Should My Child Miss School for a Disney World Vacation?

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The value season at Disney World has much that appeals, notably low crowds and low hotel prices. That’s great if you’re an adult looking to visit Disney with a minimum of fuss; you can plan your trip to take advantage of value pricing and promotions. But the sticky wicket for parents is that those oh-so-attractive value rates typically occur during times like October and January, smack in the middle of the school year.

Though not always true, typically the younger the child, the fewer repercussions you'll face if they miss school.

Though not always true, typically the younger the child, the fewer repercussions you’ll face if they miss school.

Thus comes the eternal conundrum, “Should I pull my child out of school to go to Disney World?” I’m not here to answer the question for you (without knowing your family situation, that would be akin to travel blogger malpractice), but there a number of variables you may want to consider as you ponder whether it makes sense for you to have your child miss school for a family vacation.

How old is my child?

Back in the day, I once stressed about pulling my daughter out of preschool for a family trip. When I mentioned my anxiety to her teacher, she looked at me like I was insane and said, “It’s letter G week. I’m pretty sure that eventually she’ll figure out the letter G.” Her comment highlights that it is often easy to recover from some missed early lessons. Fast forward several years and this same daughter (who now has full grasp of G) is now in an advanced calculus class in high school. She came home recently and said, “I went to the bathroom for five minutes and was completely lost for the next two days.”

The older the child, the higher the stakes will be for missing school for any reason.

Does my child have any academic challenges?

While an academically advanced child may be able to recover quickly from missed lessons, a child with academic challenges may face a long struggle to regain mastery in the classroom. Consider whether you want to put the child, and his teacher, in this position.

Does my child have any medical or emotional challenges?

Some children with medical or emotional challenges will find it particularly difficult to cope with a change in routine. Will breaking from the child’s schedule trigger a setback in treatment progress or educational stability?

On the other hand, a child with sensory processing issues may be able to cope with visiting Disney World during the slow season, but be completely overwhelmed during peak seasons. For a family looking for a relaxing vacation, this may outweigh some of the school-related issues.

Are there legitimate academic benefits to your vacation?

Are there legitimate academic benefits to your vacation?

What are my school district’s policies on this matter?

Some states and regional municipalities have clear policies against any non-medical absence. Depending your district, you may face actual legal penalties if you remove your child from school for vacation. Be sure to research this topic before making any plans.

How does my child’s teacher feel about this?

As noted earlier, my daughter’s preschool teacher had no problem with me pulling her out of class for a Disney vacation. Through unscientific observation of Disney guests, I’ve seen that this is a typical reaction of many teachers up until about third grade. After that, a significantly higher percentage of teachers have problems with non-medical absences. You may or may not care what the teacher thinks, but if you want assistance with make-up lessons or additional assignments, then you’ll have more of a challenge on your hands.

Bear in mind that in older grades a teacher might have to construct an entirely new test or lab assignment for an absent child, possibly incurring hours of extra work.

Is there anything academic that would be particularly difficult to miss?

It may be relatively easy for a child to read a novel and write a reflection while on the road, but there are many other academic activities which can only be done in the classroom. Is this the one week a year where your school does frog dissection? Would that be a problem for your biology obsessed son? Is this the week that the famous author comes to do a reading? Would your future novelist be outraged to miss this? Is this the month that your school puts on the Colonial Fair, or goes on a field trip to Washington, or does stock market simulations? Is this testing week? Do some research before committing.

Jiminy says, "Can you live with your conscience if you miss it?"

Jiminy says, “Can you live with your conscience if you miss it?”

Is there anything non-academic at school (or elsewhere) that would be difficult to miss?

When my oldest was in middle school, we planned a mommy/daughter bonding trip to WDW to participate in a RunDisney race together. I thought I was savvy to the pitfalls of missing school and arranged our trip so that she would only miss half a day of class. This turned out to be the half a day in which her school took the photo of the entire 8th grade. You know, the one that would hang in the school lobby forever. After much discussion and hand-wringing, we were able to switch to flight a few hours later so that she could be in the picture.

Again, before committing to a mid-year vacation, ask around to see what pitfalls your might encounter. Is this the week of the school play? Will the soccer coach cut kids who exceed an absence limit? Will you be traveling during your child’s optimal SAT test date? Is this audition time for the ballet/choir/violin group? When is the school carnival? You get the idea.

Does my child have an opinion about this topic?

Some kids are thrilled to have any excuse to miss school. Others will feel guilt/sadness/fear about missing class time. You are obviously the adult making the final call, but it may be worth checking in with your child on the topic.

If you’re planning to surprise your child with a trip, you may want to think about how he has reacted to school absences for medical reasons.

Would any part of my plan involve a lie?

Some folks will take their children out of class for vacation but tell the school administration that there are medical issues (or some other fabrication). I’m not here to judge, but I will note that young children are particularly poor at secret keeping. You can expect that if you go to Disney World, your child’s teacher will know about it.

Is there really no other travel time that makes sense?

The veeeery cheapest travel times may be during the school year, but your district’s calendar may allow travel during an almost cheapest time without the need to miss school. Take a look at stealth holidays (Patriot’s Day, Teacher Conference Week, Yom Kippur, etc.) that may allow travel during the school year.

Will your child be missing any particularly unique experiences at school?

Will your child be missing any particularly unique experiences at school?

Is there any true academic benefit to the trip?

Some folks will claim that a Disney vacation educational. That may be true, but then again it may not. If you’re trying to “sell” your teacher or administration on the absence, try to provide some tangible academic benefit such as participation in a Disney Youth Education program.

Is there any uncommon family benefit to the trip?

There are some unique family experiences that trump nearly all academic issues. For example, if a military parent is home for only a brief leave, a vacation together might be well worth some missed classes. Other possible examples include a wedding or a grandparent’s significant birthday.

What’s the general zeitgeist on this topic in my community? Do I care?

Some communities have a “It’s my kid and I’ll do what I want” attitude about missing school, while others have a “Oh Em Gee, did you hear that the Smith’s took little Susie out of school for a trip to Disney World, they’re so irresponsible” attitude. You may or may not care about this, but if you’re in community #2, you may want to consider whether your child might overhear any negative chatter about your family and how you’ll react if he does.

At what point in the school year will the absence occur?

Disney rates are quite low in September, but in many parts of the country the school year is just beginning then. Will an absence early in the year impede your child’s bonding with new friends or a new teacher? Conversely, might it be easier to recover from missed lessons during the review-from-last-year season?

How many days of school will the child miss?

There’s a difference between having your child miss one or two days of school vs. having him miss a week or more. Something to consider.

Will the after effects of the trip impact additional school days?

If you’re traveling from another time zone or if your flight will arrive home late at night, your child may experience exhaustion that carries forward for several days after you return home. You may want to consider those “lost days” in your planning process.

Is this absence something that’s likely to be repeated?

Missing school days for one vacation during a year, or set of years, is one type of issue. Missing school days for several vacations per year is a mouse of a different color. Think about all the issues above, but magnified, if you’re a family of frequent school year travelers.

Do you have any other things to think about for guests considering taking their child out of school for a Disney vacation? Would these questions apply to any vacation or just a Disney vacation? Let us know in the comments below.

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Posted on January 1, 2014

26 Responses to “Should My Child Miss School for a Disney World Vacation?”

  • We took our daughter out during 3rd grade for a week to visit Disneyland during the off-season. Long before we finalized any plans I talked to her teacher and got her blessing. She knew our daughter was very responsible, making straight A’s and would not have an issue catching up on lessons she missed. The teacher gave us work that our daughter completed the weekend before we left on the trip so we didn’t even have to worry about doing it during the trip or after we got home. It was completely worth it for us to get to go when the park wasn’t busy and the weather was not too hot. We are planning to take her out again in 2015 when she will be in 6th grade and my youngest will be in kindergarten. I anticipate this will be a little more difficult as far as make-up work goes but hopefully with my daughter being such a good student it will be OK. If she struggled in school I would definitely be more hesitant to take her out. We also have to make sure we don’t take her out during rehearsals or performances of the school play or during the state’s testing periods.

  • I pull my kids out (7th grade and 1st grade). When they are 30, these school absences won’t matter, but the memories with family will.

    • I agree completely!

    • Right on! I think the teachers themselves would do it too, if they could.

    • You hit the nail on the head!

    • Funny you should use those ages and grades. I’m 30 and while reading this article I was thinking about when my parents took me out of school when I was in 7th grade to go to Florida for a whole month! And to Disney for a week. The school said I’d have to make up the sewing class I would miss in the summer. (I requested a failing grade instead since I had straight A’s and to this day could not care less about sewing.) Results- I am now a life-long Disney lover and return frequently. I run my own successful business despite the times I missed school to go on vacation. I have wonderful warm memories of my family and Disney World. And I learned how to sew on a button all on my own.

  • We recently came home from Disney. I pulled my 3 children, 7th, 5th and 1st grades out 3 day before Christmas break. The two elementary age children was no problem. But my 7th grader is in advanced classes and he had finals so it was more difficult for him. I contacted all of his teachers and didn’t tell them where we were going but that we would be out of town and it is unexcused. Most of the teachers were appreciative that I emailed them early and they were able to give him his finals before he left. One teachers was a little harder to work with. She was going to give him zeros for his daily work he would miss. That is a big deal for a child in advanced classes. She worked with us and all ended up well . It did make me realize that from this age on, no vacation is really worth the stress it puts on my child to try and get everything done in school. My advice would be to be honest with the teachers but really weigh the consequences of taking them out and decide if it is worth it for your children.

  • It will be far more beneficial and educational than what our schools teach kids today.

  • We pulled our kids out (1st and 8th) last Sept./Oct. for the week. Both kids are smart, well above the national average, and we made sure to get their work for the week prior to leaving. I also spoke to all of my daughter’s teachers, since she was older and I was more concerned about her missing something. Most of her teachers were totally on board with her missing class. She had ONE teacher though who acted like I was ending her life and has continued to make it hard on her – almost to the point that I’m thinking about talking to the district about her treatment. Other than that, I completely agree with Michael above. The memories will follow them for a lifetime. It’s been almost 3 months and there isn’t a day that goes by one of us don’t bring up something that happened on that trip.

  • by Carmen Pietsch on January 1, 2014, at 1:55 pm EDT

    We have been to DIsneyland the last 2 years and have a trip booked for the first part of February this year and we take all 4 of our children out of school for 5 days but plan it while teachers convention is on. We go for 9 days. They are in grades 12, 9, 6, and 3. I find if you plan ahead and get the homework ahead the kids usually don’t miss anything. Last year my kids did their homework ahead of time and were actually ahead of the class when we got back because the class didn’t get as far ahead as the teacher thought.
    I think the travel experience and family time out weighs the time missed from school. We are from Canada so it is nice to get away and enjoy some sunshine and nice weather in the middle of a very cold snowy winter. I think it kind of recharges the kids.
    Not sure how we are going to work the family vacation when our oldest goes to college but we will cross that bridge next year. Looking forward to Disneyland in 35 days. Happy New Year

  • A lot of good things to consider. We pulled my daughter out of a week of school in the first grade. Her sweet teacher was fine with it, and gave us all of her work in advance to complete. It was not a problem – about an hour of work, and everything worked out great. I talked to the second grade teacher about taking her out of school the first week in December for a super cheap Disney cruise. She was fine with it, too (as long as we brought her a souvenir, she told me. Sounds like a deal!). We ultimately decided against it, because we felt like it was unfair to my daughter for her to have to make up all of that work. I would take my kids out of school for a day or two for a trip, but no more than that, because the oldest will have a lot of makeup work from now on. I am glad we took the trip when she was younger, though. I am just crossing my fingers and hoping that my husband’s work schedule will allow him to take vacation during fall break from now on.

  • Teacher here. I have no problem with the concept of pulling kids out of school for family vacations – trust me if I could go to Disney when it was less expensive I certainly would, and my parents pulled me out occasionally when I was young to align with days my father could miss work.

    The only thing I ask is that you remember that every day your child misses means more work for the teacher – getting things ready for your child to take with him, catching him up on missed work when he returns, and spending time with him while he retakes any missed quizzes or tests. Teachers have to take time out of their planning time to do this in addition to staying in for lunch and/or recess with your child so he can catch up. It’s hard to use, say study hall time for things like this, because I’m using that time to help kids who were actually present for my class but might need extra review. So remember – please be patient and grateful towards the teachers who are using their personal time to help the child you decided to pull out of school.

    A simple e-mail or a note saying that you acknowledge and appreciate the extra time the teacher is taking to prepare paperwork or help your child catch up on missed class goes a long way.

  • I am also a teacher and work at the high school level. If you are responsible and have a student with good grades who stays on top of assignments and isn’t gone from school for every little sniffle, great, have fun! Just like Betsy said, realize that our time is valuable, and yes, what we teach in class is as well too. Have your child schedule a time outside of the class they have with me to talk about missed work. I have lots to get done in the 50 minutes of class time. Technology is ever advancing. I have started videoing some of my classes for students to live stream or watch when they are gone. This is something you may want to check into with older students, especially if they miss lecture classes. I love Disney and am on a budget just as much as the next person, just try to find a time when missed school is minimal to find a good balance.

  • College teacher here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students tell instructors who work in my program that they “have” to miss class for a family vacation. The typical response is “you’ve seen the attendance policy, you know the impact of missing class, make your decision.” And yes, as the supervisor, I’ve had parents of 20 year old college students call me angry that a Disney trip doesn’t rate the same level of service as a catastrophic medical emergency. At first I found this shocking — but now it’s just part of my job :-)

  • We did it in Sept. with our 3rd and 5th graders. They missed a couple of days and they had a random 3-day (non holiday) weekend so we squeezed in 6 days. Academically it was fine since it was during the “review of last year” period but it was disruptive with respect to getting into the school year routine..and catching up the extra work wasn’t fun either. Also, since we went Wed to Mon, we went right back into school and work the morning after coming home which is not that easy after a Disney trip! I did get a little heat from their teachers but I assured them it wouldn’t happen again and we’d get their work done. In the end it was fine. I don’t think I’d do it past their current grades. It was however an amazing time to be there…parks were considerably less crowded than even the week before Labor Day, which is when we’d gone before and it wasn’t quite as hot mid-day. The low crowds made everything easy…dining, hotel, pool, and of course walking on and off most of the rides. It was an absolutely amazing time.

  • We went to Disneyworld the week before Christmas last year, and my daughter’s 2nd grade teacher was really nice about it. She put together a Disney homework binder (diary pages, some math homework), and we did take time to do that daily. Plus, we now have a great keepsake of the trip through her eyes. I definitely second the suggestion that you let the teacher know you realize the extra work you are creating for him/her. It was definitely beyond the call of duty for her to put together a week of homework for my daughter. And yes, we did bring her back a Disney present!

  • We recently went for a one week trip this past November. My daughter was at the perfect age (5) and the prices were so good! My son is in 4th grade and we had all our bases covered. The teacher was fine with it, he is an all A student and because it was conference week he only missed 3 days.

    BUT..although we had a great trip, I would not do this again. My son failed 2 tests in the following weeks despite working hard to catch up. The trip derailed our routine and we weren’t back on track for about 3 weeks.

    In my situation, next time I’ll look at a good time when school is really out!

  • We will be doing this next year the 2nd week of December. My son will be in 4th grade. Every teacher he has had so far has basically said to the parents at back to school night “go on trips while your kids are in elementary school.” I do not anticipate any problems. Since we know well in advance, I will let the teacher know in the first week of school. Additionally, my son and I are going to talk about some special things we can do on the trip that may be different from what the class is doing, but that will fulfill writing requirements such as writing about how different countries celebrate holidays, “behind the seeds” tour, etc.

  • I am a teacher who not only took his kids out for a trip, but took himself out as well. First time we went to Disney (Apr 2009), I spent time deciding when would be the best for our family with an aunt and uncle. Decided it would be late April after spring break and Easter. Kids were 14,11, and 6 before any were in high school. I had the hardest time because I had to take a loss of pay–well worth it. Looked back at the crowd calendar history and we enjoyed 80 degree temps with crowds of no bigger than 3 for a week. Next time, March 2013, we used the two high school kids spring breaks. Weather was colder, but crowds were not yet spring break bad. Again took myself out of my school.
    Simply put–before high school, I think you find the time that is right for you. Nothing they miss in a week from school will hinder them the rest of their life. When in high school, it gets a bit tougher so then you may want to look at spring breaks, fall breaks, or be lucky and go to an all year school so you have some options for longer breaks. Cannot wait for my school district to do that.
    We still talk about our time and the fun we had. Do not hear them talk about the missed math assignments or English worksheets they missed. While those are important–family trumps it all, in my opinion. That is what Disney is about.

  • Teachers now get personal days/personal time off & we had a teacher out for a week for a cruise one year (was not her wedding or something like that). I don’t understand why it’s okay for them to be out & not the kids.
    We are sitting at zero sick days per child this year & plan for them to miss 6 school days (middle school ages). It may not be easy on them, but we did ask them if they wanted to go & they said they do.

  • by Jennifer Thomas on February 10, 2014, at 1:05 am EDT

    I’m generally against pulling kids out for vacation. I find our family in a predicament the this year that I just can help and have no control over. Our vacation was scheduled for the last week in may after school is out on may 23. Problem is this year is just a bad winter! The school had 5 built in snow days and 2 days that they state wavered for them. But the are currently extending the school year to June 5. My husband vacation was picked out in November for the following year so it’s set in stone and already paid for. Therefore we can’t change it. My kids will miss 4 days of school, but thankfully they don’t miss a lot and it’s at the very end of the school year.
    So it’s not a budget thing for us, or even a cheaper time of year. We just got a freakish winter. I feel horrible already knowing I’m pulling them out for the 4 days and it’s 3 1/2 months away!

  • School is very important, but life long memory and experiences are also of great value. I understand from the teacher’s point of view, that every effort should be made to make the makeup work or pre-work a bit easier on both the student and the teacher, but your child is only under your care for a short period of time in their lives. Let’s face it by the time they are 18, they are not so hot on a vacation with Mom and Dad! Take the moments when you can. If it just doesn’t work in the summer, work it out! We all learn on a daily basis, no matter where we are!

  • This is a great discussion and I love the input from the teachers who put in so much time as it is, much less to have their work disrupted by missing students. And these are really great tips to remember.

    In the past we haven’t had much trouble taking them out for Disney, but they were younger (grades K and 6) and we always traveled in May, right when all the major benchmark testing was completed (coincides with Star Wars weekends!). I remember the middle school math teacher wanted our oldest to put together a fact sheet with statistics on Disney and to track the temperatures while we were there. English teacher assigned a journal. Science teacher told him to bring back pictures of all the different types of plants not found in Colorado. It was a blast for all of us to help him contribute to his homework while we were in Florida. And when we got back to the room each night, he would upload photos and email assignments back to the teachers so he was in communication with them the whole time…which I think assured them he wasn’t slacking off (and it earned him a lot of bonus points which helped lift his grades).

    As we are planning our next vacation for the fall of 2015, we are under time constraints that we have no control over. Planning for a huge family reunion to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday and coordinating with family that works internationally that don’t have much break until then. We’re trying to make it coincide with fall breaks so that neither boy misses much school–however, they are in different districts with schedules that have very little overlap, so at some point we’re just going to have to pick a day and run with it. By then they will be in grades 6 and 12 and we plan to give the teachers a few months notice and minimize any health-related absences as much as possible during that time. We are hoping with the increased use of education-related technology (one kid is assigned a chromebook and the other an ipad) that both will be able to stay in communication with their teachers throughout the trip. I love the live streaming idea and they already trade video lessons with their teachers on a regular basis. Teachers–if we made suggestions like this would it be helpful for you in planning for their absences?