Pulling Kids Out of School to Travel: Yay or Nay?

Posted by Fodor's Guest Blogger on December 08, 2008 at 9:11:56 AM EST | Post a Comment
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We're pleased to welcome guest blogger Kara Williams of TheVacationGals.com to Fodor's.

I'll say it up front: I have no qualms about pulling my children out of school to go on a family vacation. For me, considering the young ages of my kids (six and eight), a family trip—whether it's to touristy California theme parks or for a once-per-decade family reunion (here are a few tips for planning one)—trumps handwriting practice and learning multiplication tables any day.

Next week, my kids are missing the last three days before school lets out for winter break so we can take them on an all-inclusive resort vacation in Mexico with their cousins, aunts and uncles and two grandmas. We booked the trip prior to Christmas because airfares were cheaper than if we'd traveled between Christmas and New Year's Day.

Missing three days of school to go on a much-anticipated, multi-generational family vacation? No brainer. Especially because the Friday before school lets out is a throwaway day, with an all-school morning assembly and class holiday parties in the afternoon.

I contend families that travel together, create stronger bonds together—and have a ton of fun along the way. In our busy lives—juggling carpools, work, school, extra-curricular activities, exercise, volunteering—it's important for families to drop out, unplug, get out of Dodge and create a whole bunch of shared memories. And if that means missing a day or two or even a week of school every once in a while, so be it.

Of course, not all vacations, families, school policies and children's academic skills are created equal. If you're on the fence about whether or not to pull your children out of school for a family trip, keep in mind the following considerations and tips. Have something to add? Share your tip.

1. Travel on school time when the kids are young.

As kids grow, it is absolutely more difficult for students to make up work. Think of a first-grader's academic week versus a high-schooler's. Plus, with hyper-competitive school sports, teenagers may not be able to miss compulsory practices without being kicked off the team. That said, my sister-in-law is taking her middle-school-age sons to Thailand this spring, missing a week of school; their social studies teachers welcome their travels, saying the boys bring a "worldly view" to class after far-flung vacations.

2. Get involved in your kids' classrooms.

Informing teachers that you're taking your kids out of school for personal travel goes over a lot better when you have great rapport already. If you volunteer in the classroom, you know what kids are studying (observing firsthand your child's strengths and weaknesses), and, frankly, you earn a few brownie points.

3. Figure out how children will make up work.

Indeed, it's a pain for a teacher to think ahead and photocopy worksheets for kids to take along on your trip, but if you ask nicely in advance for homework kids can do on the plane, your children won't be as far behind when you return. High-school students might ask friends for their lecture notes, rather than bothering teachers to recreate another lesson just for them.

4. Realize you are burdening your children's teachers.

Ultimately, it's the teacher's responsibility to make sure your child learns, especially in this day and age of all-important standardized-test performance and school achievement goals. No matter what, you will burden teachers with your kids' absence. A genuine "thank you" for helping your children make up tests and learn missed material will go a long way. Support your teachers' efforts by doing everything you can at home to help your kids get caught up.

5. Have kids keep a journal or give an oral report on your destination.

Even if teachers don't assign these tasks, your children can offer to share the places they've visited with their classmates. Pre-writers can draw pictures of the things they saw and did on their trip.

6. Recognize your own children's abilities.

If your kids are not naturally good students or if they don't work well independently, it might be difficult for them to do homework on the road or otherwise make up missed work.

7. Find out your school's attendance policies.

Some school districts highly discourage kids missing class, since schools receive funding based on average daily attendance. Others make clear that "children cannot learn if they are not in school," even holding kids back a grade for extended absences. If you plan on pulling your children for a long period of time, understand what policies you might be up against.

8. Don't abuse the privilege.

Pulling kids out of school several Friday afternoons to hit the highway before rush-hour traffic won't earn you any goodwill. Same goes for taking kids to special local events during the school day; book your "Disney on Ice" tickets for the weekend. Make travel decisions wisely.

I know some families would never take kids out of school for my aforementioned beach vacation. Nor would they admit to booking travel—necessitating missed school—on off-peak days to save money. Again, for me, it's a lifestyle choice. My kids are good students, they're young, I've got a great relationship with their teachers, and we'll do some academic work on the road.

Since they are both in dual-language classrooms, learning Spanish alongside native speakers, perhaps we'll have a couple of afternoons of "Spanish only" discussions while we're lolling by the pool, or encourage them to order in Spanish at the on-site restaurants. Then there are the Mayan ruins to tour and unusual geological formations like cenotes to explore. No matter what, I know we'll have a ton of fun relaxing together as a family, leaving work and school obligations behind. Muy bueno!

What do you think? Would you take your kids out of school? Weigh in on our Forums thread about this article

About the Writer

Kara Williams blogs about all things travel related at TheVacationGals.com. Read more about her travel writing at KaraSWilliams.com.

Other Vacation Gals Guest Posts

  • Top 10 Things Your Kids Can and Can't Do on Vacation
  • Gifts for Traveling Mamas
  • Top Family Travel Trends of 2008
  • Comments from the Forums

    Fodor's members share their tips, experiences, and opinions related to taking their kids out of school for trips. Below are just a few of their comments; add your own.

    "School is a process - not a place! I read that line in a book about a family who travelled and had no problems taking our two boys, at the time 9 and 11 years, out of school for one year to travel around Australia." -- stormbird

    "I know there are strong opinions on either side of this issue. My school district allows 3 days of excused absence for travel and we take them. If we weren't allowed these days, it would be a different issue, but they are, so we use them." -- karens

    "I don't think anyway, is that the schools lose money for each day a student is not there. At least, they do in California. This is why we now have a whole week off for Thanksgiving instead of just two days. So many parents kept their kids out of school to go on trips that the school district lost a lot of money. It makes it much more difficult to budget if lots of kids are taken out at various times of the school year." -- Barbara

    "Everyone's mileage varies. Mountain Mama's kids are 6 & 8. Hope MM checks back in when her kids are juniors or seniors in high school and the family ski trip bumps up against final exams, AP review/test, SAT/ACT, college app's, etc." -- obxgirl

    "If the family can only take vacation during school year due to one of the parents' jobs, reasonable. If all students involved are stellar and responsible, no problem. If it is a once and done deal, like a family reunion, we work with those people. There may be other instances when this is valid,also,but most people should try to schedule their vacations in summer break or holiday break, if feasible." -- maribethp



    Photo Credit: FrankyDeMeyer/istock photo

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