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When your kids have the day off, but you have to work

For The Baltimore Sun
Another day off from school? Here are child-care options.

It's a common child care challenge: The kids are healthy, the office is open, but there's no school.

Whether it's a training day for school staff or a holiday that not all workplaces observe, school closures can leave families in a bind. Many after-school programs that parents normally rely on aren't available on those days because school facilities aren't open.

And it doesn't just create problems for working parents. Families with children who range in age or interests may also face a "Now what?" quandary, as they try to keep toddlers on a regular nap schedule and also entertain elementary school students, or end up dragging a tween to museum geared toward their younger kids.

To help fill the voids, two Baltimore attorneys just opened a company called Tripster, which organizes supervised activities, events and trips on days when schools are not in session.

"We wanted to expose kids to culture and be active," says Jamie Seward, Tripster co-founder. "We wanted to get away screens and do more fun things."

On Rosh Hashanah, Tripster rented out the "lab" space at aMuse toys in Quarry Lake in Pikesville and made "floam," marshmallow catapults, and duct-tape accessories.

"None of the kids wanted to leave," says Seward, a Homeland mother of 7-year-old and 9-year-old boys.

Their next program will be a trip to the Franklin Institute on Oct. 20 — when many private schools are closed — and a day-after-Thanksgiving event at the Mathnasium of Roland Park.

Seward and her colleague, Heidi Kenny-Berman, who both have children who attend the Calvert School in North Baltimore, decided to create their company several months ago after Seward returned from trip to Mount Kilimanjaro. "We were talking about wanting adventures beyond our backyards," says Seward.

But they were both also aware of the planning involved, which is one reason even healthy lunches are included in their programs — it's one fewer detail parents have to manage. Being practicing attorneys, the Tripster co-founders were also careful to screen staff and require CPR and first-aid training.

While many parents can take the day off from work and plan a day of crafts and outings, Seward says, "I think it's more fun to be with the other kids."

"A lot of times on these days off, you're really scratching your head about what to do," says Becky Barnes, a West Towson mother of four and friend of Seward's who is a new Tripster customer.

"She's really filling a need," says Barnes, who works in development at the Johns Hopkins University and whose 9-year-old twins attended the inaugural event. "They came home and said, 'Mom, that was so much fun.' "

In addition to Tripster, there are a number of recreation programs, nature centers, art centers and others that offer programs on the days that teachers have professional development training and other days when schools are closed.

Some venues, while not offering full supervision, offer educational and recreational programs on days when schools are closed. Howard County Public Library branches, for example, almost always have movies, science experiments and crafts on those days. Earth Treks in Timonium has open climbs with extra staff and the Pottery Cove in Catonsville has special hours on days off.

Marybeth Steil, whose daughter is in second grade at Clarksville Elementary, often registers her for the Columbia Association's Art Center camps when school is closed. While she'll still occasionally work from home, Steil has been impressed by the projects her daughter has done, from creating edible art sculptures to kites.

"She loves art," Steil says. "And I like having the option."


A sampling of 'school's out' options

Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks

Notable: Some programs have swimming. aacounty.org/recparks/recreation

Big Vanilla

Notable: Fitness games, crafts, movies and swimming at Pasadena and Arnold locations. bigvanilla.com

Columbia Association's Art Center

Notable: Special sessions with visiting artists on a range of subjects from fashion to print-making for ages 10 to 14. columbiaassociation.org

Coppermine Fieldhouse

Notable: Gymnastics, sports and art. Snack included. copperminefieldhouse.com/schools-out-camp

Howard County Conservancy

Notable: Games, crafts, nature activities. hcconservancy.org

Howard County Recreation and Parks

Notable: LEGO, science, Harry Potter, American Girl Doll, sports, drama and nature themes. howardcountymd.gov

Irvine Nature Center

Notable: Environmentally friendly crafts and walks in the woods. explorenature.org/public-programs/camp/day-off-camps

Painting Workshop

Notable: Painting, sculpture, crafts, stories and games. thepaintingworkshop.com

Tripster

Notable: A Nov. 28 event, which will include ice-cream-making and Frisbee golf, is planned at the Mathnasium of Roland Park. tripsteronline.com

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