Winter vacation is a special time. The cold weather in many places lends itself to long mornings spent in pajamas and later nights playing games as a family. But getting off schedule can make the transition back to school very difficult.

Winter vacation provides a much-needed break from the daily grind of the school year. Whether they are in 1st grade or 5th, kids work hard in school. For several weeks leading up to winter vacation, there is the added overstimulation factor of constant holiday stuff. From parties to concerts to craft making galore, kids are pummeled with holiday flair from Thanksgiving Day to the end of December. And while all of that can be a lot of fun, it can also be exhausting. A healthy break from school can be a very good thing.

The problem, of course, is that school vacations tend to feel like they've ended before they've even begun. With colder temperatures in many areas, kids tend to remain in their pajamas playing with new toys for much of the day on a daily basis, and all sense of routine is quickly lost. While I certainly look forward to long, cozy mornings at home, throwing the normal routine completely out the window for two weeks can make for a very difficult re-entry to school in the new year.

It's important to strike a balance when it comes to winter vacation. You want your kids to relax and enjoy as much stress-free unstructured time as possible, but you also want to be mindful of what comes next.

Rely on sleep

Believe me, I know, it's tempting to take a break from the normal sleep schedule and just let kids be when they're on vacation. Quite frankly, keeping everyone on a consistent schedule is exhausting for moms! Who wouldn't relish a couple of weeks of later nights and less worry about sticking to the program?alarm clock

Consistent sleep is crucial for children, and vacation is not a reason to disrupt the routine. Sleep disruption can lead to anxiety, behavioral problems, illness and frequent meltdowns. It simply isn't worth it.

Sure, some nights you might get lost in family game night and get to bed a little bit later. Try not to stray from the normal bedtime by more than 30 minutes on any given night. If you have to delay bedtime due to a party or some other commitment, try to plan a light day for the following day to allow for extra downtime.

Some structure helps

I am a huge proponent of unstructured playtime. I believe in letting kids lead their own play, and self-discovery through play is a powerful thing. But most kids go to school for at least six hours per day, and unstructured play isn't usually built into the daily curriculum. It helps to keep a light structure in place during school breaks to ease kids back into school when the vacation ends.

Plan at least one structured activity per day. It might be a hike outside, a craft project or a trip to a local museum. It doesn't have to be a long day of specific activities. Having a few things in place throughout the vacation helps kids return to the normal daily schedule when the vacation ends.

Maintain physical activity

Colder temperatures and new toys can lead to a slower lifestyle. And while a little added relaxation can be rejuvenating, kids do need to move their bodies. Too much hanging around can lead to pent up emotions, boredom and increased frustration.

Get out and play! Build a snowman. Go sledding. Take a nature walk. If all else fails and the weather keeps you cooped up, put in a yoga DVD for kids or host a dance contest. Do whatever you have to do, but get your kids moving.

Eat on time

Try to keep to a consistent meal and snack time schedule to help your children thrive.

With slower mornings and decreased structure during vacations, many families lose track of the normal eating schedule. This can lead to behavioral changes and many, many meltdowns.

Kids thrive under some form of structure because they know what to expect. Their bodies also adjust to their mealtime schedules and come to expect food at certain times. Disruptions to this schedule can be upsetting to kids. Try to keep to a consistent meal and snack time schedule to help your children thrive. This will also prove useful when they return to school and have to eat their snack and lunch at specific times.

Family book club

It's amazing how much learning can fly out the window in a very short amount of time. While you want to give your kids a break from the stress of daily homework and frequent tests, you don't want to lose all of that hard work from the past few months.

kids reading

Make learning fun. A family book club is a great way to stay connected as a family and work on reading and comprehension skills. Take turns choosing books, read them together as a family and talk about the books. If you have a child who likes to write, have her write up a fun book report. If you have an artistic child, have her paint her favorite scene from the book. Or get the whole family involved by putting on a play, complete with scenery and music! Your child's teacher will thank you.

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