I have no doubt that when my children are grown people, making their way in the world, they will hear the faint refrain of my voice when they roll out of bed and get ready for their day:
And again after they have breakfast:
These have been the anthems of our mornings for years and my goal has been to create habits for them to help them (and myself) get the day off to a right start.
Get Ready: The Details
If the phrase “get ready” sounds reminiscent of “on your mark, get set, go!” that’s not an accident. Starting the day with a proactive posture is important. The day before us is a gift and the duty and stewardship we are bound to as receivers of that gift demand that we face the day boldly. A vibe of adventure and purpose can carry us through even the most mundane tasks.
This applies to us as moms as well as our children. After all, if we are to train them in these ways, we should be modeling them ourselves. But if I sound overambitious and a touch unrealistic, just know that I don’t usually wake up feeling this way and I know you probably don’t either. That’s why it all begins with attitude…
Look the day in the face with right thinking, right heart, right motives. This is not natural for most people and I find that many days I am dragging myself out of bed after hitting snooze a few too many times in desperate search of my French press. So getting the right attitude requires some work.
Quiet time for mom
In my home, we cultivate the right attitude by having a personal quiet time with the Lord. For me, this is as crucial and essential as a life preserver in the vast ocean. Here’s what it looks like for me although you can certainly alter it to better fit your preferences:
- Background music
- Prayer journal
- A “growth” book
- Book of Mottoes
Sometimes I’m outside on my porch swing and the background music is the chirp of birds and chattering of squirrels. Other days I’m curled up on a wingback chair with a blanket and hymns playing quietly on my phone.
Some seasons my devotional is a quick bite from someone like Sally Clarkson – a verse and a thought to ponder through the day. Other seasons I read systematically through the bible using a resource like N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone” series. Sometimes I have time for both types of books.
Some days I pray for ongoing issues recorded in my prayer journal and other days my heart is heavy with immediate needs from myself and loved ones.
There are days I journal in my nature journal, times I record a diary, and other times that there is no time for deep reflection.
My “growth” book is always focused on a topic I feel God is wanting me to grow in or further develop like homeschool, my own issues or pursuits, or challenges my kids are facing. This book is always non-fiction and a choice that I hope will move me in a positive direction in an important area of my life.
I’m a firm believer that we should read something worth writing down every day. When I find a worthwhile morsel, I put it in my book of mottoes (or commonplace book or quote book, whatever you choose to call it). This book becomes a valuable piece of literature in its own right and is fun to pack in your purse for quick re-reading.
If this seems like a lot in the morning, let me assure you it doesn’t have to be. You could spend even one to five minutes on each activity and give yourself an excellent start to your day. More often than not, when I wake up drained and discouraged God works through my quiet time, filling my pitcher and giving me an overflow to pour out for my family and loved ones.
Quiet time for kids
As my children got older, I began to encourage them to have their own quiet time. Their day usually begins sitting on the fireplace so I put a comfy blanket down and a book basket next to it. I had them each pick a book that could help them grow spiritually (I’ve listed our favorites on my complete book list). One of my teens is also doing a prayer journal in the morning to help him with his anxiety.
What’s important to remember is that I offer – but do not dictate – resources. Their quiet time with the Lord is exactly that…theirs. They must take ownership (though from time to time I will gently question if they’ve had their time if I haven’t seen them doing it) and work on their relationship with the Lord on their own terms. I don’t read their journals or micromanage them in any way. The two key factors to a quiet time is that it is personal and quiet.
This one is pretty self-explanatory but I will mention that my kids get themselves dressed with no help from me beginning at a very young age. Again, ownership is the goal. The flip side of this is that I do not criticize or micromanage what they wear though I will make a general announcement about what the weather will be like that day. Even if they come out ill-prepared, they figure it out and make adjustments as needed.
Again, self-explanatory but with a note. I teach them how to make their bed when they are very young and as soon as they’re able, they take it on alone. This means the beds don’t look perfect.
For my less-than-detail-oriented-son who’s brain runs 100 miles an hour this means there are pillows stacked quickly and a comforter is clumsily tossed on top. There is no top sheet. He has no desire to keep up with one and is comfortable with a couple of blankets at night instead. Fine by me. I have another son whose bed is pristine each morning within a minute of him getting out of bed. The point is that they are taking responsibility for what is theirs and I refuse to nit-pick.
Whoever is Kid of the Week does bed checks for me. I take his/her word and we move on to breakfast. If I find later that Kid of the Week said a bed was made and it really wasn’t, he/she is now responsible for making that bed.
This is not mentioned in the “get ready” chant but it’s what comes next ;). During breakfast, we do Morning Time and the kids take their vitamins and supplements. We try to get to the table by 8 and we spend about 45 minutes there.
“Floss, brush, rinse” is the chant within the chant. This is a tough one, I’m not gonna even try to sugarcoat it. Kids with sensory challenges, fine motor delays, and focus issues really struggle here. We have had the most success using intrinsic motivations like special toothbrushes, toothpaste, rinse, and flossers instead of regular floss. We’ve done “first me, then you” and “first you, then me” depending on the child and the season.
We’ve had natural consequences of not getting sugar that day if they absolutely refused to brush because we told them “we have to protect your teeth.” We’ve accepted a child just putting the brush in their mouth without toothpaste and doing a quick brush if the sensory challenges were overwhelming. We want to encourage effort and not demand perfection. When they were younger we had some success with the Oral B app. We’ve sung songs and bought toothbrushes with timers and for many years just stood behind the child and did it for them.
To know how much help your child needs, ask your dentist and pay attention to your child’s handwriting. If it’s still sloppy, he probably needs help brushing. You really want to avoid artificial rewards, punishments, and control battles here. Brushing our teeth is an essential part of life and we need to get to a point where everyone feels if not warm and fuzzy about it at least peacefully accepting.
Time to clean up the toothpaste mess and make sure the sleepies are out. For my older boys, this is where face wash and shaving comes in. One day my little girl will put a touch of make-up on at this point, too, although I can’t bear to think of her being that big at this time. Little ones just splash, rub, and towel off.
Again, I teach them in the beginning and then let them own this area of their life. I make suggestions sometimes, offer to help them (especially my daughter who is young and has long hair) and buy them what they might need – gel, spray, fun bows or clips, etc. Otherwise, I’m hands-off.
If you are not in this season yet trust me, you’ll know when you arrive. No one wants to be the stinky kid; it’s our job as moms to prevent that. Keep things light and humorous here but be sure to respect your pubescent child who may be very sensitive to all these changes taunting him.
This is essentially chore time but a bit cooler. Here is a deep dive into the topic of zone work. The key with zone work, again, is ownership. I hope you’re starting to see a pattern. Our job as moms is largely to work ourselves out of a job. When we train our children to care for themselves it not only gives them the “feel good” emotions they need to become a self-sufficient adult but it takes things off of our never-ending to-do list. It’s a win-win.
Keep in mind that your child might not be ready for this step yet. If you are in a particularly challenging season, I would suggest that you focus your efforts on therapy (like the Son-Rise Program or one of our other favorite therapies) and relationship-building before you jump to self-care and academics.
The Secret to Staying on Track: Use “Get Ready” time as a natural boundary
After breakfast and morning time, I’ll check our time and announce, “Let’s meet in the front room for group work at whatever o’clock.” “Whatever” is usually around 9:45 but can be earlier if we’re really on it that day or later if we’re a little slower. The idea is rhythm and routine that flexes with your day, not a strict to-the-minute schedule that leaves you feeling perpetually behind.
I set the timer and announce, “that means you have an hour (or however long) to finish getting ready.” Here’s the key: whatever time left is theirs. If they finish early, no, you do not start group work early. They get to use that time to go outside or build Lego or play dolls. The natural consequence of being prompt is that you have more margin in your day.
The opposite is true, as well. If they lollygag around that whole hour then group work still begins when the timer goes off. When everyone else is done with their work, the dawdler has to finish getting ready before he has any free time that day. Ownership, again (have I said it enough? ha!) is key. You are not training them to have you follow them around and tell them what to do. You are equipping them to be independent people who are able to get themselves ready for the day…no matter how long it takes ;).
“Get Ready” is the beginning of the Monopoly board. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not move forward until it’s done. As I stated, school lessons do not apply. Neither do meals nor getting outdoors. Those are essential so they happen ready or not. Any non-essentials like hanging out with friends, playing at the park, visiting neighbors, screen time, typing on the computer, making a stop-motion video, looking something up online, getting out the paints, going roller skating, taking stuffed animals outside for a picnic, and pretty much anything your child would choose to do in his own time begs the question first, “are you ready for your day?”
On days that I don’t do this, we are sure to get violently off track. We really need a few key pillars in our day to stay headed in the right direction and I’ve noticed this is a make-or-break one for us. We can skip morning time without much consequence (except missing those lovely readings) but in terms of routine we really need this one in place or else the next thing I know it’s lunchtime and we’ve accomplished nothing.
Some days, that’s fine. In fact, some days, like a perfectly warm and sunny spring day, I purposely skip group work in favor of being outdoors. If I know that is going to happen, I don’t set the timer or make the announcement. Or, better yet, I grab our group work and head outdoors. Homeschool is quite mobile, after all. When the timer goes off I just call them to our table or couch outside and it’s a way easier transition because they know as soon as we’re done they can go right back to playing. This is an example of “faith over formula” in your homeschool. When you’re in tune with the Holy Spirit you can better decide if it’s the kind of day where you need to stick to the plan or alter the plan.