First published on Simplemost.com.
I remember the first time (and perhaps the only time) my parents took me out of school when I wasn’t sick. I got to go to the Holidome in Columbus, Ohio, and it was glorious. Sure, we were there because my sister was competing in the state’s geography bee, but the Holidome also had putt-putt (aka miniature golf) INSIDE!
My parents made a judgement call and decided I would learn more going on the trip than I would in the classroom. Perhaps they were right; perhaps not. But I can tell you this: I don’t remember a single geography-related fact. What I do remember is how happy I was to go on that trip and how much fun we had. I mean, how many kids can say they were there when their sister competed for the National Geography Bee Championship? Me. I can.
But is watching a geography bee any more or less important than making other memories as a family?
Some Think Missing School Can Be Worth It
Let’s say you want to pull your kids out of school for a day or two to go to Disney World. Are family vacations a good enough reason to pull kids out of school?
“Absolutely,” says former kindergarten teacher Maura Hanke.
“Life can be the classroom,” the Cold Spring, Kentucky ,mom explains. “If you go to the beach, touch the sand, write letters in it, collect shells and talk about nature. If you go to Disney, encourage your kids to be brave, take on new challenges, try new things. Your kids will gain life experience through these trips, but also memories with family, and what is more important than that?”
And what about all the people who pulled their kids out of school to watch this year’s eclipse? Shouldn’t parents be able to give their children every opportunity to not only read about history but witness it, too?
Mayte Suarez, an Atlanta-based mom of two, says yes.
“We took our kids to watch the full eclipse. We told the teachers and they made our kids work a little more in advance and the day after,” she explains. “But the family experience was worth it. I’m not a fan of doing it every year but for special occasions yes. Memories will last forever.”
The Case Against Pulling Kids Out Of School
But not everyone agrees and, in fact, some school districts have not only discouraged these types of absences, but made them illegal.
Writer Jeanne Sager recalls her shame when she was slapped with an “illegal absence” for taking her daughter out of school for a family vacation.
“I hate my kid’s school and the state education department for making me feel ashamed of spending time with my daughter.
People! We’re taking her out of school for five days for a family vacation, on which she’ll see other parts of the country, eat different foods, and do a load of reading (yes, we’re driving). We’re not making her walk over hot coals while eating fried worms dipped in Tabasco.
Why is this ‘illegal’?”
While this notion of making an absence illegal seems crazy, do schools have a point? And does it matter how old the child is when parents pull them out? Can kids fall behind? While we are busy making memories, are teachers then expected to do a whole lot of extra work to catch our kids up?
Sara Dimerman, psychologist, author and creator of helpmesara.com, says there are a few things to keep in mind when making the decision to travel during the school year.
She created the acronym FLAG to help parents consider the pros and cons:
Frequency. Is this a one-time thing? Will you be doing this every year?
Length. How many days of school will your child be missing? Missing one or two days is a lot different than one to two weeks.
Ability. How confident does your kid feel about missing school? Are they anxious? Do they feel OK about their ability to catch up?
Grade. The older a child, the more work they will most likely be expected to catch up on. Missing a few days of kindergarten could be a lot different than missing a few days of junior year.
Ultimately, families need to make the decision that is best for their children. As for me and my crew, we’ll see you at Disney in February.