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My eight-year-old daughter has all A’s for her school work and all E’s for her school behavior, has never been tardy, but she will probably never, ever, ever get a perfect attendance award. It’s not that we don’t think school and education are important, in fact, it is exactly the opposite. School is absolutely prioritized in our house, nothing is done before homework is completed, you drag yourself to school on time no matter how tired you are, and you do your very best on every assignment. But, you know, not all learning can be done in a classroom, and learning by seeing, touching, and doing, for me, sometimes trumps my daughter being in her classroom seat from 8AM to 3PM. All A’s, yes. Perfect attendance, probably not.
We live in East Texas where the land is flat, the air is humid, the temperatures are usually warm, and skiing is something you do on the water in the summer. But yesterday, while most of her 2nd-grade classmates were at their desks, my daughter was on a mountain in a snowstorm. At 10AM, my phone rang with a message from the school attendance office informing of my child’s absence. Once all the paperwork is complete, that absence will be marked as unexcused since she wasn’t sick, at a doctor’s appointment, or a family funeral. Perhaps we should join a religion that celebrates holy days on a mountain, as that would then be an excused absence. Family travel, no matter how educational, is an unexcused absence, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes worth doing anyway.
While part of what we were doing was simply bonding and having fun, the value of which cannot be overstated for raising happy and well-adjusted children, learning was absolutely taking place. We talked about elevation and how we live almost at sea-level, but how the elevation of where we were in Colorado was over 8,000 feet above sea level before you even went up the mountain.
We talked about being over a mile higher than at home and how the impact of thinner air higher altitudes can give you a headache, or worse, if you aren’t used to that elevation. She read a trail map and plotted our course down the mountains while avoiding the runs that neither of us was skilled enough to safely navigate. This wasn’t just a silly scavenger hunt that utilized a map, but instead, this was real-world course plotting that had real-world consequences if you got it wrong.
She watched the weather at the top of the mountain quickly change from sunny and 40 degrees to below freezing in howling snow storm. That led to discussions about being prepared when you are outdoors, and how the weather in the mountains can turn dangerous quickly.
She asked questions about geology such as why some of the mountains along the highway on the way to the airport were red while others were not. We also talked about climate and potential reasons why the area had very little snow compared to a normal winter.
She worked on controlling her legs, her balance, and her body while maneuvering her skis through snowy trails and on jumps. For a generation that has become more sedentary than those before it, experiencing physical activities that are even more fun than computer games is a real lesson.
We ate German food in a German-themed cottage, served by people from Germany in traditional attire such as lederhosen and dirndls. While this trip was not to Germany, she was exposed to a tiny bit of culture and cuisine beyond what we usually see at home.
Between the travel, the altitude, and the physical exertion, she got tired and had to practice pushing through something even when you are exhausted, and was reminded that even having fun often comes at a cost.
We listened to live music in the evenings by the fire, and that inspired her to write her own songs.
We talked about nutrition, carbs, protein, and how food is the body’s fuel. She learned how especially important good fuel is when you are expecting more from your body than normal.
Everything we learned could be taught in a textbook, but none of it would have been impactful or meaningful without real-world context to go along with the written and spoken words. Consistency in the classroom is important, and since we utilize school breaks for our trips as much as possible, we don’t miss more than a handful of days each year. However, we will miss some days, especially while she is still young enough that the impact to her classroom education is minimal.
A classroom education is a gift, but so is the exploring the outdoor classroom of the world where you can learn and grow by seeing, touching, and doing.
I’m not advocating that everyone should miss school to explore the world as every child’s situation is different and each school district is unique, but for us, family travel trumps a perfect attendance award every single time.
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