Taking Your Kids Out of School to Travel?

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The debate over whether or not to take your kids out of school to travel is certainly controversial. As a parent, an advocate of family travel, the editor of a family vacation site, Family Vacation Critic, and an early childhood educator earlier in my career, I am often asked for my opinion on the subject. To me, taking the kids out of school isn't so cut and dry.

For some parents, especially those with young kids, the back-to-school steals offered for vacation spots are too good to pass up.

Carrie Calzaretta, a mother and frequent contributor to Family Vacation Critic, said, "The first time I took my son out of school to travel, he was fewer than two months into his formal education. He was 5 years old, in kindergarten, and it was mid-October. For us, it was an ideal time for a quick jaunt south: Rates were reasonable, beaches would no longer be teeming with kids, and the weather was starting to turn at home."

However, educators aren't so supportive. Even in the early years, they worry that children will grow to feel school attendance is not important.

For families, off-peak pricing, especially in the fall and after the holidays, makes it very tempting to take a break during the school year, but is it okay to take your kids out of school? Or should it be avoided at all costs? For families on a tight budget, a vacation to Disney or a flight to see Grandma may only be affordable during off-peak times, which coincide with school schedules.

Why You Might Be Tempted to Take Your Kids Out of School

It's understandable that taking your kids out of school can be tempting when there are so many great deals being offered to lure you away from home. Hotels, airlines, theme parks, attractions and even restaurants are slashing prices by as much as 50 percent. These quieter travel periods mean smaller crowds at your destination as well. And for some families, travel during these periods could be an educational trip for your child that coincides with school lessons.

When Taking Your Kids Out of School May Be Okay

For families with infants and preschoolers, these travel bargains are a godsend. Now is the time to travel. Preschoolers and even part-time kindergarteners taken out of school won't be missing lesson plans that will have a negative impact on their education. However, if your child is in grade school, middle school or high school, there are some things to consider.

Does Your School Allow It?

Be informed. Does your school have a policy? Most often, schools make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the circumstances, but rarely do they encourage travel-related absences. Some schools have non-negotiable attendance rules that forbid it. Others may allow up to five days of missed school for travel purposes. Make yourself aware of your school's policy before making any plans.

How Is Your Child Doing in School?

If your child is already struggling with certain classes and grades are low, taking your child out of school can further disrupt his or her education and make matters worse. However, if your child is excelling in his or her classes and quick to catch up, then it may be okay to consider taking time off to travel.

Julie H., a middle school math teacher and mom of two, says, "Some students can miss school and have an easy time making up necessary work. Others have a tough time, so they will need extra help following the vacation. Families can use their vacation experience in place of some assignments, with possibilities including researching the history or geographical features of the area visited. It is up to the teachers to accept these assignments at their discretion, in place of class work."

How Does Your Child Feel About Missing School?

Sure, we call the shots as parents, but talk to your child about the possibility of missing school, or even a weekend, to travel. Your child may have a special project he or she doesn't want to miss, or the weekend's game may be very important to him or her. Don't start the trip on the wrong foot with an angry teen who missed the homecoming game.

What Grade Is Your Child In?

For obvious reasons, the younger your children are, the easier it is to pull off a vacation during school time. It's fairly easy to pull a child out for a few days in elementary school. Middle school becomes trickier, as students begin to rotate between multiple teachers, and it becomes even more difficult in high school for kids to miss any length of time. Even the best students can fall behind easily and may have a difficult time catching up. This is particularly true of junior year.

Tips for Taking Your Child Out of School

The deal is too good to pass up, your school doesn't prohibit travel, and you and your child are ready to book that vacation. Here are some tips to make it an easy transition.

Meet With Teacher(s) Beforehand

Before you even book your trip, set up a time to meet with your child's teacher(s). Ask, don't tell. No educator will appreciate you waltzing in and announcing you're pulling your kid from class for two weeks to go to Disney World. Let teachers know what your intended plans are, and ask how you can work together to make the absence as seamless as possible. Remember that you are creating extra work for the teacher, and be appreciative. Teachers have your child's best academic interests at heart, and most have dealt with this situation many times. Listen to their advice.

Don't just ask teachers for the homework you child will miss while away, ask for the lesson plan. Spend your vacation going over the lesson plan with your child. Discuss possible extra credit work, such as a report or school presentation based on the trip so your child can share what he or she learns from his or her travels with the class.

Plan Ahead

Teachers don't like surprises when it comes to attendance. Let them know as far in advance as you possibly can about your trip, making sure to give them exact dates, and avoid making any changes to the itinerary once it's approved.

Says Vicky L., a Board of Education member and mom of two teenagers, "Give teachers ample notice. Try to give at least three weeks' notice before a vacation, and then remind them again a few days before you depart. While your vacation may be top priority for you, you can't assume it is for everyone else."

Keep the Trip Short

Just because the deals are great, this is not the time to take a three-week family vacation to your cousin's vineyard in Italy during the school year. Such an extended absence often outweighs the educational value. If possible, plan around a long weekend so you're only missing a couple of days. Avoid long-haul flights -- re-entry will be difficult enough for your child without throwing jet lag into the mix.

Time the Trip Wisely

If possible, schedule your trip later -- as opposed to earlier -- in the school year, so your child has a chance to become familiar with the routine. The first month or two of school is an adjustment, no matter what your child's age. Always avoid testing periods. Also, take into account the pace of the curriculum during the period you will be traveling. October is generally a jam-packed month; the week before Christmas break is pretty slow. If your child is involved in a team sport or any extra-curricular activities, take these commitments seriously, and keep coaches and advisors in the loop.

Make It an Educational Vacation

What does your child stand to gain, educationally speaking, from this trip? If this a spot you have visited before, or one which offers little in the way of culture or enrichment, consider planning it during a school vacation and use take advantage of the deals in ways a vacation will enrich your child's education. For example, if your child is studying the Revolutionary War, taking him or her to Boston, Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill is a way to make history books come to life and give him or her a better understanding of what they are learning in school. If your child is reading "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," a trip along the Mississippi River and rides on a steamboat can add to the experience.

Don't Make It a Habit

Treat school-time trips as the exception and not the rule. Pulling your children out of school for family vacations is not something you want to do on a regular basis -- certainly not more than once a year.

However, if you don't want your child to miss school, or his/her school advises you against it, don't let it stop you from taking advantage of the great deals available, simply keep to weekend trips -- you'll be surprised at how much you can pack in.

And lastly, if you can swing it, always bring your child's teacher back a small souvenir. As every good student knows, even when you follow the rules, a little kissing-up never hurts.

Thinking of taking your kids out of school for a vacation? Or want to share your views on why it should be avoided? Visit our Taking Your Kids out of School Forum.

Family Vacation Critic features hundreds of hotel and resort reviews, as well as family vacation ideas, money-saving travel deals, and advice on traveling with kids of all ages.