Two Family Travel Firsts on One Flight

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My daughter and I snuck away to join some members of my extended family on a short trip to the Northeast, and we ended up experiencing two firsts on one flight.  We fly quite a bit, so to have two brand new experiences on one otherwise ordinary flight was a bit unusual for us, and especially interesting given the late departure time and subsequent further delay (aka tired kid and mommy).

Homework.  My four-year-old Pre-K student officially has regular homework these days, and add in two missed “school days” during the trip and there was a folder full of assignments for us to do on the flight.  I’m not 100% sure how I feel about homework starting so young, but my feelings are besides the point since I’m not about to get us in the bad habit of ignoring school work.  If there is work to do, then there is work to be done.

As soon as we boarded, we pulled out the school folder and ziploc baggie of crayons, markers, etc. and got to work.  Luckily, her homework is still on the level that I comprehend, so we were golden.  It won’t take long I’m sure until her subjects are ones I have likely long since forgotten and would rather not re-live.  That’s where Daddy will come in…he wants to put his smarty pants Mensa certificate on the wall, then he darn sure better step up for homework time come junior high!

For now, homework is still really fun and consists mostly of matching, letters, counting, and coloring.  It actually made for a good activity to keep her occupied, especially during our delay before take-off.  Doing her “homework” wasn’t a big deal, but it was a new travel experience that was a concrete reminder that she has responsibilities of her own more and more these days, and our travel has to take that into account.  We are not and will not be rigid with the school calendar (especially through elementary school), but we will respect it, and keep absences to a minimum.  While we are gone we will be sure to get her assignments in advance and make good use of our time on the plane to get them done.

No movies.  Our first new experience happened to mesh relatively well with our second.  Our trip away from home is a short one this time, and I wanted to keep packing to a minimum.  I saw that our flight was scheduled to have DIRECTV, and against my better judgement and common sense I decided I wasn’t going to bring her external DVD player as a result.  As departure neared I somehow noticed the plane was scheduled to have WiFi, but I missed the part where it then didn’t have DIRECTV.

I had flown on a WiFi United plane before, and it had streaming kid’s movies to watch, so I really thought we were golden either way.  Of course I knew there was the risk it wouldn’t all work as intedend, but for whatever reason I just didn’t want to go through the process of charging and bringing DVDs and the DVD player this time.

Well, you know what happened.  The plane ended up not having DIRECTV but did have functioning WiFi.  However, it did not have the streaming video library that we had previously utilized.  You also cannot use other streaming video services like Netflix or Disney Jr on the plane’s WiFi, so we had a tired kid, a 3+ hour flight, and no movies to keep her occupied.  As far as I can remember, this is the first time we didn’t at least have a movie available to use on a flight if we wanted/needed it.

You may be thinking “poor you, you didn’t get to have a movie babysit your kid”, and you would be partially right, though that wasn’t the real issue.  She will stay happily engaged with drawing, games, etc. but she won’t zone out and fall asleep doing those engaging activities the way she will just watching a movie on the plane.  This meant she was up way past her bedtime, when I had hoped she would sleep on most of the flight the way she normally does on night flights.

My movie packing failure will cost us way more than a more hands-off flight.  It will cost us a more rested kiddo on our short trip.  I should have not been a lazy packer and avoided that problem the way we usually do, by always bringing our own entertainment.

I’m glad airlines are making it easier to be entertained and productive on-board, but it is a risky proposition to rely on airline entertainment any more than to rely solely on airline food.

Two travel firsts for us, but still one overall good flight.  Now onto fall in the Northeast!


How does your family handle homework and travel?

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  1. Where in the Northeast are you heading to? That is absolutely my favorite place in the world to spend time in the fall. Lived 2 years in New Hampshire and 1 year in Boston and miss the fall colors there everyday. Have fun and enjoy!!!!

  2. Our school district has a policy forbidding teachers to give assignments to students ahead of absences, as not to encourage taking kids out of school for vacation. Yours might not, but just a warning that it might not be as easy on your daughter as you think to go through school missing a bunch of days.

  3. Seriously, homework for a 4 year old?! That is ridiculous. My kindergarten son attends a Montessori school, so thankfully he has no homework as they believe non-school hours should be used for family/friend time and to pursue his own interests. My 9 year old nephew attends regular public school though and when he came with us on a trip to Hawaii last year he had a huge folder full of busywork (the amount was insane – they could have never gotten through that in the 3 or 4 days of school he missed). We had him work on math problems during some the flight and then let him enjoy his vacation.

  4. @Lynn: The little girl is 4 years old and not even in kindergarten. I can’t imagine that missing 2 days of Pre-K will affect her SAT score to get into a good College. My kids go to private school so I cannot compare to any public school district but they are very accommodating when we the kids need to miss couple days of school to visit our family that lives abroad. All you have to do is to plan in advance (we get the full year calendar before the school year starts) so we don’t plan any trips during test days, etc.. We let the teachers know way in advance and usually good days to miss class are after a full week of tests.

  5. I always have a few kids’ TV shows and at least 1 movie on my smartphone for those emergency moments. I also include selections for myself…I was once on a 6 hr. flight where the IFE wasn’t working and I had exhausted all my reading material. Luckily I was able to binge watch 6 episodes of a TV show before the battery ran out (it was an old Blackberry). The only issue was rigging the phone to stand up at an angle on the tray without falling down.

    • Hi Erik,

      I saw a great solution on Pinterest re: standing up your blackberry: Put your phone in a small ziploc bag. Put a small hole in the corner to thread the earphones through. Cut out a larger hole near the top and hang the ziploc bag from the “lock” that holds up the tray. Then the blackberry is more at your eye level you can see the movie through the bag). I hope this helps.

      🙂 enjoy watching.


      I agree that homework in preschool is inappropriate and I’m am a Speical Education preschool teacher. The only homework that should happen is play dates, etc to keep working on social skills. 90% of what children learn in preschool is actually learned through play, not memorization! (That is a research-based fact, not my exaggeration). For example, block play works on science concepts of balancing /movement, etc as well as math (geometry). I agree you should not get in the habit of skipping work, but maybe this isn’t the right place for your daughter. Of course, she may be really into homework and writing, etc right now so maybe it is the right fit for her. You certainly know her best. Just a thought.

  6. Is it just me, or are kids getting too much ‘screen time’ too early in their lives. We all seemed to do fine with puzzle/coloring books, do they really need to watch TV everywhere they go?

    • You may remember doing fine with just coloring books, but I bet your parents don’t remember long car rides that way. Kids are fighting in the back seat – bouncing around with no seat belts, and asking how much longer before you are even out of the neighborhood :). I’m definitely not advocating that we let kids watch tv/ipads, etc all the time, I am simply acknowledging that it does make for less stressful trips for the parents. The nostalgia of the good old days, and reality of how they actually were are probably 2 different things.

      • No doubt that using an iphone as a babysitter is easier for the parents. But isn’t the right metric what’s best for the child?

        I’m mostly concerned that the long-term effects of all this screen time have yet to be discovered.

  7. Ha ha – you will find that her homework becomes hard for you starting in first grade since they teach them how to do problems in a completely different way than you were taught :).
    Also as long as she is not sick a lot – Texas schools will not really mess with you for missing up to 10 days a year. I’m not saying to miss weeks of school, but a couple of days here and there for a trip while she is in elementary school should not cause you any issues.

  8. im nanny and a techy so alway predownload your movies on your tablet so you dont have your hands full of dvds and a bulky dvd player

  9. Hah hah, wait until you get your first TRUANCY letter for taking her along on a trip during the school year. A byproduct of NCLB is schools are absolutely dependent on attendance or they don’t get funded. When our son hit Kindergarten we suddenly had to deal with planning everything around the school calendar and regretted we didn’t take him along on more trips in preschool.

    • Vicente is correct. This policy became active in my locale just as I was taking my two well-traveled kids–along with backpacks extremely heavy from schoolbooks and assignments (yippee that it’s probably now all on iPads)–for a self-safari in Kruger Park. I tried to tie it to Thanksgiving, but there were still additional school absences from the extra days off. I actually arranged to pay (read: donate to) the school district the ADA $ for the missed days to assuage the situation.

    • A few days here and there from school adds up. I got three notices warning of absences last year, and my son was in 2nd grade!! He’s academically ahead or they would pull me into court. Parents around here have been fined $300 for excessive absences. It’s ridiculous!!

  10. The reason for why public schools can be so strict about attendance is that they get federal money for schools based on the number of students in attendance in any given day. The more absences, the less money the schools get from the fed.

  11. Maybe I’m just lucky, but my young kids are pretty good about curling up and putting themselves to sleep on late flights when we ask them to – usually so much that they won’t wake up when we land! Movies have the opposite effect – keeps them semi-awake.

    It’s really my oldest (now 8 y.o.) that has problems going to sleep – but she’s always been that way and we never allow her to watch movies on a flight after ~8pm.

    That said, I do always have a few DL’d movies on my phone for emergencies.

  12. I have debated about writing this for some time. Please don’t refer to your child as “the kid”. My child or my daughter would sound more kind and loving.
    Just my opinion.

  13. I think just like kids are all different, school districts and policies are very different too, so what works in one may not fly in the other. Luckily where we live is not as militant with perfect attendance as some other locations, but of course missing minimal school is important.

    Home schooling isn’t right for us, but I do not think all learning happens in the classroom. Travel (within reason) can only enhance learning, so we will probably never win the perfect attendance award, but we will work closely with the schools for a good outcome for all involved.

    A movie on the iPad would be great, and we used to have that, but the memory is so full we had to wipe all that kind of stuff. I’m hoping Santa brings a newer model with more memory! 😉

    I refer to my kiddo as all sorts of things, daughter, Bug, kid, child, C, Little C, and a million things more in person. “The kid” may read as cold and distant online, and I appreciate concern, but I can assure you that is not the reality in our day to day interactions. Hopefully that love and kindness is evident in anyone following along for long enough, but if not, I can assure you its there.

    • Hi MommyPoints – it is highly evident from reading your blog that you are very warm, kind and loving to little C and your husband – I don’t doubt for a second that your house is full of warmth and happiness. I do have to admit, though, that when I read your blog, I get thrown off a little when I read ‘the kid’. I am not quite sure why, but I don’t like my husband to do this with our children either, for some reason the connotation is impersonal to me. And are definitely a very good writer and my favorite travel blogger – I wish I had your storytelling abilities.
      I actually googled child vs kid earlier today to see if I was the only one and found some comments about it 🙂 Anyway – no need to change from your style – just trying to explain where the comment above was coming from.

  14. Here in California the truancy laws kick in when the child is 6 years old. If the child is absent without a valid excuse for 3 days – and/or is late 30 minutes, or removed from class early, more than 3 times during the school year (even for a doctor visit) the parent(s) are subject to a criminal misdemeanor charge and fines up to $2000 being filed against them.

    We are planning some of our trips before he turns 6 – then we have to follow the school calendar perfectly it seems.

  15. Texas does have compulsory attendance laws. When all that paperwork comes home on the first day of school, definitely look at it. Also, check with your elementary about the policy for what is an absence. In elementary, you can probably leave around 10 am and still not be considered absent. All school districts in Texas follow the same state laws and even good kids have problems with absences. If you wanted to take her out of school for a week, one solution is to withdraw her and reenroll her when you return – that stops the absence clock believe it or not. That suggestion came from a truancy court judge.

    • Vicki, I’m sure every state has attendance laws and regulations, which I’m sure is a good thing. Crazy about withdrawing and re-enrolling. Bizarre. In my former life as a child abuse investigator I saw plenty of kids who didn’t go to school not because of a couple days in Boston, but for far different reasons. For those interested, Texas doesn’t have educational neglect as a child abuse/neglect statute the way some states do, which I found interesting, but of course there are still truancy issues.

      I don’t need to be at a school that allows you to miss tons of days, but it is a sad situation (in my view) when a few days missed over the course of year in order to experience the world with your hands, eyes, nose, etc. is a truancy problem. Same thing even if what you are doing is visiting/bonding with family. Weeks would be a problem. Days shouldn’t be a problem, but instead should be celebrated as a great experience for the kid, but I know that isn’t the reality everywhere.

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