Sheila Gallant-Halloran

Made-to-measure travel; please, go away! :-)

The Dilemma: Taking the Kids out of School to Travel

Unless you’re a school teacher, and have few scheduling choices, most parents wrestle with the dilemma: do I take my kids out of school to travel during non-peak (and often more value-laden) times?

Ask any two people, and you’ll likely get three, hotly debated, and firmly entrenched, views.

Like having a baby for the first time, every parent should listen to the views expressed, think about  the relevance to their situation, and then decide what’s right for their family.  Like having your first child, only you will truly know what works, and what doesn’t, for your family. And you and your family will have to live with the decisions you make -enjoying the pros, and suffering the cons. 

I’ve taken my kids out of school to travel.  I’m a travel agent – so opportunities to travel tend to present themselves during non-peak times. There are certainly valued-laden reasons for that (it’s when the specials are on), and there are work reasons (it’s much harder for me to get away if all my clients are away, or about to go away.) Plus, living in Ontario, I don’t get summer 12 months of the year – I like to enjoy good weather at home, when it makes its rare appearance, and travel when my weather is a little less nice.

I’m not alone in that thinking.

Let me use a Disney vacation as an example. Generally speaking, when the kids are out of school, the prices are higher, and the parks are busier. So, if you want specials, and smaller crowds at the park, go when the kids are in school.

Disney, like any smart corporation, times their promotions to deliver the “feet on the ground” when they ordinarily wouldn’t be there. Their marketing machine is pretty well-oiled that way. They want bodies in the park. They run the numbers, and figure out what they have to do to bring them in. If you have to entice folks to pull their kids out of school, you have to give them something. And the “free dining” promo is a valued promo that usually works. (It’s normally $42 USD/ night to purchase for anyone over 9 – so for a family of 4, that’s a savings of ~$1200 USD on a one-week vacation. Pretty good incentive.)

The dining promo, while never guaranteed, has made its appearance in September several years in a row – precisely when the kids are back in school, and it’s hurricane season. (Course, with the economic downturn of October 2008, all conventional promo logic got thrown out the window; and poor US economic times meant the “free dining” promo occurred even during some peak  travel times like March break and summer vacations. That is not usual. We’re seeing returns to normal promo patterns now.)

I’m a Disney specialist. My family has been 18 times, during peak and non-peak times. So, I know the ins and outs of travelling to the parks. Is it possible to travel to Disney during Christmas, March break, Easter, and summer vacation; and still have an awesome time? Sure, it is – especially if you stay onsite, and take advantage of “extra magic hours” to plan your days to avoid the heavier traffic times. But is it easier to travel when it’s not Christmas, March break, Easter, and summer vacation; and see smaller crowds? You betcha!

It’s all supply and demand. Flight, hotel, tour, and cruise prices tend to rise when the demand is heavy.

So, it was always a fairly easy decision for my family. We took my daughter out of school to travel when she was in preschool and junior school. I’m a firm believer in the idea that travel is educational. And family time, away from work and other responsibilities, has to be carved out and appreciated whenever you can make it work for all involved.

Taking my daughter out of preschool and junior school took consultation, planning, and work. We always try to minimize any disruption to the classroom and the teacher. We believe if we pull our kid out of school, we have to be responsible to ensure she’s covered the material, and we don’t unduly compromise her school education. If we make the decision to take her out, then we are accepting the responsiblity to ensure she’s where she needs to be, academically. We would meet with teachers several weeks before travelling to let them know our plans, and we always got assigned work for the time we were away. That meant each day of vacation (and the days leading up to it), we were doing homework, and covering material. Last year, her teacher actually assigned my daughter work related to our vacation spot – we were visiting countries in Epcot, and she had daily assignments to learn about each country’s population, its main industry, its language, and its leaders. It was truly a fun, and educational, part of our vacation. And the effort also benefitted what she was studying when she returned to school.

But – our daughter’s school was open to working with us on that. Her teachers were supportive of our decisions (as long as we took responsibility to cover the work missed). In preschool and junior school, our daughter also only had one main teacher, and one homeroom – so there was a limited number of people with whom we had to consult, and involve in the planning. Plus, our daughter does quite well in school. We didn’t mind taking her out at a specific time (say, adjacent to a school break, or at the beginning of the school year) because of those reasons. 

Now that my eldest is in middle school, though, it would take a lot more consultation, planning, and work to take her out of school. (My youngest is now in junior kindergarten, so the concerns about the eldest will guide.) And, unless the opportunity was just unbelievably aswesome (well, I’m a travel agent – so opportunities will present themselves), we’ll probably not embrace taking her out of school as quickly as we have in the past.

Circumstances change. My eldest daughter’s course load is different this year, and some of her classes are very participatory and have sequential learning. So, missing a week’s worth of classroom time can be significant, and it could put her at a deficit situation that would tax me heavily to help her recover. (She’s taking an extended French course, and is studying humanities in French. Sequential math courses I could help her with, no problem – I am an actuary. Sequential French courses, and humanities in French – not so much. :-)…) Plus, my eldest now moves classrooms for courses, and has a host of different teachers. It’s a different undertaking to pull her out of school this year. The decision would be more complicated than before, and the responsibility on my husband and I to help her cover missed ground would increase.

So, I completely understand the dilemma parents face.

My advice? Consider how much consultation, planning, and work you are willing to undertake as a family to make it happen. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages to your family, consider your children’s situation, and discuss the matter with teachers. If, as parents, you’re willing to accept the responsibility to ensure your children’s education is not unduly compromised (even if that means doing word problems each vacation morning, instead of hitting the parks right away), and your children and their schools are open to it, it can work. But parents have to consult, plan, and do the work to make it work well.

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October 5, 2010 - Posted by | Lush Life Kids, Lush Life Other Items, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice

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