School is not childcare

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?

10 thoughts on “School is not childcare

  1. We’re one of those homeschooling families, so school closures are no biggie for us (depending on the circumstances, we do school even when schools are closed. Though if there’s sledding to be done, all that goes out the window!)

    To make ends meet and still be able to homeschool, I’ve always been a secondary breadwinner and I’ve always had jobs that can be flexible enough to allow me to homeschool (I’ve taught piano, done photography, worked in church music, and blogged.)

  2. Half-day kindergarten is WRONG.
    Not having school year round is also a pretty bad modern concept as far as I’m concerned. As if we were all farmers ; )
    Both create a nightmare for most working parents.

    1. I’m not sure if you comment is tongue in cheek, but I’m actually of the opinion that half-day kindergarten for kids can be a good idea. Spending the whole day in a classroom can be kind of rough for some five year olds, so I can understand why half-day kindergartens exist.

      1. @Kristen – True, some 5-year-olds might have a hard time being in a classroom all day (as do some older children and adults!) But I think in reality, many children have already been in longer class type situations prior to kindergarten these days. A lot of preschools are full-day (or have that option), and many kids have been in childcare of some form or another. So many parents wind up paying for half day kindergarten in private schools around here and the public schools bus the children to private kindergarten after half a day in public kindergarten.

        1. This is true for children who haven’t been in all-day daycare or preschool.

          But for children who haven’t, all day kindy is a big adjustment, so if I were the parent of one of those children, I’d appreciate having the half day.

          After all, people who want their children taken care of full-day can always arrange for that, but people who want half day kindy can’t arrange for that if full-day is what the public school offers (unless they want to pay for private school).

      2. I’m glad that the half-day option exists, too. We actually moved our daughter from full day preschool to half-day preschool because the full day was WAY too much for her. Presumably by the time she goes to kindergarten, she won’t be napping anymore, but who knows? I like that there’s the option, especially when there is a parent at home during the day.

  3. Part of the reason we’re at private school is the full-day kindergarten. But there’s a teacher in-service day this Friday and last week was nearly all half days for parent/teacher conferences. It’s beyond frustrating. Thankfully, most of my work is flexible as to what time of day it needs to be completed, but it still leaves me working early in the morning or after the kids are in bed. I miss the days of the preschool/daycare center when the only days they were closed were a few national holidays and a Christmas break.

  4. Most communities around here have a Boys and Girls Club to handle when school is out. Marginal quality, but legal childcare. Our state also has a separate limit for school age kids for home childcare providers, so lots of school kids go there for care.

    I’m curious what fraction of the population works a M-F, 8-5ish work schedule. I worked with production people who had 12 hr shifts and rotating days (and sometimes night shift changes) and childcare is always a challenge. School actually provided great stability for them, because being able to sleep when your kid is at school is usually at least marginally adequate.

  5. All kindergarten in my school district is full day, but there are some nearby districts that are half day and my friends who are in those districts have their kids in after care provided by the YMCA. Even with the full day, we also need to use before and after care, which is provided by the YMCA. We pay for it, but it is convenient (right on campus) and reasonably good. The Y also runs extra coverage on half days for parent-teacher conferences and does camps in the summer and over school breaks. There are several other places that do camps, too. So there are services that fill in the gaps from school, but they add to the logistics required for parents w/o a stay at home parent- and the cost.

  6. This may be faux pas to say, but school isn’t childcare anyway. And if that is how people see it then is it any wonder that that is how their children view it. School is a place for children to learn and grow, not somewhere to put them for the day because we work. In the UK you start school at 5 and are in school from 9am until 3.30pm. You have 2 weeks off at Easter, 2 weeks off at Christmas and 6 weeks off in the summer with 2 1 week half terms in the mix. Why can’t kids go to school for a whole day at age 5? I did and it didn’t do me or my brother any harm, in fact, my brother was reading books at the level of a 14 year old when he was 7 … is that a bad thing? I think not.
    I think we all need to view school for what it is, a place for our children to develop, grow and learn. And we need to make sure they understand that that is what it is too, otherwise teachers become glorified babysitters and that is a waste.

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