"I believe education is essential and continues through your whole life. That's precisely the reason that I believe it can be a wonderfully enriching and appropriate thing to pull a child out of school for a family vacation," says mom of two Nikki Wills.
She tells us that she wouldn't pull her kids out of school, however, unless the trip was also educational.
"Our trips are full of incredible, hands-on educational experiences. I wouldn't take my child out of school for just a cruise, for example. But a trip to Cancun, where yes, we'd play on a beach, but would also scramble over Mayan ruins, practice our (very rudimentary) Spanish, go snorkeling and scuba diving and learn about marine biology and reef ecosystems? Sure, I'd consider it,” Wills says. "I'd try to time it with school vacations, but sometimes the significant cultural events (like festivals) don't overlap."
Wills says she talks to the teacher ahead of time to find out about missed assignments. She also has her kids prepare an extra report, either for the teacher or to share with the class, about the things they have learned during the trip.
"In my view, yes, you should pull kids out to travel. Family time is tough to come by, and oftentimes vacations during school vacation are costly," says teacher Dawn Casey-Rowe.
However, the one thing she will not do is provide missed assignments.
"No, I cannot," says Casey-Rowe. "I'm not able to forecast the direction my class will go, because it depends on the conversation."
So, what does she do? She depends on technology to keep absent kids caught up. "Most of my kids have tech access when traveling, so we can email alternate assignments, or I can keep them up with the work if they do their part and take a moment to contact me."
Having an access to technology isn't an option available to everyone, especially if you are traveling someplace remote or your child is younger, which requires the teacher to provide assignments. In fact, some schools frown on pulling your child out of school for vacations for this reason.
Former teacher and school principal Richard Horowitz says he doesn't like the message that vacations during the school year send to kids.
"One point that I emphasize is that when a parent takes their child out of school for a vacation they are sending a message to their child that it is OK to ignore a responsibility to attend school because of the family's desire to take a trip," he said.
"Many parents request that teachers supply them with anticipated assignments so that their kids will not fall behind. My teachers rightfully find this an unfair demand and I support them with the policy and the preparation of a generic set of recommendations on what a parent could have their child do on a vacation that supports learning," Horowitz says.
It depends on many factors including how they are doing in school (are they already struggling with math and missing school would put them further behind — or are they doing well?), if they want to go and miss out on school activities, access to technology, as well as school policies and your teacher's willingness to work with you.
"Public schools can be a little more challenging to navigate, especially with the emphasis in recent years on standardized testing and common standards," says Chester Goad, who is a university administrator and former principal and teacher. He says that parents do need to keep in mind the ties between taxpayer funding formulas, enrollment and attendance.
"I know some parents who have withdrawn their children from school for extended trips in an effort to avoid negative consequences of absences," says Goad, who reveals that many schools make exceptions for travel abroad opportunities or for significant learning experiences.
"It is difficult to argue that an immersion experience with a new language, visiting ruins rather than reading about them, or exposure to diverse cultures is not a worthwhile or significant learning experience," says Goad. "Honesty is always the best policy, and most administrations will work with families when those once in a lifetime opportunities come along."
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