Hurricane Sandy did away with the traditional week long winter vacation that celebrates both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday’s and conserves schoolhouse energy at the same time. This year all students get is a four day weekend. Here are some suggestions to make the most of it and take the opportunity to explore some free or very low cost -- and lesser-known -- attractions. Most are closed on Mondays, however, so plan those excursions for the weekend or Tuesday. 

Federal Reserve Bank: Act quickly for a chance for older kids (16 plus) to visit the fabled gold depository and learn more about the institution that has been so much in the news since the economy went south. Call  212-720-6130 for immediate information about ticket availability—a 3-4 week wait for tickets is typical but either you’ll be surprised or you can reserve for a future date. Tours last approximately an hour, and begin on the hour from 9:30 am - 3:30 pm daily.

The Wall Streetarea and the 9/11 memorial, South Street Seaport, and Chinatown all have charms of their own – you can stroll about or make plans to visit museums and landmarks.

Speaking of Chinatown: Sunday Feb 17 is the annual New Year Parade and Festival. It's crowded,  it's noisy and it's a lot of fun!

Birds and other aquatic wildlife are always on view – even in winter—at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve. The preserve is part of Gateway National Park, part of which is still out of service because of  Hurricaine Sandy. This area of the park and some others in Staten Island are still open.

Wave Hill in the Bronx invites you to explore the outdoors (weather permitting), then come inside for an artist-led creative project or a session of fitness and movement. Programs are geared for families with children between five and ten years old. Admission is free for Bronx residents from February 16–24, and is free for all on February 18.

Don’t underestimate the public library as a resource. Branch libraries are closed Mondays, alas. For Tuesday, check what’s doing at the library nearest you: Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island branches, Brooklyn and Queens . Random clicking helped uncover several family crafts and arts workshops in Queens; homework help and book buddies in Brooklyn, young adult games in the Bronx and crafts in Staten Island.

You have nearly three weeks to do your own research and be prepared to fill up at least one of the extra days. And, hey, don’t forget, kids can always use the time to catch up on homework, read, play board games... just don’t let them stay up too late and lose the early-to-rise rhythm of the regular school year.