Back to School: Connecting BEFORE School


“Back to school, back to school, reading, writing, that’s the rule. 

Songs to sing, games to play, learning new things every day!”

This year, the kids and I will all start at a new school TOGETHER, just up the street from our house, and I am so grateful that we get to share that experience for one year. (And simplify the logistics.) I am the new music/ chapel teacher at our neighborhood pre-school at Lake Highlands UMC (CCDC) where Ellie will be in a 3-year-old class and MJ in the new “Bridge” program (between PK and K). We will all attend Mon-Thurs, and share Fridays off, and the best part is that I will get to be their teacher! (Fingers crossed that this works out okay.) The second best (and critical) part is that I get to go home before they do, and take a little breather before returning to pick them up. I will really need this since I am solo parenting in the evenings with Dustin working such long hours in fellowship. I wanted to pass along these suggestions (and remind myself of them) as we are all getting back into our busy morning routines. This September, I invite you to reflect on making some meaningful (though brief) connections part of your routine for the health of your child’s heart, brain, and family bond and for your joy!

(I know it doesn’t always work…but it’s worth a try, because nothing feels worse as a Mommy trying to be productive after having to fight with your kid to get them to school, or leaving them in tears in the classroom. It just zaps all the cheer, motivation, and energy from you, and can have a similar effect on your child.)

What are your rituals for getting the kids to school or childcare? Is it all chaos and confusion? Yelling and pleading? We’ve ALL been there. One key phrase to remember for the morning rush: “Connect before you direct.” (I have this posted on my fridge.) It takes a tiny bit more time and effort, but it pays off with more likelihood that your child will willingly cooperate, so it’s worth a try! Let’s look at a few possibilities:

  • Do you get the chance for a morning snuggle? Or maybe it’s just a quick lap cuddle in a favorite chair or on the couch? This is one of our favorite morning rituals..the kids wander into my bed (sometimes I’m already up), but I always climb back in for our snuggle-time. This is a great time to just “be”, to make those physical connections on the outside that make internal neural connections, jumpstarting their brains for the day, helping them to feel the love and security that open up their brains to learning. “I feel, therefore I learn.” It’s a great chance to sing a favorite morning song together, “This is the Day” or “You are my Sunshine”. Remember how I suggested saying “goodnight” to your child’s body parts? see post It’s fun to say “Good morning” to them as well, and help to wake them up!
  • Do you sit at the table with them for breakfast – even for just a couple of minutes? It seems like sometimes I am playing short-order cook in the kitchen or packing lunches, but I always feel better about taking a couple of minutes to sit at the table with the kids. They like to have me there for some good “face-time”, and it gives us a chance to sing a blessing or our “family song”. Or start the day off by reading a silly story or poem that goes along with the season or their class’s letter or theme of the week.  Take a minute to talk about the day ahead – What are they most looking forward to doing at school today? Who are they most excited to see today?
  • Do you ever have extra time for play? At different stages in my parenting /work life, we have had enough or made enough time to connect through a little play in the mornings before leaving for work/ school. Our rule for the morning (and evening) is “Chores done, have some fun!Sometimes this is motivation for getting to do a puzzle together or share a little floor time doing blocks. And it always nice to connect like that before starting our separate busy days. And, we can leave the activity there to come back to together later for re-connecitng time. When I was a new freshman in high school, I always had some extra time in the morning because of a late start time – 9:15! I got up and got ready early so that I’d have time to play a game with my mom at the kitchen table (dominoes or Boggle) before going to school. Socially, it was a challenging year for me, and this ritual always gave me a sense of comfort before trying to make new friends in a new place. (Thanks, Mama! We should do it again sometime! And I sure hope my kids want to play games with me when they are in high school!)
  • Do you encourage a cooperative spirit getting “out the door, and in the car”? Umm, does that mean like threatening them with “time outs”? Yes, sometimes. On my better days, it means we are chanting together, “Out the door and in the car, let’s go team!” (with high fives on the “let’s go team” part). We used to have the privilege of the children getting to choose the music if they cooperated for this, but MJ developed a new system involving candy. He created a “magic box” which Daddy fills up with mints or Werthers from work, and if they cooperate for  “Out the door, in the car” they get to have a mint once they are in the seat. (I used to think I would never bribe with candy, but, Hey -whatever works!) On my better days, enlisting a spirit of cooperation means we are all sitting together getting our shoes on by the back door, and I’m singing (to the tune of “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread”):

“Mama’s smart girl is precious, precious, mama’s smart girl is loved so much.

Mama’s smart girl will go to school, mama’s smart girl will ride the Mommy bus.

Put on your socks, put on your shoes, goin’ to school is wonderful news!

Put on your shirt, put on your pants, Ellie is doing the helpful dance!”

  • Do you connect in the car? So, I know, getting everybody into the car with all their stuff is sometimes enough to completely exhaust you, so once you’ve made it there, breathe as a family. I heard this suggested in a seminar about practicing mindfulness with children. The author and her children take a deep breath together before they exit through the back door, but we often do it once we’ve made it into our seats. I say something like, “Phew! What a morning….we made it into the car together, team! Let’s all take a deep breath together…that felt good, now we’re relaxed and ready for a great day!” or “Ah, I needed that. Much better. Breathing is such a healthy way to take care of our brains and bodies.” Now, keep the positive connections going…sing a song – take requests or ask them their favorite morning tunes. Ask those questions you didn’t get to at breakfast. Wish people well that you are thinking of – sick friends, far-away loved ones, children in the car who might have a quiz or some new anxiety-enducing experience coming up during the day. Let them know what you might have planned that you’d like their thoughts and prayers for, too! Or take suggestions for some problem you might need to solve as you go about your day.  (Great way to get those little brains warmed up and also teach empathy.) Play “I spy” on your drive. My kids play a game that MJ started years ago with his grandparents where if you see a red car, you say, “Scoo-bee-doop”, and a yellow one is a “Scoo-bee-deep”. I know you’ve got your own favorite car games. Please share!
  • Do you have a loving “drop-off” ritual? Maybe it’s something special that you say to them. For Ellie, I give her a kiss on each cheek, saying,I love you once, I love you twice, I love you more than beans and rice! I have one friend who kneels next to her twin boys at the classroom door, and sings “Jesus Loves Me” with them before hugging them, and sending them inside. I met one catholic mom who gives her children a special physical blessing with the sign of the cross before they leave the car, and even though they are older now, they still insist on it. (That’s what happens with a special ritual – it stays special.) My older friend Cynthia did a similar thing by drawing an invisible “circle of love” around her children for protection or good luck for a test – whatever they might need it for on that particular day. When MJ used to have a hard time with separation, I would give him a “kissing hand” that he could keep with him for the day, so like Chester Raccoon, whenever he needed to be reminded, he could put his hand on his cheek and recall,Mommy loves me, Mommy loves me!” And he’d often give me a kissing hand for the day, as well! (You need this book* by Audrey Penn!)


The Kissing Hand

I talked to another Mommy who always told her child when she dropped him off, Mommy always comes back.” This was their ritual of reassurance, and he needed those words. Just make sure it’s true! I was laughing with a group of more experienced moms (of multiple kids) at one of my seminars, and each had a story of accidentally forgetting a child once. So, we talked about rephrasing the line, “Mommy almost always comes back“, but it just doesn’t sound quite as comforting. Sometimes I use the words that are spoken to our favorite story-book characters Jack and Annie from “The Magic Tree House” chapter books by their magical librarian friend, Morgan as she sends them on their adventures: “Be wise. Be brave. Be careful.
  • Did your parents have a special drop-off ritual with you? I don’t remember many specifics, but the main thing is that I always remember feeling loved and secure before sliding open the door of our old silver and maroon Astro van and stepping out, and I believe that is why I could be successful at school and enjoy the process. I remember getting hugs and kisses from mom, and I remember my dad using alliteration each day, “Have  Marvelous Monday…a Terrific Tuesday..a Wonderful Wednesday…a Thoroughly Thatithfying Thurthday (spoken like Sylvester w/ a lisp)…a Fabulous Friday.” So I often carry on the tradition with my kids, though I make it a “Wild and Wacky Wednesday” and a “Thrilling Thursday!” I also remember him saying, “Make it a great day!
Don’t you wish we could all have a little pat on the back and vote of confidence each morning before going about our daily tasks? “I believe in you….I will be cheering for you today!…God bless you and your work today.” Surely this would make a difference in the quality of our lives and our production, too! Well, even if no one is doing that for us anymore, we can still give it to our kids, to each other, and to ourselves!
Let me know! What rituals do you have for connecting with your children in the mornings? Please share!
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