For kids in cold climates, snow days mean one thing: freedom. An unexpected day without obligations, for getting some extra sleep, playing outside or staying in, and of course, not going to school. For parents, they mean something quite different: an unexpected day with no childcare. At best, missing work when you’re not planning to is a pain, but at worst, it can be impossible to swing, resulting in lost wages or even lost jobs.
Up in Boston, schools have already closed once for snow this winter—and it’s only the beginning of January. And across the country, school cancellations for weather events of all kinds—from freakishly high temperatures to storms and floods—put parents in the challenging position of balancing responsibilities at home and work without much time to plan ahead.
Of course, local officials have a tough job to do when it comes to making decisions about school cancellations. After all, they want to minimize disruption, while also taking into account the safety of students and staff. But even when cancellations are absolutely necessary, they inevitably put strain on parents.
Besides the strategies most working parents have already thought of—from extra screen time (it’s only one day, after all!) to putting your teen to work with a shovel—here are a few more ideas for minimizing the pain of school cancellations.
Connect with your neighbors.
Even if your child’s school isn’t zoned for the neighborhood, if one local school is closed, chances are the others will be, too. Are there a few families within walking distance who can pool childcare responsibilities? Let’s say school is cancelled five times in one year: If you share the load across five families, that means each family only has to miss one work day. Better yet, find a family with a responsible high schooler looking to make some extra cash, so no one has to miss work at all. If your kids are old enough to stay home alone but need someone to check in throughout the day, maybe there’s a retired neighbor who could keep an eye on things—in exchange for shoveling their walk or dropping off a hot meal.
Keep a nearby sitter on your emergency list.
Whether your go-to list of childcare help is made up of extended family, friends, or sitters, plan ahead for bad weather by making sure there’s at least one person on that list within walking distance. Since major weather events are usually in the forecast a few days ahead of time, reach out and find out if your closest sitter will be available in the event that school is closed, even before you know for sure.
Raise school cancellations with your boss ahead of time—before bad weather’s in the forecast.
School cancellations affect working parents, but the truth is, dangerous weather conditions make it harder for everyone to get to work, not just those with kids at home. If you’re comfortable doing so, talk to your manager ahead of time about creating a plan to manage those emergency weather events. Is there a system for easily trading shifts with colleagues who are able to get into work more easily, like those who live closer or don’t have young children? Is your job one that could be done from home for a day if you needed to—and what tools do you need at home to make that possible? And if there’s no other option, can your children join you at work for the day, as long as they’re loaded up with activities? Opening up the conversation and creating a plan ahead of time will reduce stress on the day of, and your boss will probably appreciate your proactive approach.
Give the kids a to-do list.
Somehow the magic of a day off from school devolves quickly into boredom. (How does that happen, anyway?) Try giving your elementary-aged kids a checklist of things to accomplish, from mundane items like homework and chores to special ones, like concocting a new recipe in the kitchen, drawing a map of the neighborhood from memory, or designing a board game you’ll play with them later.
Keep an emergency entertainment kit.
You might already keep emergency items like bottled water and spare batteries tucked away somewhere. What about adding a few fun Dollar Store items, like stickers, games, activity books, or action figures, that only come out when school’s cancelled? A bag of small surprises will buy you some quiet time.