No school, no plans?

Play day is an opportunity to keep kids busy

More than 177 parents already know what a relief it will be to have fun, supervised childcare for just $5 during the scheduled Nov. 3 teacher in-service.

School's Out Play Day, sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club of Craig and other local youth-service agencies, will provide a low-cost program to keep 200 youth occupied in a safe and educational environment while parents are at work.

More than 1,400 school children in kindergarten through sixth grade are expected to be out of school during the in-service, which can leave some parents in a daycare dilemma.

"You can hardly get daycare for one day in Craig," third-grade mom Karma Willbanks said. "When you are a working mom and you think your kids are past daycare age, the school district plans days like this. My youngest is too young to stay home alone and my oldest will still be in school that day, so there's no one to stay home and watch."

Willbanks knows that the rising cost of daycare can add to the inconvenience of finding a temporary solution.

"For $5, that's very, very cheap. If they can get by with charging $5, that's great," Willbanks said. "But I wouldn't mind paying more. It's cheap security."

Because of the number of children who will be out of school that day, even parents who wanted to find a daycare alternative would be hard pressed to do so.

"There would never be enough daycare providers to handle the number of children who are out of school," Grand Futures Director Cindy Biskup said.

Licensed childcare providers in Moffat County often aren't able to accept drop-in children because of state paperwork requirements. But, with advanced notice, many slots can be filled.

"I can't take 1,400 kids, but I could take up to 40 most of the time on days when school is out," Sunrise Kids, LLC owner Judi Whilden said. "I just need enough advance notice to complete paperwork and be sure I have enough teachers scheduled."

Even from the perspective of a childcare provider, Whilden knows that arranging for supervised, licensed care of children for many parents is tough business.

"There are a lot of strapped parents, so when there are off-school days, what do they do? It's a tough issue," she said. "Parents can get help with Colorado Childcare Assistance Program to have their children come to any licensed provider and they will receive assistance if they are in need. They can get help."

Whilden cautions that the financial assistance from Colorado Childcare may not be available for one day a year but could provide more long-term assistance. And that assistance could help parents put their children in a facility after school or after kindergarten where the children can be part of activities and groups that provide healthy and educational learning opportunities.

"At Sunrise, we have after-school and after-kindergarten clubs. Kids love belonging and a club is something to belong to," Whilden said. "We don't have an academic focus for our clubs, but we do have teachers with a lot of credentials who provide phenomenal educational opportunities for each student."

The proposed Boys & Girls Club of Craig will give parents the opportunity to see what their offer is all about. Together with the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, Grand Futures, RAD and the CSU Cooperative Extension Office, Boys & Girls Club has organized a day of activities for up to 200 children whose parents register them for the play day.

The students who attend the play day will experience a variety of different activities that will combine both physical and stationary exercises. Arts and crafts, beaded bracelets, puppet theaters, face painting, cooking and outdoor and indoor games are just a few of the things that play day participants will be exposed to.

"So many of these kids would otherwise be staying at home alone with a baby-sitter called 'TV'," activity organizer Diane Gould said.

Gould, who is the director of the RAD after school program in Moffat County, knows that the number of children who stay home alone is high in our area.

"Several kids have parents who are working during the day and they are too young to stay home by themselves but there's no alternative," she said. "These kids can have fun with their friends in a safe environment."

Gould, along with volunteers from many youth-service organizations, will be on hand to supervise the 200 expected students. All of the volunteers will work in groups with other volunteers and children.

"There will be no one-on-one interaction between students and volunteers, so all parents should feel safe sending their children to the play day," Gould said.

All attending children should plan to bring a sack lunch but both morning and afternoon snacks will be provided.

"It's not safe for kids in this age group to stay home alone, it's much better to have opportunities for youth activities that involve a group," Biskup said.

Although the Craig Police Department tends to receive more calls when middle and high school students are home alone, there is always the risk of trouble when youth who are left alone get bored.

"Intermediate school kids have the potential to get in trouble on their own," Craig Chief of Police Walt Vanatta said. "They are still somewhat limited on transportation, but we would avoid getting calls where they are in groups getting into mischief."

The bottom line for Vanatta is that the better the opportunity, the more youth will stay out of trouble.

"Anytime you can occupy a young person's mind with constructive things versus having them sit at home and watch cartoons, you've accomplished something," he said.

"This event really is a kick-start to what Boys & Girls Club will provide beginning next fall. During the school year, anytime school is out they will be providing a place for kids to go when their parents are working," Biskup said.

And if the school district continues its support of the program, the potential is unlimited.

"The attitude of educators in Moffat County is exceptional compared to other districts with which we've worked," Boys & Girls Club representative Pres Askew said. "It always seems to be 'whatever is best for the students' even though it requires additional time and effort."

Many youth-service organizations have volunteered countless hours and resources to make the play day a success, but additional volunteers are encouraged to participate.

"The play day organizers are contributing a great deal of personal time and energy to this endeavor," Askew said.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering during the play day should contact Debi Garoutte at 824-1178. For additional information about the play day or to register your child, contact Cindy Biskup at 824-5752.

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