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Tips for taking the kids out of school to travel

The Great Wall of China was one of many stops on a family trip that offered a chance for hands-on learning.

Heather Greenwood Davis

In 2011, I took my kids out of school for a year. With the swipe of a pen on a piece of provincially required paper I promised to "take control of their education for the year," and we were out. They were 6 and 8 then, and we spent that year travelling around the globe – 29 countries over 12 months.

But there is still a debate whether kids should be taken out of school to travel. Responses range from "You go, parent!" to "How dare you?"

And it's not just the parents looking for months-long travels that are being judged. Families looking to extend their weekend getaway by a day or squeeze out a cheaper airplane fare by beating the crowds out the door at March Break also face the risk of push-back from fellow parents and some administrators as well.

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What's a travel-loving, can't-afford-the-high-season family to do?

Over the years I've spoken with countless school professionals and they range in their approach to non-vacation-time holidays. While there are some who frown on any missed school time, even those who support it admit to some common pet peeves. These tried-and-true lessons we learned from our years of travel may help you the next time you're looking to negotiate for some extra time out of the classroom.

Don't just show up when you want something

It's true with your neighbours, your boss and your pals, so why would it be any different at your child's school? No one likes to feel taken advantage of. If you're a recognized part of the school community, minor inconveniences are going to be forgiven more easily. Never underestimate the power of teachers chatting in a break room about how well behaved your child is and how helpful you were at the book fair. Also helpful: not being a jerk. Although even the jerk who shows up regularly may be okay.

Take responsibility for the inconvenience and the outcome

Teachers start prepping weeks (sometimes months) in advance. While your last-minute, off-the-cuff announcement that Emily won't be in class next week may seem like no big deal, it can throw off the entire classroom plan. Let your child's teacher know as early as you can that she may be away. Especially at times (such as before and after March Break) when you're likely not the only one disappearing. And while you may not be seeking outright permission, asking the teacher about any concerns they may have could alter your plans. If Jimmy isn't a math whiz and a key concept will be explained in his absence, you may want to rethink your timing.

Don't expect favours

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Teachers don't have to go the extra mile just because you opted out of school. Don't get me wrong – many will, but others may resent the suggestion that your vacation time means they should work double-time, produce worksheets earlier or repeat lessons. Instead, put the onus on yourself and your child to find out what will be missed and do the extra work to keep up. It's a great lesson to teach your child about cause and effect. You'll also need to accept that it'll be a lot harder to complain about a bad math mark when you missed a week.

Consider what lesson you're teaching your kids about the value of education

Kids can get mixed messages from time away from school. Are you saying that the trip to a theme park is more important than the spelling quiz? Or is it that family time trumps all? Only you know where your loyalties lie but you'll want to be sure that you talk to your kids about it. We instilled a message of "education happens in a variety of locations including the classroom" that has served our kids well whether travelling or not.

Prove it

Once you're back, be back. The kids need to be at their desks and ready to work again on the morning they show up. Anything else sends a bad message. Also, give back: Offer to share information about the place you visited with your child's class or have the kids share their travel journals with their teacher. A letter to the teacher after you're back with a "thanks for your support" and a check-in a week later to make sure your little guy is back on track, will also go far in making allies. And remember: How you behave can also affect how easy it is for other families to make those same incredible memories. Don't mess it up for the rest of us.

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