From the moment our sons were born we’ve travelled with them. When they started school those trips continued – a day here, a week there, an entire year in 2011 (see page 28). If we felt there was a travel opportunity that outweighed what they’d be missing at school, we didn’t hesitate. They’ve missed a lot of school, much more than most, but at no point did they go without an education.
Recently a study by The Wagner Group found that students who took educational trips had higher grades than their peers, and students who travelled were more likely to graduate high school and seek higher learning. The absences from school led to more value in education, not less. The study also found that travel “added to the context and depth of classroom discussions,” and that even “short trips with family to learn about local culture, history or nature” could have major impacts on future career success.
Our trips have added depth to the things my kids are learning in the classroom. The pandas my youngest encountered in China helped to fuel an ethical discussion in his Grade 3 class about the role of a zoo. Our visit to Robben Island added a personal slant to discussions about Nelson Mandela. They’re like little sponges we take to Egypt or Florida or Stratford who soak it all up and then, when squeezed back in class, add to the learning there.
Their travels, even the parts that don’t seem educational on their face, have value and it isn’t always measurable against a school curriculum. How do you measure the value of time together as a family? Or the conversations that happen because we have more time to listen? At the end of the day the goal is to provide our kids with the best education possible. School is not education; it’s simply one place to get one.
I’m a budget-minded parent; I understand the allure of an off-peak-priced vacation. I also know how hard it is to synchronize the work schedules of two parents and the extracurricular calendars of multiple kids. But the teacher in me plants me on the “con” side of this issue for a few reasons.
Let’s do the math. Only 190 days per year are spent in the classroom. That leaves 175 for recreation. Not enough? Really?
Did you know that British parents are fined Åí60/day when kids miss school “without good reason”? And family vacations do not qualify. While fines seem severe, I understand the reasoning. Thousands of students are absent from school every day in Canada for non-essential reasons, and teachers are expected to pick up the slack.
Teresa, a Grade 7 teacher in Mississauga, Ont., says, “Parents ask me to prepare extra work... sometimes months in advance. Their taking a break during the school year should not impact me by adding to my workload.”
Even if teachers are willing to help, sometimes it’s just not possible. “So much of what we do is based on interactive work in the classroom. It’s not like I just hand out worksheets every day and can make extra for the student to do on the airplane,” says Katherine, a Grade 5 teacher.
I’ve heard the argument about travel being a great educational opportunity. I agree wholeheartedly, and I travel with my own family during breaks. The thing is, most families I see travelling during school time head to the slopes, to the beach, or to Disney World. Educational? Puh-lease.
I don’t like the message it sends: School (and by extension, education) is not important. My friend, Radouan, (a father and teacher) summed it up perfectly when I asked for his opinion. “It’s simple. School comes first.”
Many people prefer not to travel during conventional school breaks when airports are most chaotic and prices for air travel and hotel accommodation are at a premium. Some may have children who have different breaks from school (so it’s difficult to coordinate travel at a time when all are available), or you may be invited to an out-of-town event that you’d hate your kids to miss.
Whatever the reason for having your children travel at times other than when they’re on school break, most parents don’t take their children missing school lightly. To help parents with their decision about pulling their children out of school for recreational travel purposes, I recommend keeping the acronym FLAG in mind.
Consider the pluses and minuses for each vacation. Happy travels!
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2014.