September signals the beginning of the school year, which generally signals the end of the family travel season. But it doesn’t have to.
Along with the cooler weather of fall come great “shoulder season” travel deals that can help make a family vacation more affordable. All you need to take advantage of the great deals and sparse crowds is the willingness to take the kids out of school for a few days.
Or, as Janna L. Binder, the mom of a fifth grader in Omaha, Nebraska, puts it: “Never let school get in the way of your child’s education.”
Generally, children who are doing well in school and are socially well-adjusted will not be harmed by a few extra days out of the classroom. That is especially true if they are traveling with parents who see travel as an education in itself, whether the trip involves a Disney cruise, a visit to Mayan ruins in Mexico or a play on Broadway. Each has its own educational value.
Tara Kennedy-Kline has taken her boys, Max, 14, and Alex, 12, out of school several times, including trips to New York to see Cats, A Christmas Carol, and, most recently, Peter and the Starcattcher.
Seeing a play or musical offers myriad ways to bolster her boys’ education, Kennedy-Kline says.
“It gives us an opportunity to talk about the history of the venue (obviously Ford’s Theatre was AMAZING for its history and stories) as well as the art and background of the shows,” she wrote in an email.
And then there is the show itself. It’s fodder for conversation about the books, events or people that inspired the show. She asks the boys, “What were some of the surprising twists? How do you think the writer/director changed the story to be more current? Is there another version you like better (book, movie, TV or performance?)”
There are ways to start the educational experience before the trip. For example, tickets to see The Lion King can be a great way to motivate kids to learn about Africa. The promise of seeing Romeo and Juliet live on Broadway could get your teen to finally read Shakespeare (and understand it so much better after seeing the show).
Broadway itself is helping to fill the gap left in many cash-strapped school districts, where the arts are the first thing to go. For example, Stagenotes.net offers a host of resources for teachers, including a 28-page study guide built around the popular Wicked.
Working with the School
Despite the promise of “education by travel” that lures families to book trips when their kids would otherwise be learning algebra, not all schools are happy to accommodate traveling families.
“These days, teachers and schools are so focused on standardized testing that seeing the Berlin wall and learning about its demise is of little importance to them. It’s terribly short-sighted and narrow-minded, but it is a reality nonetheless,” said Lisa Shusterman.
She got around that problem by taking her kids out of school for a full year, during which they traveled and she homeschooled them. (She offers advice on taking a year off to travel in her book, Around the World in Easy Ways: A Guide to Planning Long-Term Travel With or Without Your Kids.)
Since taking a year off to travel isn’t a reasonable option for most families, she recommends using a marketing approach to convince teachers and administrators that the travel will be good for your child.
“Create a little syllabus of what your child will be doing/learning while you are away and prove to them that this is not just a trip to an amusement park, but truly an opportunity to learn something,” she said in an email. “If they need more convincing, offer a paper or presentation to go along with the trip.”
Point out, for example, that there’s a huge difference between reading Twelfth Night and seeing it on stage. After all, Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed.
Traveling with Reluctant Teens
Taking kids out of school gets tougher as they get older. By the time students hit middle school, lessons start moving so quickly and social interactions become so important that kids themselves can refuse to take time off to travel.
Some parents who travel during the school year have strict rules about spending time on school work during the trip. Erin Kirkland of AKontheGO dedicates time to school each day: “No work, no pool (or attraction…)
Lou Santini, a teacher in the Harper Creek Community Schools in Michigan, suggests a more integrated approach to learning while traveling. “Try to visit landmarks and do tourist activities that have a ‘double whammy,’ both educational and enjoyable,” he said.
There are ways to integrate more formal schoolwork into a trip. For example, practice math skills by asking kids to figure out how much it will cost to buy four tickets to a Broadway show on the main floor and compare that with the price of tickets for seats in the balcony.
Learning by Traveling
Even a trip to an amusement park can be an opportunity for research. Assign your kids to go online and try to figure out the best way to see the theme park in one day. While you’re waiting on line for a ride, ask younger kids to look at the people in line and think about why someone might be wearing ethnic clothes.
Silvana Clark, who traveled with her daughters from the time they were small, says travel taught her daughters time management skills—they had to figure out how to get schoolwork done ahead of time or complete it by the time they got home—as well as leadership skills.
“From the time she was 8, our daughter was responsible for finding the correct airline gate where we checked in. She handed the agent our tickets and then made sure we went to the correct gate. If our luggage was lost, she was responsible for finding where the ‘Lost Luggage’ booth was,” Clark says. “Of course, my husband and I were always within five feet of her, but we were the followers. Those skills turned her into the take-charge person she is today.”
Cindy Richards is the Editor-in-Chief of TravelingMom.com.