Education Cheat Sheet: Is it OK to Miss School to Travel?

To miss classes for travel or not, that is the question.

Editor’s Note: It’s probably happened to you before. You plan a family trip and find out you can save on airfare if you just leave a few days prior to your child’s official school break. Should your children skip classes or will they fall behind? (And will you be able to look their teachers in the eyes again without feeling guilty?) Le Jardin Academy’s Christina Hoe and Leah Magaña have some suggestions.


Le Jardin Academy student Sidney Grimsley on a family trip to Greece. Photo: Courtesy of Le Jardin Academy


You open your mail to discover an old friend has invited you to his wedding in Japan. Wow! This is a perfect opportunity to extend your child’s Japanese language learning and immerse her in another culture for a week. But, she would have to miss a week of school. You’re torn over what to do.


“Never let schooling get in the way of your education.” Whether it was author Mark Twain or novelist Grant Allen who first articulated this sentiment, it illuminates some key perspectives we may all bring to the table when discussing family travel during the academic school year. Are we on the same page about the role of school? What is the difference between school, education and learning? Who is in charge of teaching children? Where and when should learning take place? As noted educational thinker, Sir Ken Robinson contends, a central question for us all to consider is “What’s worth knowing”? Is it more important to cover geometry or learn about water challenges in rural Peru? Is a month in France as beneficial as a month in 5th grade? Can a child learn anywhere with anyone? Answers to these questions are inevitably diverse and can be fairly contentious.


This is the heart of the 21st-century growing pains that schools across the world are experiencing. As various stakeholders grapple with how to best cultivate innovative, creative, and critical thinkers in an increasingly complex, interconnected world, the resounding conclusion is that we absolutely must collaborate in our approach. Parents and teachers are invaluable partners in education, and working together as whole communities will lead us to intentional, sustainable progress in modern learning models.


As schools struggle with these big questions about the future of education, we are still faced with the Japan wedding conundrum: Should you go? Why or why not? Below are points to consider when making the decision of whether or not to travel.


Parents Homework: What to consider:

  1. Know your school’s policy. Many schools have policies about travel during the school year. These typically include defining what constitutes an excused versus unexcused absence, under which circumstances exceptions may be made, its effect on credit and graduation requirements, implications in terms of athletics, and expectations of the students and parents when school is missed due to travel.
  2. Consider the learning your child will experience while traveling. For older students, consult your child’s course syllabi for direct connections to enrich in-school learning. Meet with your child’s teachers to gain their perspectives on your planned itinerary and to collaborate on possible projects, such as a research paper or presentation, to share upon return. Some may even have guiding questions for your child to employ while traveling, which can then be shared with other students, further developing everyone’s understanding of particular content and/or concepts being taught in class.
  3. Gain a current understanding of your child’s progress. Be sure to communicate with your child’s teacher or teachers to ensure you have an up-to-date understanding of his or her progress. For a child who is struggling, missing school can lead to significant challenges upon returning. On the other hand, more experiential, hands-on opportunities may re-inspire his or her passion for learning. The key is open, collaborative communication between families and teachers.
  4. Weigh the use of time. What will the child be gaining from the experience? What will the child be missing? Be sure to accurately evaluate the type of learning your child will gain from the experience and consider the larger context in terms of benchmark learning goals that may be very important to his/her development.
  5. Do not expect the school to make accommodations. Your child’s learning is dependent on an effective parent-school partnership. It is not fair to expect your child’s teachers to create additional assignments, reteach upon your return or makeup assignments. Ask what you can do to help keep your child on track with regard to the school’s intended learning outcomes.
  6. Set aside time for assigned work. We live in a digital world; if your child’s teacher assigns work, be sure you’re setting aside time during travel for your child to practice skills and complete assignments. Even if your child’s teacher does not, set aside time for reading and reflecting on the learning your child is experiencing outside of school. This can be through documenting digitally, in writing or visually.
  7. Prepare for your return. Your child may have additional work to makeup upon his or her return. Avoid returning from travel during a busy week of school, sports, and evening events. Set aside time after travel to help your child get caught up. It may be helpful to clearly communicate your transition plan to your child’s teachers, helping everyone stay in the loop and maintain the partnership approach.


After taking these factors into consideration, ensuring that the child is at the center of the decision-making is critical. After all, neither school nor travel nor anything else should get in the way of your child’s education.


For examples of family travel learning, take a look at these student-proposed and designed experiences from Le Jardin Academy’s 2019 Impact Term, which seeks to provide time and resources for “out of the box,” passion-based learning:


Christina Hoe is the Associate Director of Experiential Education at Le Jardin Academy and heads the Wild Kids Stewardship Council. Leah Magaña is the PK-12 Director of Learning at Le Jardin Academy and has taught PK through 7th grade in both public and private schools.