The Tardy Bell Blues

“Hurry UP! You are going to be late!” “We need to leave right NOW!” “Here, eat this in the car on our way!”

Whoa, just writing those few sentences ratcheted up my tension level a couple of points. For me, being late for anything- an appointment, soccer practice, school-especially school-has always been an anxiety producing event.

I clearly remember a few times in elementary school when I was almost late and the school bell rang just as I was stepping onto the playground. I was so grateful to get there along with the bell and not after it.

I grew up in a mining town and we lived only a couple of blocks away from my school. However, in those couple of blocks, there were two sets of railroad tracks that needed to be crossed each day.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m from a different generation. There weren’t crossing guards or car pools in my working class neighborhood. My friends and I walked to school every day and if our route included crossing two sets of tracks to get there- well, that’s what we did.

Most of the time the ore trains didn’t interfere with our school route. But several times in particular, I remember having to wait- and wait- and wait- for the train to move so we could cross the tracks and get to school.

I was a particularly shy child who always wanted to follow the rules. Being late was something that I just couldn’t tolerate. On those days when my route was blocked I could literally feel the tension in my body rise until I felt like a rubber band stretched too tight.

Once the train began it’s slow forward motion again, I anxiously waited for the tracks to clear so I could quickly sprint to school and avoid having to report in at the office saying I was late. Ugh, I still shudder to think of my shy little self having to do that.

Fast forward many decades to my life as Miss Cathie, school secretary at Hawthorne School. Every day I worked there kids arrived late for school, as I’m sure they still do.

Each tardy I recorded over the years had it’s own story. The car wouldn’t start. The dog got loose and had to be tracked down. And, believe it or not, the railroad tracks were blocked by a pesky train. All valid, true and unavoidable.

Just as often, however, the tardies I recorded could perhaps have been avoided. Some examples? How about the child who dawdled in front of the TV? Or the missing “lucky hair bow” that had to be tracked down so it could be worn that day. Or maybe the just-produced homework that had to be checked and signed.

Oh, yes, as a parent, these were things I knew about. And as a school secretary, these were tardies I hated to see.

Over and over again, I noticed that kids who arrive late to start the school day miss out on the all-important first few minutes of class. During those minutes, the class comes together- literally and figuratively.

The teacher welcomes the kids. The kids greet the teacher. Some classroom bonding occurs. They become a unit that says the Pledge of Allegiance and shares any special news. The kids are individuals becoming a part of the group, and then settling in to hear the first instructions of the day from their teacher.

These classroom moments are important. Kids who arrive late miss out on the map of the day and can often be confused about things that happen. For instance, without hearing the teacher say that that Tuesday is Pizza Day in class, Josh may bring a sack lunch instead. Or maybe he’ll miss out on bringing his book for the special class visitor to sign on Thursday.

In other words, kids who are tardy can often feel in the dark. It’s important for kids to have all the pieces of the puzzle to succeed in putting it together and without being in class on time, they just don’t have all the pieces.

As I mentioned earlier, there are some instances where it’s unavoidable to be late for school. But for those instances where tardiness could be avoided by better planning, here’s a list of things that might help your family.

1.Set up a “Backpack Docking Station”.
This simply means to have a special place where your child keeps his backpack. A hook next to the door or even a large basket to stow it in helps anchor the backpack and makes it easy to find. And this means it’s easy not only for your child to find, but also easy for you to find.

You’ll probably want to make it a point to check your child’s backpack each evening for notes, reminders or homework that needs to be done and checked. Do your part and make sure your child does his part. Easy peasy! No more missing assignments or trooping out the door 5 minutes late because your son couldn’t find his backpack.

2. Avoid Clothing Wars.
Each night before bed, your child can choose and lay out tomorrow’s clothes. It’s important that kids have a say in what they want to wear but it’s not necessary that precious minutes are taken in the morning pulling out a favorite shirt only to find it has a tear in it.

By planning ahead, those last-minute hassles and dramas become a thing of the past. And even that elusive “lucky hair bow” is present and accounted for when your child is getting dressed in the morning.

3. Make Lunches at Night.
Once the mess of dinner is over and all cleaned up, it might be hard to think of digging out the lunch food and putting together the next day’s lunches. But knowing it will make your morning routine flow better is hopefully enough to convince you that making lunches at night makes sense.

So here’s a thought. Before all the dinner mess is cleaned up, how about clearing a spot on the counter, hauling out the makings for lunch and jumping in to putting them together? One advantage of this plan is that the kitchen just needs to be cleaned up once in the evening.

And don’t forget that kids can start making their own lunches at a pretty early age. They can work on lunches while you check backpacks for errant notes, etc. And you’ll love the look of all those lunch bags lined up on a shelf in the fridge just waiting for morning!

4. Breakfast in a Basket.
Yes, we all know nutritionists tell us that eating a healthy breakfast is key to having a good day. And we want that for our kids. But fitting it in on school mornings can prove to be daunting some days. Set your kids up for success with this tip- make breakfast food areas in your cupboard and fridge.

In the cupboard include items such as cold cereal, peanut butter, whole-grained bread, dried fruit, honey, etc. In your refrigerator include fresh fruit, yogurt, milk, juice, cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs and such. It’s easy to remind your kids of what’s available for breakfast while they are getting dressed so they have something in mind when they enter the kitchen.

And having breakfast items in large plastic totes or baskets in the cupboard and the refrigerator makes it simple to set things on the table for your child to choose from.

The key here is to offer a variety of healthy foods in a simple format that your child can choose and eat without much fuss. Try it and see how it works for your family.

5. Put a moratorium on electronics.
By nixing the use of the TV, computer and electronic gadgets in the morning before school, your morning routine can stay on track, allowing you and your children to get out the door on time, completely dressed, fully fed and with backpacks in tow.

So there you have Miss Cathie’s list for helping cut down on the number of tardies your child receives at school. In addition, the list may help your daughter learn how to be better organized. Or it may help your son realize that his day goes better if he’s in the classroom to start the day with his classmates instead of walking in 10 minutes late.

Don’t be afraid to tweak the list to make it work for your family. After all, you are so often the author of your family’s well being and you know best what will work to make them the most successful they can be.

In closing for today, I hope you and your kids have a great week that doesn’t include tardies!


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