calendar in the area, highlighting special school events or project due dates. Ideally, your command center should be located in a place that you will pass before leaving the house. And have fun with it—make it functional and pretty.

3. Set up a breakfast station.

Create a breakfast station, stocked with whatever the kids might need, and place it within their reach. (I understand this might not work for younger children, but you might be surprised at how much even toddlers are capable of.) This allows them to be independent and fix their own meals while freeing you up to tend to other morning responsibilities.

4. Create a morning checklist.

Compile a list of tasks for your children to complete each morning. Laminate the sheet and hang it somewhere your kids can easily access, such as the back of their bathroom door. Keep a dry erase marker nearby to allow them to mark off the finished tasks.

5. Set a timer.

Around our house, mornings are notorious for dragging feet, and I’m willing to guess I’m not alone in this problem. If your children are anything like mine, a timer will work wonders. For some reason, they will do anything without complaint if I pull out my phone’s stopwatch.

The next time your kids are moving in slow-motion, issue a challenge: I bet you can’t ________ in five minutes. You can fill in the blank with a variety of tasks: getting dressed, brushing teeth, cleaning up breakfast. And set that timer. (Note: This little trick probably will only work until late elementary school when they catch on.)

Here’s to an organized start to the school year! You’ve got this!

ABOUT KATIE SHANDS: Katie Shands began writing professionally as a broadcast journalist, but now focuses on fiction. Her first novel Finding Franklin won a Janice Keck Literary Award; to purchase a signed copy, visit, Landmark Booksellers, Handy Hardware, or Bound Booksellers. She also blogs at about her love of organizing and cleaning. Katie makes her home in Franklin with her husband and three children.



  1. […] Now that school has started, I definitely can’t hit that snooze button. So you better believe that I devised a few strategies to make the mornings more bearable and efficient. A little organization goes a long way. So when the Williamson Source asked me to write a guest post about back-to-school organizing, I was all too happy to share what I’ve learned in my trials as a not-so-morning person. Click here for my five favorite tips to cut the school morning chaos. […]

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