Catherine Toth Fox: The Gift That Every Parent Wants For Christmas - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

December brings a different kind of anxiety for parents, one that has nothing to do with holiday potlucks, ugly sweaters, photos with Santa and the seemingly endless list of gifts to buy.

It’s called winter break.

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It was something we couldn’t wait for as kids, the time of the year when the cooler weather called for lazy mornings in front of the TV (or Super NES, depending on how old you are) and afternoons that weren’t ruined by homework or piano practice.

For kids, winter break is a languid, carefree couple of weeks. For parents, especially those without family to help, it’s a mad scramble to find child care in an environment that already lacks it.

For me, I was fortunate enough to nab a sought-after slot for my 6-year-old son in the Discovery Camps run by the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako. These camps — with hands-on activities, outdoor play and time in the center’s educational galleries — are offered throughout the year and timed during school breaks. They’re themed — one was focused on animals, another on Dr. Seuss, another on magic — and run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with lunch provided for an extra charge.

These camps have been a lifesaver for working parents like me. Because there’s no way I can relive 2020 with an antsy kid at home interrupting Zoom meetings and asking me for snacks every 10 minutes.

But Hawaii parents need more options.

I have friends on the waitlist for the various winter-break programs on Oahu, resorting to burning vacation days to watch their kids. Not everyone has able-bodied parents who can — or are willing to — help with child care; some of my friends with kids don’t have any family here at all. It’s also unsustainable for parents to use 10 to 11 vacation days starting next week — for both public schools and most private schools — to care for their kids at home. And that’s just for winter break. Schools also have breaks in the spring, summer and more recently, fall, too.

It’s hard enough finding child care in Hawaii, period. According to the 2020 Hawaii Early Learning Needs Assessment, total capacity of licensed child care is sufficient for just 23.3% of Hawaii’s total population of kids from birth to age 5. Demand is mostly for care during the weekdays, when parents are working, but there aren’t enough spots for young children to meet the demand. Cost of care is another significant barrier for families, especially low-income households, with the average annual cost of center-based care for an infant at $13,494, $11,904 for a toddler, and $8,724 for a 4-year-old, according to the report.

If there isn’t enough sufficient child care for kids under 5, there are definitely not enough quality programs to fill in the gaps in care during the school year for kids of all ages.

The Honolulu Zoo has launched a five-day Zoo Camp that uses a wildlife learning-based approach. Photo: Honolulu Zoo Society

The Honolulu Zoo launched its Zoo Camp to mimic its summer program, using a wildlife learning-based approach with weekly themes and fun, hands-on activities.

The popular winter camp cost $400 for five days ($360 for zoo members), which runs from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (You can pay more to leave your kids until 5:30 p.m.) Each camp, which is split by age groups, is limited to just 20 kids. (The camp for older kids — aged 9 to 11 — is limited to 10.)

The zoo has seen an increase in demand after Covid-19, says Gigi Hom Bañales, education coordinator for the Honolulu Zoo Society. 

“Moving forward, we would one day like to have enough funds to expand our education classroom to accommodate even more campers,” she says. “We are also looking at a scholarship program to make Zoo Camp more affordable to more local families.”

This demand for child care during school breaks fueled owner Maranda Mecom to add more camps at Oahu Gymnastics and Ninja in Kailua. This year’s winter camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the two weeks most kids have off. It costs $100 per day or $400 for a week and it’s open to kids older than 3, (as long as they’re potty-trained).

“We started with a few camps, but the demand was so high, we quickly added more,” she says. “Parents continue to express how grateful they were to have a place to send their kids where they could be active and learn new things over the break.”

Right now OGN only takes 35 kids for the first week of winter camp and 25 for the second, and there’s a waitlist. But as demand grows, so will these camps, Mecom says.

“A lot of families need child care over school breaks as parents work … Parents really seem to love that their kids can come here and be active all day, (then) go home tired and happy.”

Trust me, that’s really the kind of gifts parents want this Christmas.

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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

Simultaneously to adding more childrenʻs programs during breaks, the Hawaii BOE should revisit the current public school schedule. A week long fall break, spring break, plus over 2 weeks winter break, plus various waiver days which are not tacked on to a break but occur randomly throughout the year, is ridiculous. I donʻt even get that much vacation time! Iʻm going to age myself here, but when I was in public school we attended from right after Labor Day in September to Christmas break, then returned in January and carried on until early June, before our summer break. We had a rare day off tacked on to a weekend. Parent teacher conferences were held in the afternoon or evenings. We didnʻt have fall or spring breaks, those were things that happened in college to mark the end of a semester.They are not needed in K-12. The semester can still end at these designated times but a week long break in between is overkill. Multiple week-long breaks throughout the year are a catastrophe for working parents. Starting school in August and ending in late May could be moved a few weeks back. Thereʻs no need to head back to the classroom when itʻs still truly summer time.

lisa · 5 months ago

Schools should stay open with a skeleton crew over these breaks, providing care for those families that need it. Schools already function as childcare - allowing parents to work - 80% of the time, so why not just bump that percentage higher?

CATipton · 5 months ago

What my wife and I decided when the kids were young was that one of us was going to be the corporate parent and the other was going to be the education parent. I was the latter. My days off coincided with my kids and dad was the one to take them to the zoo, the beach and shuttle them here and there. We took very few off island vacations. The kids were enrolled in club sports and therefore had practices in the afternoons and evenings. It wasn’t so bad, provided one parent held down the fort.

Ohwiseone · 5 months ago

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