Is It a Snow Day? What To Do When Winter Weather Hits Your Childcare Center

The cold and snow is here and with it, a wide variety of extreme weather is expected across the country during the upcoming winter season. However, record cold weather and snowfalls have been surprising even regions that are used to experiencing severe winter.  In addition, some unexpected places are seeing snow for the first time. 

No matter where you’re located or what you’re accustomed to, when you look out the window in the morning and see snow accumulating, the first question on your mind is: “should we call a snow day today?”

In this guide, we’ll explain what to look for when making the decision to close your childcare center due to severe winter weather.

How To Make the Call – What to Consider?

Making the decision to call a snow day isn’t an easy one; there are many factors to take into consideration.

The utmost item to consider is the safety of the families and the educators that may be trying to get to the facility.  f travel is unsafe or inordinately difficult, consideration should be given to calling a snow day.

One of the ways to determine the best and most effective response to the situation is to monitor the weather and road reports. It is also a good idea to check in with the local schools and see if the buses are running. If the schools are closed and transit buses are not operating, it is a good indication that you should be considering closing your facility too.  

Please note, every facility is different and the best decision must be made depending on each facility’s unique location and situation. There may be things to consider that may not be dependent on these factors at all, including:

  • The amount of accumulated snow and ice
  • Whether the snow is predicted to continue throughout the day
  • The temperature and wind chill factors
  • The facility building and parking lot conditions

When making the decision to call a snow day, it is also important to consider the safety and quality of care that will be provided to the children during this time. If the decision to remain open is made, will the facility be able to maintain its educator to child ratio in the event not all the staff can make it in? Are there other issues to consider like heating, water or power failures? Is there an inability to obtain the resources required? An example of this may be a facility that has hot lunch delivered to the children each day that experiences an interruption of food service.

In a circumstance where an unexpected event causes a service delivery problem, facilities must look to the children and ensure that their lived experience is not going to be a negative one, even in the short term.

Preparation and Planning

Unfortunately, snowstorms don’t often follow a schedule, so the first place to start is to make a snow day plan well before you need one. Chances are when the snowstorm comes it will seem chaotic and in the event that the facility cannot open there should be a pre-planned way to let the families and educators know what is happening. For facilities that don’t often experience bad weather, it is a good idea to have an “unexpected closure” policy and plan in place as it can cover any unexpected closure event including large snowfalls.

In the event a decision to close the facility is made before opening up for the day, use your pre-planned method of distributing this information to families and educators.  Some facilities have a web page, email, text lists or a childcare app and can broadcast the information that way. Changing the facility voicemail and making an announcement on local radio stations are some other ways to get the message out. The responsibility should lie with the families and the educators to search out these methods of receiving the information about unexpected closures, however the onus lies with the facility to pre-load and educate the families as to how to seek it out when the time comes.

If the snow starts to fall while in session and the weather starts to deteriorate, the approach will need to be a little different. As with the above procedure, this plan should also be provided to families ahead of time so everybody knows what to expect. Families should know they may be asked to wait at the facility to ensure ratio is met before leaving.  Weather and road conditions should be monitored throughout the day and if the decision is made to close early, families will be contacted by telephone and asked to return to the facility as soon as possible and pick up their children.

Educator Wages and Refunds

So you have made the decision to call the snow day, now what? What happens with staff wages and the family’s fees? In many situations, unexpected closures and events are chalked up to circumstances originating beyond the facility’s control and a caveat can be built into the policy distributed to the families that does not offer refunds for such closures. This ensures the educators are paid for missing work through no fault of their own and most families are understanding as they have been informed of this policy ahead of time. Alternatively, if the facility has the capacity to offer “make up” days to the families, then this avenue should be considered as part of the unexpected closure policy.

The decision to pay educators, or to refund families is ultimately up to the operator. However, it is always advisable to check in with your local employment standards branch and to ensure that you research any legalities surrounding policies regarding childcare fee payments from families.

One final word about unexpected closures: always contact your local childcare licensing authority to find out if service delivery problems need to be reported.

Ready to create or update your snow day policy? See our guide to creating a parent handbook!

Kristen Hunt

Kristen Hunt is a Licensed Early Childhood Educator and Professional who has worked in a variety of different environments during her 30-year career. A life-long learner, Kristen has an educational background in ECE, Montessori, Human Resources, Community Care Licensing, Violence Prevention, Harm Reduction, Reconciliation, and is also a registered Kindermusik and Yoga Instructor.

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