The phone rang at 5:15 this morning with a recorded message from the Lower Merion School District. Since PECO was not able to restore power to five schools, school would be closed on November 1. This follows closures for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. My 5-year-old is distraught. He tells me he’ll forget what his teacher looks like.
Earlier this week, I was working on a short post for Women & Co on parents who homeschool and also work for pay. While some two-income (or single-parent) homeschooling families have a parent with a work-from-home job, others have more normal 9-5 outside-the-home schedules. They teach a few hours at night, or in the morning, and a weekend session perhaps, and hit the same number of instructional hours as a regular school provides. As Catherine Gillespie of A Spirited Mind (and a branding/messaging consultant) has pointed out, there are enough hours in the 168 we all have each week to work 40, homeschool 30, sleep 8 hours a night and still have over 40 hours for other things.
That’s mathematically true, but the obvious question is what do you do with older kids during the workday? That is, kids who are school-aged, but not actually old enough to care for themselves?
As I was listening to the recorded message this morning, though, I was reminded that all parents face this problem. There are 180 school days many places, but a work-year is more like 240. Elementary school around here runs 9:05-3:35 (and 9:05-11:50 or 12:50-3:35 for kindergarten!) And school remains canceled after many businesses have reopened.
What all this means is that school is pretty unreliable as childcare. If you’re a working parent, even if your kids are in regular school, you still wind up making some during-the-workday childcare arrangements for them. Homeschooling parents with jobs just have to make more regular arrangements for more hours. It’s a difference of degree, not kind.
The unreliable nature of school as childcare also pokes holes in the widespread narrative that — partly to avoid using childcare — one can stay home with kids when they’re little and then go back to work once they’re in school. The problem is that it’s the rare job — even part-time ones — that can readily accommodate four days in a row off from work, let alone 10-12 weeks of summer break. You’re most likely still going to be arranging non-parental childcare of some sort. Again, it’s a difference of degree, not kind.
For those of you with school aged children, what are your childcare arrangements? How do you handle long school closures?