The debate: Should kids miss school for a family vacation?

Two parents debate whether it's appropriate to pull your kids out of school for a family vacation. What's your take?

TP12-Debate-Kids-Miss-School-Family-Vacation-Article‘Yes, because experiences are priceless.’

Mike Usinger, dad of two

Before hauling your kids out of school, loading them on a plane and jetting halfway across the world to someplace new and exotic, there’s something important to consider: You’ll be ruining them forever by dooming them to a lifelong love of travel, which, unfortunately, isn’t cheap. Still, it’s better to collect experiences, rather than things, mostly because experiences really are priceless (at least until the credit card bill arrives).

Having travelled extensively before kids, my wife and I were determined to keep seeing the world after ours arrived. Parenthood should be all about creating strong familial bonds and golden-hued memories, which is why we never hesitate to pull the boys, ages seven and 10, out of school for trips abroad. My kids won’t remember learning that water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen in grade-four science, but they’ll never forget a springtime in Paris riding a carousel in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, learning how to order a croissant in French, and gazing on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

Am I worried about jeopardizing their career options or future job prospects? Not even a little. Let’s face it, 99 percent of everything taught between grades one and 12 has zero practical use in the real world. Once they hit adulthood, no one will judge your child for not being able to name our country’s first prime minster just because he wasn’t around for a week of grade-two social studies. If you’re really concerned about your kids being absent for some crucial life-altering lesson—which we aren’t—a quick note to the teacher comes in handy. In our experience, the question “Should we be worried about missing anything?” has always been answered with “No, except for the plane.”

Because we pulled them out of class, they’ll remember buying giant slabs of fresh ahi tuna at an open-air Barbados fish market and snorkelling alongside sea turtles at Kahalu‘u Beach on Hawaii’s Big Island. Of course, they’ll never learn to save their money instead of hopping on a plane three times a year, but that’s what Accounting 101 will be for—assuming, that is, we haven’t taken them out of school to go travelling.

Read more: 5 tips for affordable family travel>

‘No – it disrupts everyone.’

Sarah Newcomb, mom of two

Every year I have a handful of students who skip class to take a family trip. As a parent of two boys, ages three and five, I get that taking your child out of school is tempting—there are some awesome travel deals to be had, and, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to hit the tropics in February? However, as a teacher, I know that when a student is on vacation during the school year, it disrupts everyone.

The classroom is a family and when one family member is gone, it makes a big difference—a group may be split up, a best friend may be alone on the playground or a reading buddy left out. Any way you cut it, when your kiddo is off shredding the slopes in Banff, we all feel it.

And that doesn’t even take into account the effect playing hooky has on your own child. Learning takes place every day in the classroom. Sure, lesson handouts can be rounded up upon his return and he’ll likely catch up on those division concepts we reviewed. But missing out on debating the reality of The Hunger Games or hands-on erupting volcano experiments—the stuff that makes up our real classroom experiences—well, that’s another story.

Also, before booking that next getaway, consider the fallout from disrupting your child’s routine. In my experience, any time I make exceptions to my boys’ bedtimes and weekly habits, we all pay for it. Long flights, time changes, unfamiliar hotel rooms and lack of structure—everything that goes along with family vacations—can be a nightmare to rebound from as you try to get back into the daily groove. If my kids had to cope with catching up on schoolwork on top of that, well, I can tell you it wouldn’t be pretty.

Yanking your child out of class will certainly do more harm than good. Plus, what’s your kid taught when you swap a week of school for sand and surf? He’s learning that attendance, and by extension education, isn’t a priority. Schooling needs to come first, and nothing, not even the deal of the century on a Disney cruise, should trump the importance of attendance.

A version of this article appeared in our December 2014 issue with the headline “Should kids miss school for a family vacation?” p.138.

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