By Lea Schneider
Anyone who has tried to get children ready for school on time knows it’s the perfect occasion to dust off the old analogy about herding cats. I’ve sometimes thought that cats would actually be easier—I can’t imagine seeing one cat in a mismatched outfit while trying to help another find their missing papers and hearing the third yell about what they don’t want to eat for breakfast.
Luckily, the stress of these mornings can be eased with the help of kid-friendly organizational systems. As both a mother and a professional organizer, I’ve had lots of practice creating winning routines.
Kid-friendly organization means choosing techniques that not only enable a child to do tasks themselves—but also encourage them to do so. Here’s how to set up new routines for this school year by easing the three key morning stressors: getting dressed, eating breakfast and being ready to walk out the door on time.
Kid-Friendly Closet Control
It’s sweet—children really do try to do the right thing. They see a shirt and they put on a shirt. What they don’t see is if the shirt is too big, too small, doesn’t match their pants, is too formal or is a summer top despite chilly temperatures. They just see a shirt.
How to create a kid-friendly closet:
Separate dress clothes, play clothes and costumes from school clothes. Remove items they’ve outgrown or items you’re waiting for them to grow into.
Keep in mind that organizing school-appropriate clothing is even more important for a student who must wear a uniform. Non-uniform wearers can always grab something else in a pinch, but uniform wearers will get in trouble if they do that.
Create a separate zone for school clothes. Use a built-in lower rack or add an adjustable hanging rod to an upper bar. You can also add a hanging garment sorter—sometimes sold specifically as a “sweater storage shelf”—comprised of cubbies that hang from an upper bar.
No matter which area of the closet you choose for the child’s school clothing, make sure they can reach items without your help.
Help your child choose their outfits for the whole week at once.
For accessories, you can add a small plastic bag to each hanger to hold coordinating socks, tights and hair bows.
Kid-Friendly Breakfast Center
Trying to get ready for work while feeding just one child on time can certainly be a juggling act. But the more kid-friendly the kitchen, the more they can participate in helping themselves.
How to create a kid-friendly kitchen:
After grocery shopping, create a menu on a dry erase board to list meal options for the week. For younger kids, a simple drawing will do the trick. Kids love to eat out and get excited about a menu. Choosing toast with peanut butter or their favorite cereal from the list is a fun and empowering way to start the day.
Reorganize a lower drawer or cabinet for the kids’ plastic plates, bowls and cups and add a small basket to hold sippy cup lids and silverware. This makes it easy to set themselves a place at the table.
In the pantry, arrange breakfast foods—like cereal or granola bars and a basket of fruit—together on a shelf that the kids can easily reach.
Designate a breakfast zone in the fridge for items like yogurt and already-diced fruit.
Create a Launch Pad
A launch pad is a designated spot for everything you need in order to launch out the door on time the next day. This is a storage place for book bags, jackets, shoes and lunch boxes—essentially anything that must go to school with your child. This organized area should also include sports equipment, uniforms and other after-school necessities.
Successfully getting out the door with everything everyone needs for the whole day takes two things: physical space for storage and a good routine.
How to create an organized launch pad:
Start with the physical space. Your child will be in school for a number of years, so now is the time to create a permanent home for your launch pad. Depending on your home’s layout, some potential spots are next to the back door, in the laundry room, in the mudroom or even in a hallway.
Add coat hooks for hanging book bags, jackets, scarves and other items.
A basket under each hook can hold shoes, a lunch box and other items. Built-ins with these components are a great idea and can be customized for your family’s size and needs.
Work on a new routine with your child. After dinner each night, make sure that everything needed for the next day is in the launch pad.
Children don’t always remember—and parents aren’t perfect either—so create a laminated checklist that they can use and wipe off every night.
Children are very receptive to new routines, especially when they have the opportunity to make their own choices. Once you create an organized and kid-friendly closet, breakfast area and launch pad, those hectic mornings of the previous school year will only be a distant memory.
Lea Schneider is a mother and well-known storage expert who writes on home closet and storage topics for Home Depot. Lea has been adding to her own closet organization expertise while rehabbing a long-empty 1950s ranch home in Nashville, Tennessee. Home Depot's closet storage solutions, which include elements discussed by Lea, can be found online.