Return from Winter Break Without Losing Progress

Hope is not lost when pupils return from lengthy breaks seeming to have forgotten everything you’ve taught them.

By Mollie Moore

students working together

After a long winter break, teachers often return to school refreshed and recharged, full of exciting new ideas and renewed energy, and eager to reconnect with equally invigorated students. Have you ever found yourself in this position, only to have your optimistic bubble quickly burst by the harsh realization that several of your young learners obviously did not spend their holiday reviewing math concepts and practicing reading? For the newest readers especially, maintaining learned skills requires frequent exercise of those skills. Left idle, recently made progress will fade just as unused muscles can quickly atrophy.  A couple of weeks away from all academic exposure can at least appear to, if not actually set a child back a few steps in his/her progress. What can you, the teacher, do to combat this inevitable nightmare? As the coming new year rolls around, consider the following ideas and perspectives before letting yourself feel defeated at the first sign of this post-vacation syndrome.

1. Expect a Bit of Lost Progress

Your little learners needed that break just like you did, and in many cases their parents needed it too. Deciding ahead of time to be okay with some degree of lost progress during longer school breaks will help you to be prepared for, and cope with, the reality of it upon returning. Furthermore, expecting this will allow you to plan some review time in to your lessons, rather than feel obligated to squeeze such time in to your already full plans. It may be in your and your students’ best interest to even plan for an entire day of review, at least in math if not reading and writing as well, before introducing new material. For children who have successfully learned and applied the content previously, a little review time will quickly get them back up to speed and ready to move forward. For those who may have struggled already with recently taught concepts, time spent reviewing will allow them to recall and then continue practicing the subject matter that has proven challenging.

2. Incorporate Plenty of Group Work

After two or more weeks of barely exercising their problem solving and other academic skills, many young learners will temporarily lose a bit of confidence in themselves to arrive at correct answers and to take academic risks. One solution to this scenario is to provide several opportunities, especially in the first week back, for students to work with one another as they review old material. Such collaboration allows children to share ideas and help jog each other’s memories without the pressure of having to figure everything out on their own. It also provides a safer-feeling context for pupils to admit when they need help—a pair or group of students is generally more likely to ask a teacher for assistance than is an individual. Math lessons can nearly always be turned into group work; reading and writing activities can easily be completed in pairs; science and social studies often make for excellent whole-class or large group lessons.

3. Plan Activities and Assignments for Children to Succeed

Considering that many students will return from a break with at least a slightly diminished level of academic confidence, help to build them back up with opportunities for small successes that will leave them feeling smart and capable. For instance, give the class (as individuals or in pairs/small groups) a question to answer or problem to solve that you are confident they will answer correctly. Follow it with a “challenge” problem or even series of “challenges” that are only slightly more advanced than the original question.  As learners continue to conquer what you call “challenges,” and as they see their teacher’s obvious enthusiasm for their personal successes, they will become increasingly motivated not only to continue progressing to even greater challenges, but also to experience more academic achievements in other subject areas as well.

So this coming new year, instead of wishfully expecting a full group of well-rehearsed readers and mathematicians to reenter the classroom after two weeks away, come prepared for their completely normal and understandable need for a bit of fun and review before diving into brand new material. Enjoy the transition time as you provide your young pupils a reason to delight in being back at school.


Chipmunk Review Game

Youngsters will love to play this non-competitive class game as a way of reviewing material in any subject area. Every student participates and there is no penalty for incorrect answers.

Finding Patterns Review Activity

This is an excellent, attractive-looking worksheet for primary grade children to work on in pairs. They will be challenged to fill in the missing numbers of a series of patterns sequences.

Grammar Review Game

Simple and fun, this grammar activity will get every member or a small group or pair involved. The young detectives will sort provided verb cards into past, present and future piles.  Teachers can easily extend this activity to be more challenging, such as requiring sentences to be made with a certain number of the verbs, or for the word cards to be laid out alphabetically.