How Much School Do You Feel Comfortable Missing?

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I feel like this is such a tricky subject that varies so much between families. There are those who homeschool while traveling and it works great for them. While part of me thinks that would work really well for our family, my kids LOVE going to traditional school and really thrive on the social aspect of it. So we’ve committed to full-time, traditional school for now and it works for our family.

That said, we have to plan our travels while often considering school schedules. While sometimes we try to plan around school holidays, that’s not always feasible or ideal (school holidays also tend to be pricey for travel).

This past summer, since we were gone for so long, we knew we couldn’t actually miss that much school. So that basically had to be during the summertime. We gave our kids the option of missing the last week of parties/fun or going to Italy 4 days earlier, and they chose Italy. (I think they chose well. ;)) We figured they hardly do anything that last week, anyway, so it was no big deal.

Start of school this year, on the other hand, felt like a slightly bigger deal. Honestly, they don’t do all that much the first week back, either, but somehow it seems more important in terms of meeting the teacher and the other kids. Students are often placed into groups and such early on, and while it’s not a huge deal to come in later, it makes for a smoother transition to start at the beginning. Especially since we’d missed a summer of activities and getting to know others, we felt it was important to be there at the start.

This was especially true for our kindergartener; had we just had our N (going into 2nd), we may have considered coming back later (home exchanges in France were MUCH easier to find through the end of August). But K can be a bit more shy and isn’t the most bold child in the world. So we wanted her to feel a bit more comfortable in a new school with new friends by starting at the beginning with everyone else.

Anyway, this is all to say that we thought it was important to be back for start of school this year, but we won’t necessarily feel like that all years.

In our district, they have an independent study policy in which if a child is absent for 5 days ore more, you can request the teacher put together a packet of stuff they’ll be doing in class. We’ve done it several times and while I’m not particularly concerned about my kids missing class work as they are both reasonably advanced academically, it’s nice because then it counts as an excused absence instead of an unexcused one. Plus, the school still gets funding for them while they’re gone, which is helpful.

All of the teachers with whom we’ve done this have been really good about giving useful, outside-the-box assignments that draw on the travel experience to gain depth of knowledge. None has just given busy work, which I appreciate. One teacher asked one of my kids to keep a travel journal each day and describe things she was learning. Another teacher had N put together a pamphlet for different museums we visited, and had him present on them to the class when we returned. Another had him complete Junior Ranger books for National Parks we were visiting (which we were doing anyway). They were great.

Each year, we’ve done 2-3 weeks of independent study and it’s been totally fine. Each of their teachers has been extremely supportive of learning through travel and has encouraged those experiences. I think if we were to push it, I’d be comfortable with up to 4 weeks of this, although I think the cap may be under that, anyway. I don’t know that I’d do 4 weeks in a row as that seems like a long time to be away from school, but I’d be comfortable with two weeks in the fall and two in the spring.

What are your thoughts? Obviously, our kids are still quite young so missing lessons isn’t that big of a deal. I tend to think elementary school is a lot easier to miss than middle/high school, so we’re taking advantage of it while we can. What do you think? How much missed school do you think is appropriate, if any? Or would you rather your kids have perfect attendance records and limit any travel to school holidays? If you are considering the homeschool option, I enjoyed this mom’s perspective on getting started with homeschooling. I’d love to hear how your family approaches it!

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