"Schools are closed."
Those are dreaded words for parents who are left scrambling to fill stay-at-home time with something other than electronic entertainment -- and worried about the interruption in schoolwork.
It's a legitimate concern, especially for first-graders and other younger readers, says Susan Barrie, a reading resource teacher at Belle Grove Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, in Anne Arundel County. "From January till the end of the year is when reading really starts to click," she says.
Because snow days disrupt classroom instruction, she advises parents to establish a routine to keep the reading-instruction ball rolling.
In addition to reading to their children every day, Barrie recommends that parents set aside time on days off for reading-oriented activities, and that they prepare a snow-day emergency kit with reading materials.
"You want to do things that are like classroom activities, but more fun," says Carol Brzezinski, a teacher of gifted and talented pupils at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School in Ellicott City.
She suggests that creating a different reading environment might encourage children to spend time reading books that normally they would ignore.
If families have computers with modems, Brzezinski suggests researching snow on the Internet. "There are even some recipes for snow ice cream on the Web," she says. Following a recipe requires reading, and "they don't mind reading when they have an outcome they can eat."
Susan Sartory, lower school librarian at McDonogh School, also uses recipes with her children when they're snowbound. On one recent day, her 6-year-old son learned to make waffles. "You can make anything where they can read the ingredient list and directions," she says.
A "Snow Day Kit" should include books. Lisa Woznicki, assistant librarian at the Towson branch of Baltimore County Public Library, keeps what she calls a Special Day Box, which is brought out only on snow days or days when one of her children is home sick.
Her box contains new books, she says, but parents can sort through books they own and select some that haven't been read recently.
Woznicki also says that parents who are equipped with a computer and modem can look for reading resources online. "Kids' Page" -- available through the Baltimore County Public Library Web site, at www.bcplonline.org -- offers links to online books, stories written by kids, and a site where books are read aloud.
A newspaper can provide the basis for several activities. Parents can choose a letter and ask children to cut out several words that begin with the letter. The words can be arranged into a sentence.
Barrie, the Brooklyn Park reading specialist, suggests that children spread out a newspaper and circle all the headline words they know. Kindergartners can circle the letters they are learning at school.
Barrie suggests keeping a deck of letters on hand. Using index cards, parents can write one letter on each card, making sure to have several cards for each vowel and frequently used consonants. Deal children a handful of letters and see how many words they can make.
Barrie doesn't think that time off because of snow will profoundly affect children's reading progress -- they need time to readjust to the routine in the classroom.
"If parents continually work with their children, even so much as reading to them each night, it helps," she says.