School hallways may have been empty for the past two weeks, but county recreation and community centers were brimming with children, part of a growing trend of enrichment activities during school holidays long and short.
The Fairfax County Park Authority has expanded its winter break and spring break offerings for children in recent years. The Park Authority has also beefed up its options on one- and two-day school holidays such as Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 20, or teacher work days coming up on Jan. 30-31.
“We’ve definitely ramped up our offerings for school breaks, especially winter break,” said Ellen Werthmann, the youth services manager for the Park Authority. “We’re seeing a need we can fill, as many parents do not or cannot take off the full two weeks.”
Fairfax students enjoyed the longest possible winter break schedule this year, with 16 days off. The placement of New Year’s Day on a Wednesday led the county to give a second full week off rather than bring students back for a two-day school week Jan. 2-3.
The long break allowed the Park Authority to offer a wider selection than the traditional 11-day schedule.
“We’re among the largest providers of camps and activities in Northern Virginia,” said Judy Pedersen, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Park Authority. “Parents and families really depend on us because they want some place safe but also interesting and engaging for their children to go, particularly when schools are not in session.”
For winter break, two-day camps ran Dec. 26-27, and four-day camps took place this week, with a midweek break for New Year’s Day. Camps ranging in subject from chemistry to movie-making and robotics to sports spread across the county’s recreation centers.
Activities offered on school holidays offer both organizers and participants a chance to test the waters.
“Kids and parents can sign up for these activities as a sampler,” Werthmann said. “They can think of it as a trial session for longer summer camps.”
The Park Authority does the same, monitoring which camps and workshops garner the most enthusiasm and the most participants. For example, two engineering camps this week at the Oak Marr RECenter in Oakton were full, so the park service plans to add other similar offerings to its upcoming schedule.
Sports and chess camps are also perennially popular options, so Martin Luther King Day features a chess camp for children ages 5-14 and a mountain biking camp for children ages 9-14.
The Town of Herndon Parks and Recreation Department also has noted an increase in interest in activities for the one- or two-day “mini-holidays,” according to Ann Marie Heiser, the department’s deputy director.
“Parents need child care when schools are not in session, even if it’s one or two days,” Heiser said. “Some parents don’t have the resources or support for other options, but they still want a reliable, trustworthy place they can leave their children during the day.”
So Herndon is holding a traditional full-day camps, running from 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., scheduled to fit around a standard work day.
With winter break at an end, the Herndon Parks and Recreation Department and Fairfax County Parks Authority are both starting preparation for spring break and summer programs. Registration opens in early February.