Should You Pull Your Child Out of School for Vacation? — A Teacher & Mom Weighs in

It’s amazing how we see things differently depending on our perspective.  As a young, enthusiastic teacher, I couldn’t imagine why any parent would take their children out of school for a vacation.  This seemed like a black and white issue to me.  Although I always put together the parent requested academic packet for the trip, I did not hesitate to let them know my disapproval.  Sure, the student would complete all the worksheets and essays, but they would miss the class discussions and lessons that were crucial to constructing their own understanding of the material.  Worksheets weren’t lessons, but practice for what was taught.  I was somewhat outraged.

What goes around, comes around.  Twenty years later, I found myself in a conundrum on the other side of the situation.  My mother was turning 75 and our families were invited to celebrate on Nevis for a week vacation.  My three children were still in elementary and nursery school, and after careful consideration, my husband and I decided to allow them to miss school.  We gave the teachers plenty of warning, and they sent us off with daily work and some good books.  The trip was fantastic, and my children still speak of it often.  They had school time each day after the beach and before dinner…very manageable.  Looking back, I thank God that we didn’t decide against the trip.  Soon after, my step-father’s health failed and the following two years he was mostly sedentary.  The trip was a gift of memories for all of us, and I shudder to think we almost didn’t go.  The children settled back nicely into school, teachers and kids were happy and all was seemingly good.  It was almost a year later that my son’s teacher suggested that his reading level could be even higher but wasn’t because we went on a trip the year before and he missed a week of school.  Really?  Ridiculous, but I knew instantly…..karma.

This February Break my husband and I are driving our three children to Kiawah Island.   During the planning stages, it became apparent that we have to leave early on Friday morning to make the trip work.  Yikes!  I felt that slight nauseous feeling, and knew the school would not be pleased.  I attribute this heightened sensitivity to my sometimes conflicting dual personality -teacher vs parent.  This is somewhat of a blessing and a curse simultaneously.  Now that the older two are in middle school, the decision to pull them out of school is not cut and dry.  Tests on the last day before vacations have become the norm, and I hate to not only make extra work for the teachers, but I wonder how much additional stress I may be creating for my children.  Many parents, like me, are squeamish about this issue.

The debate of whether or not to take your kids out of school to travel is certainly controversial.  As a parent, an advocate of travel and an elementary educator, I am often asked for my opinion on the subject.  There’s no easy answer.  Sometimes, there is a family reunion or obligation that shouldn’t be missed.    Sometimes we need a family breather!  Time with just family is limited these days as increased amounts of homework (a parent-driven phenomenon), events, practices and activities fill our schedules.  Add in the distraction of friends, cell phones, text messages, social media, and there isn’t much time left for the family to come together and chill.  Of course, parents should aim to plan trips over school vacations, but there is a compelling reason not to.

For families, off-peak pricing, especially in the fall and after the holidays, make it very tempting to take a break during the school year.  For some families, a Disney vacation or a flight to see grandparents may only be affordable during off-peak times, which coincide with school days.  These quieter travel times mean less-crowded destinations, attractions and theme parks, as well.  If you ever want to know when a major city’s public school break is, just look at airfare prices.  Flights can fluctuate and are documented upwards of $400 per fare during the school vacations.  For a family of four, that’s a savings of $2,520 on the flights alone.  Obviously, families shouldn’t be making a habit out of taking trips during school, but if you as the parent feel that it is needed and you can save that much….go for it!

The teacher’s perspective is also not cut and dry.  Of course it depends on who your child’s teacher is, but it also depends on the school policy.  Many parents significantly overestimate the decision making powers of teachers regarding the absent policy.  School boards and administration put this together and teachers adhere to that policy.  Most teachers are understanding and will accommodate the situation so that your child doesn’t fall too far behind.  But again, this also depends on who your child is as a learner.  Some students have a tough time on reentry, and rather than just missing a few days of school, really take a week or two after they return, to get back on track.  It is difficult if a child is working at a proficient or advanced level to lose school time and have to catch up, but it is harder if the child is already struggling.   Something to consider.

Many times I saw bright students who had little regard for the importance of school.  It was often children whose parents took them out of school for repeated appointments, vacations and trips.  It was concerning and made me worry about the overall impact of missing all those school days.  Even in the early years, children will grow to feel school is not important if that’s not the message they are getting from home.  It’s the parents’ goal to promote faithful attendance, and excellent work ethic, good habits and responsibility.  Teachers can only support the good parenting you are doing at home.  The message that we send to children is whether or not school attendance is of value.  Parents need to consider questions like, “How do I respect education, and how do I send that message to my child?”

Schools discourage the practice of missing school days for the purpose of vacations because if they didn’t, they’d have an epidemic.  Everyone would do it.  Those days would be wasted, and chaos would ensue — not really, but you get the idea.  The class as a whole would fall behind, because there would always be a student that needed a week’s worth of catch up.  But aside from the handbooks not allowing such absences, schools generally don’t have a tough policy.  The middle and high school years are another story.  Teachers will be far less cooperative to provide missed homework assignments or allow for make-up quizzes and tests.

As both a teacher and a mother often at the center of this issue, the answer is simple; it depends on the student and family.  The tips below are some things to consider as you make your own decision.

1.  Schedule your trip around standardized tests and exam weeks.  Many schools won’t approve excused absences during these times, and it is difficult to schedule time for your child to take them at alternative times.

2.  DON’T LIE!  You should approach your teacher in an appreciative manner, rather than trying to pull one over on the school.  If you say you pulled your child out for a funeral, and it’s found out that you really went to Disney, you really send the wrong message to your children, and lose respect at the school.

3. Set up time to meet with your child’s teacher at least two weeks before the trip.  No educator will appreciate a demand for an academic packet of work the day before the trip.  And always ask, don’t tell.  Offer to work together to make the absence as seamless as possible. Remember, you are creating extra work for the teacher and be appreciative.  In addition, ask for some lesson plans, not just busy work.

4. Ask your child about how he or she feels about missing school. Your child may have a test or project he doesn’t want to miss.  Don’t schedule the trip during the school play or an anticipated event. (Obvious, but worth mentioning.)

5. Consider how your child is doing in school.  If your child is already struggling with certain classes and grades are low, taking your child out of school can further disrupt his or her progress and make matters worse.  If your child is excelling in his or her class, and quick to catch up, then it may be okay to consider the trip.  Remember, this does not only refer to academics, but how your child is progressing in their social development.

6.  Time the trip wisely.  Try to schedule your trip later, as opposed to the early part of the school year.  Your child needs a chance to become familiar with the routine.  The first month or two of school is an adjustment, no matter what your child’s age.  Many parents think if their children aren’t knee deep in academics, then there’s no value in being there.  Quite the opposite is true.  It is a very important time in the year and builds your child’s self-esteem and sense of security for the rest of the year.

7.  Consider what grade your child is in.  Obviously, the younger your children are the easier it is to pull them out of school.  Middle and high school becomes trickier, as students begin to rotate between multiple teachers.  Even the best students can fall behind.

8.  Don’t make it a habit.  These trips should be the exception to the rule.  Pulling your children out of school for family vacations is not something you want to do on a regular basis.

9.  And lastly, if you can swing it, always bring your child’s teacher back a small souvenir or a great show and tell piece.  Your child will enter the classroom feeling great and ready to share something concrete with the class.

As a teacher, I would tell you that you are the first educator of your children, so taking a vacation can be just as important as school.  It is the parents who allow their children to miss upwards of 20 days of school a year that make it difficult to see gains in knowledge.  Most students won’t remember the science quiz they take over the next few days, but a trip with the family will last a lifetime!  We are off to Kiawah in a few days, and I know our family is sure to have a memorable time and make up the work they miss.  Balance is always the key to success, and hopefully seeing things from the teachers’ perspective will help you find that balance.  You only get one chance at parenting, so make every moment count!

Heather’s Family Beach Get-Away Off the Beaten Path:
 Ponce, Puerto Rico
puerto rico ponce

Thinking of Getting Away? Here are Some More Ideas:

Ever Considered Taking a Family Adventure…by Train? Amtrak Adventures.
Amtrak Family Adventures glacier

Unleash Your Inner Cowgirl…with a Pair of Cowgirl Boots!

Games for Grownups Only!

Fabulous Family Resorts with Kids.

Ritz Naples

Family Trip: Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.


Golfing with Kids.

Tips for Planning the Perfect Disney Vacation.
Cinderella Castle Disney World

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Author: jennceli

Jennifer Celiberti has taught at five different elite private schools in the tri-state area, and believes that a child who feels in control of his or her learning is confident, ready to take more risks and self-motivated. She has a Bachelor of Arts in History from Gettysburg College and a Masters of Science in Elementary Education from Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan. Her expertise lies in curriculum development, values education, conflict resolution as well as teaching.


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