Monday, November 16, 2015

We are blessed with a fairly healthy child. Yet, she is unlikely to have a perfect attendance record any time soon. This post explains why.

Is It OK to Take Your Child Out of School for Vacation?

Last spring a viral post was making rounds on Facebook about a Boston marathon runner who took his kids out of school to watch a marathon and received a strict reprimand from the school’s principal about “inexcusable absences”. He responded “in kind” saying that his kids “…learned as much in the five days we were in Boston as they would in an entire year in school”. I had to laugh as every year we take our daughter out of school twice outside of normal school breaks. In fall, she travels with my husband to Florida to meet up with her German aunt and uncle, and in winter or spring they go to Germany to visit the rest of the family. Since the flight to Germany is so long and tickets are so expensive, they go for 2 or 3 weeks around Presidents’ Day or Spring break. While I cannot claim that she learns more in a few weeks of travel than in an entire year of school, it’s certainly an incredibly enriching experience for her to be able to visit new places, connect to her extended family, and acquire new knowledge by doing not just by reading and listening and filling up worksheets.

Work With School, Not Fight It

Luckily, our district has a much more pragmatic policy about vacation absences – probably because many families in Silicon Valley go to family events and holidays to their home countries around the year. We always gave school advanced notice that Smarty will be out and even asked her teachers to pick a week that would be less important for her to miss – like we would not intentionally miss a testing week if we could avoid it in advance. Then we sign an “Independent Study Contract” – basically, a paper saying that our daughter will do work assigned by a teacher during her absence.  This keeps all parties reasonably happy.

Negotiate on Amount of Independent Work

Our first teacher just laughed at Independent Study Contract and gave Smarty a travel journal printable. We were not so lucky with our second grade teacher who gave her pages and pages of worksheets. We were rookies then and did not push back. Our friend who also took her twin girls out for 2 weeks told me later that she simply said, No! to the amount of work and negotiated for a reasonable amount. Luckily, third and fourth grade teachers were both reasonable in the amount of work they sent off with Smarty on vacation trips.

Is There a Price to Pay?

If you consider a mini-vacation during a school year, you have to look objectively at how important it is for your child to be present in the classroom and how difficult it would be for him or her to catch up with the material covered in the classroom. So far for Smarty the most unsettling thing was to catch up with writing work, because students are starting to work on longer stories over a number of days, which leaves her behind. Ironically, right now I am most worried not about her missing one week of school, since they are doing unit reviews and having short days because of fall conferences. I am worried about her missing three band practices and falling behind in something where we are not able to help her catch up. I am afraid that once she moves to middle school, we will really have to take a hard look at our travel schedule and see if benefits of these trips outweigh the risks of feeling disconnected from school work and social life. In the meantime, we are already planning this spring’s trip to Germany for all of us!

Your Turn

If your child goes to brick-and-mortar school, have you ever taken him or her out for vacation during time when school is in session? If yes, then for how long?


Ticia said...

I think it's easier to do things like this in elementary school then middle and high school. But, it's a good thing to do (though I still struggle with taking kids out of school for vacations, I do understand the benefits, and yes there is something funny coming from a homeschooler saying this).

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

We haven't done this yet, but I struggle with the emphasis on being in school all the time when there is often MORE learning going on on a trip.