Should you take your kids out of school to travel?

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Should you take your kids out of school to travel?

When Kathryn, a mother of two from Richmond Hill, Ontario, was presented with the opportunity to take her kids on a Disney Cruise mid-school year, she hesitated. Her daughter, who was then in Grade 3, would have to miss a week of school -- something the school principal and teachers had both strongly discouraged.

Pulling kids out of school for vacation
But some of Kathryn's friends had previously taken their kids out of school -- for a variety of reasons, including extenuating circumstances with grandparents, the fact that it's far less expensive (and less stressful) to travel outside of school schedules, and sometimes parents just can't make their own schedules work around the school year -- and had good experiences, so Kathryn went for it.

Kathryn encouraged her daughter to plug through the homework her teacher had sent along (the same work the rest of her class was working on over the course of the week) and had her read from her French book for at least 20 minutes each day while they were on their Disney Cruise.

However, Ken Arnott, an elementary school principal in the York Region District School Board and the current president of the Ontario Principals' Council, says he encourages parents to keep their kids in school consistently.

"There's new learning every day," he says, and parents don't always realize how demanding the day-to-day learning is, even for elementary students. "There's no substitute for in-class work," he explains.

While Arnott says he would certainly encourage students to attend school every day they can, he also understands when parents pull their kids from class for certain circumstances, such as to visit grandparents, for example. If the only time your little ones can see their grandma and grandpa is during the school year, it's up to you to balance what's most important.

The onus is not on the teacher
If you decide to take your kids out of school for a period of time, don't expect their teachers to cater to your new itinerary. Teachers develop specific lesson plans and schedules for their classes, and it isn't their responsibility to come up with adapted lessons or to photocopy worksheets so your child can keep up from a distance.

That isn't to say that teachers won't do so -- because many will. Kathryn's daughter's teacher prepared a study package to send home before their family trip.

Similarly, Kathryn's friend Alex, also from Richmond Hill, had teachers send home journalling tasks and daily reading assignments -- which she says was just the right amount of work for her son's situation.

"Both his homeroom teacher and his special ed teacher were of the frame of mind that family time is of paramount importance," says Alex. "And seeing as we take a trip with 13 family members, we felt -- as did his teachers -- that was more important than five school days."
Check the school schedule
Some periods during the school year are busier than others. If you're considering jetting off with your whole family, Arnott suggests at least choosing a time when your child won't miss any significant events or tests.

That's what Vicky, a mom of 3 from Thornhill, Ont., says she does. "If we decide to vacation while school is on I usually do so when I perceive there to be the least going on, like the very start of the year when teachers haven't gotten into full swing yet or just before Christmas when the focus is more on events like school dances."

She also takes into account how her kids are doing in school and what the trip circumstances are at any given time. In high school, many teachers provide course outlines, which can be a good guideline for deadlines and tests. You should also be aware of when semesters start and end, and when exam periods occur.

At all school levels, there may be some days when schools have mandated standardized tests. Be sure your child isn't missing one, and if it's absolutely necessary that he or she does, find out how the test can be made up.

How to help your kids stay on top of their school-work
The last thing you want is for your child to fall behind in class -- even if you do have a fantastic vacation together.

Check in with your children's teachers before you go away and again afterward. Ask what you can do to help and what your kids should be working on while they're away.

If your children have class websites, visit them to see if there are any clues there about what they should be practising or studying during their time off.

Your child may also want to recruit a homework buddy, says Arnott, especially if the teacher doesn't have time to send home copies of homework sheets before you go away. The homework buddy can collect anything your child misses so he or she can review it post-vacation.

Whether it's a good idea to take your kids out of school for vacation should, essentially, be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Most teachers and principals will discourage it because they know how much is covered each week, but the choice is ultimately up to you.

Kathryn says she's not keen on taking her kids out of school on a regular basis, particularly as they get older, but says, "if a wonderful trip-of-a-lifetime opportunity comes up, I think it is hard to pass it up. Life experiences and family memories are sure hard to turn down."
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Should you take your kids out of school to travel?