School breaks may come with scheduling complications, but despite the challenges of childcare and cabin fever, there are ways to maximize those two priceless weeks. We”ve collected a list of ideas, solutions, and suggestions to help you be mindful and intentional this winter break. Take a few or leave a few based on your family situation, and remember that this is a great time to let the kids have a say in family decisions, too. Enjoy your break!
3 Childcare Solutions
For parents who need to be in the office, here are some childcare solutions.
Swap with friends. “Swapping play dates and sleepovers with friends has become not only a childcare solution, but a part of our holiday tradition,” says Julia Closky, Stapleton mom of four. “My kids look forward to this because some of these friends are kids they don’t see at their current school.”
Find a teen. Your neighborhood teenagers are also on break and are likely eager to earn some babysitting dollars. Reach out. But don’t wait too long, because other babysitting jobs and plans with family and friends will fill up a teen’s schedule the closer it gets to break.
Use drop-in daycare. Check with local childcare centers or look for drop-in daycare at places such as the YMCA, local recreation centers, or KidsTown. Some will take kids up to 13 years old. Reserve early and do your research. Qualistar.org can help with referrals to childcare locations that have undergone a quality assessment.
Take that Vacation Time!
More companies are offering work-from-home flex hours, in addition to the opportunity to earn overtime/comp hours. “I save up all my comp and overtime hours so that I can stay home with my kids over the holidays,” says Theresa Sadoski, Highlands Ranch mom of two..
“I’m often tempted to use that time in other ways, but it’s worth it to have those uninterrupted days together.”
Libraries: Not Just for Reading
Check your local library’s website. You might be surprised by their event calendar. Older kids can participate solo in movie screenings, special programs and workshops, Lego builds, tech drop-ins, video game gatherings, crafts, music, dance, and fitness.
Camps & Classes
Camps and organized activities can break up long stretches of time at home, even if the camps are just for a couple of days. Register early to ensure you”ll get the ones you want. Here are some places to start your search, no matter your child’s interests.
Do you have
- An athlete? Tigar Gymnastics in Wheat Ridge offers a winter camp of general fitness, beginner level gymnastics, games, crafts, and movies. Full and half-day options are available, as well as a multiple day discount. tigargymnastics.com
- A chef? The Kitchen Table cooking school in Greenwood Village has one-day winter break cooking camps for thrid to eighth graders. htkitchentablegv.com
- A scientist? Let them spend their days with dinosaurs and asteroids. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science offers winter camps for grades K-5, with late and early care options. dmns.org/learn/children/school-break-camps
- An artist? Art Garage in Denver offers one-day workshops for kids in various mediums, throughout the winter break. artgaragedenver.com
More Places to Look for Camps and Classes
- University of Denver Athletics and Recreation ritchiecenter.du.edu
- Denver Zoo denverzoo.org
- Art Spark Creative Studio artsparkcreative.com
- Tinker Art Studio tinkerartstudio.com
- Majestic View Nature Center arvada.org/nature
- Downtown Aquarium aquariumrestaurants.com
- Denver Public Schools Discovery Link kaleidoscope.dpsk12.org
- Bladium Sports and Fitness Denver bladiumdenver.com
- Sur La Table surlatable.com
- Stir It Up Cooking School stiritupcooking.com
- Jewish Community Center jccdenver.org
- Boulder Rock Club boulderrockclub.com
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At-Home Projects, Traditions, and Gatherings
Many families create their own holiday break traditions or projects to get the most out of the days together. Borrow ideas from these local parents, or develop your own based on your family’s interests and budget.
• “We make a bucket list before the break starts so that we can plan and schedule ahead of time, says Kevala Kenna, Broomfield mom of three. “Otherwise it’s easy to get super busy and not make time for fun.”
• Include a ski day or two. Snowshoeing, hiking, sledding, or snow forts and sculptures are other economical snow options. Gather a group! “It’s a shame for kids to grow up here and not ski, especially when they can ski free with the 5th Grade Passport (coloradoski.com/passport) and the Epic SchoolKids pass (snow.com/epic-pass/info/epickids_colorado.aspx),” says Tammy Breezer, Lakewood mom of three.
• “The girls and I love to just stay in our pajamas all day and read books together,” says Jeana Pynes, Denver mom of two. Even teens love a good family read-aloud. Marianne Henning, Lakewood mom of four, takes reading one step further by pulling out the costume trunk and face paint so kids can dramatize favorite stories. As her kids have gotten older, this activity has morphed into full-scale film projects.
• Kenna’s extended family sets aside one afternoon or evening over the holidays to eat chili and sing every carol in the history of Christmas. They also drink hot chocolate and dance in the dining room. “Somewhere along the line we started to dress in costumes,” says Kenna. “I don’t remember why but it’s a fun twist.”
• Have a family slumber party and sleep around the Christmas tree. Stay up late whispering about hopes and dreams for the New Year.
• “If snow falls in the night, we always make snow ice cream. It’s just snow, sugar, cream, and whatever flavoring you like blended together,” says Kenna.
• Going from the strict structure of school to no structure at all can be challenging, so keep a loose schedule during breaks, recommends Shari Johansson, licensed therapist. “We do something around the house in the morning, then free time, and we always eat lunch together,” Johansson, Lakewood mom of two, says. “My kids are much less anxious and contentious when there is structure.”
• “We always splurge on at least one live theater production,” says Calvin Weatherall, Arvada dad of two. “It gets us in the spirit of the season and I like that my kids get some culture.” Don’t forget about matinees and group rates to keep costs down.
• Get the kids chopping, stirring, measuring, and pouring for holiday baking and food traditions. It will lower your stress and increase their fun. “No one has ever died from a mess in the kitchen,” says Henning. The Tinker family kids grate the cheese for the Christmas Eve fondue; the Weatherall kids slice the berries for Christmas morning’s Dutch poffertjes; the Henzie family eats shrimp on New Year’s Eve and bakes gingerbread on the first day of vacation.
• “Life is so busy that we rarely take the time to just play Monopoly or do a puzzle,” says Lisa Leafgreen, Denver mom of one. “During the break everything slows down and we have games and puzzles everywhere. You never regret that you didn’t clean out that closet but you regret that your child has outgrown her little kitchen and you never played in it with her.” Along those lines, why not invite friends over for a game day
• “We map out our route (christmaslightfinder.com) and make popcorn and hot chocolate,” says Joleen Henzie, Arvada mom of four, “and we drive around for hours seeing all the best light displays while singing in the car.”
• “My kids love treasure hunts,” says Nancy Hicks, Arvada mom of three, grandma of two. “You can do them inside or outside, at home or downtown, and make them hard or easy depending on how much time you have.” Your only preparation is coming up with a random list of look-fors (a green feather, a penny from the 1970s, a Starbucks stir stick). Let the winner pick a favorite meal or movie.
• “We take a road trip every few years to visit family,” says Breezer, “and I love it! You can just feel the whole family decompress once we”re on the road. We spend hours talking and laughing, eating junk food, playing games, and reconnecting. It’s as much about the journey as the destination.”
• Jenna LaFleur, Littleton mom of three, takes her kids to the ice skating rink at Belmar. “We”re not good skaters but we love it and we always stop in somewhere for a treat afterward.” Pynes takes advantage of the free skating at Skyline Park on the 16th Street Mall with optional skate rental for only $2. “We also love the rink in Evergreen,” says Pynes. “It costs more but it’s so beautiful.”
• Break out the home movies and photo albums. Share stories about the photos, especially if older relatives are in town. Then, organize the photo boxes or create a special video using photos or movies.
• Challenge everyone to learn something on YouTube and report back to the rest of the family. You can learn to knit or juggle, build a shelf, or unravel magic tricks or science experiments. Seriously, just about anything.
Do Unto Others
• Start a RACK campaign (Random Acts of Christmas/Chanukah Kindness). Jot down a dozen or more ideas from BuzzFeed, Pinterest or your own brainstorming session on small bits of paper and put it in a jar. Draw one paper each day and set out together to commit RACK—hand out cookies to store clerks, hand warmers to people at bus stops, tape quarters to parking meters”We always leave a note that says ‘you”ve been RACKed”,” Kenna says.
• “We keep an advent (or 12 days of Christmas) calendar,” says Pynes. “Some compartments hold candy, but other days I write a note that encourages my girls to be kind to someone else, and then I ask them about it later. I think they like the candy days the best, but oh well. I want to encourage them, and encourage them to encourage others.”
Kristi Hemingway is an Arvada-based writer and mom.