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If you’re like me, you’ve struggled with the parental decision between school and travel. It is absolutely important for children to receive a formal education, but travel also enriches their lives and provides experiences that a book cannot.
Once your kids hit school age, how do you balance the desire to travel and show them the world with the responsibilities of school?
Why It’s Important to Attend School Every Day
Education, of course, is important. When they’re young, children are building study habits and a foundation for learning that will last a lifetime. As kids get older, missing school could be the difference between making a team, learning important information and skills, even earning coveted scholarships.
Many teachers believe that because a school’s curriculum is sequential, missing more than two consecutive days for a family vacation can be a bad idea.
Studies show that students with high attendance are more likely to graduate, whereas missing school has been tied to crime and other behavioral problems. These stats tell us what can happen when school isn’t a priority.
Many Schools Are Partially Funded Based on Attendance
When students miss class, the school itself can also be harmed. Several states tie school budgets to attendance. When a student isn’t in class, the school is potentially losing money out of its budget.
An article from The Washington Post found that some schools give students rewards for high attendance to avoid deductions from their budgets. The rewards range from “bicycles and laptops to performances by pop stars and $20,000 vouchers for a new car.”
In many states it’s mandatory that children above a certain age (often 5 or 6) be enrolled in formal education. If your child misses too many dates, you may find yourself not only in the principal’s office but in truancy court.
The Benefits of Traveling With Children
Formal education is important, but there are benefits to travel as well: exposure to new cultures and experiences, seeing geographical variations, learning the differences in international currencies compared to the US dollar and trying new foods.
Most important, Rory Mannion, director of admissions for The School in Rose Valley, says that “traveling as a family presents learning opportunities to work together, problem-solve and engage in conflict resolution.”
How to Keep Your Children Learning While Traveling
It’s important to keep children learning while they’re out of school, and there are many ways to make this happen.
Involve the Kids in Trip Planning
When our family travels together, we include the kids in travel planning. It helps them learn about geography and gives them some ownership of the itinerary. Plus, it gives them something to look forward to.
Here’s a cool math exercise: Have your children compare the value you receive from one hotel versus another when booking your room with points. Research the cash prices of each hotel room and compare that with how many points it takes to book the room. Use The Points Guy’s monthly miles and points valuation chart and see what the results are. You may learn something as well.
Ask Their Teacher for Assignments
Talk with your children’s teacher ahead of your trip and explain why you’ll be gone. Discuss what assignments your child will miss and ask what your child can do to stay current. Depending upon your child’s age, the homework will vary. For example, they may be assigned a book report, worksheets or reading and homework from their textbooks.
Know that not all schools will give out assignments in advance. In that case, expect lots of make-up work when your children return.
Dedicate Time Every Day to Homework
To maintain the normal routine, set aside time every day for your child to study, read or keep a journal. This routine will make the transition easier when you return from the trip and makes it easier to plan your day.
Visit Historical and Significant Attractions
One of the things I love most about traveling is that you can actually visit history instead of just reading about it. Don’t just read about the Revolutionary War. Take your children to Boston and walk the Freedom Trail. There are many historical tours that will transport you back in time.
As Elizabeth Hanson, a certified parenting coach and homeschooler, says, “The excitement of real-life experiences is irreplaceable.”
Have Your Child Create a Report of Their Trip
One of the best gifts your child can give is sharing the wonders of travel with others. Our family prints out pictures of our trips and my son, now in the third grade, does a short presentation to his class about what he saw. This provides valuable experience in public speaking for him and allows his classmates to learn about a new city through his eyes. Of course, not all classes or schools will use this kind of show-and-tell, but it’s worth finding out.
We also set aside a small budget so our son can bring back souvenirs for the class. For example, we’ve brought pencils from Stockholm, shiny stones from Grand Cayman and chocolates from Cancun. And when we travel internationally, we keep some of the currency so it can be passed around the classroom.
When Should You Time Absences From School?
Although many say that all school days are important, there are some times of the year that are better or worse to miss than others.
Avoid the First Weeks of School
Briana Loomis, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in child behavioral health, reminds us that “summer learning loss is real.” The first few weeks of school provide the foundation for social bonds and academic success. When children miss school at the beginning of the year, “It can be harder to join in and form relationships” with their classmates and get into the groove of the new year.
After Testing Windows
These days, it is critical that students focus ahead of standardized testing and other important exams. If you have some flexibility as to when to plan your trip, speak with their teacher and explain the situation. Together you will find some dates that can avoid these critical spots in the school calendar as major testing dates are often set well in advance.
Robin O’Neal Smith of Be Social, Get Success is a parent and former school administrator. She says, “It is better to time the vacation after the testing window or right around a holiday so they miss less instructional time.” She also adds that you should “create some windows of time during the trip when the child can devote to catching up.”
Make Sure Your Child Isn’t Struggling
Travel can be wonderful and enriching, but if your child is struggling with school, it would be best to avoid missing days until he/she catches up. The travel money may be better spent getting a tutor to help your child overcome those hurdles than to unintentionally add to the gap.
If the vacation is a way for you to get a break from work and unwind, consider a staycation. Pick your kids up after school and explore the attractions in your backyard. Most major cities have excellent museums, historical sites and more where you can create awesome family memories without hopping on a plane to travel somewhere exotic.
Should Your Child Miss School to Travel?
I understand the appeal of avoiding summer crowds and peak holiday-travel craziness. Flights and hotels are usually less expensive, there’s often more award availability and you can sometimes have a less stressful experience. Additionally, not every parent’s work schedule lines up with traveling during school breaks. The real answer to whether or not you should take your child out of school to travel is, “It depends.” There are strong opinions on both sides of the issue and they both make valid points. There is likely no right or wrong answer, but instead, there are easier and much tougher times to make it work. Sometimes the right answer is to just stay home for now and save the trip for later.
Before booking that mid-year vacation, think about the timing of the trip and how your kids are progressing in their classes. If they are making friends and earning good grades, they probably can handle a few missed days. Just be sure to craft a lesson plan with their teacher so they don’t fall behind.
Featured image by Thomas Barwick / Getty Images
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