Many Capital Region children are getting an extra gift this holiday season — a break from school that’s a full two weeks long.
The kids, of course, are ecstatic, but moms and dads might struggle to find ways to fill all of those days.
Districts including the Schenectady City School District, Saratoga Springs City School District, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District and Shenendehowa Central School District start their vacation Dec. 23 and don’t go back to school until Jan. 6. For most districts, the vacation is three days longer than last year.
Each district sets its own vacation schedule. The length of the breaks and their timing is based on when holidays fall and on testing schedules, said Ray Colucciello, superintendent of the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, where the holiday recess is just shy of two weeks long this year.
No matter how long the break is, each district has to have a minimum number of days of instruction on the school calendar each year.
“The gospel is 180 to 186, and then you work around that,” Colucciello said.
Local businesses and organizations have extended their hours and planned special events in honor of the super-sized school break. Thanks to the recent wintry weather, there is plenty of seasonal fun to be had outdoors as well as in.
The Vacation Fun Club at the Schenectady YMCA is an option for kids whose parents need to work while school’s out.
“Because of the duration of this vacation, we are seeing a higher demand for services,” said Kerri DiCaprio, school-age childcare director for the Schenectady Y.
The club will open its doors to children in kindergarten through sixth grade weekdays throughout the vacation, excluding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Activities will include field trips, exercise classes, cooking projects and crafts.
Financial assistance is available.
“No child will be turned away,” DiCaprio said.
Every YMCA in the Capital Region is offering programming for kids during the vacation, she noted.
Arts and crafts, scavenger hunts and organized games will be among the fun activities going on at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady during the break. The clubs’ four locations in the city of Schenectady will be open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the Rotterdam site will be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. All sites will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Kids ages 6 to 18 can drop in any time to participate.
“If kids want to come have some fun, that’s what we’re there for,” said area director Maria Nadler.
For the first time ever, the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady is offering a New Year’s Eve Camp-in for kids ages 7 to 10. The event will run from 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve to 8 a.m. New Year’s Day.
Parents can drop their kids off or spend the night along with them at the museum, according to miSci Executive Director Mac Sudduth.
“This is more than just babysitting; there’s a planetarium show and other activities. It’ll be fun,” he said.
A mini camp-in for kids ages 4 to 6 will take place starting at 8 p.m. that same night. Parents are asked to pick up their children by 1 a.m. New Year’s Day.
During the holiday break, the museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. It will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The museum’s Trains and Toys exhibit, which runs through Jan. 20, includes lots of activities for young children, Sudduth noted.
The New York State Museum in Albany will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday during the holiday recess, excluding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Special children’s programs will take place Dec. 29 and Jan. 4.
There also will be plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun during the school vacation.
Families can dig out the sleds and find a hill for an afternoon of good, old-fashioned entertainment. Some favorite sledding spots are Collins Park in Scotia, Schenectady Municipal Golf Course in Schenectady, the grounds of the Glendale Home in Glenville and Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater.
Skiers and snowboarders can hit the slopes at Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily during the school break at a discount, thanks to online lift ticket specials.
Even though Mother Nature has provided plenty of snow, the snowmaking machines are still going full blast.
“We’ll have plenty of snow no matter how warm it gets,” said spokeswoman Kate Michener.
The mountain will close at 4 p.m. Christmas Eve and remain closed on Christmas Day.
The ice might still be thin on local ponds, but the outdoor rink at the Empire State Plaza in Albany is frozen solid. It’s open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Skating is free, and for those who don’t own skates, rentals are available.