We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: Is It OK to Skip School for Vacation?

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Maybe a postcard would smooth things over with your child's teacher? ©www.zazzle.co.uk

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

From the looks of things, you are both used to traveling with your children. But I have to ask, do you ever let them miss school to go on a family vacation?

Next week (in 8 days to be exact, but who’s counting?) we are leaving for a cruise with our two children and my parents. For a number of reasons, including the fact that it was less expensive, we chose to do this the week before their school closes for spring break instead of during the actual week they are off.

My husband and I didn’t think it would be a big deal for them to miss five days (at least not in first and third grade). So I was surprised when one of my friends told me that she couldn’t believe I was doing this. She happens to be a teacher and so I guess she has more insight on it than I do. But are they really going to fall that far behind by missing a few days of school? Would you ever pull your kids out of school for a vacation?

–Totally Truant

Suzanne: I’m probably the wrong one to ask, because in my mind an ideal education is the biggest, longest vacation you could imagine. If I had my choice (and the funds to back it up) I would take my two children on a trip around the world, teaching them about history and different cultures first hand. We would learn math in miles and time zones. All that foreign vocabulary would mean something. We might even meet a nice monk who could teach them meditation and then they would become zen little children. But enough about my fantasies.

What you are asking is a valid question, and one which deserves an entirely realistic answer. By taking your children out of school for a few days and bringing them on a family vacation, you are just exposing them to a different type of learning experience. And you shouldn’t feel guilty in the least (even if your vacation is more about portholes than rose windows).

The last time we took a vacation — and took the kids out of school — my son filled 16 pages in his journal without being asked. He wrote furiously as we drove up the southern Californian coast. He sketched his own versions of the 18th century European paintings we saw at the Getty Museum. In the back of the San Diego Mission, the architectural ruins captivated him. We even fit in his first college tour — to USC — as if that wasn’t inspiration enough to keep getting good grades. And in the end, he returned to school with great stories to share with his teacher and the class (but it still didn’t get him out of all of the class work and homework he had missed).

If I were you, I would reassure your teacher friend that of course you have the best interest of your children at heart and that nowhere does it say that the only way a child can learn is within the four walls of a school building. There are endless benefits to a change of scenery, not to mention in spending time with those who are closest to them. Tell her how much you are looking forward to them trying out new things and creating memories with their siblings, parents and grandparents — something that doesn’t get much priority during the school year when there’s homework to do and a full slate of activities. And if she’s still not convinced, you can always invite her to come along.

Amanda: Whatever you do, please don’t pass my contact info on to your friend because she’d probably give me a hard time too — in a few short weeks my family is going on a week-long vacation to DisneyWorld and  like you, we are taking our two older kids out of school for the duration (don’t tell them though — it’s a surprise!).

So obviously I don’t have a problem with it. This upcoming trip is the longest our kids will miss school for reasons other than illness, but we’ve done it before, with little to no repercussions. Maybe their teachers would beg to differ, but my position is, my kids (in the second and fifth grades) are doing just fine in school and although they will miss quite a bit, I’m confident in the abilities of myself and (mostly) my husband to catch them up.

What we’ll do this time (and it’s worked well in the past) is to ask the teachers ahead of time for any missed assignments. We’ll dedicate an hour or so each day to doing what we can to get done — the remainder will be completed on our return. We also try to keep a daily journal and incorporate learning into our activities. For example, the car ride from the airport to the resort may be spent observing and talking about the area we are visiting. Is the city bigger or smaller than where we live? Where do the people work? Where are the schools? What are the similarities and differences between where we currently are and where we come from (things like weather, forms of transportation, etc.)?

Having said all this, in booking our trip we were pretty cognizant of what was going on academically (as it sounds like you were too). The two weeks before we leave my elder boy has standardized tests — I wouldn’t pull him out during that time, nor in the weeks leading up to it. The same would stand if we were looking at a science project that was due or some other important assignment.

What it boils down to for me is knowing what your kids are capable of. If you are comfortable with letting them miss, by all means, sit back in your lounge chair and relax!

********************

Have you ever had your kids miss school in favor of a vacation? How did the teacher react?

If you’ve got a problem that needs twice the opinion, drop us a line at advice@wearebothright.com

7 Responses to “Our Two Cents: Is It OK to Skip School for Vacation?”

  1. Romy says:

    i have to say no. it’s not okay. but that’s only because I am a teacher and totally jealous that I can’t go on vacation when it is less expensive and less crowded!
    I totally approve, as long as you don’t ask the teacher in advance for the work they are going to miss!

  2. Regina says:

    I too, pull my children out of school for family trips. And I never asked for the work ahead of time. It puts a damper on the vacation when school work still needs to be done. My children do well in school. Any necessary missed work can be made up after the trip. As much as we need a vacation from work, they need a vacation from school. Plus, I agree, learning occurs in more places than in the 4 walls of a school

    • amanda says:

      I think that’s a really good point Regina — the kids do need a break. Yes, they get vacations and the like, but I think additional time is necessary, especially when you have kids who are working hard and doing well.

  3. Teachers have 25-30 (or more) students in the class. They work longer days than most people see preparing for upcoming projects, grading work, etc. Having to put together a week of work for a child heading off on vacation adds a a lot of work for a teacher. They have to explain things that would normally be explained in class, correct extra assignments, plan out extra lesson plans. Imagine multiplying that by 30.

    I agree that a family vacation can add a lot to a child’s life, but I also think people under-estimate what impact it can have a on a child to miss a whole week of work. What if it’s the week they learn the basics of multiplication (for example)? Not having that extra time to absorb the basic principles can have a snowball effect over time, especially for kids who would otherwise struggle. It may be worthwhile (I would certainly do it for certain circumstances), but I think the fact that most parents don’t think twice about it sends a poor message to our kids about the value of educational basics. And it shows what little faith (and support) we, as a society, put into our education system.

  4. Oh, and I should have added that it isn’t that a teacher doesn’t want to make sure your child gets an education, but they also want that time to cut into the time spent caring for their own families. I grew up with a mom as a teacher. Other kids’ extra vacation work meant a chunk less time my mom got to spend with me.

    • suzanne says:

      Our school actually has a rule in the parents’ handbook about making up work. They even tell you on back to school night that they don’t mind vacations outside school break but no work will be provided in advance. To me that means that the real concern is the teacher’s workload, which I get. It’s a lot for the student to make up when you get back but my son didn’t mind. And it wasn’t anything my husband and I couldn’t help him with.

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