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!

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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