Solve the School Break Care Challenge

7 options for what to do with kids during spring break, winter break and other short vacations.

babysitting on school break

When Salt Lake City, Utah mom Amber Dixon talks about finding child care for school vacations, she sums it up quickly: "Sometimes, we just scramble." When her son reached school age, Dixon and her husband developed an elaborate schedule of depending on relatives, alternating work days and bringing their son to work with them.

School vacations and those long weekends many schools schedule for parent-teacher conferences spread joy among children and panic among working parents. Most parents just don't have that much vacation time and what they do have is often saved for summer months.

Like the Dixons, many families use a creative combination of solutions to make sure work isn't interrupted and the kids are supervised. If you're stuck for school vacation care, investigate these seven possibilities:

  1. Take Time Off
    The most obvious solution is to schedule your vacation when the kids are off. But who has that much vacation time? In some regions, kids get a week off in both February and April -- plus at least over a week off in December. Some families use these mid-year school vacations for a little escape (even if it means coping with higher travel prices), but others prefer to take a longer break in the summer.

  2. Split the Time
    Parents often split school vacation caregiving responsibilities. One parent takes off half the week to watch the kids while the other works, and then they switch mid-week. Or if one spouse has a crazy work week, the other can shoulder the majority of days. Come the next vacation, they can flip the time.

  3. Use Your Benefits
    Some companies have backup child care benefits specifically for things like school vacations or odd days off from school. Distinct from a regular day care setting, this option is a welcome relief for employees who have school-aged children who are too old for day care, but not old enough to be home alone. If your company doesn't offer this benefit, ask Human Resources to consider it. You'll be much more productive at work if you don't have to worry about your child.

  4. Lean on Others
    If you're lucky, you have family and friends nearby who can fill in and watch your kids during their shorter school breaks. Even if you have to depend on several different people, you might be able to get enough coverage to make it work (Dixon's successful plan even includes her sister's ex-husband!).

    Bolton, Mass. parent Carolyn Mitchell works with other families to alternate days of kid duty during vacations. "We would all pack a lunch for our kids, which saves the mom from that work," says Mitchell. "And then everyone takes a day to watch them all."

  5. Hire a Nanny
    When time off is off the table, use a nanny-finding website to help you find an experienced nanny. Because it's more responsibility than you want to saddle a typical high school sitter with, a nanny is your best bet for such a long stretch. Learn the difference between a nanny and a babysitter

    This will take some research on your part, says Katie Bugbee, managing editor of Care.com. She recommends posting a job opening at least one month before the school break. "You will want to meet your top three candidates in person, review their references and run thorough background checks to help you make your decision," Bugbee explains. The best part? You'll have backup babysitters for the next year!

  6. Find a Camp or a School Program
    Some organizations (like YMCAs) or camps (Camp Fire USA) offer sports clinics or week-long camps during school breaks. These are great introductions to camp for younger kids, without the overnight aspect. And don't forget local school systems or even colleges -- either in your town or one nearby. Schools often offer mini vacation programs with day-long activities like baseball, crafts or even bookmaking. You send your kids with a snack and lunch, just like a regular school day, and they have fun in a safe setting. As a bonus, many places offer reduced rates for siblings.

  7. Check Out Local Attractions
    Some zoos or museums offer all-day programs for kids during vacation weeks. Art museums, theaters, zoos and even some farms plan enriching and varied activities that are perfect for kids.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.

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