Activities

Great reasons to keep your kids home on a snow day

Ian Mendes opts to keep his daughters home from school for some bonding time.

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Ian took his daughters, Lily and Elissa, out for some fun on their recent Snow Day. Photo: Ian Mendes

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with wife, Sonia.

When I was a kid, I used to love the feeling of waking up in the morning and discovering we got hammered with a winter storm overnight.

The streets would be eerily quiet, as the blanket of snow muffled the sound of cars that drove by on our street.

I only ever had simple question: “Was this enough snow to cancel school?”

Back in the day, we used to listen to the radio to hear if our school name was listed among those that were closed for the day. It was like waiting to hear the lottery numbers called as you eagerly clutched the ticket in your hand.

Read more: 10 no-snow winter activities > 

Sometimes the Catholic board would keep their schools open, while the kids in the public board got to stay at home. As a kid who went to St. Francis of Assisi, I figured it would all even out in the end when I got to laugh at those kids from heaven one day.

But quite frankly, I would have traded eternal salvation for a single snow day.

Snow days were the best because there was no agenda. Your parents couldn’t have planned anything since this was completely unexpected. So as a kid, you basically got to call the shots for the day. My old-school snow agenda looked something like this:
9:00 a.m. – Head out for some sledding with my friends from the neighbourhood
11:00 a.m. – Warm up at home by watching the Price Is Right (Interesting stat: 85 percent of kids who stayed at home sick or had a snow day in the 1980s watched the Price Is Right).
12:00 p.m. – Eat some Kraft Dinner while watching The Flintstones
1:00 p.m. – Play Nintendo
2:00 p.m. – Complain to my mom that there was nothing to do
2:03 p.m. – Start cleaning my room
3:00 p.m. – Head back outside for a snowball fight, which always ended when some kid with glasses got hit in the face and everyone else ran home

Snow days were absolutely the best, but things have changed for kids today.

Read more: 50 essential winter activities >

For starters, you don’t have to listen to the radio to find out if your child’s school has been cancelled for the day. Now the school board will put the information on their website and some of the more tech-savvy ones have started tweeting the news as well. The drama of waiting to hear a name called on the radio has disappeared into the past — making me sound like an old man with a misguided sense of nostalgia.

But the biggest difference now is that there is technically no such thing as a snow day. Instead, there are only days where the school board cancels buses.

In other words, the schools never close. Like 7-Elevens or Chinese restaurants on Christmas Day, the schools are always open.

Teachers have to make it to school and be prepared to handle a classroom that may only have a handful of students. It’s a tough situation for the teachers because obviously they had to brave the inclement and dangerous weather to make it to school. And they can’t really start teaching new material to the students when so many of them are missing.

“I’m sorry that your son doesn’t understand fractions Mrs. Jackson. But Billy was absent on the snow day when I taught them the basic concepts. He needs to understand he missed one-fifth of the days of school that week. Oh wait… sorry that was probably a bad example.”

So teachers often just pop in DVDs for the students who do show up to school on a snow day. Or they spend a significant amount of time in the gym playing dodgeball or using that oversized parachute. And when the clock won’t reach 3 p.m., the teacher will close out the day with an extended game of Seven Up. Nobody learns anything on a day when the school buses have been cancelled; it just turns into glorified babysitting for the teachers.

So yesterday in Ottawa, our girls were very excited to wake up and discover we had been blasted by 25cm of snow. I checked Twitter and immediately saw that the school buses had been cancelled for the day. Even though our kids walk to school every day, we made the decision to keep them at home.

I realize that not every family has this luxury and that childcare can be a significant issue in these situations. If you have to go to work and have nobody to look after your kids, you can’t simply yell “Snow Day!” and start building a snowman in the front yard.

Read more: Make your own snow globe! >

But I was really glad we made the decision to keep the kids at home. I stayed true to my old-school snow day agenda, taking the girls sledding first thing in the morning. (However, when you go sledding at the age of  36 on a crazy carpet, you tend to wake up with a sore tailbone the next morning).

The next time we have a snow day, I think we’ll probably use the same option and keep our kids at home with us. Besides, they’re not really learning anything new at school that day and it gives me an excuse to watch The Price Is Right.