According to a Travel Industry of America poll, some 16 million parents "let children miss school to gain travel experience." In most cases (43%), children missed only one day and 29% missed only two days. The percentage of traveling students who missed more than one week was only 11%. Interestingly, "Parents who have studied for or attained a master's degree are more likely to let their children miss school to travel." This may reflect a perception of travel having educational value.
When parents and educators weight in on the debate, it's clear that the decision whether to take a child out of school for a family vacation is controversial. Some parents fall at the extremes ends of the debate, "I'd never do that!" or "It's no big deal." Most parents fall somewhere in the middle. So here are some factors to consider before making this decision and guidelines to follow.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
• What Grade Is Your Child In? Parents of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and even half-day kindergartners can take advantage of off-season travel discounts. Pulling a child out of a few days of elementary school is usually fairly easy. Middle school is harder, because students rotate among teachers and subjects. It's especially difficult for high school students to miss any time, because every day and grade counts, and should be avoided.
• Time of the academic year: If possible, schedule your trip for later in the school year. The first month or two of school is a time of adjustment, regardless of age. October is usually a busy month while the week before Winter break is usually slow. Always avoid testing periods.
• Extra-curricular activity schedules: If your child is involved in any extra-curricular activities, double-check registration deadlines or competition dates.
• Child's school performance: If your child is already struggling or grades are low, a vacation can make it harder for them to make up necessary work and stay on track.
• Length of absence: An absence of more than a week in Grades 3 and up means major catch-up and possible re-entry problems.
• Educational value of the travel: If the vacation coincides with school lessons, it can be an educational trip for your child.• How Does Your Child Feel About Missing School? Your child may have a special project, weekend game, dance, or other school event that he or she doesn't want to miss.
GUIDELINES TO FOLLOW
• Meet With Teacher(s) Beforehand:
o Ask the teacher if it would be okay to take your child on vacation, instead of telling her you are going. You are creating extra work for the teacher, so be respectful of his or her needs.
o Ask for the lesson plan, not just the missed homework. Go over the lesson plan with your child during the trip.
o Offer to have your child do an extra credit report or school presentation about the trip. Then have your child research the history or geographical features of the area you visit.
• Plan Ahead. Give the teacher at least three weeks' notice and a reminder a few days before you leave.
• Keep the Trip Short. If possible, plan around a long weekend so you're only missing a couple of days. Longer absences start cancelling out the educational value. Long flights can cause jet lag, which makes it even harder for children to get back into the school routine.
• Don't Make It a Habit: Pulling children out of school for vacations should be the exception, not the rule.
As you can see, the decision to take kids out of school isn't clear-cut. You need to weigh out the factors and plan ahead, to reduce any possible detriment your child's absence could cause.