Balancing family time with your child’s education is tricky. It can be really tempting to pull your child out of school for a vacation, especially if she’s getting great grades. Let’s face it: going to popular family destinations can be a lot cheaper when school’s in session. So much so, that you may not be able to swing it otherwise. Plus, the thinner crowds and shorter waits at attractions and restaurants can make the difference between a mega memory and just another trip.
Elin Janssen, a mom of two in Baldwin, NY, had mixed feelings. She wasn’t too worried about her daughter, only in kindergarten at the time. But her third-grade son had a much harder work load. “I knew it wasn’t ideal to pull Matt out of school for three days for our five-day vacation. But the timing just wasn’t going to work out any other way,” she recalls. Once they arrived, she started to worry she’d made the wrong decision. But her husband had a different take. “A year from now, what is still going to matter? Having this time together, or three missed days of school?” Now she sees his point. “We had an amazing time. And Matt’s grades never took a hit.”
Of course, you need to consider your child’s individual needs carefully. If you do decide to pull him out, though, you’ll need a plan in place so that he doesn’t fall behind academically. And it should start well before you pack.
Give the Teacher a Heads up. A week (ideally, two) before the trip, let the teacher know that your child will be out. “Then the teacher can either prepare a guide for him or discuss the unit with you and send home worksheets,” says Hinda Moskovitz, a fourth-grade teacher at a Baltimore private school. Make working on the go part of the deal. You should explain to your child that this trip is a privilege, not a free ride. If he wants to go — and odds are really high he does! — then he needs to do a little work every day. Many traveling families find that setting aside 20 minutes after (or during) breakfast every day works best. Plane rides are built-in opportunities to catch up, as well.
Double Check Supplies. Make sure your child has what he needs, be that notebooks, specific folders, a pink highlighter, or certain textbooks. Nothing’s more frustrating than sitting down to bang out that math packet in the airport and realizing that math packet is still in his desk. Check off supplies while there is still time to grab anything missing from school.
Stay in Touch. “On a daily basis, you should log into your school’s homework portal to print out the assignments or figure out what the other students are doing in class,” says Ann Dolin, M.Ed., founder and president of Educational Connections Inc. Most schools have online portals now, which alert parents to what’s going on in class. Those updates will help you make sure your child is keeping up, that the work he’s doing is, in fact, what the rest of the class is working on. If you’re not sure whether your school has a portal, call and find out. If you haven’t used it before, you’ll need to set up your log-in.
Look for Learning Opps. A trip is always an educational experience in itself. Where you go, what you do, and the time of year are all factors that determine what your child can learn from her travels. And there’s the possibility that your school has a policy of not providing work in advance for “unexcused” absences such as vacations, reminds Christine Brower-Cohen, a reading teacher and children’s book blogger in West Babylon, NY. In that case, Brower-Cohen recommends finding the teachable moment in any trip by encouraging your child to:
- journal her experiences and feelings (reinforces ELA connections and mindfulness)
- research the destination (underscores study skills and social studies concepts)
- bring her own independent reading book for the trip (always a good idea)
- help calculate mileage and a budget for souvenirs (enhances math connections)
Remember Bedtime Stories. Just because you’re in hotel doesn’t mean you have to forgo your nightly routine. If your child has a reading log to fill in, work in a book at bedtime, just as you would at home.
Bring a Tablet or Laptop. You should be prepared to help with homework, just as you would at home. Parents turn to online resources if they’re stumped on a lesson, not so uncommon when kids reach upper grades. One of Dolin’s favorite online math resources is Khan Academy. “For example, if you know your child is working on multiplying and dividing fractions, there are lessons within the portal that explain the concepts on a white board with a real person instructing just like a teacher would, and it allows your child to have ample practice, too."
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