Family Travel Trumps a Perfect Attendance Award

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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.

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.

Heading up, up, 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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  1. Wholeheartedly agree to never let schooling get in the way of education. But one thing to note is many school districts operate on attendance-based funding, so an absence means the school gets less $$ that day (which doesn’t make much sense, since a teacher isn’t going to do 3% less teaching when a student is absent and the heat isn’t going to be used 3% less).

  2. Totally agree! It can get a lot harder later on depending on high school academics and ESPECIALLY depending on how dictatorial your child’s potential coach of an extracurricular might be. Absolutely make hay while the sun is shining!

  3. When I was in 6th grade I spent 1/2 the school year living on a sailboat in the Caribbean. What I gained and learned on that trip far outweighed what I would have learned in the same amount of time at school.

    I personally think taking kids out of school for a couple of days on an occasional trip is very similar in fashion.

  4. Could not agree more!

    The past few years we have pulled them out for an entire week to go to Hawaii.

    This year, however, our oldest started middle school. Missing an entire week would make it hard to catch up.

    So we compromised and added two days to fall break to go to Disneyland. Can’t say we did a lot of learning there, but we did go to a science center on arrival day, so there’s that.
    But they’ll only be 5, 9 and 12 for a little while. I want those fun bonding experiences. Before I know it, I’ll blink and they’ll be out on their own.

    We are also adding two days on to Spring Break to go to Costa Rica. They’ve already been learning about volcanoes, biomes, and the flora and fauna just by reading guide books and choosing what they’d like to do.

    My kids can navigate airports and public transit better than many adults and it’s all because of our travel.
    It’s invaluable.

    We are very blessed with teachers who encourage us because they realize how much educational value is wrapped into each trip.

  5. Timely post. I’m pulling one of my sons out of school for a trip to New York tomorrow through the weekend. Seeing the Statue of Liberty (and other sites) rather than in a book will undoubtedly leave a more last impression.

  6. I am glad that you had a great time skiing, and I am not going to pretend for a second that my kids haven’t missed school because we had a flight to catch or leaving on a trip early. It has happened. Selling it as an amazing, never to be missed, hugely educational experience is a bit of a stretch. Did she learn something? Sure. Did she have a great day bonding with her mother? No doubt. Could it have been done on one of the other 185 days of the year when school is not scheduled? Absolutely.

    I am not trying to bash you for your decision. I think it is totally rational, and I have made similar decisions with my kids. The post came across as trying to overly justify it.

    Learning takes place both in and out of the class room, and both are very valuable in different ways. They don’t need to conflict and it is not one or the other.

    • I 100% agree every family has to make this choice for themselves and the ‘right’ answer may vary kid to kid and year to year. I’m a rule follower, and I know other families are, too. I don’t take missing school lightly at all, but sometimes it is worth it in my book. Trips don’t all fit into prescribed school blocks of breaks, especially when they rely on seasonal conditions, like snow. Even though it is a pricier time to travel, we did use a long weekend to minimize absences, but a three day weekend isn’t always enough time to get somewhere, enjoy it, and get back. My point, if there is one, is that I think it is okay to sometimes pick out of the classroom learning, even if that means paying the price in some way when you return to school. You can’t be in two places at once, and reminding yourself of all the learning that really does happen outside the classroom is important because it is so easy to overlook and dismiss. I’m not trying to justify anything to anyone, but rather just remind parents how valuable out of the classroom learning really can be. If you can do it all during school breaks, fantastic, but if that doesn’t work for whatever reasons, maybe that’s okay, too.

  7. When my son was in kindergarten he missed the first 10 days of school. We were told a head of time we could get an official letter from the school regarding truancy. His teacher said not to worry about it and if he was going to miss more than 20 days of school, just to take him out of school to home school for a day and then re-enroll him and his clock would start over.

    Now our kids are in 1st and 3rd grade. We missed some school earlier this year for Disney Cruise. Then the Flu bug hit our house and they both missed a week. So probably no more missing school, unless i can get a good deal using the companion pass for a 3 day weekend to go skiing!

  8. She also learned a valuable lesson from you in not lying with a false excuse, but accepting the consequences of violating the stated rules.

    Hoo boy – this is gonna hit that dreaded “permanent record”!!! 😉

    • That is true actually and she knows from experience that when you miss you don’t get to go to things like the “NEAT” ice cream parties for kids who are Never Ever Absent or Tardy. We talk about how there are trade-offs but that trips are generally better than a school ice cream party.

  9. Same here. I have no qualms about pulling my son out of school for a family trip. I have done it many times. The first time was in kindergarten. We spent 3 weeks in Thailand – a week before and a week after spring break. His school allows 10 unexcused absences per year and that would have taken all of them. BUT his principal excused the absence as an “educational trip”.

    He is in 4th grade now and I know it’s going to get harder to do that. What I will probably do is add a day or two on to fall break, winter break and spring break rather than pull him out for a solid week. But I don’t worry too much about him falling behind. He is in the gifted program and makes straight As.

    People used to give me a hard time for taking him out of school and dragging him all over the world. Saying he won’t remember it or won’t benefit from it. I disagree. I really believe that travel broadens the mind and exposes children to so many different things that they can’t experience in a classroom. And I think my son is living proof of that.

  10. Cute pictures. Must have been a fun day. Not an excuse though for the disruption for the school and teacher. Lessons and learning are planned well in advance, and now time will have to be taken to catch your child up at the expense of others. Dealing with absences takes away from a teacher’s ability to devote time and attention to the other critical aspects of their jobs. Please think about this next time.

    • As a teacher myself, little makes me as happy as knowing that my students get REAL time away with their families, exploring and really living. The few minutes it takes for me to catch a thriving kid up is worth the exchange. On the other hand, if a student is struggling behaviorally or academically, that might be a bit different, but for the average student, going away occasionally is a very, very good thing.

  11. I try hard to schedule our family trips when school is out, but since that’s what everyone does, plane tickets cost more, whether miles or dollars.

    I’ve discovered that August is a sweet spot. Schools in many states now start in early August so there is less demand and more deals to be found that month.

    But man, April and October are such great times to travel. Stupid school! (Don’t tell my kids).

    • We got an amazing deal from LAX to LHR for August this year from Air NZ Cyber Monday deals. We get back the day before my son starts middle-school! That should be fun. My husbands birthday is in April and mine is in October, I so miss traveling during those months.

  12. Even as a teacher, I’m in your camp. My girls miss some school for long weekends; so do I. In fact, they’re going to miss next Thursday and Friday because I found a three-night cruise deal that I cannot turn down and we’re tired of gray Georgia skies. 🙂

    Well-adjusted kids are built by balance and moderation, not by following every rule every time. Cheers!

    • Amen. My mom was a high school teacher for 35+ years agrees, too. To be honest, I have yet to meet an educator who didn’t agree with missing a day here and there to see more of the world. I’m sure that person is out there, but they seem to be the minority, even within education. Enjoy that cruise!

      • Thanks! It’s the same cruise we took with them last February, but it is cheap (thanks to the excellent Chase Reserve redemption rate) and departs from and ports in warm and sunny places, so we are in! 🙂

        And yes, the large majority of my peers agree. Once you get to high school AP classes and such, the story may change a bit, but again, even then, most educators will be somewhat flexible, especially with advance notice and an ambitious and hard-working kid who’s willing to put in the work it takes to catch up. I am a high school teacher myself, and I salute my parents who travel with their students and do what I can to make it easy on them. Traveling is a fantastic supplement to classroom education.

  13. A day here or there on either end of a school holiday is reasonable. Taking an entire week or two, and doing that every year, is not reasonable. Choosing vacation over education sends a very clear message to kids which is more important. Schools have lots of breaks — fall break, winter break, spring break, long weekends for Martin Luther King, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, and of course lots of teacher inservices. There are plenty of opportunities if you put the effort into it. I, too, am not going to pretend we never take a day off of school to make travel more convenient, or to save a couple of hundred dollars. But it’s one day and maybe every other year. I applaud you for making the effort to ensure the vacation had some educational value… but the ski slopes in Colorado are open during school breaks, too.

    • Perhaps families should decide for themselves what is or is not reasonable. Every kid/family/school/experience/opportunity/trade-off is different.

      • Your daughter is obviously very smart to begin with (straight “A” student) & will likely catch up on her back-studies quickly. Kids who are not as much need more structure & perfect attendance. I think it all depends on the child as you say, and C seems adaptable & understands the trade-offs for goofing off (“lift-schooling”!). She seems balanced & able to do it all…you are very fortunate, Summer. A lot of kids would need a day off along with daily tutoring by the time they arrived home to catch up!

    • I will regretfully agree. We have 4 kiddos and now that 2 are in middle school, trips during school are not possible for many reasons. We have lived many places, and some school districts have been more strict than others. Up to, say first grade, you are good. Have fun. We sure did ( our 5 and 7 y/o kinda got the shaft…tough with older siblings). After that, reality sets in. It becomes almost impossible to justify (although you have made a case better than I think anyone has before -Kuddos). You are stuck either not travelling or paying big bucks/points during breaks. Yes, there are many of them, and we have found in the last few years the kids have more fun with other, random kids around and less of the flexible (aka, senior) travelers. I am super cheap…it kills me. I have now accepted my new challenge…find the best deal during customarily expensive times…for 6. ..skiing next year winter break…focus man, focus…

  14. Some schools are much more strict about students missing a few days of school for a family trip than other schools.

    As long as the child performs very well in school and doesn’t fall behind in ways they can’t make up without too much additional stress on the student and teachers, the issues are less; but then the issue is where should a school or parent draw the line in treating children equally in regard to missing school for a vacation.

    The cost to vacation during peak school holiday dates is much higher than during regular school dates. To alleviate financial pressure on families, some schools/districts outside of the US allow for student flex time off within a window of time so that vacation budgets don’t get too stretched and so trips don’t become prohibitively expensive for all but the relatively wealthiest. Also part of the reason this was done is because parents were taking the kids out for trips despite the days being unexcused absences as far as the school and/or law was concerned.

    • That would be so cool to have a number of flex days to use as you wished and then you could report back to the class on what you learned whether you explored the other side of the world or parks and museums in your own backyard.

  15. I think there’s also a valuable lesson to be learned here about nonconformity. Schools understandably stress perfect attendance, following the rules, being like everyone else, etc. But sometimes it’s good for a kid to see there are times in life when you might choose to break “the rules” and do things differently. The world won’t end, and good can come of it as well. I think experiences like that are good for creating free-thinking, problem-solving adults.

  16. Schools stress perfect attendance for reasons of kids playing hooky, neglectful parents, and simply funding. There are good reasons for this. As a foster home, we’ve seen them.

    I have no reservations about “calling in sick” if it’s 1-2 days missed. Adults have ‘personal days’ after all. Then the school still gets funding.

    For longer absences of 5-10 days, just plan ahead and request it. The teacher WILL have to prepare some additional lessons, recommend to donate to the class fund and/or volunteer to help out for the extra work you have just requested them to do. Have the kid do as many of these assignments as possible BEFORE leaving.

    Hope that helps!

  17. Great timing on this post! I’m taking my kindergartener and 3rd grader out of school this Friday and Monday so we can ski Beaver Creek! Our first time skiing in CO, but we’re thankful for this trip as the snow this year in Tahoe has been abysmal. Skied Whistler over Xmas and it was glorious!

  18. As with everything I think the answer lies in moderation. My kids just missed a day of school so that they could spend a 4-day weekend with our extended family at a resort. It’s not the ideal situation but with grandparents in their 80s the opportunities will be limited. Given the time and $$ cost of travel, it makes sense to tack 1-2 days onto a weekend or even winter or spring break.
    That being said we live in a wealthy district where it is not uncommon to see people yank their children for a week to go to Hawaii or on a cruise. Personally I would not do this for the reasons stated in your post – it sends the wrong message to kids and there is normally ample opportunity to take such trips during school vacations (the olympics would be a rare exception!) I have friends who took their kids out of school for 3 weeks to visit Australia. One child apparently did not recover very well that semester.
    Which brings me to the final piece of advice – if you do decide to pull your kids from school for a week or more, do it while they are in elementary school. Because the middle and high schools will dock their grades, and no trip is worth that.

  19. As someone who lives in Texas they can be very strict about attendance. One time my sons grandma was dying. We rushed to see her before she passed. Guess what? Unexcused absence and the school gave me crap about it. Yet had I taken him out a week later when she died…well that’s excused? . Then in 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer. My son was 12. I was sick during chemo for many school breaks, all Christmas and spring break. Then April came around and I was done with chemo. I took my son out for two days in addition to 3 day weekend. Sure enough I got the ugly letters and calls. Some teachers were great and understanding. Others were not. I am still battling cancer. And I still plan on taking my son out of school for a few days to make some memories with him. And yes the school considers it unexcused. I have already been told I am dying and it makes me mad that the school is not allowed to be understanding to this. Gotta get that money from funding. Some teachers let him make up work. Others don’t. But it won’t stop me from making memories. This is important to do with your kids. Yes my situation is unique…but none of us know when our day will come. And I know that my most important memories of my childhood were the trips I took with my parents. many states allow for you to take your child out for a week for a family vacation. There needs to be a Balance. Life is short…and sometimes people can’t always take trips and such during allotted times from school district.

    • Kelly, first, so sorry to hear about your health situation. I 100% agree that all of us have an ‘end date’ and you don’t know when that is. Part of life is simply living and making memories that aren’t going to happen in the same way on a structured ‘school day’. Not that it matters, but I support what you are doing 100% and I hope you enjoy every moment exploring and having fun with your family. I agree that balance and occasional deviation from the norm has to be okay – you only get one life, so live it.

  20. There are several sides to the issue, and I’m not criticizing what you did. I don’t think most schools will penalize the child heavily if it’s brief and occasional. I think it may also make a difference what kind of school your child goes to. If it’s a private school, or located in an affluent area, it might be seen as “normal” for families to take off for costly vacations now and then. If it’s a more diverse setting, where many families would simply be unable to afford it, the kid who goes skiing, on a cruise, or to Paris for a week when school is in session could be seen as flaunting wealth in ways that could be unhealthy for relationships, even if the trip has undeniable educational value. The school definitely can’t be coming across as looking the other way when the rich family does it, if it violates school rules.

    • This is an interesting side to the issue that you don’t often see discussed. My children attend an urban public school, and there are some issues surrounding socioeconomic & racial diversity among the school population. I can definitely see this being an issue, if a teacher or administrator “looked the other way” for a child who was missing school for a family vacation even if it violated the attendance policy.

      Our schools are closed this week, and I know of two children in my older daughter’s class who went on international trips and will be missing a few additional days of school. One of them also told my daughter that she doesn’t have to do the diorama project that was assigned over the break. I’m curious to see if that’s actually true. If so, that’s not exactly fair either. We went away for part of the week so my daughter only has 3 days to do her project.

  21. Let’s be honest. Most people would endorse pulling a child from school to participate in an extraordinary situation as other commentors above note (trip to olympics, meeting the president, sick old grandparents, etc…). It becomes a bit disingenuous to use the same justification when the trips are being planned according to miles/points availability. Regardless, i would do the same. Was this the Vail Marriott by the way?

  22. I just did the EXACT same thing with my first grader. I did talk to the school beforehand and they said the one unexcused absence she would get for the trip wouldn’t hurt anything.

  23. I love this blog and totally agree with your post!

    Our school closed when our home team (go royals!) won the World Series to allow the teachers to go to the parade so they cannot say anything to me about taking my kids out for vacation. They didn’t care that they disrupted my work schedule (notifying parents of this at 4pm the day before they cancelled school) and used up my limited vacation days. They also didn’t care that the kids missed a day of learning. And they had absolutely no regard for the families that can’t afford to take off work. So it does not bother me one bit to take my kids out to share memories when the timing and cost works for our family. Schools don’t give any thought to working parents. Plus my kids are way ahead of their grade level bc we work with them and give them the attention and challenge that no teacher can give them with attention split in a class of 25 kids. The schools do what works for them and our family does what works for us.

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