Jennifer Collins, a Houlton mother of two, often finds herself scrambling once her daughter’s school announces a snow day. It’s a mad dash to make sure her sitter is available or to find out if she can take a day off work. And even if she can miss work, she’s left trying to find indoor activities that keep her daughter, 8, and her son, 4, occupied while wind blows outside and snow falls.
“The big thing is [that] if it’s just snow, it can be a fun experience … but when it’s so bitterly cold, you have to be creative and make it a fun thing,” Collins said.
With little notice from schools about closures, parents such as Collins often struggle to find last minute care. In recent years, some programs run by recreation departments and organizations such as the YMCA have stepped in to fill the need.
The Orono recreation department for example runs a “Snow Day Day Camp” at Orono Middle School during the winter for elementary-aged children.
“We wanted to offer parents a place to bring their children that was safe so they weren’t having to stay home alone or parents didn’t have to miss work,” Don Clark, recreation programmer for Orono Parks and Recreation said.
Clark said the Orono program began five or six years ago when parks staff realized children were being left home by parents who were not allowed by employers to miss work and didn’t have alternative care.
Staff from the department’s before and after school programs play games with the children, organize art projects and, if it’s not too cold out, take them out to play in the fresh snow.
“My goal is when parents come to pick up their kids, the kids fall asleep in the minivan on the way home,” Clark said. “Our main focus is getting kids involved and moving around.”
Several recreation departments throughout Maine offer similar programs, including the Old Town-Orono YMCA, the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department and the Portland Recreation Department. The cost for drop-in care varies from about $12 to $35 per day, and usually includes a snack. And while they are a reliable option for parents when the weather gets bad, even snow day programs can’t stay open all the time. If the Orono town office keeps its employees home like it did Jan. 27 during a major snowstorm, the program doesn’t run.
“Most snow days we get about 12 kids, and we’re open any day the town is open,” Clark said. “But [if] it gets too bad, we close. I don’t want parents trying to drive or counselors trying to get to work.”
However, programs such as this are only successful in areas where there’s need. In Houlton, for instance, recreation director Marie Carmichael said her department has tried several times to offer snow day programs, but haven’t had enough interest from residents to keep them going.
“If schools are closed, we’re closed too,” she said. That means basketball, dance and other after-school activities also are canceled.
For the Collins family, that means making the situation work when school is cancelled. Collins said her husband works in law enforcement, and she works for a financial institution, so snow days don’t exist.
“There’s no other option for us really, we don’t have any family here,” she said. “But if I have to be home, I usually take the day so I can at least enjoy it.”
Collins said while it is sometimes stressful to figure out care for her children, she and her husband try not to let them see her worry.
“We have to watch our attitude because we don’t want them to hate winter,” she said. “We try to keep them physically active and show them they should make the best of it and not let the stress get to you.”