As the LIRR strike deadline looms, many working parents may have concerns about what to do with the kids. While we're hopeful the strike will be averted, parents know you need to be prepared for any situation. Whether you have to leave earlier, stay later or work from home, your best bet is to start taking proactive steps now. Here, a few things to keep in mind:
Q. Are there specific child care challenges that parents should be thinking about now?
Absolutely! For starters, the fact that the LIRR strike may happen during the summer months isn’t such a bad thing for parents. School’s out, so your children are most likely in a summer camp or reliable child care is already set up. You may want to call your child’s camp counselors and ask if they have a contingency plan in case of the strike, for example, will they offer before or after hours during this time. If you already have a nanny or baby-sitter set up, check with them now (sooner than later) to see if they would be available to come earlier and stay later, if needed. It will put your mind at ease, especially if you have to leave for work extra early or stay later to avoid the traffic on the roads.
You can also check in with friends, neighbors or family members you trust and ask them if they can do the drop-offs or pickups from camp or day care. Or, if you’re really stuck, see if they'll be able to take your child/children for the day.
Also, now is the time to talk with your boss about possibly telecommuting. It may be easier to have someone come over to your house for a few hours while you work from home than to try to find someone in a pinch to watch the kids.
And, if all else fails, take the day off and hightail it to the beach!
Q. For parents who are stuck telecommuting, what's the best way to take care of their kids while also trying to work?
I don’t know about you, but working from home with little ones around is not easy. Your best bet to ensure you’ll get work done is to secure a friend, baby-sitter or family member to come over to watch the kids. If you’re stuck and home alone with the kids, here are some suggestions:
— Download educational apps. Most kids love playing with your iPad or iPhone. The good news is, there are many apps that are not only fun but also educational. Click here for a list of the ones we love.
— Bring out the crayons, finger paints, Play-Doh and other crafty projects — some kids will stay occupied for hours.
— If you have someone watching your kids or if your spouse is home for hours without a break, here are five interactive indoor games to play with kids:
Search and find
Put your little detective to work with this fun challenge! On index cards, print up or draw simple pictures of objects that are seen around the house, or that can be seen from a window: a teddy bear, a spoon and a car, for example. Try to incorporate objects above and below a child’s eye level to add to the challenge. If they need hints while searching, try using words like above, below, in front of, behind, underneath and on top of, to encourage spatial development.
Practice memorization skills with a low-cost version of a childhood favorite. Create game pieces using index cards. Print out or draw simple pictures on index cards of the same size to create pairs. Themes could be shapes and colors, items that match such as mittens or things that go together like animals and their babies. Make it even more fun by customizing the game with your child’s suggestions.
Practice color recognition by using construction paper in a variety of colors and cut down to a size that can be easily held in a child’s hand. Give your child the task of identifying these colors in household objects. Challenge them to find each color of the rainbow.
Make a sand-free sandbox
Use a large plastic bin, dishpan or aluminum-foil roasting pan as your box. Fill with rice or oatmeal and stock with scoops, funnels, spoons, toy cars, a plastic tea set — whatever suits your child's interests.
Cardboard Box Creations
When you’re making that last-minute grocery store run before the big storm, ask the manager for boxes from the loading dock, then get out the colored paper and the markers and let the kids use their imaginations.
— Looking to go outdoors? Try these fun outdoor water games:
Main squeeze: Set up two buckets per child, one full of water, one empty. Give each kid a sponge, then show them how to use it to transfer water from the full bucket to the empty one. Keep-cool breaks encouraged!
Splash dance: Pour some water on your patio or driveway, then turn on the tunes and let your kids stomp around in the water until the music stops.
Toss across: Have your child stand on the opposite side of a filled baby pool from you, then throw a ball back and forth across the water. See how long you can keep the ball aloft before getting splashed.
Water limbo: Turn on a hose and challenge your child to pass under the spray without it touching her. Lower the hose after each turn until she gets wet.
Also, explain to your manager that your kids will be home and you will have to take breaks during the day to care for them. You can also offer to make up the hours on the front or back end of your work day.
Another thing you can do is to make easy-to-heat dinners now and freeze them — it will help your caregiver with easy meal prep, or an older sibling can just heat and serve. Or, buy frozen dinners just to get through the strike period.
Q. What’s an appropriate way to pay a baby-sitter extra if they're putting in more hours?
This is entirely up to the deal you work out with your baby-sitter or nanny. Many will be comfortable with the hourly rate you are already paying while others may be looking for more, especially if it means picking up the kids, making dinner, etc.
Q. Are any day-care centers willing to take your kids in the case of an emergency?
I believe reputable day-care centers will not take your kids in an emergency, since there is typically a tuition or monthly rate involved. Plus, they are only allowed to have a specific amount of children per room, per day. If you have a younger child who is in a day care, you may ask if they will take your older one for a few hours, but my guess is they will say no. If you’re looking for a day care, you can check out our interactive Long Island day-care center database, which features a map of all the New York State-certified facilities. You can easily search by community name, or ZIP code. Many parents do extensive research to find the best day care for their child, so this may not be the best option if you’re looking for something short term.
Q. Is there a place to turn to find a baby-sitter?
If you’re not looking for a long-term baby-sitter, your best bet would be to ask a friend, relative or neighbor to help you out during the strike. If you can’t find someone available to meet your needs, here are a few sites that may help you out — many offer sitters that are available at the last minute. Again, parents must use discretion when searching for a baby-sitter. Call all the references and have them come over to meet the kids, first.
Babysittingbarter.com: Baby-sitting Barter, a Long Island-centric online site. Parents can use the platform for free to trade baby-sitting with family and friends. With a click, a baby-sitting request is sent to the parents' entire co-op village. People willing to sit will respond. They are credited in virtual points that they can then use when they need a sitter. If parents want to connect with paid baby-sitters, they can hire baby-sitters that friends in the neighborhood have used or sitters whose site profile they like. For that, parents pay a fee (starting at $5) to the website and also directly pay the baby-sitter the going rate. Baby-sitters will like the site because they earn a "barter bonus" each time they sit that can be redeemed for cash or coupons and gift cards for area businesses. Baby-sitters can sign up for free. Businesses, such as local restaurants, can also post events on a date-night platform and sitters can sign up to be available for that evening.
Sittercity.com: Parents post a job they need filled and any requirements such as first-aid certification or years of experience. Then the job is sent to all qualified sitters or nannies in the geographic area. Those interested apply for the job via the site. Parents pay a subscription rate of $35 a month for unlimited usage with discounts for longer periods, and they pay the sitter directly for the job. Parents also can browse sitters in their area and handpick particular people. Sitters sign up for the site for free.
Care.com: Parents sign up to use the site starting at $39 plus tax for one month, says Meredith Robertson, senior public relations manager for Care.com. This allows them to create a profile and post jobs. Caregivers will respond to the post, and parents decide whom to hire. They can either pay the baby-sitter directly or through the site. Baby-sitters also pay a fee starting at $39 plus tax for one month to receive job postings.
Babysitters4hire.com: Families punch in their ZIP code on the home page and it will bring up available baby-sitters looking for work. Families pay a monthly fee of $19.99, plus an initial $10 registration fee, or yearly option of $99.99 to be able to post jobs and contact sitters. Parents pay the sitter directly. Baby-sitters post profiles for free, including their experience, availability and more, and can reply to jobs posted.
Q. Is there anything else a parent should do to prepare for the strike?
The most important thing is to make sure your child/children are well taken care of. Start asking around now for help if you must go into work those days. Once you have baby-sitting taken care of during the strike, you’ll be able to rest easier knowing your kids are safe and secure, while you deal with getting to and from work.