I tell my kids that learning is their job right now. But not all learning happens in a classroom or at school. Sometimes, experiencing history, culture, or applied math instead of reading about it in a book is what a kid needs to best learn. And that’s why sometimes I let mine miss a few days in the classroom for family trips.
I know most families plan vacations during times when the kids are out of school, but hear me out.
For us, lately, the decision to allow my kids to miss school for travel is based on money. You can save lots of money traveling in the off-season. My tweens are missing four days of school this fall to take a cruise that cost $2,500 for our family of four. To take that same cruise in June would have rung in at $5,100. Yes, the cruise companies and resorts know exactly what they’re doing when they price off-season and shoulder season travel.
In years gone by, weather and crowds have influenced the decision to schedule a trip during school versus winter or summer break. Beaches that are jam-packed in July are perfect in September when all the vacationers leave. Disney World, considered by some a bucket list trip, is much more pleasant in late fall, winter, or pretty much any time other than summer, when Orlando feels like the center of the sun.
We’ve also vacationed during school time because of our work schedule. When I worked in a traditional office, most of my coworkers had school-aged kids. Working out the summer schedule felt a little like the scramble for supplies at the Hunger Games cornucopia. If you don’t have flexibility when you take your vacation, going when school is in session might be your only option.
Beyond simple practical considerations, the last few years have had a tremendous impact on my "YOLO" mindset and made me very cognizant of time with my kids and the importance of teaching them life skills. Sometimes my agenda doesn’t line up with the school’s schedule and I have to decide. I’ll admit I almost always swing in the direction of “take the trip,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t take my kids’ responsibility to their schools seriously.
Age and school performance are the big things to consider if you’re thinking about pulling your kids out of school to travel. Makeup work is far easier for younger kids. Once a child hits middle school, academics are more demanding. A child who excels at school might find making up missed work a breeze while a struggling student might have a harder time. Also, be aware of your school/district policy on absences. I know how many days per semester my kids are permitted to miss and how absences are categorized (excused versus unexcused). Although it hasn’t happened and I don’t plan for it to, I know what process we’d face if our kids missed more than nine days in a semester.
Be honest with the school. Lying about an absence jeopardizes everyone’s relationship with that teacher, sends the message to your kids that it’s OK to be dishonest, and puts an extra burden on your child to perpetuate a lie that probably wasn’t their idea. We don’t ask the teacher to prepare work packets or give assignments in advance. That’s asking them to do extra work and the few times a teacher has offered, doing school on vacation days doesn’t always work. If your trip has an educational angle that aligns with the curriculum, ask about special projects or independent study but don’t demand. And don’t be a jerk post vacation and expect the teacher to put in extra time to help your child play catch up. That’s on you.
Child psychologist Mariana Badiu had this to say about the mental health benefits of allowing a child to miss school for vacation: “From my experience in private practice, I have observed that missing a few days from school, occasionally, encourages honest and trustworthy communication between parents and children, and helps children feel safe in sharing their true emotions. Spontaneity also boosts creativity and contributes to cognitive stimulation by serving as an antidote for perfectionism and allowing children to develop out-of-the-box thinking.”
What’s right for one family might not be right for the next, and what works for us now might not work in the future. I’ve been a mom for 30 years and we’ve missed school for trips more times than I can count on my fingers. It gets trickier as kids get older. Guiding a child through makeup work is never, ever as fun as the trip but I’ve got no regrets. When my kids are older and remember snippets from childhood, I think they’ll remember how cool it was to go to London spur of the moment because the airfare was too awesome to pass up more than they remember their fourth-grade teacher being mad about it.
There’s no cookie-cutter approach to deciding what’s best in a particular situation. At the end of the day, the decision on whether to miss school belongs to the parents.
Jill Robbins has a 30-year-old daughter and two 12-year-old sons. Despite being a parent for over three decades, she's come to terms with the fact that she's never going to be that mom who has it all together. Jill's writing has appeared in SheKnows, HuffPost, Tripsaavy, Insider, The Girlfriend, and other publications. She encourages parents to find adventure with their kids, whether that's across the ocean or across the street. Jill lives in San Antonio with her husband and two youngest kids, although she's usually somewhere else.