In this article, you will learn important tips for going on vacation during the school year without anxiety and stress for you or your child. I was an educator for 30+ years and I’ll also tell you why I NEVER opposed any family taking their children out of school for a family vacation. Stop worrying about it and read on!
Are you considering a family vacation during the school year? For most parents, it causes a lot of anxiety because they know the school will object to the children being taken out of school for a vacation. After all, schools are responsible for teaching your child certain curriculum during the designated amount of time each school year. But I’ll explain why your family vacation will be more valuable to your children than any amount of teaching and learning that can take place in a classroom during that vacation time. Your child will not fall behind in school because of a family vacation!
You should also read Education is Key to Success: But What Does That Mean? to learn more about how and why life experiences are so important for education.
Do you find yourself wondering how to notify the school of your child’s absence due to a family vacation? Or when should I notify the school? I’ll help you with that, too.
Or do you wonder what should be included in an excuse letter for being absent from school due to a family vacation? I have some suggestions for this dilemma, too!
Stop worrying about whether it’s okay for your child to miss school for a vacation! Let me tell you WHY it’s fine!
Going on Vacation During the School Year
Do you think parents should be allowed to take children out of school during the school year? This will be a debate that goes on for ALL time!
Teachers, parents, administrators, and educational leaders will NEVER agree on an answer to this question. It is purely an opinion question that has pros and cons for each side of the debate.
You will find varying degrees of legal responses, personal responses, and district and state responses. Therefore, you need to make a decision that is best for your family.
If there are important reasons to take your child out of school to go traveling, then you should do it. Let me tell you why my husband and I made the decision to take our children our of elementary school for a family vacation to Disney World.
Reasons for Taking A Family Vacation During the School Year
My husband earned a free family trip to Walt Disney World through his work. We were young and would not have been able to afford such a trip for many years, if ever. Our children were young and were doing well in school, so we decided to go.
We notified the school and were confronted by angry teachers who were opposed to the idea. But as an educator myself, I was equally as confident that it was the right thing to do.
The family memories would last a lifetime — and the experiences of flying on a chartered airplane and navigating through the parks would be real-life learning experiences that could not possibly be duplicated in a classroom. They were given X amount of money to choose souvenirs and had to budget their money. They learned about staying in a 4-star hotel, using shuttles around the parks, waiting patiently in lines, dealing with getting hot and tired, and much more.
The children also learned how to believe in dreams coming true! They were absolutely thrilled and it was the first of many adventures we took as a family.
Not all of our family vacations were taken during the school year, but since we won this trip, the dates were non-negotiable. We have no regrets and made up the school work when we returned. The educational value of travelling is immeasurable.
Other reasons why families may need to travel during the school year include funerals, weddings, and other special family functions. Or the parents’ scheduling, work, and time constraints. Or lower prices during off-season. And fewer crowds. You definitely get more for your money if you are not traveling during scheduled school vacation times such as summer, Christmas, and Easter. There are so many reasons that parents might need to decide to take a family vacation during the school year.
In 2016, my husband and I decided to take our children, grandchildren, and other family members to Disney World during the school year. There were many reasons we chose during the school year. Since there were 10 of us, financially it made much more sense. In early November, we could take the family for 6 days. Whereas during the summer, for the same amount of money, we could only go for 3 days.
We had family members ranging from ages 8 to 80, so the weather would be more pleasant in November. Since the trip was going to cost a significant amount of money, we wanted everyone to get the most out of the experience. Plus, the heat during the summer would be difficult for the older family members to endure.
And finally, the grandchildren were getting older and had summer camp plans already scheduled for the following summer and there were no times available when everyone would be available to go on a family vacation together. So we decided to take our family vacation during the school year!
Our children and their spouses took care of dealing with the schools about our grandchildren missing school. I created a journal and workbook for each of the grandchildren to do during our trip. It included math, written language, social studies, reading activities, and life skills activities pertaining to our travel — and all three schools accepted it as make-up work for the grandchildren! I may make it available for others who are going to Disney World because it was quite fun and easy for the grandchildren to do! Plus, it solved the problem about us choosing to take a family vacation during the school year!
The Dilemma of Taking a Family Vacation During the School Year
Instead of debating with, or being upset, about school staff not supporting your decision to take a family vacation during the school year, JUST DO IT. I promise that you will NEVER get 100% agreement on this issue — from parents or teachers.
Some parents absolutely will not consider taking a vacation during the school year. Others will do it regularly without regard for missing work. And other parents will only take vacations during the school year due to special circumstances.
Some teachers will be okay about you taking a vacation during the school year, others will protest vehemently. Some administrators will be quite angry while others will understand your reasons. Some districts have strict written rules to discourage parents from planning a vacation during the school year. However, when you talk with them and explain any special circumstances, they will often soften their stance and allow the absence to be a legal absence.
I encourage you NOT to let an adult bully attack you about your decision. Just walk away and ignore any objections. Be the bigger person and know that you are doing what is right for you and your family.
I am not suggesting that parents frequently schedule vacations during the school year without regard for school schedules and student progress.
You will want to make sure your child is doing well in school and understands the responsibility of making up missed work (or doing educational activities such as the workbook I created). You will also want to schedule time together to help your child make-up missed work.
Learning Life Lessons During Vacation
There are many life skills and lessons that children can learn while on vacation. If you need to plan a vacation during the school year, always focus on what you can help your children LEARN while traveling:
- real-life money management
- responsibility for their belongings
- safety behaviors at the beach
- proper manners at a museum or Broadway show
- patience while traveling
- appreciation for different cultures and lifestyles
- airport and hotel operations and rules
- what to pack in their suitcase
- negotiation and compromise about favorite activities
- how to deal with disappointments or frustrations
- confidence and independence in new environments
- a spirit of adventure
- the value of family time
- how to unplug
- how to enjoy exploring together
- geographical and climate differences
- how vacations reduce stress and anxiety
- appropriate social interactions among new people
- the importance of making memories and enjoying life
- real life exposure to history
Additionally, there are many things that parents can do to help their children LEARN life-long lessons while on vacation.
- Involve them in the planning and preparation.
- Help them remain calm when things go wrong on vacation (because you know they always do!)
- Include extended family to promote the value of family.
- Visit local food markets to teach them to appreciate different foods.
- Teach them to observe and appreciate the world around them.
- Ask them lots of questions and give them opportunities to share.
How to Write a Letter of Absence from School for Vacation
It’s best to inform your children’s school about your vacation plans several weeks (or even months) prior to the absence. This way, teachers can look at their plans and consider if there is anything your child can do in advance. Alternately, if you are driving, they may be able to send reading books with you so the children can do some reading — or another subject — especially if you are driving and have a long distance on the road.
About 3-4 weeks ahead of your scheduled trip, you can write a simple letter (not too long) explaining the basic facts about when you will be taking your child out of school for family travel. Include the most important reasons why you have chosen this time of year. You can explain that you will help your child make-up any missed work, either prior to the vacation or upon your return.
You can also include some of the most applicable life lessons and skills that you feel your child will learn while on this vacation. Keep your letter positive and simple.
You may need to wait until you return to get make-up work, but this would be up to the teachers. Be sure to plan time to work with your children to make sure they understand everything, and the work is done completely.
Upon your return, you will need to submit an official letter to the school explaining your child’s absence. Again, do not make it long.
I strongly suggest that you keep this letter simple and factual, also. Don’t write a novel about why you decided to take a family vacation during the school year. Teachers don’t have time to read it. Plus, this letter of absence will most likely be kept in the office rather than by the teacher.
Be considerate of your teachers at all times and don’t forget National Teacher Appreciation Week every year during the first full week of May!
If worse comes to worst and the school refuses to let your child do make-up work, and refuses to allow the absence to be an excused absence, then LET IT GO.
Ask yourself this question… “WILL THIS MATTER IN 20 YEARS?”
If you made the decision to take a family vacation during the school year because it was the right thing to do for your family — for whatever reasons — then it’s done. Trust that you made the right decision for you and your family. And move on.
Whether this absence is marked as an excused absence or unexcused absence will not matter in 20 years, right? Don’t let it potentially destroy your relationship with the school, or the school staff. Don’t let it cause you or your child anxiety or stress. It’s just not worth it.
Final Thoughts About Taking a Vacation During the School Year
Please remember that I’m not suggesting that you take a vacation during the school year for a month every January. This will make it difficult for your child to catch up. And a long term absence makes it difficult on teachers, as well.
I am telling you — from experience as a parent and an educator — that children will get many benefits from an awesome family vacation during the school year now and then. If you have a family wedding to attend out of state, your child will get to know extended family and develop new social skills.
If you have good reasons to go to Walt Disney World, or on a camping trip, or to Mount Rushmore, or on some other family vacation during the school year, then it’s okay now and then. Think about the history you can teach your child on a trip to Mount Rushmore — or the life experience you can teach your child on a camping trip in the wilderness.
Think about how much your children can learn about organization and time management on a trip to Disney World. They will also learn about choosing priorities and dealing with disappointments and waiting patiently for transportation.
Wherever you go on your family vacation during the school year, have them read road signs… have them help with GPS directions on road trips. Or teach them to navigate through an airport by reading signs and discovering what gate you’ll be using and whether the plane is on time… have them help figure out the cost of the rental car per day… and how many miles you’ll be driving to Grandma’s house.
There are so many educational things you can do on vacation that will be equally as valuable as sitting in a classroom. I promise!
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One final thing — did you know children get an average of one hour and 15 minutes of direct academic instruction per day in school? Does that help you feel better about planning a vacation during the school year?
Oh, one other little thing — excused absences and unexcused absences for each school and school district have to be reported to the state or an oversight board. This data is analyzed and in the grand scheme of education, it becomes a reflection of how the school and school district are doing with reaching an attendance goal. What’s more important to you? District or school-wide data, or your family?
I promise you could do far worse things as a parent than taking kids out of school for vacation.
I hope the information I’ve shared here has been helpful if you have been concerned about planning a family vacation during the school year. It is your responsibility to do what is best for your family — as long as you are making the best decisions for your family, you should not be worried about taking a vacation during the school year! Please let go of that stress and go on vacation if that’s what you and your family need to do!
Love to ALL! ~Susan