Off-season rates for hotels, cruises, and attractions, are plummeting and tempting you — or tempting their parents to ask you — to take the kids out of school and go on a dream vacation. Should you pull the kids out of class to travel?
Teachers' opinions on this topic vary.
"No," says Kimberly Coulter, an elementary school teacher in Flint, Mich. "Daily attendance is critical to academic success. Kids should only be absent when absolutely necessary. When kids miss school, they inevitably fall behind."
"Yes," argues Pat Marsden, a mother of four children, a grandmother of five, and a retired teacher from New Jersey. "A child can learn a lot on vacation. Conscientious students make up the work. Lax ones don’t. When the parent makes prior contact with the school, it facilitates things greatly. But when the parent is oblivious, so is the child."
School districts throughout the country have set policies regarding absences. While illness, death in the family, and religious observances are considered acceptable excuses, traveling with grandma to Disneyland may be questionable. Educators don't want children missing classes because they can fall behind academically and it creates more work for teachers to bring them back up to speed.
Then there is a matter of money. In many states, school-funding is based on daily attendance. If the child is gone, so is the money. A few school districts require parents to reimburse the school for these lost funds.
Test scores can also make or break a school’s reputation and determine if a student goes on to the next grade. When a child misses too many school days for personal reasons, a principal may assign the student to attend Saturday School to make up for the lost time. In extreme cases, extended unexcused absences may result in a school dropping a student.
Despite all the rules, a 2007 Travel Industry Association poll shows that one in five parents permitted their children to skip school to go on a trip. When Marsden was teaching, she traveled with her children during school holidays. And once she retired, she had no qualms about taking her children, and eventually her grandchildren, out of school.
"Geography is much more understandable in 3-D," Marsden says. "Snow in the Rockies. The heat of the Mojave Desert. The locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Too bad more children can't experience these field trips. Kids grow out and away so fast. It’s our job to prepare them for life. Everything is not printed in a textbook."
Some families have little choice but to take the kids. Veteran traveler Polly Grieger Rossi, a mother and meeting planner in Valparaiso, Ind., notes that, "My husband's and my work schedules don't flow around the school year. Sometimes when we both have to travel, we don't have other child care." Of necessity or not, she endorses taking the kids. "When opportunities arise, such as a business workshop, we should take advantage of them bringing the children along. In the end," Rossi says, "it's memories and life experiences that truly mold someone."
To alleviate the guilt of taking the grandkids out of school, try to make the trip educational. For example, Eve and Brooke Allen of Glen Ridge, N.J., had their sixth-and-eighth-grade sons agree to study as a condition of a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The boys did math problems about planes, logged the types of clouds they flew past, learned the history of St. Croix, and identified various fish during a snorkeling excursion.
"On a normal vacation," Allen says, "the kids balk at enrichment. But if we are taking them out of school, it's easy to cut a deal where they promise to put as much effort into learning as they would on a normal school day."
Let the Kids Decide
As time passes and the child has to deal with different instructors teaching different subjects, the students themselves decide whether or not to travel. Cindy Richards, editor of travelingmom.com, took her son on trips for many years. "Now that he is in high school and taking honors classes," Richards says, "he refuses to travel with me if it requires missing school. He would fall too far behind."
Other issues also emerge, according to Michelle Duffy, coauthor of Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling with Kids (Dispatch Travels). Children don’t always want to do their assigned schoolwork on vacation. Nor do they want to travel and miss a major school event. And it’s often difficult for them to reenter the routine of school and homework while dealing with jet lag.
Grandparent Jerry Birnbach, of New York City, takes the long perspective. He and his wife started traveling with their children when the kids were 2 years old, and continue to take annual trips with their offspring, now in their late thirties, and two grandchildren.
"Today, it is more important to travel to reinforce what the kids are learning at an early age, thanks to the cartoon character, Dora the Explorer. When we told our 5-year-old granddaughter that we were going to Egypt, she said, 'Oh boy, are we going to visit the pyramids? I want to find treasure.'"
"Travel is the best form of education," continues Birnbach. "If one picture in a textbook is worth a thousand words, what are two days in Rome worth, seeing the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Sistine Chapel?"
Adds grandmother Pat Marsden, "One of my sons swears that the best thing we ever did for him was expose him to travel."
What Parents Can Do:
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.