I have sent two children through kindergarten, and on many days, their arrival at school, intact, was a minor miracle. If you want to see real bedlam, try being in a wakeup fog, while trying to convince a kinetic five year old that what he wants most in life is to put on clean clothes (not inside out), eat real food for breakfast, and remember to grab his lunchbox without launching it somewhere across the room.

Is there any hope for beleaguered parents? Is it possible to get a kindergarten kid out the door without losing your sanity? Absolutely, say the pros! The answer, they say, lies in expecting disaster…but heading it off with targeted, strategic maneuvers (If this sounds like sergeant-talk, well…some days, it is!).  Here’s some advice for making the morning routine easier, from several professional organizers who also happen to be parents:

  • Bedtime. This step may seem unrelated, but, explains Lori Krolik, a professional organizer from Palo Alto, California, it’s fundamental to success the next day. Kindergarteners need their sleep, she counsels; without it, you get “tired and slow moving children in the morning”…and all too often, a harried parent as well. Get those kids in bed…early! Experts say that kindergarteners need 10-12 hours of sleep each night to be at their best. Set a consistent bedtime, taking these hours into account. That means that if your child needs to wake up at 7 am each morning, he needs to be sleeping, not just in bed, at 9pm at the latest.
  • Clothes: It's a rare kindergartener who will leap out of bed and select a great outfit promptly. Instead, counsels Deborah Kawashima, a Los Angeles based professional organizer, “particularly in the beginning, have them plan out their clothes the night before.” Make this step part of your evening routine, as regular and predictable as brushing teeth or reading a bedtime story.
  • Lunch: Seems like just about everyone has a story about forgotten or dropped or badly mashed, biohazard lunches. Again, counsel experts, plan ahead! Standolyn Robertson, Massachusetts-based president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, urges her clients to pack lunches the night before, and keep them in the fridge. What if people forget about them? She’s got that one covered, too: “put your car keys in the fridge too!”
  • TV: In this plugged-in age, it’s all too easy to wake up and switch on Sesame Street for your child or a news show for yourself. Hold firm, says Krolik, who recommends no TV at all in the morning. It just “slows down the process and distracts kids from focusing on getting out the door.”
  • Essentials: Evaporating school papers and wandering backpacks are scourges in most households. Instead, Krolik says, “have a designated spot for backpacks and/or lunchboxes." This staging area of sorts should be close to the door everyone enters and exits the house. Put a small basket or container with sunscreen, hats, or anything else they need for the day. As kids leave in the morning, they can easily grab all they need from this spot. And "when they come home in the afternoon, this is where the backpack goes," Krolik says.
  • You: One of the most common mistakes parents make, says Kawashima, is to forget that they count, too. “Ask yourself,” she says, “How long does it take me to eat breakfast? Brush my teeth?” Just as with your kids, leave space for important tasks and do everything you can to minimize. Need gas in your car? Fill it the night before. Need coffee to bring make contact with the human world each morning? Try buying a coffeemaker that you can program, so you’ll have your brew waiting, not vice versa.

Of course, making adjustments—particularly with kids’ bedtime routines—can be tough at first. But as any veteran of a Morning Battlefield will tell you, the overall gains of organizing far outweigh the pains caused by those regular morning explosions.

“Kindergarteners,” says Kawashima, are learning structure and routine…it’s all about having stuff in a place so that you know where it is when you need it. Any time you can create order, you’re ahead of the game.” And parents, don’t neglect the benefits to your sanity as well. Robertson loves to tell the story of the client who said, “once I got organized, I could hear better.” Whether it’s a pile of papers or just a too-jammed schedule, clutter can muffle our lives. How nice to think that in place of constant chaos, our days might actually start melodiously, and stay that way!