As we prepare to go back to school this fall, my kids grumble a bit about waking up early, the thought of homework, and the loss of endless free time. And I get it. While summer is a gauntlet of balancing kids and work, we also have a ton of fun camping and traveling as much as possible. For nearly the entire month of July this year, we did not unpack our van as we rolled from one trip to the next. There is a layer of sand in my minivan that is likely permanent at this point. We have no regrets.
My kids, though, have not satiated their wanderlust. They get it from me, so I can’t blame them. As we plan for fall open houses and sports, we’re also planning our travel throughout the school year. While we value public education and good attendance, we never hesitate to pull our kids out of school for travel. It is always worth it.
I come by my lack of regard for the school calendar honestly — I get it from my own mother. She was always open to a mental health day or a long weekend away, even if it meant missing a few days of school. When I was a student in the 1990s, there were few rules around school attendance. One day, my mom and I drove around antiquing all day and searching for the perfect apple cider. I should have been in algebra class, but she prioritized my need for connection and a break that day over book learning. It remains one of my strongest childhood memories. That’s why, for my kids, I’ve decided to approach attendance with the same attitude. School is important and valuable, but a few absences never hurt anyone.
Yes, I know the stats. Attendance is closely linked to performance, and we want our kids to do well in school. What we don’t want, though, is kids who think there is no value in a break or a getaway. We don’t want our kids to be so embroiled in hustle culture that they can’t find the value in a long weekend in a neighboring state or catching a plane while their peers are rushing for the late bell. My kids will never win a perfect attendance award, but they are gaining so much more.
Last November, they missed two days of school for a four-day trip to Hickory, North Carolina. We had heard the town looked like a Christmas postcard with an amazing holiday parade, so we packed up the car one morning while their peers trudged off to class. The artsy little hamlet did not disappoint. Santa arrived in all his glory while flinging candy from his sleigh in what can only be described as a Hallmark-movie moment. When I saw their faces, I knew that the absences were worth it. Beyond the parade, we made sure to fit in some education, too. In the birthplace of flight, we toured an aviation museum where a retired military pilot walked us through the exact plane he used to fly in battle. We visited an art museum, a historic mill village, and an adorable hands-on science center that kept my kids fascinated for hours.
The previous spring, we pulled them out for an entire week to go to Florida. In an effort to avoid crowds at Walt Disney World and Kennedy Space Center, we actually chose to go several weeks before our school — and every school — was on spring break. My kids missed six days, which a few friends gasped at. Teachers prepared some worksheets to take along, but I will admit we made a very minimal effort to complete them. If I didn’t take my laptop on vacation, I can’t see making my kids work on theirs. (Next time, I will request that teachers don’t make a packet. They are overworked as it is, without gathering papers into a folder we barely touch.)
That doesn’t mean we didn’t learn, though. We took a marine tour of Ponce de Leon inlet, where we learned about manatee health, coral, and local programs to preserve the ecosystem. My kids randomly rattle off facts they learned that day, because hands-on learning is so effective. We stood in awe under the massive Saturn V rocket and participated in a launch simulation that had us all quaking in our flip-flops. We also ate astronaut ice cream, of course.
I realize the privilege in making this choice for our kids. Our life has a modicum of stability that means we rarely miss school due to crisis, and we are blessed with children who don’t often miss school due to illness. We keep an eye on the amount of days we miss, too — only 10 absences are allowed without a doctor’s excuse in our state. We pay attention to things like testing, school-wide events, or other activities that are hard to make up. Other than that, though, we don’t plan to ever skip an opportunity for a bit of adventure, even if school’s in session.
Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.