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.
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.
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.
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.
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.