My family is planning a trip to Walt Disney World, but the dates we have in mind fall in the middle of a school week. It's more affordable for us to travel during the school year than during breaks from classes, but I don't know if it's worth it to take my child out of school for a family vacation. Should I let my 8-year-old miss school?
Dear Wanderlust Mom,
I am fairly confident that I never missed a day of school for anything fun when I was growing up. My family didn't travel much, so maybe there were no tantalizing opportunities, but going to school every day was a given. Once in high school, my friend invited me on a ski trip with her church youth group on a Thursday, and my parents insisted I meet with the dean and get special permission. No parent of mine was going to call me in sick!
All this is to explain that I have a background of following the rules and almost rigidly sticking to routines. This has followed me into adulthood as I pass on rules and routines to my own children, sometimes wondering if our family could stand to loosen up.
But you know what? I say miss school to go do something cool and memorable as a family. As I age into midlife and time accelerates more quickly with each passing day, I realize the value of making those memories while you can. What's a few days of school in the big picture of family bonding while your children still want to travel with you?
When to allow your child to miss class.
In those early elementary years of school, I hope the academics aren't so rigorous that a few days away makes or breaks the learning process. My advice is to take advantage of those early years when you can plan the fun around your schedule and not theirs.
When to skip the trip.
Now I'm going to rain on my own "seize-the-day" parade. My personal approach—not grounded in any scientific studies about kids missing school for vacation (because there aren't any)—is to be loose and carefree until around 5th grade. You can think about your own personal cut-off, but once the work gets more demanding, and they are learning more in the classroom that they can't teach themselves at home (or more importantly, you can't teach them at home), I would be more selective about when they miss school.
I know there is a range of opinions on this, and rarely in any parenting decision is there a single, absolute "answer." So, I also have my own personal exceptions, like if I could tag on a family vacation with a once-in-a-lifetime work trip to Fiji (please sign me up for that job!).
In fact, I know at least one family in my real life who concertedly prioritizes traveling around the world over mundane daily school attendance. I say I wouldn't do that, probably because it's not in my realm of reality, but I do agree that experiencing different cultures teaches children what they can never learn sitting in their neighborhood classrooms.
But for most of us living in between vacations once or twice a year, let's agree that after those early elementary years, Disney World and the like is probably a cultural experience that can wait until Winter break.
What to consider before pulling your child from class.
Although there may not be research on how family vacations affect grades, we know that more school absences in general do lead to more difficulties in school. So, at older ages when grades matter more, you may need to consider your child's needs as a student. If they miss more school for other reasons, it is more important to their overall well-being to take family trips during school breaks. Another consideration would be if the classroom learning they would miss could cause them more stress, defeating the purpose of a fun, relaxing vacation.
As your child gets older and the academic stakes get higher, it will be harder to take these family jaunts. So, my short answer to the question of taking your 8-year-old to a Disney theme park? Just do it. It's part of cherishing the phase of childhood where fun can still come first.
Submit your parenting questions to 'Ask Your Mom' columnist Emily here, and they may be answered in future 'Ask Your Mom' columns.
Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.
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