The bell is ringing on a new school year. In addition to purchasing pencils and glue sticks, back to school leaves many parents wondering if they should pull their children out of school for a Disney vacation. No longer is Disney a summer only destination. September through May offers fantastic seasonal parties that include such fun as Hallowishes at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and a snowy Main Street during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Other not to be missed events include Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival and International Flower and Garden Festival, Star Wars weekends in Hollywood Studios, and Run Disney events throughout the parks. Throw in occasional value season pricing, and it is easy to understand how every month can be argued as the perfect time to visit Walt Disney World.
Before booking your airline tickets and paying the deposit on your Grand Villa at Bay Lake Towers, however, carefully consider the pros and cons of a mid-school year vacation. No topic is more hotly debated on Disney online forums and chats than whether or not children should miss school for a Disney vacation. The arguments for each opinion are strong and valid but a few key themes should be considered.
First, take time to objectively evaluate your child’s ability to catch up on missed work. Some grades are notoriously more intense than others and the stress of doing homework while on vacation may make for less than pleasant moments during your trip. Also, how many sick days does your child typically require? My oldest had not needed a sick day in three years, so I assumed my kindergartener would follow suit. Unfortunately, after missing five days for a fall Disney trip, my youngest child had a horribly sick winter. All is well that ends well, but her high number of absences added an additional level of stress to each illness.
Another factor to consider prior to booking a trip is the school calendar. Many districts offer multiple breaks throughout the school year that can nicely reduce the days your children will miss. Also, make sure to note testing schedules. Regardless of your thoughts on the value of standardized testing, they are an educational reality. If you’d like to stay on the good side of your school principal and teacher, avoid planning your vacation in the middle of standardized testing.
Although it seems like a no brainer, also review your district’s written absentee policy. As parents, we rely a lot on the wisdom and advice of other parents. Do yourself a favor and check the official policy rather than what your best friend remembers from her trip three winters ago.
Finally, know your school’s tolerance for non-excused absences and clearly communicate your plans with your child’s teacher. A polite conversation acknowledging that your vacation creates an increased workload for the teacher can go a long way toward building a working relationship. Ask if the teacher would prefer to gather missed assignments before or after the trip and consider a small gift of appreciation upon your return.
Ultimately our family decided a fall trip during the middle of the school year was worth it to us. Some of our reasoning included the following: First and most importantly, childhood is fleeting. There is something new to discover on a Disney vacation for every age, and family memories are a high value to us. We chose to seize the opportunity. Also, due to my daughter’s mobility impairment, navigating Disney World during peak season is just not an option. In order to get the full value of our vacation, it is necessary to avoid peak crowds. Finally, not all educational moments take place in a classroom. Locating attractions on park maps, interacting with cast members from around the world, and visiting science exhibits and experiments in Animal Kingdom and Epcot can greatly enhance classroom learning.
Although the tourism industry in Florida is built upon the hope that families will vacation year round, taking time away from school to vacation at Walt Disney World is a highly individual decision. For our family, the experiences and memories from our vacation outweighed the consequences of the five school absences. Careful consideration of all the components of your family’s situation will be of great value in planning an experience that will be enjoyable during the trip as well as after your return home.