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Ways to Get Back to School After a Break

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Whether it’s the holidays, illness, a new baby, a vacation, a move, or another significant life event, there are days, weeks, and yes, sometimes even months when school work — academics — take a back seat to other life events. That’s normal and necessary. It’s also normal and necessary that we find a way to get back to school after a break, to find our rhythm and structure and focus on academics. There are many different strategies for restarting – here are a few. Find one that works for you, or if your style isn’t listed, be sure to share it in the comments below!

It’s important to take into account how much you’re able to do when restarting, especially after illness or if there’s been a big change in the family like a new baby. Realistic goals will help you find success. Don’t set yourself up for defeat and frustration by trying to do too much.

back to school after a break

Written by Heather of Wonderschooling.

Ways to Get Back to School After a Break

Approach #1 – The All-In

In the All-In approach, everyone is on board, prepared for this big change. You have the supplies needed, everyone knows what’s expected, and on day one, it all happens. From start to finish, everything is on the list. This approach is great for families who are organized, who work well with clear-cut expectations and can work independently. It does not work as well for situations where schedules are in flux or there are frequent interruptions. 

Also, this approach may work better for homeschools with older students. Why? Because younger students often have more trouble transitioning from a time of more “downtime” and playtime to a time of more structured school work. That doesn’t mean all older students will enjoy the all-in approach, though. Many older students enjoy taking a few days (or a week or two) to transition back into a full-time regular school schedule. Do what works for your family!

Note: Expect a few bumpy days with this approach as everyone is adjusting to the new expectations. Provide lots of snacks, small goals, and encouragement for younger kids. 

Approach #2 – The One-at-a-Time

The One-at-a-Time approach to restarting is a gentle way to restart that gradually builds up to a full schedule, often one new expectation each day, every few days, or each week. This simply means you choose to add in one new subject each day, few days, or week until you’ve added everything back in and gotten back to doing all of your subjects. 

The first day (or week, etc.), this may mean doing copywork and/or writing. Once that’s in place and routine, you might add math. After that, you could add science, and so on.

A friend of mine introduced me to this approach as a way to move out of the summer rhythm and back to academics while still keeping some of the joy and flexibility in the process. It worked well for her kids, who loved the independence and flexibility of summer and didn’t love the formal “school-like” structure.

If you’re looking for more detailed information about easing back into school, this article about How to Ease the Transition Back to School After a Long Break, will help you! It includes guidelines for specific things you can to help ease that transition. 

Approach #3 – The Deep Dive

Since you’re not already in a schedule or routine, you might take this time to start a few weeks of enjoying an intense (or deep) dive into a particular subject. This might mean taking a few weeks to dive deep into a study your kids are very interested in but haven’t had time to really enjoy and explore. This could include a nature study of some kind, a study about a historical time period or person in history, a study of an artist or art form, etc. 

This kind of study is highly motivational for children of all ages, and it can make getting back to school more fun and less stressful. If you don’t want to move fully into unit studies, though, you might decide to set an amount of time each day to try something different or to work on a unit study along with your regular studies. This can give you the fun and enjoyment of a unit study without completely changing how you “do school.”

This works well if you’re coming back with some energy and creative reserves or if you have a child who has an interest he or she can’t wait to follow. For self-motivated kids, this is an opportunity to soar. 

We have quite a few unit studies on our sister site, Hip Homeschool Moms. We also have some “All About” unit studies on Only Passionate Curiosity. (These are short unit studies on topics such as All About Pumpkins: Life Cycle Unit Study and All About Sea Turtles, and more!) While these are short unit studies, they can definitely be used as jumping off points for longer studies or to gauge your children’s interest in different topics you might want to study. Another note is that Apologia’s Exploring Creation curriculum for elementary ages is written in a unit study/notebooking way. (In fact, there are optional notebooking journals available for both lower and upper elementary ages.) So if your children enjoy this kind of study, they may love that curriculum!

back to school after a break

One quick note: If you use this approach, please don’t force your child to take a favorite hobby and make school out of it. Sometimes they just want their hobbies to be their own “things,” separate from parental or academic expectations. If you have a child who wants to study a favorite book, author, hobby, etc., by all means, do it! If not, though, choose another topic to dive into. 

Approach #4 – Unschooling

It could be that it’s time to restart, and you look around and see your kids are happy and thriving in their own ways. That they’re learning and discovering and growing and don’t need you as a parent to come in and take over. If that’s the case, pay attention to what they’re doing. Start keeping a journal of what they’re working on and what they’re learning. As you notice gaps, gently suggest ways to work those things in. Offer to play a game on a particular theme, or subscribe to a news magazine to pick up some current events. Find a good read-aloud to work through together, but don’t take over entirely. Supplement what they’re already doing, and support them in their pursuits of whatever they’re working on.

If you’d like to read a few more articles about the unschooling approach, you might be interested in reading Unschooling: What Is it? or An In-Real-Life Look at Unschooling. These articles share information and ideas that one mom used as she was unschooling her children. They also link to more resources that might be helpful to you if you choose this approach or are considering it.

Approach #5 – Individual goal setting

In this approach, the focus is on what can be done on a particular day or in a particular week–not setting up routines and yearlong expectations. It’s very often skill-based or limited in scope, but because it’s not a 500-page book staring them down, it can seem less overwhelming. This “small bites” approach looks at where a child is. Then, together with the child, you choose the next thing, whether it’s a number of workbook pages, a flashcard drill, an educational game, or musical practice.

back to school after a break

This works well when a family’s schedule needs to be flexible and changes day-to-day, so some days may be “home” days when lots gets done. Other days may be outdoors or play days or errands or whatever else needs to be done. Like with unschooling, keeping a log is crucial in this method to help track progress and also give the children a chance to look back and see how far they’ve come.

A Note About Teens

If you have young children, it’s mostly up to the parent/teacher to set the schedule and make sure it works well for your family. If you have teenagers, though, it’s probably time to allow them more control over their own schedules and their own school work. Yes, it can be hard to give our teens the majority of control over their schedules and the main responsibility for getting their work done, but it’s important for them to develop those skills! Tips for Allowing Homeschooled Teens to Make Their Own Schedules is a great article for helping you guide your teens in this process!


In all of these methods, it’s important to be realistic. What is it that you can do right now with your current circumstances? Do that, and when you can do more, great. It’s also vital that we involve our children in knowing what’s going on. If they were attending public school, we would be involving them in orientation, talking to them about their teachers, getting supplies, and counting down to the first day of school (or the first day back after a break). All of those things help prepare a child so that he or she isn’t thrown into an unexpected situation without context or support. The same is true at home. Talk together and discuss what they want to do and what works for your family. You may be surprised at their ideas and willingness to participate. 

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Heather Pleier is a 2nd generation homeschooler raising three curious, creative, out-of-the-box kids on Long Island. They are eclectic game/interest-led/unschooly homeschoolers who dive deep into various interests and celebrate the freedom that homeschooling brings. Her passions include great children’s literature, dark chocolate, exploration, and music.  She writes at wonderschooling.net about preserving childhood wonder and curiosity.

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