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Kandace_York Sep 30th, 2013 10:09 AM

Balancing kids' school w/family vacations (or, the impossible juggling act)
Hi, I'm wondering how others here have solved the riddle of going to Europe at an ideal time with school-age kids (middle school to high school).

Last year we went to England and France in late September/early October. The timing was almost ideal from a vacation perspective -- though the weather was a bit coolish, we encountered almost zero lines anywhere (the only exceptions were the Eiffel Tower, London Dungeon and London Eye, all to be expected, but even they were minor). London sidewalks were not crowded, trains were half-empty, we never had to stand on a bus or wait more than a few minutes, even in Victoria Station.

Weeks before we left, we had filled out all the appropriate forms at school, notified teachers and administrators, got advance assignments, etc. A couple teachers were thrilled and gave the girls tips of things to hunt for that related to their studies (we had asked for this and planned parts of our vacation around it) -- one teacher even group-Skyped with the girls every couple days for a few minutes and opened it to a class question-and-answer session, and our WiFi connection luckily was strong enough to give the class a small tour, via iPod, of an English apartment and the surrounding neighborhood.

But several teachers seemed indignant that we would ever consider taking them out of school for any reason. A couple teachers expected ALL the assignments turned in on their first day back, even though the girls had just arrived back in the U.S. at suppertime the night before (other teachers flatfly refused to give advance assignments because they said it was impossible to know what material they would be teaching over the next week). One teacher informed my daughter that she would almost certainly fail the course, even if she *did* turn in all homework and it was perfect. Another verbally shredded my daughter in front of all her classmates.

I refrained from telling the teachers that the girls had learned far more in Europe than they would have learned in an entire month at all their U.S. classrooms combined :-), and we just swallowed the tirades and got the girls to turn in all assignments as soon as possible. In the end, none of their grades was affected. They are honors students, straight As or nearly so, and have zero history of attendance, behavior or academic problems.

But now we're trying to plan our next trip and running into the same school-or-Europe dilemma. The girls have extracurriculars that run through June and into early July, so that's out. We can't go in early July because the Spanish Riding School is closed. We could go in early to mid-August, but isn't that the worst time of year to go to Europe? We could try going over spring break or at the beginning of their school year, but either of these options would require them missing a few days of school, and they're both scared to death of facing their teachers' wrath again.

So, for those of you who have faced this challenge, how did you solve it? What has your experience been with schools and teachers? What would happen if, say, you homeschooled the kids for the semester you were planning to go to Europe, then re-enrolled them as "new" students the next semester?

It's crushing, to me, that teachers cannot see the overwhelming value of kids going abroad -- and I say that as the spouse of a teacher, not just a parent. What better way to *really* learn literature, history, geography and the arts, to say nothing of putting their foreign language skills to use and gaining a world view of humanity? I think there's even a lot of math in travel; just figuring out, rapidfire, how much a ticket costs, converting euros to pounds (and back), calculating km vs. miles vs. time and when you need to reach a destination and so on. It's the most practical application of algebra I can think of.

Looking for tips here to -- try and -- satisfy everyone involved ... any guidance appreciated.

Many thanks.

MichelleY Sep 30th, 2013 10:20 AM

High School is tough to take time from. Once our daughter was in HS, we worked vacations around school. . Looking back, I wish we had taken more time away when she was younger in grade school. Sorry I can't give any other advice.

socaltraveler Sep 30th, 2013 10:34 AM

What happens when you take your children out of school is that they then become "private students" requiring special plans, special attention and special grading. While you as a parent know that your children are that special, it becomes a burden to already overworked teachers. I taught, my daughters are teachers, I am not trying to say this to be mean. Of course the travel experience is a wonderful education, no one questions that. High school is a hard time to miss school for that travel experience. And I do have to question why they cannot miss those summer 'extracurricular' activities, but you can burden the classroom teacher and teaching flow with their absence. You ask a lot.

Christina Sep 30th, 2013 10:46 AM

I think it is arrogant to think the school should revolve around your vacations because you want them to be at a convenient time for you, not for your kids. Kids should plan vacations around their time off just like adults have to plan around their jobs and the time off they can get. I don't blame them for thinking you have a lot of nerve, very spoiled attitude IMO, you expect them to coddle your children and make up special assignments and deadlines for them. I'm sorry, but this just seems so first-world spoiled to talk about how you expect them to Skpe you in England, take them on tours around your vacation apt., etc. Do you think no one else ever goes to Europe or something?

YOu are teaching your kids that rules don't matter, that they are better and more special than anyone, and that the world should revolve around you. That attitude will do them wonders in college and later when working.

colduphere Sep 30th, 2013 10:47 AM

We have travelled with three children. Many trips have been the first three weeks of August. Personally I find the "it's hot and crowded" line way overplayed here. The only place it was too hot was Japan and we would still go back there in a second. Egypt, Greece, Spain, Turkey etc etc were all in August and they were fine.

We have also taken them out of school several times in March and January. It has never been a problem with teachers (here in Canada). I wonder a little bit whether even some European destinations are now seen as regular every day travel destinations, as so many people now make the trips with their kids. So what may seem to you as an amazing learning experience appears to some teachers as just another vacation.

Kandace_York Sep 30th, 2013 10:53 AM

Thanks, schoolteacher. I do appreciate your perspective.

The extracurricular is band -- an odd "extracurricular," really, because he lowers their end-of-term letter grade by *one full grade* if they miss more than two practices or performances, even during the summer, and they have practice at least 10 to 12 times during the summer, plus a week of band camp, plus four to five weekend parades to march in. He did give the girls some leeway last time around but made it clear that that would not happen again, and he would not hesitate to fail them.

I know that upper-level math and science can be tricky, but I find it hard to believe that much else could be. One daughter skipped an entire grade in elementary school and immediately started getting straight As across the board in her new grade, even having "missed" an entire year of instruction in all subjects.

I respect teachers' hard and often thankless work, but don't most teachers have their lesson plans mapped out at least a week in advance?

Or, as a teacher, do you feel there are "better" and "worse" times of year for a student to miss? Would three or four days at the start of the school year be worse than, say, three or four days before or after spring break?

I really am trying to satisfy everyone ... not trying to be difficult. Ideally, I'd like to approach their teachers months in advance to see how we could best work out a compromise. But there is virtually *no* compromise with the band instructor, which makes the whole thing really difficult. It becomes a choice of which teacher will fail them and which teacher will merely "ding" their grades a bit.


Kandace_York Sep 30th, 2013 11:01 AM

Thanks for your perspective, Christina. A word of clarification -- I never said I "expected" anyone to Skype either of the girls. It was the teacher who suggested that. Not I. Not my daughter.

And frankly, when forced to choose between a small-town school with circa-1950s thinking, and exploring the world for genuine learning, I hope my daughters will always choose to embrace a world view rather than narrow-mindedness. The way the current school calendar is set up, there is virtually no time year-round where they would not be punished for taking time off.

Our daughters have a tremendous work ethic, thanks. I respect that you disagree and will just leave it at that.

kwren Sep 30th, 2013 11:10 AM

We've been going on our European vacations around the kids' high school and extracurricular schedules for years, but when younger, we took them out of school. When my one son was in 5th grade, he and I went to Frence for a couple of weeks...along with a stack of assignments and tests I had to give (!) He really worked hard to get it all done, and he did. The problem was that the teacher gave him so much extra that he was about 2 weeks ahead when he returned. Actually, it was good he could relax to help overcome the jetlag.

When in high school my kids no longer wanted to miss school because it was too hard to catch up. We also had the requirement of marching band to deal with and would/could never ever miss that, so I can understand that. (I've had kids in marching band for 13 consecutive years now)

It sounds like you haven't gone on vacation in August. It's not bad then - actually we quite enjoy it. (Well, maybe not the year that it was over 100 degrees every day - we just had to have extra gelato!). Why not give it a try one time. You might find it suits you the best of all!

Alternatively, leave the kids at home - we just tried that the last 2 weeks and it was wonderful! ;)

Kandace_York Sep 30th, 2013 11:24 AM

Thanks, kwren and colduphere. You're right, we hadn't tried a family vacation in August (though I did spend one August in Germany, "BC" or before children, and you're right -- I don't remember thinking it was too hot; in some of the photos I'm wearing a light jacket). Everything I'd seen here had indicated that August in Europe was to be avoided at all costs ... but if it's a possibility, we could certainly consider that.

And thanks to everyone else who shared insight as well. The girls will still get slammed by their band instructor, but that may be an issue I take up directly with him, rather than inconveniencing a bunch of teachers to placate one.

I have every intention of returning to Europe on my own :-), but I think it's critical for our daughters, having grown up in a "monochrome, monoculture" small town, to be exposed to as many different aspects of humanity as possible, while we still have time with them.

jamikins Sep 30th, 2013 11:25 AM

Most of Europe goes on vacation in August (in the UK we all head to the sun of France, Italy, Spain, Greece etc) and we spent two weeks in Greece last year in August.

Is it hot - yes.

Is it crowded - yes, everyone else is on vacation too.

Is it that bad - no, depending on how well you plan and what you set your expectations are. We are planning another trip next year in August.

The trick is to accept that it will be hot and plan sight seeing in the morning and late afternoon. Accept that you will stand in line. Accept that places will be busy, including restaurants. You can plan around this by being patient, making reservations wherever you can, and also going places that are not as touristy.

colduphere Sep 30th, 2013 11:30 AM

More specifically, if you do go in August, plan ahead as much as you can to 1) purchase line-skipping passes, 2) find hotels with pools or near a beach, and 3) plan outdoor activities for the morning, with indoor activities left to the afternoon.

Even something as simple as taking a ferry (depending on where you are ) rather than a taxi can do wonders to stay cool.

socaltraveler Sep 30th, 2013 11:40 AM

As a teacher, my expectation for the best time of year for a family to take a vacation is during the summer and other scheduled school breaks. Period. I might excuse a once in a lifetime opportunity for a family to miss a week, but as a regularly scheduled thing, nope, no slack. And the teachers of your daughters' other subjects should command the same respect as the band teacher. It does not matter how far in advance a lesson plan is made; you cannot make up lectures and classroom discussion.

Try that vacation in August perhaps. Pretty much all families with school age children have to do that, and so do your daughters' teachers. Again, you ask too much.

kwren Sep 30th, 2013 11:44 AM

That band schedule is pretty rough - we have weekly practices through the summer too, but it's understood that some might be missed for vacation.

But don't ever consider missing any of band camp...

Kandace_York Sep 30th, 2013 11:48 AM

I certainly hope all the teachers *do not* place the same demands as the band instructor, because his "curriculum" is YEAR-ROUND, including all through the summer. Under his schedule, there is not a single two-week break for the kids at all -- including summer, winter and spring breaks, snow days, etc. It reminds me why so many families do choose homeschooling over conventional schooling methods.

Many thanks to everyone who offered some workarounds for August getaways, though. That does seem to be the path of least resistance, which could be the best compromise ... except for the band instructor, of course, who will likely fail both girls for daring to take a family vacation at any time during the year. *His* band-related trips, of course, are all "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities, of course -- every single one of them, no matter how often they occur. But that's a topic for another forum. :-)

colduphere Sep 30th, 2013 11:57 AM

Our daughter played ultra competitive soccer. She lived through the "can't miss any practices, games, tournaments etc etc for any reason" threats from the coach. In 2008 we went to the Beijing Olympics and she missed three weeks of soccer. We did not think they would discipline a player for going to the Olympics. And of course they didn't.

Tell the band instructor you are going to Europe to study band behaviour. :)

Kandace_York Sep 30th, 2013 12:30 PM

Kudos, colduphere, for that thought process!

One of the only reasons I *think* he did not fail our daughter last year is that we asked, ahead of time, what musical sights he would seek out if he were taking such a trip. He gave us a list which we worked through (plus a couple more), and as luck would have it we also struck up a conversation on a train with a high schooler who happened to play the same instrument as our daughter. So our daughters were able to return to the U.S. with a detailed comparison of music education in the U.K. vs. music education in the U.S.

The marching band regimen is preposterous, in my opinion. An example -- a "once-in-a-lifetime" trip is scheduled for Disneyworld (since every band event is, of course, once-in-a-lifetime). Students are expected to attend and families are expected to give up their spring break for this. Everyone is expected to participate in fundraisers, even though it does not lower the cost in any way (from what we've seen, the band has a consistent $18,000 to $20,000 balance). Yet if a student gets a part-time job to help pay for his or her band trip, no work/band conflict is excused. This was the latest "you will be failed" threat. Uh ... failing a student because she has a work ethic to go out and get a job, in today's teen job market, to pay for a trip that the instructor is mandating? Really?

Yep, really.

That one required intervention from both me and my husband, and a grudging backing-down -- with the ending threat that if our daughter ever had to work on another band practice or band performance day, she would be failed, banned from the trip, and the several hundred dollars paid in so far would be forfeited.

This is the mentality we deal with year-round. We already can't take family vacations over spring break, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, or three weeks before or after Thanksgiving. The same rule applies even next August, too, so there really is no winning. He will fail both our daughters for taking a family vacation over the summer break. Absolutely.

Which I think does more to kill their work ethic than anything else I can think of. But again ... a discussion for another time.

thursdaysd Sep 30th, 2013 12:37 PM

Maybe you need to organise a parental strike against the band leader. Really, why put up with this? Can't your kids find another activity?

txgirlinbda Sep 30th, 2013 12:57 PM

Here in the UK, they've just ruled that head teachers (principals) are no longer allowed to authorize absences for family vacations. No excuses. Which makes it tough for our expat family to get back home, except during the summer when flights are at their most expensive, and when Texas is at it's hottest. DD is in kindergarten, for Pete's sake. DH and I have already discussed booking our tickets, keeping quiet, and telling school we have a funeral in the States to attend. Homeschooling looks more and more attractive all the time.

kwren Sep 30th, 2013 01:05 PM

Our band goes on a trip every other year...and it's been to Disney most years for the past 12 years. And oh yeah - they don't even play their instruments there anymore - just go and have a good time. My daughter is not going this year, but at least there won't be any pressure.

Our entire band starts up through the summer and ends early November. Why does yours go all year long? Are you talking about indoor percussion and color guard shows which do go year-long here? Here the brass and winds end November - do they go all year too in your school?

Kandace_York Sep 30th, 2013 01:17 PM

Txgirlinbda, I'm right there with you.

Kwren, marching band season ends at the end of October, but the band still performs at several holiday parades and competitions right through December and into January. Add in band concerts and there are very few pockets of time available ... a couple weeks in February, maybe. But the good players are "command performanced" into playing at the school musical as well, so even less time off for them. And with the "once-in-a-lifetime" Disneyworld trip, there will be lengthy practices all through February and March.

I still do not understand why band is a graded subject, yet it is also an extracurricular. I think if it's graded, the work is limited to school days and school hours. If it's an extracurricular, it's outside school hours and should not be graded (thus no destruction of a good student's GPA).

It's really quite harsh.

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