Schoolcations Are All the Rage, Here’s How to Take One

·9 min read
Orbon Alija/Getty
Orbon Alija/Getty

The pandemic has turned many parents into teachers, making remote learning challenging for the entire family. It’s especially tough for those who may still be going into their office and can’t be home to supervise, or if the homeschooling responsibility lies on the shoulders of one parent who may also be juggling working from home. The stress is tremendous. A new national poll of the U.S. workforce by Eagle Hill Research found that 65 percent of employees with children in remote learning situations are feeling burnout.

Mom and dad need more than a “Calgon take me away” relaxing bath moment. Parents looking to exhale are finding relief with “schoolcations.” Families are loading up backpacks with school supplies, packing the laptop and hitting the road. Online learning can be done anywhere.

“Schoolcations provide a dazzling distraction to the bleak academic education lockdown that mass remote learning has rolled out,” says Karen Aronian, Ed.D. of Aronian Education Design, who consulted with JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton (Marriott) pre-COVID on how to elevate their environs for young guests and families.

Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education, an education consulting firm specializing in admissions to elite universities and colleges, says 25 percent of his company’s Silicon Valley clients are attending school virtually and currently are on a schoolcation. “Some of those students are doing bespoke activities like forestry internships in Montana.”

He says his clients were enticed by the opportunity to get a little R&R and the educational experience for their kids. “Hotels like the Four Seasons Punta Mita in Mexico and the Anse Chastanet in St. Lucia offer educational support to their children via ‘virtual learning officers’ who facilitate and take care of their children’s every school and personal need,” says Koh.

The Brenke family was on the brink. “We were all becoming increasingly restless with being sheltered in one place since March. Virtual schooling was becoming a chore. The kids were having meltdowns about having to do school via Zoom. Electronic fatigue was rampant, we all were just miserable. Kids aren’t meant to learn in a virtual environment, especially our kindergarten and first grader. We needed a change of scenery, a mental reset,” says Rachel Brenke.

So she, husband Nathan and their five children, ages 5-15, in the middle of September left Fredericksburg, Virginia and hit the road for nearly a month. They went to Sunset Beach in North Carolina and then to Disney in Orlando. The children kept a regular routine with their remote learning as did Rachel and Nathan, who worked remotely.

In between, there was fun and enhanced learning opportunities. For example, “At the beach the kids learned about the anatomy and reproductive systems of marine animals and crustaceans,” says Rachel. The Brenkes exhaled.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy of the Brown Family</div>
Courtesy of the Brown Family

Tammy and Jayson Brown and their three children ages, 11-14, were in a rut with everyone at their Decatur, Georgia home, all day, every day. “We were stressed and overwhelmed. The kids were spending six or seven hours online for school, plus homework. The internet was slow with excessive use by everyone working virtually. We just wanted to get out and do something different,” says Tammy.

The family spent several days in Nashville and Fairfield Glade, Tennessee. They maintained their routine but also played. “We took late afternoon nature walks and explored the ecosystems. Because our son Jayson has an interest in limnology, we spent a couple of days on a platoon boat on St. George Lake and explored the ecosystem of freshwater systems, which included jumping in,” says Tammy.

She says of their schoolcation, “Your workload is the same, but the environment is different. Sometimes all you need is a change in scenery to recharge and reload.”

If you and your family are ready for a respite, here’s where to go to energize everybody.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

The Surf, Sand & Study program by the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau invites families to explore the history, outdoor adventures, and educational opportunities at parks, museums and the arts. There are exclusive offers via a downloadable Passport at more than 50 Virginia Beach businesses like ziplining, surfing, eco-tours, and fishing charters. Then there is the Virginia Aquarium, horseback riding, gaming centers and yoga classes. Need more ideas? Turn to the Distance Learning Guide. You can find discounts at participating hotels that range from the Econo Lodge Virginia Beach—On the Ocean, moderately priced Fairfield Inn & Suites By Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront to the upscale Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

Turtle Inn, Placencia Village, Belize

The Turtle Inn is among the Family Coppola Hideaways resorts that feature the “Coppola Curriculum”. For three to four hours a day, children of all ages enjoy science, arts, language, adventure, culinary, cultural and service activities. This can include everything from bird counting by species, organic gardening, wood carving, tree planting, Creole and Spanish classes, getting PADI certified, reading stories to local school children, tortilla making and guacamole preparation and more. Up the cool factor with time in the rainforest, waterfalls and at the Mayan ruins. A poolside garden view cottage starts at $329 a night. The “Coppola Curriculum is $150 per student, per day.

Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Your kids will welcome the “field trips” offered by the resort. They can join a naturalist on a dolphin encounter where they venture out on the Kiawah River, either by kayak or motorboat and learn close-up about dolphins and the intricate system of creeks and marshes. There’s an open-air art studio for pottery, mosaics, glass fusing, and canvas and wood painting. From a safe distance, learn about alligators and explore remote island habitats in search of birds. No school day is complete without PE. Here, that means paddleboarding, kayaking or taking tennis, golf, archery and yoga classes. A four-bedroom house rental currently starts at $360 a night and a 3-bedroom villa $170. Most field trip experiences that require a reservation (e.g., nature tours, kayaking or boating excursions) are an additional fee. Some programming at the Nature Center is free.

Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Schools in session at the Forbes 5-star Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal. The Waldorf teamed up with TakeLessons to offer students (grades K-12) private tutoring sessions. There are also free live and pre-recorded group classes and enrichment content like singing, Spanish, and sign language. You can interact with the instructor and ask questions. Beyond the classroom, there are live, guided virtual field trips to places like the Eiffel Tower at night. Work with a personal concierge to arrange a virtual meeting with a TakeLessons counselor to discuss your child’s needs and goals and develop a customized program. Custom sessions start at $100 and go to $250 for curated virtual field trips. The guest room starting rate is $750. When not studying, nearby there’s scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing and horseback riding.

Dunwoody, Georgia

You may not have heard of Dunwoody, but it’s less than 20 miles north of Atlanta. Discovery Dunwoody is leaning into what it calls “edu-vacations”. While your child has their prescribed studies, Dunwoody hopes to enhance the online learning experience. To complement science and nature studies, there are seven parks and more than 180 acres of green space. The Dunwoody Nature Center is ideal for pre-k through fifth-grade students, and it offers worksheets on its website that teach them about nature. From identifying different plants and having an insect scavenger hunt to learning about Native American life and sustainability, students learn and have fun. The Spruill Center for Arts offers opportunities to enjoy performing arts, glassblowing, and painting. There are several family friendly options for your stay for less than $130 a night like Staybridge Suites, Residence Inn Perimeter Center and Embassy Suites Atlanta Perimeter Center.

Marriott Cancun Resort, Cancun, Mexico

The Marriott’s N.E.D. Talks for Kids is a new educational program targeted to elementary and middle school students. It includes piñata making classes, cooking lessons, decorating a turtle egg, learning about measurements though a kiddie mocktail lesson, and designing a plaster turtle figure. As part of the turtle release program, a nature expert also shares information on how the resort places sea turtle nests and transports them to a safe area until they hatch. In addition, take advantage of free, introductory Spanish lessons. The one-hour classes cover the basics, including greetings and common phrases. N.E.D. Talks activities must be booked a week in advance. Top off the schoolcation with a day trip to the ruins in Tulum, or to cenotes (natural sinkholes) for a swim. Accommodations start at $149 a night and there’s no extra charge for N.E.D. Talk activities.

Salamander Resort & Spa, Middleburg, Virginia

No doubt horse country is a change of scenery for city dwellers. At Salamander take advantage of socially distanced desks in one of their meeting rooms for a quiet classroom-like environment for virtual learning sessions. The Schoolcation activities are included in the $495 per night fee, and includes a wake up, warm up 8:30-9 a.m., a rotating movement session to get your mind revved up for learning. That’s followed by a history walk through the Village of Middleburg to hear about local history, a skills camp – take your pick of tennis, soccer, basketball, disc golf chipping and putting skills. There’s an afternoon hike through the resort’s grounds, family game night and s’mores by the fire.

Ojai Valley Inn, Ojai, California

The kids will get a kick out of having school desks in the guest rooms. Parents can work in a private meeting room. Fresh-pressed juice and dried fruits and nuts are delivered daily. The Learn & Play package includes a Fireplace Shangri-La guest room or suite, conference room for individual use between 9-5, during the workweek, a family game night basket of board games, in room movie and popcorn, a one hour private rental of the Camp Oak playground and lawn games. Rates from $487 a night based on 7-night stay.

Montage Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, South Carolina

Palmetto Bluff is a 20,000 nature preserve. Hopefully, its beauty won’t distract your kids from getting schoolwork done. The Montage Academy for students ages 6-17, offers 24/7 virtual tutoring through, an all-day monitored study hall during the school week and educational programs. There’s high-speed internet and an IT support team. Students have access to a paper review service, practice quizzes in several subject areas, video lesson libraries, and Princeton Review test prep for SAT/ACT exams. Lunch and healthy snacks are included, as are movement breaks throughout the day sponsored by Spa Montage. You get one elective per day, such as life sciences (cooking, baking) and science (conservation, ecoscience). Your swag bag comes with headphone, hand sanitizer, notebook and gift from The Montage Academy is $175 for a full day and $725 per school week. Room rates start at $396.

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