I was elated when my oldest turned 3 and the gates opened for all of the different activities that she was finally old enough to participate in. Preschool was the one activity that I was particularly thrilled about, because while she was away learning, I would have a few hours of “me” time. Win/win, right?!

Preschool has been an extremely positive experience. However, I was not prepared for what our mornings would become during the first few weeks of preschool. Our easy-breezy, pajamas ’til noon mornings turned into absolute chaos full of meltdowns, tears, and junk food for breakfast.

I was so defeated trying to get a 3-year-old, a baby, and myself ready and out the door before 8:30 am. I decided to get creative and come up with some “household systems” to make our preschool mornings smoother. Here are my best hacks.

1. Get yourself ready first

Science has shown that if you take care of yourself, you will have more confidence and be more productive. Sure I’d rather be in pajamas … but I’ve made it a point to be completely dressed and ready for the day before I even take the kids downstairs. I don’t wear makeup except for mascara, and my hair is normally in a ponytail, but just by getting dressed first thing in the morning I feel much more ready to take on the day. You can keep it simple or go glam for preschool drop off. Either way, you should try it, because … science!

2. Prep breakfasts ahead of time

Having breakfast foods premade and refrigerated or frozen for the week has saved me so much time in the mornings. Rather than throwing a toaster waffle and a yogurt tube at the kids every morning, my “mom guilt” went down about six levels because the kids were eating something homecooked. Not only has food prepping saved me time, but it’s also saved me a lot of running around the kitchen frantically as I open every drawer to try to find something for hangry kids.

A few meals that I make ahead of time to freeze and reheat are breakfast casserole, breakfast burritos, pancakes, waffles, breakfast egg muffins, regular muffins, breakfast sandwiches, and French toast sticks. I also like to make a week’s worth of scrambled eggs or a breakfast scramble with potatoes and meat to be divvied out and heated up in the mornings. And if the kids don’t want their breakfast? Then they can have a piece of fruit instead.

3. Create a clothing bin for each morning

The first few weeks of preschool consisted of me running up and down the stairs all morning. I have to get a shirt. Shoot, I need socks. Ugh, forgot to brush their teeth. OMG, did I really just forget what I came up here for?! OK, now I need their toothbrushes … now a hair tie … You get the idea. I was tired before I even left the house.

So I decided to clean out one of our cabinets in our kitchen to create a command post of all the things I’d need to get the kids ready for the day. We have seven bins each labeled with the corresponding day of the week because I’m just really extra like that. Each bin has my girls’ clothes for the day laid out in them. Socks, underwearall of it. My kids haven’t ever cared or argued with me about what they wear, and I’m pretty sure it’s because they’ve never even had to think about it. They just sort of know the drill now.

Every Sunday, once all of the bins are empty again, I refill them with the next week’s clothes. I love this because it allows me to look at the calendar and pack the bins for special activities such as swimming lessons or pajama day. I also have a bin for hair and toothbrushing that holds everything we need to be groomed and have fresh breath. This system keeps me organized, saves me time from running up and down the stairs, and also keeps my kids looking well-kept for the most part.

4. Multitask!

Really, this is not hard to do if your kids are seated. Instead of having some lavish routine where you take your time moving from one thing to the next, challenge yourself to do as many things as you can while the kids are still seated for breakfast. When my girls are eating breakfast, I’ll sneak up behind them like a stage mom ninja and do their hair quickly. Freaky, right?! This saves me from chasing them around after they are fully awake and ready to fight me while I try to get them to sit still again.

After breakfast, before they even get out of their chair, I take off their pajamas, wipe them clean, and put on their outfits for the day. All that leaves is brushing their teeth and putting on their shoes. In this time, I’ve done the bulk of the morning’s tasks in a condensed timeframe.

5. Don’t allow screens until the kids are ready

This one is huge. I am not an “anti-screen” mom by any means. I believe screens serve a purpose (like right now while I work), but I am anti-screen time unless my kids are done what I need them to do.

This might sound kind of extreme, but my household is quieter than the crypt in the mornings. I never allow the TV to be on until my children have eaten, hair is done, clothes are on, teeth are brushed, and the dog is fed (their morning chore). After that, I will let them watch whatever they want (except “Caillou”) until it’s time to leave for school. This rule gives them an incentive to cooperate and encourages them to be helpful in the mornings.

6. Create a “basket” system

I bought a cheap laundry basket that I keep in the front seat of my (you guessed it!) minivan swagger wagon. In the evenings, I fill it with everything that I will need for the next day: my purse, snacks, coats, show-and-tell items, water, or anything that needs to be dropped in the mail.

This saves me from running back in the house at the last minute because I forgot a coat for the baby or the check for preschool tuition or my sunglasses. At the end of each day, this basket is full of stuff that we will use again for the next day or items that need to be washed or re-packed. It’s just one of those things that I don’t leave the house without, and it saves me from making tons of trips to and from the car to load things up in the mornings.

7. Enlist a weekly helper

Finally, I recommend finding one day in the week when someone (maybe a spouse or grandparent or babysitter) can watch the kids. Each of the above tasks requires just a bit of extra planning. That means it only takes a few hours to set your whole week up for success and for all of your mornings to run more smoothly!