A Winter Break Survival Guide :: 20 Ways to Preserve Your Sanity and Your Connection

Winter break. Two weeks with no school. While my children may be dreaming of freedom, after a few LOOONG days of the same ol’, same ‘ol, I’m channeling Perry Como singing about school starting again. Since “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” debuted in 1951, I can only assume parents have been sobered by the reality of disrupted routines and post-holiday boredom for decades, waffling between feelings of joy over extra bonding time and guilt wishing it was over sooner.

A young boy looks out the window to winter weather.

Whether you need help keeping kids out of your home office, keeping them entertained, or you want to sprinkle in a few special memories, consider this your guide to keeping your sanity. It’s choose your own adventure — to not just survive, but connect, with your kids during winter break.

Maintain a Routine

Not enough structure in your home, and there is bound to be trouble!

  1. Set bedtime and wake-up guidelines. Maintain a routine as best you can while still allowing for fun and spontaneity to keep the chaos away.
  2. Have “quiet time” daily. Whether napping or just screen-free time, this ensures everyone gets some guaranteed time alone, including you! Playing independently will give kids a break from siblings (less bickering later) and try out all those new toys (or even old ones they don’t have time for during the school year).
  3. Give everyone jobs. Build in fun and work time for everyone. Set expectations in advance to avoid major complaining, such as play a game first and then clean up. Work for an hour and then bake cookies.
  4. Loosen up the rules — or don’t. Relax screen-time rules if it won’t lead to meltdowns later. If your children are more easily sidelined by mealtime fluctuations, stick with your typical schedule. You know your kids best!
  5. Carve out some me-time. Do what you need to in order to get through the day. Create a little space for yourself to recharge.
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It Takes a Village

6. Barter babysitting. Find another family and create a childcare plan. It’s babysitting without a big added expense! One takes all the kids for a day (okay, maybe just a few hours) while the other parents get a break. Then, switch!

7. Schedule playdates. Invite some of your friends over to socialize and bring their kiddos. Rotate at different homes or locations. A win-win!

8. Join a gym with childcare. Take advantage of those New Year’s membership deals and join a gym or local YMCA with childcare. Even if you don’t always workout, bring your laptop or a book for an hour break.

9. Sign up for online activities. Find a virtual class to teach them chess, Spanish, and more from the local library, Outschool.com, and other educational websites.

10. Get backup. Utilize a drop-in childcare center like Adventure Kids Playcare, or a winter day camp offered at various locations through PSA, YMCA, North Texas Performing Arts, or Flour Power Studios.

Make Memories at Home

We often think we need to take our children somewhere memorable for them to have an epic vacation. But so many fond memories can be made right at home!

11. No couch potatoes. Keep bodies in motion with a dance party, hide and seek, or download GoNoodle on your tablet. Repurpose your living room into an obstacle course (put away breakables!), your recyclables into bowling pins, or your bathtub into a swimming pool (in their bathing suits!). You can also create a scavenger hunt that leads to a “treasure.”

12. Slow things down. Pull the plug and let kids be bored. If they need a little direction to get started, set out a large family puzzle or create a “bored box” with basic art supplies. I even put some of those new toys back in the closet and pull them out one at a time to prolong the fun. And toss the idea getting ready . . . stay in pajamas all day and make blanket forts. Have fun reminiscing with your kids by getting out old photo albums or any old-school electronics you still have. Make new memories with a time capsule of the past year and hide it in your house.

13. Get creative. Fill the days with crafts and learning activities. Start simple like assembling a sensory bin, re-imagining those empty Amazon boxes, or having kids draw or write a story about their favorite holiday activity or tradition. And don’t forget pretend play. Set up indoor picnics, cooking competitions, spa days, or photo shoots. Let kids use your phone to act out a story with their dolls or stuffed animals. Even better, grab a seat and watch a performance when they come up with a play, complete with tickets and costumes.

14. Family time. Make time for togetherness. Snuggle close on a cold afternoon and read a chapter book together (or binge picture books with younger ones). Then grab a movie, board game, card deck, or video game for every night of the week. Whether you are in the Go Fish and Candyland phase or graduated to Poker and Mario Kart, you can have hours of fun! Winter break is also a great time to have a sibling sleepover for kids who don’t share a room.

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And don’t hesitate to get them involved in the kitchen with all those extra meals and snacks they’ll be demanding. Google an easy recipe for muffins or pizza to make together or just grab some cookie cutters for fun-shaped sandwiches.

15. Gear up and head outside. Fresh air daily! Bundle up and send the kids out if you have a fenced-in yard. Go for a walk or head to the park to burn off energy. And if, by chance, we get an early snow, take advantage of it. Make snow art or ice cream, then warm up with hot cocoa.

A family of four is bundled up enjoy outdoors with dog.

Get Out and About

Some are content to stay home the entire break; others will go stir crazy. Sometimes, just the act of getting dressed and getting everyone out of the house can make you feel refreshed.

16. Plan ahead. Set aside money in your holiday gift budget for a winter break activity or better yet, ask for gift certifications or memberships to local museums, zoos, theaters, etc.

17. Retail therapy. Organize a scavenger hunt at the mall where players take photos of items you specify, or head to the craft store to stock up on craft kits for the kiddos and maybe a few after-Christmas discounts for yourself!

18. Field trips. Take advantage of the festive season and go ice skating or see some amazing holiday decor and lights. Or stay warm inside with options like indoor playgrounds, bowling, laser tag, libraries, and the movies.

19. Escape the ordinary. Some families like to use this extra time off of school and work to take a trip someone. See what you can find just a few hours from home (don’t forget the car games!).

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20. Give back. Make time to do something for someone else. Delivering homemade muffins to neighbors, caroling at an assisted living facility, or donating food to a shelter is a great way for kids to think beyond themselves.

If All Else Fails

Whether you snag a few of these ideas to keep your little ones occupied for just five minutes or book your calendar solid this winter break, try to find a few moments in each day that you can appreciate how awesome your children really are. And if winter break feels endless and you end up counting the days until school starts gain, remember, it’s temporary!

Jennifer Pressley
Meet Jennifer, a native Texan now based in McKinney. After a varied career in fashion retail and ecommerce, she is now embarking on a new journey and in training to be a certified ADHD Life Coach for students and parents. She and her hubby of 15 years love globetrotting and have visited 21 countries together. When not shuttling her two kids to activities, catch her staying active in her home gym, binge-watching Netflix, or savoring wine nights with pals.