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6 Steps for a Smooth Transition Back to School


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The new school year is right around the corner – if you haven’t started already. That first week or so back to school can be difficult after a more relaxed schedule and too much screen time. (Tell me that’s not just my house!)

We’ve been homeschooling since 2002. Over the years, I’ve picked up some tips for a smooth transition back to school.

6 Steps for a Smooth Transition Back to School

1. Don’t try to start everything at once.

I learned this lesson early on in our homeschooling journey and it has served me well. We never jump in with a full load the first few weeks of school. Some years we start with a heavier course load than other years, but never everything all at once.

It’s easier on everyone to allow time to adjust to the school routine and get used to any new curriculum we’re using.

It doesn’t matter if you ease in with fun stuff, like electives, or work on finding your rhythm with your core classes. Just start with a few subjects, throw in some great books, and add the rest a little at a time over the next few weeks.

2. Don’t start with a full week or full days.

In my area, schools usually start mid-week. That allows kids to get back into a routine, but then get a break before they’re expected to jump, full-swing, into the school year.

That may be a smart move for your family. Although we usually prefer starting on a Monday with a lighter course load, we have started mid-week before and it’s worked well.

3. Start with something fun.

Celebrate the first day of school with something special – a special breakfast, outing, or field trip. The first year we homeschooled, we kicked off the year with a field trip, which I used as a springboard for our first unit study.

Depending on your kids’ ages, new crayons, special pencils, and fun notebooks may be all you need to make the first day of school special. I still get excited about those things myself. (As a side note, you may find it helpful to color-code school supplies like I’ve done in the past.)

If you need more ideas for your first day, check out my article at Real Life at Home, 10 Ways to Celebrate the First Day of School.

6 Steps for a Smooth Transition Back to School

4. Get your kids’ input.

This will require a little pre-planning, but get your kids’ input on things like:

  • Topics they’d like to study
  • Curriculum they’d like to use (Take them to a curriculum fair with you and let them look, too!)
  • What worked and what didn’t from the previous year
  • School/study times – This may not work for everyone, but if you’ve got older kids who are doing some or all of their work independently, it can be a great time management lesson to allow them to choose, within reason, their own school hours. Some kids work better in the morning, while others work better in the afternoon or evenings. Allowing the flexibility for them to work at their peak times is one of the benefits of homeschooling.
  • Outside classes or activities they’re like to be involved in

The more input they have, the more ownership of their education most kids will take. And, the more invested they are, the less likely they are to grumble.

5. Allow room for flexibility.

Occasionally, the start date for school rolls around and I realize that we’re just not ready. Now, the fact is, the kids might never be ready to start. However, my motto is usually, “Bash on, regardless.” (My favorite Cathy – the comic strip – quote.)

Sometimes, though, you just need to push your start date back a week or two. Sometimes bashing on is just going to cause stress, frustration, and resentment for everyone. What’s another week of summer break? With the flexibility that homeschooling offers, you can make up the time.

6. Start easing back to normal schedules a week or so before your start date.

I know many families stick pretty close to their normal schedules during summer break. We’re not one of them. Well, my husband and I stick to our normal schedule because we’re getting old and we have to whether we want to or not.

The kids, however, usually stay up late and sleep in each day.

If your family is like ours, it’s a good idea to start working your way back to normal wake and bedtimes a week or two before school starts. Backing up bedtimes in 15 to 30 minute increments until you get back to where you want to be works well.

We accomplish this pretty easily by starting on Sunday night and Monday morning. You know, when the kids are exhausted after having to get up early for church.

What are some of your best tips for easing back into your school routine?

updated from an article originally published July 8, 2014

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12 Comments

  1. #1 is such awesome advice. I hadn’t thought about doing this at all. This being our second year, I keep thinking, we have to start full force! Definitely will ease into it this year. I love the idea of doing something special on that very first day of school.
    We are doing the 6 wks on, 1 wk off this year, and the kids are so excited about that (I am too). Nervous about it but I think we all need our time to recharge.
    Thanks for sharing these!

  2. Great list of suggestions! I’m ready to start my 17th year homeschooling and each one of those strategies has been tried and proven at my place too!

  3. Great tips! Especially easing in and being flexible. After 4 years I’m finally getting better about starting slowly. We like to do science experiments and field trips during the first couple of weeks back.

  4. Great suggestions! I found that we do many of the things that you’ve listed. My favorite thing is that we don’t jump in with all subjects at once. It’s Language Arts, Math, and more in depth religion in September. Science and History in October. Everything else comes in in November 🙂

  5. As usual, you are spot on in your homeschool advice. My children will sleep the day away if I let them then spend whatever is left watching tv and playing video games. It’s nice to know we are not alone in that. We are also starting a week later as we are going to visit a dear aunt in Alabama the first week of August. I keep telling myself that it will be alright.

  6. Great List!! This is our 8th yr homeschooling and we are still tweaking how we do school every year 🙂
    I love your number 1 and plan on doing the same. Thanks for reminding me we don’t have to put it allllll on the table day 1.

  7. I had some additional thoughts on your very good suggestions. This will be my 23rd year of homeschooling, and I may have a few more than three children (but who’s counting)?

    One, we never cease all learning or all schooling for two or three months at a time. We take smaller breaks throughout the year, and breaks from any particular subject, if we want to, as we finish up one book or long-term project before we move into another. And we never, ever take a break from Bible time or reading good books, both aloud as a group and independently! I find that the children can often skip right through (or test right through as we usually do) the first half or so of some texts – particularly math texts – since we have not forgotten everything due to an overly long break.

    Since we do not take long breaks, we seldom have bad habits like excessively late bedtimes to undo. Again, there are occasions where we stay up late, but its easily overcome because we never do it long-term. Where else in life will you ever get the entire summer off or 6 weeks at Christmas? Daddy works year-round, and we do too! Many of our breaks revolve around new babies (new grandbabies too) or helping a sibling get a house ready to move into. Granted, I am at a different place in life than most of your readers as I have grown married children as well as school-aged children still at home. My pattern has varied little over the years though, as I often wanted a week or so after the birth of my own children or a house project before we resumed our full schedule again.

    Our local school’s first day has always been a celebration for us too! Sleep in late, a big breakfast and some sort of outing are common. Actually, its fun if you can work in several fieldtrips that week as its the one week you don’t often find busloads of school children at the attractions you wish to visit. In our area, however, a trip to the swimming pool is not an option as it always closes (and is even drained:-/) the weekend before school starts; I think all of the employees are students, thus a lack of lifeguards once school starts.

    As for the kids being addicted to screen time of any sort, well, we try not to be overly weird and unsocial, but we have never had a television in our home (even bc). And since Daddy needs to use the computer in his work, it is not a toy and screen time there is limited as to purpose and amount of time. Not to deny the children any videos ever, we have always gone to Grandpa and Grandma’s house when they were on vacation and had some movie time, and even the occasion tv re-run. But then they come back, and that is over naturally! Seriously, we have never regretted the lack of television in our home.

    In our home, life skills hold a prominent place, equally important as academics I would say. Periods of time for each young person to learn thoroughly how to do the many jobs it takes to run our home smoothly. And yes, boys learn to cook and sew, and girls learn to change a tire and check the oil. If it is a skill they may well need, even as a married person, they will practice it in our home! This has proven to be useful as I have observed the married ones. For instance, our daughter-in-law had (surprise) twins in January. Her husband took over the cooking and laundry for quite a few months as it took her fulltime to keep the babies nursed and get adequate sleep. She was amazed at how well he could cook! Another son has a wife who was not raised with any domestic skills, and not only does he do a lot of the cooking but he has taught his wife many skills. My daughters (all unmarried at this point) have also been a blessing to each of their sisters-in-law as there have been eight children born to them in the last three years. This is NOT meant to advocate those parents who use their children as slave labor or unpaid domestic help!!!! As a mom with kiddos in training, I work as hard or harder than they do, right alongside them. It is a passing on of life skills. Just last week I allowed my 13yo son to prepare the grocery list from a menu he created with his older sister. I bought exactly what was on the list, and believe me it was a great learning experience – for what he forgot! And no, I did not run to the store for everything forgotten. He has just prepared this week’s list, and I am betting it is improved:-)

    The last thing I thought as I read was to limit outside classes and activities. I have observed many families who spend their time running Mom’s taxi, and the results don’t seem worth it. Granted, both limited funds and restricted transportation have naturally limited our outside activities. But I am of the opinion that children need:
    1. unscheduled time to be creative and live out their play-thoughts.
    2. to not be entertained or scheduled at all times, but to learn to entertain themselves (in non-electronic ways:-).
    3. time with all ages rather than limited age groups.
    4. time to serve others rather than to be served all the time.

    I was recently in the grocery store with my two youngest daughters. The young lady checking us out was chatting with the girls, and she looked at me and said, “They are homeschooled, aren’t they?” I confirmed that they were, but asked why she had asked? She said it was because they could interact with her, a random adult, and looked her in the eye when she spoke. It seems that most of the public school children she tries that with either won’t answer or don’t really interact even if they do give short answers. It was just one observation, but we have encountered many over the last 23 years that confirm this investment of time is worth it!!

    1. Pat, it’s very helpful to hear from someone who has been down the schooling road. Your posts reflects what (I think) many of us want: teaching our children for life, not just for academics. While some of the “how” of what you did is different from what I am doing, the “why” is the same. Your testimony to the effectiveness of your “how” is very powerful; it was not only what you said, but what you did not say. that you have a busy house full of imperfect people, yet one that teaches and practices grace to yourself and one another. So I want to say thank you for your post. It will continue to give me some great thoughts for our schooling –and life– practices. Blessings to you.

  8. Awesome advice! We always try to ease into the school year by adding core subjects first, and then science & social studies a couple of weeks later, but maybe I should try starting with the fun stuff for once! I always have all these great ideas in mind for the first day of school, but then I don’t even take pictures. As always, thanks for the great ideas!

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