So it’s almost Spring Break, and perhaps you find yourself facing an overwhelming reality: you’re about to be at home with your kids for a week or two, but you have no plans for what to do with them.
If you’ve still got babies and toddlers at home, Spring Break is just like any other week – we both know you’ve got this routine covered already. Or if you are organized and financially able, you might be packing up your kids for a week at day camp, or better yet, packing your bags for a beach vacation.
But for the rest of us, Spring Break at home with our school-aged kids feels neither routine nor like a holiday. Housebound by the still-winter weather and out of practice entertaining little people for such a long stretch, we can feel a little overwhelmed when the break comes around.
To survive and thrive over the spring school break, I like to follow advice given to me to think more like a teacher: plan, plan and plan some more. With even the roughest of plans sketched out for each day, you and your kids can make the most of – and even enjoy! – Spring Break at home.
Make a list and check it twice (or more)
To start the planning process, I like to use our big chalkboard or a giant piece of poster paper to create our “spring break wish list”. There are no bad ideas here – we’re just brainstorming. This is your key moment to get buy-in from your kids – particularly any teens in your life who might balk at the idea of family time.
In past years, our brainstorm list has featured everything from library days and ski days to cooking lessons and hot air balloon rides. I just write them all down and we discuss the practicalities more seriously afterwards. Sometimes doing this exercise alone will remind me we’ve got lots of options big and small, making the break feel more manageable.
Variety is the spice of (Spring Break) life
Now that you’ve got a pool of ideas, I like to pull out the most popular and reasonable ones and start picking the days we can make those activities happen. Working around schedules, business hours, and let’s face it, the temperature, we end up with a clear idea of what we’re going to do each day and when.
For my kids, having a variety of activities over the week is the recipe for success. If we have a busy afternoon at the rec centre one day, then the next day might be designated as a quieter day at home, baking, watching movies or reading. Likewise, realizing my kids want to see their friends, I try to make sure we have a nice balance of friend and family time to keep us all happy.
Look local for cheap and free
If sticking to a budget is one of your goals, your local library, city-run programs, museums and recreation centres are good places to find affordable Spring Break fun . Libraries are a great resource for take-home rentals beyond just books. Do a little research online and surprise your kids with anything from borrowed music, movies, games, knitting and crafting kits, museum passes, and musical instruments (depending on where you live).
Spring Break is still very much a wintertime event where we live in Northwestern Ontario, so a visit to our city’s indoor botanical garden is a free and cheerful respite from the cold. We also try to embrace simple winter activities like indoor or outdoor skating, sledding and even building a snowman or snow fort or two.
You might even luck out and be able to take advantage of cheap or free drop-in programs around town and steal an hour or two all for yourself. Stores like IKEA have free child-minding and a comfortable restaurant – I’ve spent many an afternoon sipping coffee on one of their couches and flipping through a catalogue while my young children played safely supervised in the ball pit. Win-win.
Swap childcare with friends and family
Save your sanity and share the burden and joy of childcare with the people you love. Take your friends’ kids off their hands for a morning, and send yours their way later in the week. Your kids will love the play date, and you’ll love the downtime to run errands or just relax.
If you’re balancing work life with parent life over the break, you’ve got even more juggling to do to keep all the moving parts working together. Swapping some childcare days with your spouse, a friend or relatives is a budget-friendly and social way to make it all work.
Make fresh air, and downtime, a daily goal
It can be surprisingly hard to convince my kids to go outside with me when they get a day at home. Our school days and evenings are busy now, and they often approach Spring Break like it’s going be a week-long screen-fest on the couch. I definitely try and honour their need for some hard-earned R&R by avoiding overscheduling every minute, and letting them have a slow start to each morning if they wish.
But nothing leads to cabin fever quicker than a couple hours of playing Roblox or Candy Crush, so I have learned the hard way to nag and cajole (bribe) my kids to make outside time a part of every day of the break. Just like recess, it doesn’t have to be a big time commitment to boost everyone’s mood and creativity with some fresh air and movement in the yard, walking around the block or down the street for a sled.
Take a Staycation
If you have the time and money, splurging a little on a local hotel with a pool is a fun way to surprise your kids while treating yourself to a night off from cooking and cleaning.
You can make it a social event and book a few rooms with other families, or enjoy the bonding time with your kids to yourself. And a nice hotel doesn’t have to break the bank – there are plenty of affordable options for families these days, including hotels with kitchens, complementary breakfasts and kids-stay-free offers.
Of course, you could also transform your own home into a hotel and spa for one day or night – younger kids will really get into this idea, especially if you let them pack a little bag and pretend to check them in for their stay. And I can guarantee if you ask your little ones to paint your nails for you at their home spa, they’ll be more than happy to oblige.
Prepare for the unexpected
One year, after planning out our whole week of Spring Break in glorious detail, all my kids came down with a nasty virus that kept us housebound for nearly the whole break.
Undeterred by our unexpected quarantine, my kids took it upon themselves to recreate all our plans in the comfort of our own home. Their bedrooms became a library, our outdoor picnic plans happened on the living room floor, and we swapped a day at the movie theatre for the latest rentals on our own couch.
Looking back, that might have been the last time my kids spent so much time happily playing together at home. Now in a stage of our lives when we are often running from one busy moment to the next, it’s a pretty sweet family memory.
In a nutshell, with this many good options for making Spring Break at home your best yet, you could almost imagine that a week at home with the kids is as good as any getaway or activity-charged camp. Well, almost.