The “Pizza Cow” Morning Routine Contract

Does your morning routine need a reboot? Have your back-to-school efforts fallen short? Desperation has us trying something new: a Morning Routine Contract.

If you’re one of those families who magically and effortlessly gets your kids back to a school-year routine at the end of your summer holidays, you need not read further (unless you want a good laugh at the rest of us). But if you’re in the 99% of us who struggle in this area, here’s my latest attempt to address this challenge. My girls and I have now hammered out a Morning Routine Contract.

I’m a firm believer in morning routines. And in making/keeping promises. And in kiddos learning to take responsibility for themselves, rather than relying on parents to do everything for them.

Why a Morning Routine Contract?

This is especially crucial for Kimmie, who enters third grade next week. My latest effort to help her shoulder more of this responsibility is by collaboratively working out a school morning routine/timeline with the girls. Then typing it up into a written contract that all three of us will sign.

Following directions, listening to grownups, and doing what she’s supposed to WHEN she’s supposed to are all things Kimmie has struggled with since she entered preschool at age 2.

Trying to help her develop these skills has been a constant battle for her teachers and us in each subsequent school year. Formal testing late last school year ruled out ADD/ADHD/a host of other explanations, so we’re once again trying to develop frameworks that will help her internalize these skills. The Morning Routine Contract – and the corresponding code word “Pizza Cow” (more on that later) – is my latest attempt.

Our Basic Morning Routine

This is the short version of our Morning Routine Contract, which I’ll hang in the upstairs hall once it’s all signed.

Each girl has had the same morning timeline since she started preschool at age 2: Get up at 7am, breakfast at 7:30, breakfast over at 8am, get ready to head out the door after that.

As they’ve gotten older, I’ve added in age-appropriate responsibilities. For example:

  • I added “Make bed” when each girl entered “big kid” school, partly because that’s when she was physically tall enough to do this job.
  • This is the first year we’re trying “get dressed” BEFORE coming downstairs. As in, they’ve finally both reached the point where they can make it through breakfast without trashing their outfit for the day.

We first discussed this fall’s version of the Morning Routine about two weeks ago over dinner. They agreed that the above additions make things smoother for everyone and decrease stress.

Our Morning Routine Challenges

I also discussed, especially with Kimmie, that she needs to take responsibility for her own breakfast time more. She has never been a “morning person,” and often fights eating at 7:30 because she’d rather read a book. Even as her increasingly “hangry” behavior suggests that she’s actually quite hungry.

I’m a firm believer in kids having a good breakfast to help fuel their day at school – especially since our school virtually phases out morning snacks by second grade. Our breakfast always starts with fruit, then carb and/or protein, and ideally a glass of milk or other dairy as well.

Kimmie is also famous for requesting one food at breakfast, then changing her mind when she sees it on her plate. Or taking one bite, then proclaiming she doesn’t “like it.” (These are tried-and-true favorites of hers, mind you.)

Needless to say, when she suddenly decides she wants to eat at 7:59, or places a complex order at 7:55 for something different than what I’ve prepped, this doesn’t go over well. Or work well with getting to the bus on time.

The Breakfast Solution

So we had an in-depth conversation the other night about the fact that this year, it is up to HER to decide when, whether, and how much say she gets in her breakfast process:

This is the detailed version of our contract, which I’ll hang downstairs once the girls have signed off on it. (I’m also going to label a Post-It tape flag for each kiddo, so she can track her progress by moving her flag vertically down the sheet, if she wants.)
  • Breakfast time will continue to start at 7:30 and continue to end at 8:00, because this is the only timeframe that allows her as much sleep as possible while minimizing the risk of missing the bus.
  • We briefly discussed her eating breakfast at school. She thought buying school breakfast every morning was a great idea; both Daddy and I quickly nixed that plan, explaining that it’s not in our budget. That left one option: packing a breakfast, which would entail eating the same limited range of finger foods over and over, since this is how I pack breakfasts-on-the-go.
  • We also discussed that I won’t nag her this year to eat, but if she chooses NOT to eat breakfast, she’s the one who’s going to get hungry between wake-up time and lunchtime at 12:30. And the one who’s going to have a hard time concentrating, learning, and doing her schoolwork in the meantime.
  • I also explained that if she practices eating at 7:30, her tummy will adapt to eating at 7:30, which will make it easier.

When I spelled things out this way, she agreed that she’d quickly tire of my version of “breakfast-on-the-go.” So she also agreed to a) make an effort to be at the table for 7:30 to start eating, and b) accept responsibility for her choices if she decided to skip breakfast. (No more toast-with-peanut-butter to eat on the way to the bus stop!)

The “Pizza Cow” Solution

Every time we discuss this morning-routine plan, the girls agree that we should practice it BEFORE school starts. And each time, they’ve promised to do their part.

But so far, promising has been a lot easier than following through on those promises. Kimmie in particular still struggles to do what she’s supposed to, when she’s supposed to. (And then gets furious if we remind her that she’s supposed to be doing something that she agreed to do.)

By last night’s dinner, with a handful of days left before school starts, we needed a new solution. So we discussed what it means if someone makes a promise to do something. And if how that person then doesn’t uphold their promise, then others have the right to call them on it.

For example: If Mama promises the girls some iPad time, but then doesn’t unlock the iPad, the girls have every right to hold me accountable. I suggested we try using a “code word” as a gentle reminder of a promise made that wasn’t being kept.

The code word had to be something we agreed on/remembered easily, and NOT a word or phrase we’d ordinarily say. After much deliberation, the girls decided that “Pizza Cow” should be our code word. They LOVED the idea of being able to call me out for not upholding my end of a promise.

The “Pizza Cow” Morning Routine Contract

But then I explained that having a code word also lets ME call THEM out on not upholding their promises. And I gently reminded them that we’re a long way from “back into the routine” for back-to-school next week.

So I suggested last night that we make our promises more official, by signing a Morning Routine Contract. This would list out each step of the morning routine they had worked out with me. I would type it up and make several copies, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. (This will replace Kimmie’s chore charts from former years, which she usually abandons about halfway through the year. Besides, I’m out of little magnets at the moment for making more.)

Now that I’ve typed it up, all that’s left is for each person to sign it. We have discussed that signing a contract means promising to uphold our part of the arrangements spelled out there. After we sign it, it will be up to us to uphold our promises. And to say “Pizza Cow” at any time to anyone NOT doing their part.

This is Essie’s rendition of a Pizza Cow.

Incentivizing the Morning Routine Contract

We’ve already discussed that there will be no iPad time on school mornings; anyone with time leftover on school mornings may read or play.

However, to encourage them to embrace our last few days of back-to-school practice, I dangled a carrot before them:

  • If one of them finishes ALL steps of the morning routine within the 75-minute timeframe, she may have 5 minutes on the iPad to do her XtraMath, but that’s all – no free play time. (XtraMath is a timed electronic flashcard/quiz program to help kids master basic math facts. Our school introduces XtraMath in first grade. But when Kimmie began doing XtraMath for homework, Essie insisted on doing it too; if Big Sister does it, Essie thinks SHE should, too. Besides, our house rule is that anyone wanting to do PBSKids or play games on the iPad has to do her Xtramath for the day first.)
  • If BOTH of them finish all steps within 75 minutes, then they may both have free iPad time AFTER XtraMath.
  • Otherwise, there will be NO iPad use for the entire day.

I’m not sure how all of this will work, but I’m out of other ideas at this point. So here’s hoping for the best!

What about you and your family? Do you have kids who struggle with time management and fulfilling responsibilities? What solutions have you tried? Is a Morning Routine Contract one of them? Let us know about it in the comments!

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24 thoughts on “The “Pizza Cow” Morning Routine Contract”

  1. My daughter loves school, but she loves sleep just as much, so mornings the first month school is in session is always tough!

    1. Haha! My girls are not so into sleeping late as they are into sticking their noses in a book, and completely losing track of everything else around them! (including basic morning to-do’s and the passage of time…)

    1. Thanks, Leslie. I have to admit, in my pre-mama life I taught kids much older than the ages mine are at currently, and it’s been a huge adjustment to parent little people who WON’T follow simple requests just because you ask them to nicely! (OK, not that my former students used to do this ALL the time, but there was a definite difference!) 🙂

  2. Absolutely love this! I have been known to mollycoddle my kids a little in the morning, but since they’ve started back at school this term, they have naturally gravitated towards taking more responsibility. Particularly love the older kids’ one – my boys don’t always like to eat in the morning (like me). Love how your let them take responsibility for not eating rather than force the issue!

    1. Yes – letting Kimmie make that choice for herself has been a long time coming for me, and it’s going to be a rough few days. In the past she likes to decide all of a sudden around 8:10 that yes, she really IS hungry (i.e. when she should be putting on shoes to go to the bus) but this just does. not. work. And it would be one thing if she truly WEREN’T hungry, then suddenly became ravenous ( = what she’d have us believe), but the fact that she acts pretty “hangry” for a half-hour or so before these last-minute declarations of hunger make me suspect that she really COULD eat sooner, she just chooses NOT to. So it’s definitely time to call her bluff on that! 🙂

    1. Oh my goodness YES! What is up with kids dragging their feet – it would be SO much easier if they were just little adults lol :)! Seriously, though, this is the first year I would have even thought to try it, since a) they can both now read and b) Kimmie has reached the point where she *needs* to be picking up more self-regulation and responsibility, in school as well as at home…So far, though, mostly working!

    1. Feel free! Several of our neighbors who follow my blog have already asked if they can use the code word – I said, “sure, long as you don’t say it around my kids at the bus stop!” 🙂 (Don’t want to dilute its power…)

  3. This is a great way to keep your kids accountable to what they agreed to. My mom used to make us write contracts all the time. But it was very legal-ish and super annoying. You made it fun and on their level.

    1. *phew* so I’m not the only crazy mama who’s tried something like this, then! Of course, as soon as any parent figures out something that works, something changes and it no longer works anymore – but for the moment, I’m feeling better about her going back to school next week (with minimal stress for all of us!) than I have so far 🙂

  4. Such a lovely concept to teach accountability and make kids learn to value. I loved reading this post This gave me Idea to make my kids accountable. thanks for sharing

    1. So glad you liked it, Jiya – I don’t know if all families struggle with this as much as we do (at least as far as my eldest goes), but I hope it helps! 🙂

  5. What a cute and original idea for helping teach children responsibility!!! I homeschool my son but this can easily be adapted to fit our day! Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

    1. You’re more than welcome, and I’d be curious to hear how it works in the HS environment – do let us know and/or write a post on it sometime! 🙂

  6. This is an awesome concept! I love the idea of contracts. Great job of teaching accountability! My kids are three and four and I’m always letting them be accountable for their own actions. The earlier the better!

    1. My own mother (the queen of teaching us accountability, in my memory) thinks I’m too harsh on mine sometimes, but the sooner they can become responsible for themselves and their stuff/actions, the sooner I have less to worry about! 🙂

    1. Thanks! It’s definitely a move of desperation, for sure, but so far so good, Yesterday (Day 1 of the contract), Kimmie had 2 “Pizza Cow”s and Essie had 1; today, Day Two, we had ZERO *and* they were ready with time to spare! 🙂

    1. By all means, dear friend – just so long as you all can remember it! 🙂 (I suspect YOU will, now that you’ve read the post!)

  7. This is a very interesting approach to teaching children accountability and responsibility–I love it! My child is only 2 at the moment but I will definitely tuck this page away for when he is older. 🙂

    1. *Thanks*! I am definitely (or at least try hard to be) the ANTI-helicopter parent; I’m big on getting my kids to take responsibility when appropriate. Working on these skills with Kimmie has been a long, slow haul (life in books is SO much more interesting than when your parents give you a job to do, like dress for the bus!). But I have to say that this morning I only had to say “Pizza Cow” to her twice; and while she scowled, she didn’t explode into a tantrum of frustration at being called out on it – a definite improvement! 🙂

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