7 Tips for Transitioning Back to School After Winter Break

Kids might struggle to return to normal school routines after a fun winter break. Here’s how to make the transition easier for the whole family.

By Fiona Tapp

Winter break and the associated holidays—like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa—inject some fun into an otherwise dull, cold time of year. But when the festivities end in the new year, kids often struggle with the transition back to routine, rules, and homework. Returning to the classroom doesn’t invoke the same excitement as back-to-school season in August, and summer break feels overwhelmingly far away.

So how can you help your whole family get back into the swing of things? Follow these seven tips to support your children as they begin a new calendar year at school.

Return to Bedtime Routines

Although parents may let their kids stay up late or sleep in during special occasions (like winter break), they should transition to their regular sleep patterns before returning to school. That’s because quality, consistent sleep is essential to your child’s ability to learn.

Too little sleep has been associated with “attention, behavior, and learning problems,” according to a statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). “Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression.”

In the days before classes start, move bedtime back by 15- 30 minutes each night until you’re back to their sleep normal schedule. The AASM recommends the following optimal amounts of sleep for children and teens:

  • Ages 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
  • Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
  • Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hours

Create a Back-to-School Countdown

Lazy days spent relaxing in pajamas seem to abruptly stop once school starts again. Ease the transition back to class, especially for younger kids, by creating a visual countdown for the end of winter break. That way, the different routine won’t creep up so unexpectedly. Older kids can enter the date on their personal calendars, letting them track how much more freedom they can enjoy.

Discuss The Year Ahead

Before school starts in the fall, it’s a great idea to chat with your child about expectations for the year ahead. After winter break, parents might presume their children won’t need the same amount of preparation, since teachers and classes largely remain the same. But some things will change in the new year—such as the coursework your child will do each day. Talking through any worries or concerns can help them feel more confident. Older kids and teens might want to set some academic New Year’s resolutions they can work toward.

Celebrate Their First Week Back

Returning to school after a fun-filled winter break can feel a little disappointing. Help soften the blow by organizing something special to celebrate the completion of their first week back. Some examples: a movie night, special play date, dinner at their favorite restaurant, family game night, or bowling. When math class feels tedious, they can look forward to the upcoming treat!

Stock Up on School Supplies

Start the new year ready for new challenges by ensuring your child has all the resources they need. For younger kids, this might mean a fresh set of sharpened colored pencils, new glue sticks, boxes of tissues, or hand sanitizer. Older kids might appreciate some new reading material, colorful folders, or notebooks.

Make Your Mornings Easier

School mornings can be hectic, especially if kids have gotten used to moving at a slower pace during the holidays. Make the before-school hours run smoothly by prepping a few things in advance. For example:

  • Ask kids to organize and pack their school supplies and backpacks before bed.
  • Prepare breakfast items or lunches the night before.
  • Lay out clothing options.
  • Agree on a bathroom schedule if you have a large family.
  • Plan to leave a 10-minute buffer to avoid being late on the first day back.

Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Just as you might not look forward to your own daily grind after winter break, it’s normal for kids to have mixed feelings, too. They might be eager to see their friends and their teacher—or they might feel anxious and apprehensive about the situation. Both reactions are normal and valid. Encourage kids to voice their feelings and listen with patience. When children feel heard, they’re more likely to share their feelings and worries. Act as a safe space, and let your kindness help them muster the courage needed to face all of life’s challenges.