A winter family vacation is an excellent way for parents and kids to rejuvenate and for families to bond. The challenge for families with school-age kids, however, is working around their kids’ short winter break from school.
Depending on where you live, a four-day weekend may be perfect for a mini-vacation to a nearby destination. If you live near a big city with plenty to offer or if the weather is right for nearby outdoor recreation, a mini-vacation is a great option to consider. But for many families, a short journey just doesn’t offer much to do or see.
Taking Kids Out of School
An alternative that many parents consider is taking their kids out of school for a few days or a week to do some real travel. It’s a decision parents are often torn over. For some families, winter is the only time of year they can travel because of issues scheduling vacation time from work or the unaffordability of peak season travel.
The question many parents ponder is whether it’s okay to take their kids out of school for a family trip. In fact, there’s plenty of debate among parents and educators over the practice. So it’s a decision parents should make after weighing several factors.
The first thing to consider is whether or not your child’s school permits it. It’s true, teachers and administrators often frown upon the practice. Some schools even have policies that disallow parents to take kids out of school for vacations or trips.
On the other hand, many schools and teachers are willing to work with students and their families by providing homework in advance of the trip or by arranging a makeup schedule for missed work. Therefore, it’s always best to talk to your child’s school and teachers well ahead of time to ensure a workable plan is in place.
Another factor to consider is how your child is doing in school. If your child is maintaining As and Bs without too much effort, a few days off school probably won’t hurt. But if your child struggles in one or more subjects, it may not be in your child’s best interest.
Also worth considering is the type of trip you’re planning. If your travels will include educational opportunities for your kids, it’s a lot easier to justify taking them out of school for a few days. Visiting historical sites, science and art museums, and experiencing other cultures are great learning opportunities for kids.
Such experiences can offer them much greater understanding and appreciation for something than they get from reading out of a textbook or listening to a classroom lecture. On the other hand, a vacation that’s solely about play might be a little more difficult to justify, if to no one else but yourself.
Finally, you should also find out how your child feels about missing school for a trip. Find out what school events will be taking place, and try to plan around those that are important to your kids.
Whether you’re considering an extended-weekend getaway or a week-long trip, here are a few educational destinations to consider for your winter family vacation.
Explore New York City with Kids
The Big Apple is Loaded with Family-Friendly Activities
The Big Apple is loaded with family-friendly activities even during the cold winter months. Discovery Times Square displays large interactive traveling exhibits the whole family will enjoy. The theater and performance-based Toy Museum of New York is also sure the enthrall your kids.
The city offers other excellent museums including the New York Hall of Science and Children’s Museum of Manhattan. You might even want to check out events listings for a family Broadway show. Get more information about visiting New York City at www.nycgo.com.
Family Fun in our Nation’s Capital
A Trip to Washington, D.C. Combines History with Fun.
At the Supreme Court of the United States, listen to oral arguments that are open to the public. You’ll also want to get a close-up view of the White House and other federal buildings. Then visit one, or several, of the many art, science, and history museums that make up the Smithsonian.
You can also take a tour of President Lincoln’s cottage where he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, and visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate along the Potomac River. Get D.C. deals and discounts at washington.org.
Discover the Soul of Savannah
Explore Period Architecture, Trendy Boutiques and Ghost Stories.
Kids will love the adventure of touring Old Fort Jackson and watching live cannon firings and weapons demonstrations. You’ll also want to check out the Savannah Children’s Museum. Then take a trolley or horse-drawn carriage tour of downtown Savannah, the largest urban historic district in America. Just 18 miles away is also Tybee Island where you can explore its arts, history, and culture. Check out places to stay and more at www.visitsavannah.com.
Everyone Loves New Orleans
Who Knew There’s So Much for Kids To Do.
If your kids like winged and creepy crawly things, they’ll be in heaven at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. For families with older kids, a bayou kayak tour is a fun way to expend some energy. New Orleans also has a family-friendly jazz venue, Preservation Hall.
At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, kids can get creative with some hands-on art projects designed for families. There’s also the National World War II Museum, Louisiana Children’s Museum, historic Jackson Square, and much more. Plan your NOLA itinerary at www.neworleans.com.
The Four Corners: Where Four Sates Meet
Get in Touch with the Great Outdoors at The Four Corners
This favorite western travel destination is loaded with history, culture, and nature exploration. During the winter months, the adjoining four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah is quite chilly because of its high elevations. Still, one stop you’ll want to make is at the Hopi villages. Of particular note is Walpi, on the First Mesa, where Hopis live just as they did a hundred years ago. There are also several awe-inspiring sites to visit including Arches National Park, Monument Valley, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument, among others. Find out more about hiking, camping. And trail riding at utah.com/four-corners.
From North to South, Find Views, Culture, History & More!
If you’re looking for warmth, Arizona is a great family destination. The region offers many interesting historical and nature sites to visit. In Phoenix, check out petroglyphs at one of several locations. Also plan to visit the Heard Museum to learn about the history, arts, and culture of the many Native American tribes of the Southwest.
Take a detour a couple of hours north and drive through Sedona’s beautiful red rock. Then head south to Tucson for a walk or tram ride through Sabino Canyon National Park. You’ll also want to drive up Mount Lemmon for breathtaking views. Finally, tour the fascinating Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is a small live zoo of the unusual mammals and reptiles that reside in the Sonoran Desert. Get tips and ideas at www.visitarizona.com.
Surf & Sun in San Diego
Visit a World-Class Zoo and More.
This beautiful coastal city is loaded with museums of all kinds including the Museum of Man, San Diego Air and Space Museum, and San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum. But that’s not all. Winter is the perfect time to go Gray Whale watching. Seal tours are offered in the winter as well. And not to be missed is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which boasts more than 3,500 different animals. Find out if the surf’s up at www.sandiego.org.
The City of Hills and Hiding Places: San Francisco
Don’t Miss the Exploratorium and Golden Gate Park.
There’s so much to do and see in the city of the famed Golden Gate Bridge. First, there’s the ever-fascinating Alcatraz prison tour. Then there’s the Exploratorium, which offers hands-on exhibits that’ll keep kids engrossed for hours. There are other kids’ museums in San Francisco as well.
The California Academy of Sciences, one of the largest natural history museums in the world, has something for everyone. Your family will be in awe checking out the redwoods at Muir Woods. Then, if you don’t mind driving a few hours away, you can also visit Yosemite National Park to see the giant sequoias. Discover many more things to do in San Fran at www.sftravel.com.
Discover Cincinnati, U.S.A.
An All-Around Family Favorite
This mid-western city is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center where your family will learn about the history of slavery, African Americans’ journey to freedom, and much more. You’ll also want to visit the interactive Newport Aquarium where your kids will thrill at touching a shark and meeting a penguin. Just a couple hours away, you can spend a day at the COSI science center, which offers more than 300 interactive exhibits. Learn about special offers at cincinnatiusa.com.
Chicago: The City That Feels Like Home
Chicago’s Art, Science, Technology Museums Teach and Inspire!
If your family likes art, you’ll definitely want to visit the enthralling Art Institute of Chicago. It houses 300,000 works in its permanent collection, not to mention numerous special exhibitions each year.
Other museums in the windy city include the National Museum of Mexican Art, The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank. Your kids will also love the Shedd Aquarium, which is home to 32,000 aquatic creatures. Learn how to do Chicago like a local at www.choosechicago.com.
If your travels will include educational opportunities for your kids, it’s a lot easier to justify taking them out of school for a few days.
Kimberly Blaker is the author of a kid’s STEM book, Horoscopes: Reality or Trickery? containing fun experiments to help kids understand the scientific method and develop critical thinking skills.