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By: Ellen Kamaras

Following on the coattails of Hanukah is the winter break given by our Yeshivot. While our children greatly look forward to this time off from school, for parents it can create both financial and work-related anxiety.

Allow me to share some ways we can give our children a wonderful winter break without breaking the bank and – hopefully reduce our stress levels in the process.


The concept of a staycation has become popular in the last ten years. The term was actually added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2009. A “staycation” is a vacation spent either at home or nearby, doing enjoyable activities or visiting local attractions.
I thought my mother invented the “staycation” in the mid-1960’s!

Staycations will not only save you money but can also help you avoid long lines at airports and the anxiety and frustration associated with long distance travel (packing, security concerns, delayed flights, passports forgotten at home, etc.). We’ve all experienced vacations that were expensive, and perhaps not as restful and enjoyable as we would have hoped for. The need to make every minute count on a pricey and faraway vacation sometimes takes away from the relaxation and bonding we want to experience.

Not Convinced Yet?

If you want your children to have a fabulous vacation without spending more than you can afford and without taking ten days off from work (and incurring your boss’s wrath), please read on.

Presenting a staycation as a win-win situation and modeling a positive outlook will translate into huge returns on investment for your children. Before you know it, the positivity will be contagious. As an added bonus, your children will learn how to remain optimistic in the face of challenges and view the glass as half-full versus half-empty.

Be ready for the push back from your children if/when they start to compare and tell you about the expensive and exotic vacations that their friends are taking. One of the best ways to help ourselves and our children avoid the comparison trap is to express and list on a daily basis the things in our lives that we are grateful for. This helps us replace negative thoughts with positive ones and ensures that we don’t dwell on what we don’t have.

Plan and Prepare, Enlist and BOND

Put your tweens and teenagers in charge of searching out activities and attractions that will appeal to everyone in the family. Make sure the little ones are consulted too! Then, have a family meeting and agree on an itinerary that works for everyone. Allowing our children to be involved in the planning and decision-making process will get them engaged and invested in making the staycation a success. It will also build their self-esteem and teach them how to collaborate, compromise, resolve conflicts, and bond.


There are so many free or wallet-friendly attractions and landmarks to check out in New York City. Tourists come from all over the world to see museums and venues that we, as native New Yorkers, have never stepped foot into. We take for granted that they’ll be there for us always, ready to explore at the next available opportunity. Well, now is the time! Plan an activity around a topic your child is learning about in school. Imagine how proud your child will feel when he or she shares what they experienced with their teacher
and classmates.

If you like wildlife, check out for family memberships to the four NYC Zoos and the Aquarium. The New York Botanical Garden also has family memberships, indoor exhibits, and special events.

Have you walked across the Brooklyn Bridge? First stroll through historic Brooklyn Heights and visit the new Brooklyn Bridge Park or walk along the promenade and enjoy the beautiful NYC skyline. While you’re in downtown Brooklyn, don’t miss the new exhibits at the New York Transit Museum.

Have you ever traveled on the Staten Island Ferry (SIF)? On July 4, 1997, Mayor Giuliani eliminated the 50-cent round trip fare and the SIF became free. Some of my fondest childhood memories date back to that big orange boat. You can choose to tour historic Staten Island or get right back on another ferry to Manhattan.

In Lower Manhattan, visit the Fraunces Tavern Museum, where you can take a free walking tour and follow in the footsteps of General Washington and his troops celebrating the British evacuation. There’s also the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Battery Park, a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island (which can be booked at or a walk around South Street Seaport. Other free tours by foot include one of the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and Brooklyn Heights. When you get hungry, stop to enjoy a kosher lunch at Bravo Pizza in the Financial District at 17 Trinity Place.

Going further uptown, how about a walk on the High Line – an elevated urban linear park running from the Lower West Side/Gansevoort Street to 34th Street? The High Line was an abandoned railway and is now a promenade and aerial greenway. Don’t worry about getting kosher food in the 34th Street area – there are plenty of establishments
to choose from!

Have you ever skated on the ice rink known as “Winter Village” in Bryant Park on 42nd Street? Winter Village is NYC’s only free admission rink. It’s open daily from 8 AM to 10 PM through the month of March. While you’re there, hop on the charming French merry-go-round called Le Carrousel.

Not a fan of cold weather? Another fun way to play tourist (while staying a bit warmer) is to get on a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city.

If you can afford to splurge on one night at a hotel in Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn, it might be worth it. Your family will have a blast and it can feel like a two-day vacation without the hassle of traveling. Find a hotel, request early check in and late check out, and enjoy! There are so many hotels and booking websites to choose from –, Kayak and Expedia are just a few.

It may be cold in New York City during winter break, but you can always run in to the many kosher restaurants throughout the Big Apple for a tea or hot chocolate. If you need a minyan during the day, there are lots to choose from, displayed at this handy web address: The variety of minyanim makes it easy to rejoin your family in NYC when you’re done praying.


Have your children ever been on an AMTRAK train? Taking a train ride to historic Philadelphia can be an exciting adventure. The train ride is fun and only two hours long. Attractions include the Liberty Bell, Franklin Institute, Independence Hall, horse-drawn carriage rides, and much more.


The best perk of winter break is having unadulterated leisure time. During these two weeks, the whole family can sleep in, with kids not having to wake up early to catch the school bus and parents not having to do the same to drive car pool. If you and your husband can’t take the whole day off to enjoy with your kids, give them a lazy morning with a baby sitter or grandparent or arrange play dates with friends. You might also consider taking one or two children to work with you. They’ll enjoy experiencing what their parent’s job entails and they may even be of help. In case they get restless, have them bring along books or art supplies for entertainment.

Back at home, how about bonding over a big puzzle or planning and cooking a meal together? Engaging together in leisure activities is a smart investment that leads to greater emotional bonding within the family.

As adults, we value the benefits of relaxing and unplugging. Our children, too, need to relax, take a break and totally unplug from technology. During this time off, their minds and bodies refuel, recharge and get ready for what’s ahead.

Wishing you all a wonderful winter break!

Ellen Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career and dating coaching. Ellen also supports individuals redefine who they want to be as
their circumstances change, whether it’s due to layoff, empty nesting, loss of
a spouse, divorce, change due to illness or retirement. Ellen can be contacted