Eighteen glorious days.
Only half spent today, winter break stretches in front of Lee County students, enticing them with a freedom sweeter than eggnog — and leaving their parents with the hangover.
The very thing kids love about vacation, endless hours with nothing to do, is enough to drive mom and dad to distraction.
Suggesting homework on the second day of freedom seems cruel, but by the second week it almost seems like the only option.
Which is where people like Heather O'Connell come in.
In a few keystrokes, kids can be both educated and entertained, exploring links suggested by the Lee County Public Library numerous enough to take them right up to Jan. 3, refreshed and ready to learn.
O'Connell, the library's spokeswoman, counts among her favorites www.tumblebook.com, where illustrated story books come to life, being read aloud as spots of text are highlighted for beginning readers, or where older students can navigate the pages themselves.
Reading time for the books is often short enough to be fit into spare moments the holidays offer, O'Connell said, and students can choose options that present them with grade-appropriate vocabulary words and quizzes. They can even file a book report, she said.
"I know you shouldn't mention homework on the holidays, but it's a good time to work it in," O'Connell said.
Kids with a library card can learn from home just by entering their membership number, opening online databases and encyclopedias, as well as getting tips on starting science fair and research projects.
Parents can even give learning a seasonal spin, O'Connell said, researching holidays around the world or even St. Nick himself.
Other learning options this break:
• Older children can learn more about the world around them visually at the Southwest Florida Museum of History in Fort Myers, where the photographs of J. Charles McCullough are on display, showing 60 years of people and places on Sanibel Island.
Helena Finnegan, public relations and marketing manager for the museum, said the exhibit is appropriate for middle and high school students.
Teens can also explore the beginning of Fort Myers itself, the citrus industry and the history of the Calusa in recently expanded exhibits.
A booklet that can be printed online quizzes students on what they learn about Southwest Florida history while at the museum, offering queries about Indians, Spanish explorers and the role African Americans and women played in the region's development.
• Nearby, the Imaginarium Hands-on Museum offers kids a chance to crawl through a giant replica of a human heart and walk through a dizzy tunnel that teaches them about equilibrium.
The exhibit, called Body Carnival, teaches about anatomy and physiology. It runs through Dec. 31.
Meanwhile, some kids are getting their own bodies in motion.
• The Bonita Springs Recreation Center is hosting its holiday camp until school starts again.
Jack Campbell, parks and recreation manager for the city, said kids from 6 to 12 participate in activities in the gym, play games and make visits to the library for $20 a day.
The camp runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It takes 20 children and had a few openings shortly after winter break already was under way.
• Lovers Key State Park offers another daily option, its junior ranger program for kids 5 and older.
The program is offered to kids for the cost of admission at the park, though an adult must come along as well to supervise.
About two hours long, the program takes children along the Black Island Trail, the beach and the tram circle kiosk area, teaching them to look for clues in the outdoors, according to the park.