It’s no secret we see a lot of benefits from family travel. And most of the time, we try to time that travel to coincide with school breaks. But occasionally, that doesn’t work. Here’s a little bit more about the process of requesting an elementary school independent study for travel.
What is the elementary school independent study program?
I’m sure many schools have versions of this option that they handle slightly differently, but here is how ours works. Our kids’ elementary school offers an independent study option when students are absent for 5+ consecutive school days.
Essentially, the teacher prepares some sort of assignments that the student must complete while they are gone. This is accompanied by a contract that the teacher, the student, and the parent all sign. The contract usually has guidelines for doing their own work, doing daily assignments, etc. Some teachers haven’t cared if the child does everything in one day, and some prefer for them to space them out. We pick up the contract along with the assignments the day before the start of the independent study. Then, they turn in the assignments along with the signed contract to the front office when we return.
The assignments themselves vary quite a bit by teacher. Some of our teachers have had the student do basically the same assignments that they would be doing in class. Others have had them do almost nothing of what they would do in class, and instead have them focus on the travel experience. This may include keeping a journal, preparing a presentation for the class, drawing pictures, and more.
It’s also worth noting that the school/teacher are never required to approve the independent study. Fortunately, we’ve never had an issue and they’ve approved our requests without issue.
What kind of school does this?
Our kids attend a public neighborhood school in California. Here’s more about what we do for school.
What are the benefits of doing an independent study for kids?
The biggest benefit of the independent study for us is that the days they are absent are no longer marked as unexcused absences. Since public schools receive funding based on the number of children present, completing the independent study means that our school still receives funding for those days that our kids are absent. It also allows our kids to stay in touch with the class assignments. Finally, it encourages them to pay a little extra attention on our travels in anticipation of sharing about them for a school assignment.
Is an elementary school independent study for travel a good fit for my child?
Before requesting an independent study, t’s important to consider how your child is doing as a student. If your child is really struggling with academic assignments, it might be best to hold off until they feel a bit more comfortable. Otherwise, it could be pretty stressful to leave for a while and either have to figure out assignments on their own or to have to catch up when they return. So far, our kids have all been pretty far ahead in all the main subjects academically, so we’ve felt comfortable choosing this option. We are also personally prepared and willing to check in on the subjects, guide them in assignments when needed, and ensure they’re performing to curriculum standards.
Something else to consider is how your child adjusts to change or how they emotionally handle being away from class. Will they feel really uncomfortable with the rest of the class being together and learning and having fun while they are away? Or do they feel okay with leaving for a bit and returning? Do they feel included and have friends to whom they feel comfortable returning?
One final note is considering how the travel will factor into supplemental education. I would be much more hesitant to pull my child out of school for an extended time to visit Disneyland versus somewhere that could provide more educational enrichment. I personally put a lot of effort into having our family study and prepare in advance, and learn while there, so I feel confident in the educational merit of our travel. Especially with gifted students in a school system that currently provides zero gifted education, this feels like a way I can increase the depth and breadth of their education. This is especially true when they spend most days in a classroom without being challenged to their capabilities and without a curriculum structured to meet their needs. This is certainly not true for every child, but is a factor in our personal decision.
How does an independent study affect the teacher?
It’s also REALLY important to be considerate of the teacher through this whole process. Teachers already do so much and it’s important to me to not create a big extra burden for them. In our experience, all our teachers have been happy to help with this, especially considering our child won’t be there to need help during that time period. That said, we do our very best to make it an easy and smooth process for them, too.
The first and most important thing is to make sure to make the request EARLY. I always give my kids’ teachers a heads up as soon as we know about any travel. I try to discuss with them whether it feels like a good fit for both them and the child before the administration is involved. Then, I always make a formal request for an independent study at least 2 weeks in advance of the travel. This gives them plenty of time to plan and prepare assignments and pull together any needed resources.
I give the teachers any relevant info about where we are headed in case they’d like to include that in the assignments. This may include info on specific museums or historic sites we may visit, or whether educational opportunities are available. This may include something like Junior Ranger books for National Parks – we had one teacher who used that as the biggest part of the independent study requirements! We just found the booklets online and she printed them and included them in the packet to be completed. It was a win/win because it was educational and really relevant to the place we were going, and was something interesting and wonderful that we would’ve done anyway. To be clear, none of our teachers have ever prepared assignments specific to the destination (nor have we expected them to). That information is solely if they would like to include an extra assignment for the CHILD that is relevant to the place (e.g., a travel journal or presentation). The assignments have always been portions of what would be covered in class.
Finally, I always offer to help pull together any resources to make things easy. I’m always happy to help find books, come up with assignment ideas, etc. It’s my goal to make it as simple as possible for the teachers! I always offer to have the child present to the class or bring in info. I hope this is helpful in bringing a broader educaitonal experience to the class and in supporting the teacher’s educational goals! We also always return the packets with a small gift from the place we visit as a thank you for the effort and support.
How often can I do an elementary school independent study?
How often will really vary by child and by school. We try not to take advantage of this option and limit it to about 1-3 weeks per year. We do try to plan around school holidays and long weekends, and try to reserve this for when there is a really compelling reason or need (for work or family needs) to travel at a different time.
Considering equity in travel
Like so many educational opportunities, travel is an enormous privilege. There’s no denying that. And I certainly think it’s important for teachers and students to be sensitive in what and how they share in class. We always do our best to have our children focus any presentations on educational research rather than simple fun experiences they get to have to hopefully make it an opportunity for learning for the class while minimizing any feelings of missing out. I’m certainly not an expert in how to manage this in the classroom, but hope my kids’ teachers are mindful in how they use these learning opportunities.
And that’s about it! Having this option really has been wonderful for our family and has increased the educational value of our travel. We’ve been so grateful for an amazing and supportive school and teachers!
What questions do you have about this process? Does your school do something similar?