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Taking Kids out of School for Family Vacations

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Leaning Tower of Pisa. Photo ©  Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Suppose it's September, and Back to School time. And the weather in Europe is great, the airfares are low; and the Caribbean's on sale; and what a super time to go to Disney World...

If you're tempted to take your kids out of school for travel, you're not alone: reportedly, millions of parents "let children miss school to gain travel experience". (Travel Industry of America poll.)

Before the teachers panic: in most cases (43%) the amount of school missed was just one day-- and in another 29%, a mere two days were missed. Only 11% of traveling truants missed more than one week.

Points to consider
Any time you take your kids out of school, a lot of factors come into play.

  • grade level of the child. A parent might have no qualms about pulling a child out of kindergarten for a week. For a high school student, this is probably unthinkable: but what about those middle grades, like Four, Five, Six? Tough call; and the teacher should be consulted.

  • time of the academic year: for example, in the week before Christmas, my kids in elementary school seem to mainly make crafts and sing carols.
  • sign-up times: even a short absence may mean that your child misses a critical period for signing up for sports or other activities.
  • child's school performance: certainly a child already struggling to learn should not be taken away from class.
  • length of absence: is critical. An absence of several weeks in Grades 3 and up will mean major catch-up and possibly an awkward re-entry.
  • A final factor is the educational value of the travel: it might be worthwhile for a child to miss school for a week in London--but not for a week in Disneyland. (See Learning Vacations: Trips that Teach ).

The Big Picture
Many of us, in parenting, "sweat the small stuff" too much. While it's indeed possible that a child away from school for several days might miss a crucial unit on long division, typically kids docatch up when they miss school due to strep throat or chicken pox.

Interestingly, according to the TIA travel poll:

- "46% of parents likely to take their kids out of school had a similar travel opportunity when they were a child."

-Also: "Parents who have studied for or attained a masters degree are more likely to let their children miss school to travel."

These figures seem to paint a picture of educated parents who believe that the gains from family travel experiences may justify some truancy.

Consider the teachers too
BUT: if you do decide to travel during school days, remember to consider your children's teachers, and the extra work that your child's re-entry to school will mean for them.

And definitely, discuss the trip with teachers before you go. With an extended trip, perhaps your kids can make a class presentation, or do a project, based on their travels once they're back. Or perhaps the teacher will want them to take math work along with them on the trip.

By and large, my kids' teachers have been open-minded about school-time travels, but we did have one situation where my son in Grade Five paid some heavy dues after a trip in Europe.

Bottom line:talk to your teachers; weigh your pluses and minuses; and then step back to see the Big Picture.

Am I glad we took that trip to Europe? You bet. And our kids are still reaping educational benefits, in school projects etc.

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