Thursday, October 15, 2009

Getting An "A" In Imagineering

One of the most hotly contested questions about traveling with school-age children is "When is it okay or appropriate to take your child out of school for travel?" Sometimes this question is pretty easy to answer. Are you going to Athens to see the Parthenon? That's pretty educational! Are you going to Aunt Suzie's wedding? That's pretty important! Are you taking the kids to Disney World? um... well... um...

So before I go any further into this topic, I'd like to start by saying that ultimately, I do believe the decision to take a child or children out of school for a family vacation is entirely up to the parent. Each child is different and has different abilities to recuperate from a period of missed work. But before I alienate all the teachers in the room, and as someone with a little (very little) classroom teaching experience, it is also sometimes unreasonable to expect the teacher to be able to prepare a week's worth of work in advance for that child to take with him. Sometimes it can be done and sometimes it can't. It really depends on the level of learning and the topic(s) being covered. The key to all of that will be communication. This is not something to pop on a teacher at the last minute.

Backing up a little, why would you even want to take your kids out of school to go to Disney World? There are several reasons, actually. The most common is that Disney costs less when most schools in America are in session. The parks are also most crowded at times that most kids in America are out of school (Christmas, Easter, and summer vacation). Special events might draw you to the parks at other times of the year as well, such as Marathon Weekend, ESPN The Weekend, Night of Joy, or the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, not to mention a family reunion or wedding being held at the resorts.

So what are the things you should consider when deciding whether or not to take your child out of school? Here are a number of factors for you to keep in mind:
  • Is it really necessary for you to go when school is in session? - There are lots of ways to avoid crowds while still working with the school calendar. Compare your summer break to those of other school systems. Maybe you get out a week earlier, or maybe you stay out past Labor Day. Labor Day is one of the least busy holiday weekends for Disney, probably because it's hurricane season but also because many schools start just before the weekend begins. Or maybe your spring break is not over Easter, which is by far the busiest week of the spring.

  • What is the school's policy? - I have a friend who submitted forms asking both his children to be excused for a Disney trip. The older child's school approved the trip as educational, the younger child's school did not. Know before you complete the form what the climate is in your school.

  • How old is your child? - The further along in school they are, the harder it will be for them to leave and come back caught up. It will also be harder for them to find enough time while on vacation to sit and do homework in order to stay caught up. This is, after all, a vacation. Maybe you don't mind checking your work email every four minutes on your Blackberry while on vacation (although I recommend you not do that), but your kids are not going to want to do homework at any point.

  • What are your child's abilities? - If your son or daughter is already struggling in school, it's not a good idea to pull them out for a vacation. That is simply complicating something for them that is already pretty tough.

If you consider all these factors and still decide pulling your child out of school is best for your family, plan carefully so that the impact of the missed days is minimal. Talk to your child's teacher and give them as much notice as possible. Try to encourage your child to work ahead, so that on the trip, he is not so much pressured to keep up. If he does have homework to do on the trip, carve out times during the trip that are meant for that purpose.

Again, it's a very personal decision. You know your child best. Your teacher should also have a voice in this decision, as she is the one who will need to accommodate and adjust her plans for this family trip. Her cooperation will be key in your child's successful return to the classroom. And don't leave your child out of the discussion. Many children get anxious about missing school. Be sure your child is on board with your plans as well and is ready to do the extra work to ensure he can get right back in the swim of things.

In the end, no matter what you decide, you can have a fabulous family vacation. Going in the summer or over a holiday will mean higher rates and bigger crowds, but if all of that is accounted for in your planning, you will be fine.


Unknown said...

As my mother would always say, "This is when having a good personal relationship with your child(ren)'s teachers pays off".

Until we go into high school, my mom had a relationship with my teachers that many kids would probably classify as unhealthy. She had all their phone numbers and they had hers. She often met with my teachers and in many cases because good friends with them.

She never had problems pulling us out of school.

Anonymous said...

When I was in high school in the late 80s they instituted a one letter grade drop for 10 days of absence policy. This included sick days. My parents had already booked a week in Disney, and despite me being a stellar student (graduated 9th in my class) and the non-refundable expenses, our school fought hard against me going. We went. For me it was definitely the right choice, but I know plenty of students for whom this would/could be a permanent set back for the year. Teachers had nothing to do with it, it was administration level policy. They did take some points off of my grade point for it. Hopefully the school district isn't as strict now, but I understand the juggling act they are faced with. There is such a large block of time over which to take your kids when school is not is session. Disney is not an incredibly cultural or educational experience unless attempts are truly made to make it that way. Thanks for a balanced piece.

Parker said...

Thanks for this, my wife and I have this conversation every other week. My son is in first grade my daughter is nursery school. I think now, while my son is still in grade school and a bit ahead of the other students and my daughter hasn't start kindergarten yet, is the prefect time to go.

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