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Taking a child out of school to travel: why and how we do it

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Taking a child out of school to travel is a controversial subject, and something that I don’t do lightly when I travel with kids. Most schools don’t love it when you take a child out to go on vacation, some even impose fines – and there have even been instances of parents going to jail for continuously taking kids out of school to travel.

But there are also some really good reasons to take a child out of school to travel, and it’s something that we do often. This is a guide for how and why to take a child out of school to travel, as well as instances when we don’t take the kids out of school for vacation.

Reasons for taking a child out of school to travel

Taking a child out of school to travel
Spending time together on the beach in Amelia Island, Florida

There are so many good reasons to take a child out of school to travel, and the number one reason for most families is going to be cost.

The price of everything from flights to hotels to attraction tickets skyrockets during school holidays, which is understandable: the demand for travel goes up during that time, so airlines and hotels can get away with increasing the prices.

But this does mean that families limited to traveling during school vacation are forced to pay much higher rates for the exact same product, and for many families, this means that their travel options are limited – some can’t even afford to travel at all.

Taking a child out of school by even a few days can change the prices by hundreds, sometimes even thousands of dollars, and this is a huge reason people will choose to have kids miss school.

Other people want to travel for longer than school holidays may allow. Many families want to visit places for more than just a week or two, spending more time in a new place in order to see as much as possible, to learn as much about the culture and the people as they can, and really become immersed in a new environment.

Although most families who travel long term do end up home schooling their children, there are some that will take children out of school for extended periods in order to travel with them for a longer period of time.

Other reasons might include being able to see a particular event that might be occurring during term time, or attend a family gathering such as a wedding or family reunion that happens to be going on outside of school holidays.

All of these reasons are fairly common ones when it comes to allowing children to miss school, and although most families don’t make this decision lightly, many do decide to make the choice for one reason or another.

Reasons for NOT taking a child out of school to travel

Taking a child out of school to travel
Learning about whale sharks in Atlanta, Georgia

For as much as I think there are good reasons to take a child out of school to travel. there are definitely some reasons not to, and these are things I have thought about over the last year that my son was in elementary school.

The biggest concern for most parents is whether or not the school will allow them to take a child out to travel, and if they don’t allow it, what happens if they go anyway.

Rules will vary between different states, even different countries, and between public and private school. I know schools that encourage family travel and have very few rules in place to restrict parents from going away during term time – and I know schools that impose fines upon parents who take their kids out of school for vacation.

Almost every school has a rule in place about how many unexcused absences are allowed, and hitting that number can cause major problems. My son attends a private school that allows travel during term time, but there is a set number of days he is allowed to miss and if we reach that limit, he could be asked to leave the school.

Another thing to consider is the child’s age. The younger they are, the easier it is to be able to take them out of school without worrying too much about what they’ll miss and how they’ll catch up on work when they return.

At the Kindergarten and grade school levels, most kids can afford to miss a few days and not have to worry about missing huge chunks of work or any important exams. When it comes to high school, especially when looking into college prep and finals, it’s much harder to have kids miss any amount of school without them risking missing something important.

Another consideration is whether you think your child will suffer too much academically if they miss school for travel. If a child is struggling with a particular subject, then having them miss school probably isn’t going to help too much, and it might make it even harder for them to catch up when they return.

Something else to consider is extra curricular activities, and even social events. Any parent whose child plays a sport knows how hard it is to miss practice when traveling, and some teams won’t even allow kids to play if they’re going to be absent for more than one or two weeks.

Similarly, your child might have a birthday party or another event with their friends that they don’t want to miss, and while I don’t let my children’s social lives dictate our travel schedule, I do try to avoid them missing too much time with their friends as I worry it might lead them to resent taking the time off and therefore grow to dislike travel.

How we go about preparing to take a child out of school to travel

The first thing I usually do is take a look at the school calendar to see if there are any holidays or vacation weeks that we can work around so that I’m taking the kids out of school for as little time as possible while still finding the best possible fares.

We also check to make sure that nothing important is going on with sports practices or school events that they might not want to miss.

The next thing I do is talk to the kids teachers. I always write out an official letter to put on file explaining the dates that we’ll be away and where we’ll be going, but I also talk to the teacher just to let them know the details and find out what they would like us to do about missed work.

Some teachers will prepare work ahead of time, some will keep it aside for the kids to make up when they return, and I’ve heard of others that don’t have the kids do anything, but do ask that the parents cover the topics they’ll be missing so they’re up to speed when they return.

The Kindergarten teacher my son had last year always kept the work aside for him, and he had a week to complete it when he returned from vacation. The teacher also asked that he prepare a little something to talk to the class about where he’d been and what he’d done, so we made sure to collect things from our trip that he could take in for show and tell and talk about.

When we return, we usually spend about a week making up work and getting caught up; I’ll double check with the teacher after that to make sure my son is good to go and that he’s managed to catch up with his classmates. Then of course, we start planning his next trip!

What we do while traveling – and why we do it

Taking a child out of school to travel
Visiting Buckingham Palace in London

While we’re traveling, unless a teacher has specifically asked us to complete work while away, we don’t worry too much about getting any work done (if we do have homework to complete, we always try to do it on the plane so it’s out of the way).

We do try to find things that are educational while we travel, things like kids museums and science centers, but most of the time I honestly think that travel itself is educational enough; it opens up children’s eyes to knew people and experiences and cultures, and even a trip to Walt Disney World can be educational!

When we travel with our kids, we are teaching them so much more than they can learn in a classroom. We’re teaching them about acceptance of new things and new experiences; that even if something doesn’t look familiar and is maybe a bit scary to begin with, that it can be fun and interesting and exciting.

I want my children to grow up knowing that different isn’t scary, that it’s OK if people don’t look like they do or eat the same foods or speak the same language, that they can still learn from them and be friends with them and play with them.

I’ve watched my kids make new friends in playgrounds across the world where they didn’t understand a word the other kids were saying, but it didn’t matter! They still wanted to be friends.

I don’t know about you, but our lives can be hectic; between work and school and other activities, not to mention homework and cooking and cleaning and everything else that we do, we sometimes don’t get to have too much one on one time with our kids.

When we travel with them, we get to spend quality time with them; whether that’s exploring a new country or riding a favorite ride at a theme park, we get to do it together, and that is incredibly important to me.

I don’t want to blink and find my children have grown up and I’ve missed spending time with them because I was worried about them missing a few days of school when we could have been spending that time together. Life is too short.

Taking a child out of school to travel

How do you feel about taking a child out of school to travel?

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Christine Z

Wednesday 11th of September 2019

Hi! I just came across your post as I was going through Tailwind tribes and had to read it. I completely agree with you. Life is too short to wait to do something. However, I only take my daughter out of school for no longer than a week. She's only in 3rd grade, so she is still young. I want to take her out even more but I don't want to make it too hard on her. This year, we are going on a holiday Disney cruise where she will miss a week (can't do a Christmas cruise in the summer!) and in 2021, I want to go to Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms. Just like you, my daughter makes friends everywhere - from Hong Kong to Mexico to Europe. She is starting to understand that people exist all over the world and every one is unique in their culture. I am so blessed and happy to be able to give this to her. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

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