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Vote of the week: Would you take your kids out of school for a family theme park vacation?

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Published: August 26, 2010 at 9:07 PM

Schools are back in session in Florida, and crowds should begin thinning in the Orlando-area theme parks, as a result.

Summer vacation continues in Southern California though, which, coupled with the end of summer blockouts for seasonal annual passholders, traditionally makes late August one of the more crowded times of the year at the Disneyland Resort. But Los Angeles-area and Orange County schools will return within the next month, leaving all of the nation's year-round theme parks to face another off-season. Which, as savvy fans know, can be a great time to visit theme parks.

With kids in school, parks don't stay open as late, or offer as much extra entertainment, but even the most popular attractions often are available with little or no wait. A swift visitor can ride nearly everything in park, even with the shorter operating hours.

You don't need to stay on-site or pay extra for that easy, front-of-line access to rides, either. Even if you do wish to stay on-site, resorts typically offer some of their best deals of the year when schools are in session. Universal Orlando just sent out an e-mail offering 30 percent off mid-week rates at its hotels, and Walt Disney World's re-upped its free Disney Dining plan offer for hotel visitors, too.

The combination of short lines with strong deals might tempt more than a few parents to consider taking their kids out of school to enjoy a lower-cost, lower-hassle vacation. But would you do it? As a child, did you do it? Let's make these our votes of the week.

What do you think about taking children out of school for family vacations? Is it ever acceptable? If so, when and for what? I'd love to hear your thoughts, and experiences, in the comments.

And, as always, thank you for reading Theme Park Insider. Please let your friends and family know about the site, if they're not reading it already!

Readers' Opinions

From James Rao on August 26, 2010 at 10:44 PM
Homeschooling FTW! Take the teaching on the road with you! ;)

Epcot becomes a learning opportunity... and every adventure is an essay waiting to happen.

BTW, our latest out-of-school experience was back in early May. You can read all about it here.

From 74.235.193.61 on August 27, 2010 at 3:56 AM
I'm a school teacher, and I support taking kids out for a family vacation. (Just not during state testing or end of semester exams.) As long as you give the teacher enough time to put together the assignments and make sure your child does them, why not? A week together building a strong family bond only makes my job as a teacher easier. Secure, family-supported kids = easy-to-teach students. (I'll stay anonymous though, my district is not nearly so understanding...)
From James Koehl on August 27, 2010 at 4:23 AM
We took our kids out of school for the week after T'giving in 2007 to WDW. They had their homework assignments for the week, and we would not leave the hotel until they had their homework done and checked. Also, they had to do a project about the different countries represented at Epcot, including photos of the attractions. They weren't thrilled about the homework, but they loved the Epcot presentation and improved their photographic skills. They hade to give a "show-and-tell" presentation to their classes- half of their classmates started to harrase their parents to take THEM to WDW on a field trip!
From Derek Potter on August 27, 2010 at 4:35 AM
It's not something I would particularly make a habit of, but I would pull children from school to take a trip. To me, it depends on the state of your child. If they are good students, good kids, and smart enough to miss a few days, then I think its fine. My oldest is in 1st grade now, and way ahead of a lot of the stuff they are teaching because we've spent a lot of time teaching her ourselves. I'm sure that a few missed days wouldn't hurt her in the least, especially if we were to take a half hour to do her work in the evenings. On the other hand, if my child was behind in class or having trouble, I probably wouldn't do it.

Our particular school system is really down on stuff like this, to the point of being nasty and making legal threats to parents if kids miss a few days. I chalk their behavior up to dealing with too many bum parents, but the last time I checked, I had the final say in decisions about my child's education, and my wife and I aren't bum parents.

Home schooling has always been in the back of my mind too James, given the state of the public school system. On the other hand, the lack of socializing with people their age and the lack of authority figures and a social structure outside of the home makes me hesitate. Some day they'll have to deal with other people, college professors, and other bosses.

From Brandon Townsend on August 27, 2010 at 5:22 AM
My parents took me out of a Texas elementary school in the late 70's to attend a church convention in central Florida. While there we went to Disney World (back then it was only Magic Kingdom) and I've been a Disney fanatic ever since.

As a parent I have taken my own kids out of school for the same trip to Disney World from Tennessee and recently took them to Disneyland for spring break.

A few days of school can always be made up and being able to experience Disney as a kid is really something special. Many people I've talked to who's first visit to Disney was as an adult just don't "get" Disney.

So take your kids out of school and have some fun.

From James Rao on August 27, 2010 at 5:33 AM
I don't want to sabotage this thread in any way, shape, or form, or try to convince anyone else that homeschooling is the right option - as that is a very personal choice (it is also expensive and all-consuming of your time, energy, and patience). But one thing you should almost never worry about is socialization. There are so many organizations, co-ops, and activities for homeschoolers these days, that if anything, your kids will be too socialized and you may have to pull them back a bit.

Personally, I think the effort of homeschooling is Herculean and beyond anything I personally could do - but my wife loves it, and honestly, she is very good at it. However, she researched and debated for several years before we finally pulled our kids out of school - and we have never looked back. Do your homework, make all preparation, weigh the pros and cons, but do not let socialization be much of a factor. The days of the "sheltered child" are all but over.

And another thing, while the option to take vacations whenever you want and not miss school may be a nice perk of homeschooling, do not let it be your driving factor! You still have to get your schooling in, and when homeschoolers take off for two weeks to go to Orlando in early May, guess what they end up doing in June when all their public school friends are playing in the summer sun... yep, that's right, more schooling. You've gotta get your lessons done sometime!

From Amanda Jenkins on August 27, 2010 at 7:00 AM
My parents did it with me, and in three weeks we are taking our first grader to Disney World. I had to actually fill out some paper work to get an approved abscence for him. After having such a rough summer ( I had major surgery and was out of doing anything from May until the end of July), we need a nice getaway for our family. I am going to have his school work ahead of time and his teacher feels that there is no problem with this. I also tried to bump up our dates with a week that has teacher inservice so that he wouldn't miss that much school. Next year, I plan to do it again, but more towards Thanksgiving/Christmas.

As a former teacher (now a stay-at-home mom), I have no problem allowing students the opportunity to spend some good quality time with their parents. Many parents have to work long hours and are lucky to see their kids for a few minutes in the morning before school and before they go to bed. I have found that children who do get to spend special time with their parents are usually the ones that behave well and make good grades. Children need that time.

From KJ Simpson on August 27, 2010 at 8:41 AM
My daughter missed four days for our trip to WDW last May. For me, the trade-off is completely worth it. We won't go in peak season- the crowds kill it for me. I'd probably feel differently if she wasn't a really great student, though. I was confident, as was her last teacher, that missing the days would not negatively impact her at all. The schools here hate it when people miss for trips, though- in this state (NY), there's no such thing as an "excused absence" for a family vacation. I want to plan another trip for spring, but I'll have a harder time this year- more standardized tests (4th grade), and the only time we can go would be sandwiched between two rounds of state testing. Regardless of her good grades, I think the teacher may have a problem with our timing this year....
From Mabel Araya on August 27, 2010 at 9:10 AM
As a kid, my parents always took us to WDW during the low season, and I enjoyed it very much!! I would totally agree to do it, as long as the kids dont have much trouble at school, and if it isnt during exams - end of term periods!! Why not?? Family time is always a first for me!!
From Chet Crockett on August 27, 2010 at 9:20 AM
We have taken our daughter out of school every October for the past 10 years to enjoy a week in WDW. This is a great time to go since crowds are smaller and weather is nicer. Furthermore, the experiences she has absorbed and the bonding time together as a family have been critical in her learning and development. Too bad the school district does not feel the same. Here in SC they will fail a student for missing more than 10 days of class. I understand why they do this - to address those children and parents who do not care. However, that does not pertain to our family. Our daughter is in honors classes and grades are maintained at a B or better level. We do not abuse the system. Shool districts should address this situation on a case-by-case basis. Anyway, that is another story. I encouorage pulling children from school to visit Disney since the week or so they spend at Disney will not only promote family bonding but they will learn way more than they could have during a month of school.
From Dave Hart on August 27, 2010 at 9:22 AM
I wish parents with children would do what we did when ours were younger. Go when school is out!!!! Leave the parks to us empty nesters to enjoy with the shorter lines and pleasant weather.
From Robert Niles on August 27, 2010 at 9:32 AM
The curriculum at public schools in California is simply too intense to miss more than about a week's worth of school days during a semester, so I definitely wouldn't make this a habit. (Our district's attendance policy also explicitly mentions "visits to theme parks" as something not meriting an excused absence. Makes me laugh every time I read it. I'm such a bad influence!)

At the same time, the school year after state STAR testing in mid-May tends to become a blur of time-wasting activities as we play out the clock until the end of term in mid-June. That's the time of year we target for a short, get-away vacation every few years.

Unfortunately, as Florida schools are out by then, it's not a good time to hit up Disney World. So we tend to end up someplace like New York City instead.

When I was a kid, going to school in Indiana, my parents took us out for Florida trips a few times. But then, I could leave school there for a couple of weeks and not miss much: We didn't learn nearly as much as my kids are learning in the California public schools now. (We've got kids here taking geometry in 8th grade. Kids did that in 10th or 11th grade in Indiana.)

From Victoria Jurkowski on August 27, 2010 at 10:11 AM
We skip school for a week every year for a family vacation, usually in February since we have 3 birthdays around the same time. The excuse forms are obnoxious, always wanting to know the educational benefit of the vacation. So when we went to Disneyworld we wrote that the educational aspects were "experiencing world cultures (epcot), interacting with animals and caretakers (animal kingdom), learning about customer service, up close learning about theatre and the arts (magic kingdom and hollywood studios)". The office never guessed it was a vacation to Disenyworld and we got a huge laugh out of it.
From 98.154.124.15 on August 27, 2010 at 10:37 AM
My parents did that with me. However, I myself don't plan on raising children.
From TheAmericanMedley ♫ on August 27, 2010 at 10:42 AM
My parents did that. Sometimes I would go to Disney after school. No kidding.
From Ray Schroeder on August 27, 2010 at 11:06 AM
I agree with Dave. Go when the kids have off. It seems they're off half the year anyway with Summer Vacation, Winter Break, Spring Break, and Holidays I have never heard of. Give the adults with no kids a chance to enjoy the parks sans people under 18. Disney should have adult only week :)
From 97.22.52.44 on August 27, 2010 at 11:16 AM
I take my children out every Feb. the weather is cooler less crowds as well as it being cheaper time a year to go and since I have four kids and we stay a full week at disney that counts.The school doesn't like it they say it is bad for our kids social abilities and learning.I find it funny since most of the public school teachers could not find their behinds with two hands and a map let alone know what is best for my kids I will continue to take my kids during this time so they can enjoy the parks with less crowds and nicer weather.
From Manny Barron on August 27, 2010 at 12:48 PM
Yes it's absolutely worth it. The time spent betweent the child and his or her parents is so wonderful and a lot more important than working out the Pythagorean Theorem or finding out who invented the cotton gin.
From 70.61.70.234 on August 27, 2010 at 1:03 PM
I have a special needs son so a trip to WDW, for example, is considered an excellent Life Experience. It is stimulating for him to be with his loving family 24 hrs a day experiencing new sights, sounds, and textures. If it is the case for him then, in my opinion, it is equally valid for his normal sister. No question. One week at WDW equals 3 months elsewhere.
From Brian Emery on August 27, 2010 at 1:25 PM
Every May I take my daughter to Orlando for one week…..We have been doing this for 6 years now…

If she has good grades – we go….. The school also has to sign off on her leaving for a week… Every teacher has to agree. Plus we have to make up the work….. And she happily makes up any missed work after a beautiful week Orlando…

You are only a child once and these memories we create are forever…

From Russell Meyer on August 27, 2010 at 2:57 PM
I'm all for taking kids out of school for vacation. I completely believe in making a lesson out of wherever you are, and while the kids would be missing lessons, they would be responsible for making up their missed classtime and get additional lessons on the vacation. I think it's absurd that parents feel the need to ship their families on vacation during the summer when everyone and their brother is on vacation, and an offseason vacation is often much more productive, quiet, and can be infinitely more educational.
From Tiffany J. L. Alfonso on August 27, 2010 at 4:58 PM
I did that once days after spring break in late April, 1997 - it was worth missing school just to see the 25th anniversary events at Walt Disney World! I was 7 back then, and enjoyed it!

I'm on the same boat with those who favor taking their kids out of school for their summer vacations. I bet my bottom dollar that it would be a benefit for especially autistic children, who cannot tolerate heavy crowds and long lines. Also, their special-education centers are very flexible with schedules, so it's easier for the parents to request any make-up work made after the trip.

From 192.251.125.40 on August 27, 2010 at 4:58 PM
Even though school is very important; not all lessons of life are learned in a classroom. Whenever i did take my son out to go to the parks there was alwys new lessons to be learned. patience, math skills, observation, etc.
From Jorge Arnoldson on August 27, 2010 at 7:26 PM
When I was nine, I got out of school in January (on a Thursday) for the Passholder Preview of Expedition Everest. The lines for it were like the lines I experienced at Freestyle Music Park last year. About a week or two later, on the Monday after Super Bowl XL, my mom (a HUGE Steelers fan) took my siblings and I to the Magic Kingdom for the Steelers parade.
From 87.113.140.98 on August 28, 2010 at 12:22 AM
I will always take my kids out during school time not exam time though,my husband has limited time off during the year and can only grab holidays last minuite so for us its not really an option.my kids get so much out of the theme park trips but most of all they get happiness and i dont mean spoiling them which is the most important thing because happy kids grow up to be happy grounded adults fact.we are on our countdown for the next trip which starts early nov 2010 yippeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
From Larry Zimmerman on August 28, 2010 at 7:10 AM
We homeschooled two through high school, and when we lived in FL, we made frequent trips to Orlando for both WDW's and Sea World's tremendous educational experiences.

...

OK, not really, we just took mid-week, low season breaks to take advantage of the low crowds, lower prices, and great weather. But being homeschoolers, it was easy to time shift the teaching schedule by working thru the traditional public school break periods, and packing subjects into daily or weekly instructional periods. So our kids got the best of both worlds, and we had less hassle in the parks.

From Ryan S on August 28, 2010 at 7:50 AM
As a Student, Missing just one day of school is a major inconvenience, I have never missed more than 2 days at a time, and I can't imagine how hard it would be makeup all the work I miss.

Ordinarily, I would never miss school to go to an amusement park, but ironically my school's robotics team has plans to go to Disney's robotics competition (and the parks too).(and I miss 2 days of school)

From 76.114.111.95 on August 29, 2010 at 6:30 AM
Spring Break is not nearly as crowded as everyone thinks. Not every school is out at the same time and college kids head to the beaches. Our school system also has a "Fall Break" towards the end of October, about the same time as "British Invasion"[*]. Since there are usually decent three-letter room discounts during those two periods, there is little reason for me to pull my kid out of school for a family vacation. For me it seems like it would be too much hassle to get the approvals and disrupt the rhythm of the school year just to save a couple bucks and be able to walk-on every ride (you can practically do that in October). I just take advantage of the normal "breaks" offered by the school system and various room/ticket discount programs.

* - Wife - "I like British Invasion [at WDW]. They know how to queue!"

From 80.195.30.218 on August 29, 2010 at 8:52 AM
In the UK, it is now illegal to take kids out of school and the councils are fining parents who do so, which is a bit of a barrier...
From Jack Curley on August 30, 2010 at 1:14 PM
I was never taken out of school for a theme park trip as a kid, but lots of my classmates would go to Disney during the NJ Teachers convention (or "Jersey Days" as I believe it's known in Orlando) and parents would either take the kids out of school for a day or two before or after the four day weekend to get a proper trip out of the deal.

I no longer live in NJ, but I would absolutely consider doing something like that when (if?) I have kids.

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