Good communication between parents and teachers is key when kids miss school to travel. // © 2014 Thinkstock/Szepy
Teachers work hard to prepare detailed daily lessons and long-terms plans — no wonder some find it frustrating when a student leaves school for a midyear travel break. When a family trip can’t wait until spring break or summertime, consider following these five tips from Los Angeles elementary teacher Mary Stepanian.
Tip #1: Share your travel dates with your child’s teacher as soon as possible. Knowing what days a student will be absent allows the teacher to better prepare. Given enough notice, she might make a learning packet for the child to take along on the trip or pre-teach big concepts that will be missed during the vacation. Both of these steps can help keep your child from falling behind academically.
Tip #2: Make sure your child completes the provided school packet before returning to class. A learning packet may sound like busy work, but a well-planned teacher will organize appropriate activities that cover the material your child will miss while away. If the material is brand-new, parents should be prepared to help.
“Make it a point to play teacher, even if it’s just for half an hour of your trip,” said Stepanian. “By taking this time to help your child stay caught up on schoolwork, you’ll ensure a seamless transition back into the classroom.”
Tip #3: Choose your travel dates strategically. Some parts of the school year are better to miss than others. For example, the days leading up to winter break are often spent reviewing rather than introducing new concepts. Late spring is another option.
“By May, annual standardized testing is usually complete,” said Stepanian. “Teachers are often reviewing grade level material or previewing key concepts from the next grade. If your child is on grade level or above, this could be a better time for your off-peak vacation.”
Tip #4: Make sure your child is caught up on sleep. It’s difficult enough teaching a new lesson to 30 students without having a child nod off due to jetlag.
“If you need another day to rest at home before bringing your child back to school, take it,” said Stepanian. “Your child will be much more receptive to learning if he or she is well rested.”
Tip #5: Go out of your way to build some excitement around returning to school.
“Sometimes students find it hard to get back into the routine of school once it’s broken,” said Stepanian. “Make sure you aren’t mistaking reluctance to return to school for jetlag. Establish expectations for returning to school ahead of time.”
Additional Advice From the Field
School founders, administrators and parents share their tips for missing school without too much disruption.
Patty Walters, a chef and mother of three in the greater Los Angeles area, finds traveling during the school year uncomplicated given that vacation dates are set in advance.
“I email our children’s teachers as soon as we decide on a trip, and they always thank us for keeping them in the loop,” said Walters. “With so much technology in the classroom today, our kids can log on to their classroom blogs and be a part of daily lessons while absent.”
When traveling with older students, remember there are more teachers to communicate with and likely more assignments to be made up.
“In middle school and up, students will have work from many different classes to complete while on vacation,” said Alice Lai, founding principal of KIPP Academy of Innovation in Los Angeles. “Create a plan or a daily schedule in order to complete assignments and hold your child accountable to that schedule. Look over each project early as well, in case you have any questions for teachers before you depart on your trip.”
Finally, avoid unforeseen problems by reaching out to office staff and administrators.
“Talk to your school attendance clerk about independent study options, especially for longer trips,” said Rebecca Ngo, an assistant principal with Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. “Too many unexcused absences can lead to consequences with your school district, but planning ahead of time can avoid this.”