“We can’t keep taking trips during the school year because you’re getting older, and it’s getting harder to miss school,” I tell my daughter. But here’s the thing: I’ve been telling my 11-year-old daughter this for at least the past three years.
Every year, like so many other families, we struggle on deciding if we should or should not take our children out of school for a family vacation. Whatever the reason might be— smaller crowds, cheaper prices, a great opportunity—families have lots to weigh before pulling kids out of school for a vacation during the school year.
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Mom of three and longtime educator Holly Hatcher-Frazier sees both sides of the coin. When she was in a school leadership position, she discouraged parents from taking family vacations during the school year. “It is disruptive to learning and the curriculum is designed to account for regularly scheduled school vacations set by the administration,” Hatcher-Frazier says. “Taking additional vacations throughout the school year can hinder academic progress for a student because there may be gaps in instruction due to absences.”
However, the Pittsburgh mom who gained fame when she starred with her daughter Nia on the reality show Dance Moms says the emotional side creeps in when you’re looking at it from the other side of family travel. “I can find valid reasons to justify that decision and there is no denying family vacations can be incredibly educational, worthwhile experiences. However, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of pulling kids out of school for family vacations I would still err on the side of resisting the urge. Of course there are extenuating circumstances that may be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities which need to be considered.”
That’s exactly what happened to my family. We were given a chance to travel on an Adventures by Disney trip to South Africa. The 10-day trip was packed with amazing experiences including safaris, first-hand accounts of apartheid and Nelson Mandela, and African cultural experiences. It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up, even though it meant taking the kids out of school to do it.
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The problem was, the trip was scheduled for right after the school year started. In situations like this, Hatcher-Frazier says if you decide to take the trip, you should talk to school officials as soon as possible. “Telling the school the day before that your child will be missing school for a week for a family vacation does not usually sit well for many,” she says.
Hatcher-Frazier also notes that it’s not a fair expectation to assume teachers will prepare work ahead of time for your child for unexcused absences. “Curating lesson plans for an individual child is creating more work for a teacher in addition to the teachers’ regular responsibilities, lesson plans and workload,” she explains. “If parents treat the school officials with reasonable expectations, courtesy, and respect, then I think most schools will try their best to work together with parents to ensure the success of the child.”
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Once I saw the itinerary for our trip to South Africa, I knew there would be no time for school work. It was a jam-packed family trip, but it was filled with activities that included some extraordinary form of learning every single day. And from the first day of the trip I knew we made the right decision to experience this family vacation, even though it meant missing school.
Every day was filled with educational experiences, from something as simple as learning that traffic lights in South Africa are called robots to finding out the meaning behind all the colors of the South African flag. The animal interactions on the trip were unreal, and with them came lessons on the lions, giraffes, monkeys, and everything else we saw.
By the end of our first safari ride, my three kiddos were even able to tell which animal left the droppings we saw. They also were taught how to make a toothbrush out of tree branches and what tree bark can be grounded down to make toothpaste. There was tons of information thrown at my children, and I do wonder what they will retain. My daughter kept a daily journal, which I know we’ll all continue to look back on to help remind us what we learned and how we learned it.
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Once we returned home, there was some makeup work that needed to be done, but everyone, including my kids’ teachers and school administrators, agreed this was an incredible experience.
Hatcher-Frazier says in the end, trust your gut. “You know your child best and whether or not this is a vacation that can’t wait until an upcoming school break. Parents need to consider the consequences of their child missing school. Does your child work independently? Most likely your child will have to do work on their own without the help of an instructor or in class discussion if they miss class. Does your child take initiative?”
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Truth be told, in the weeks after the trip, my daughter struggled a bit with all the makeup work. There were some nights when I questioned if we made the right decision because I hated seeing her so stressed. In the future, I’m not sure we’ll be so quick to take our children out of school for a trip we can easily reschedule. However, if another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arises, we’ll give it careful consideration.
Once all the work was made up, my daughter told me she would 100 percent do the trip again. As a family, I think we made the right choice. We have amazing memories we talk about daily. The family vacation allowed us to make friends with people from all over the world whom we otherwise would have never met, and it taught my children to differentiate between rhino poop and zebra poop—a lesson I don’t think they’ll ever learn in the classroom.
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