Family Travel, Intergenerational Travel, Life Lessons, Parenting

Fines for families who take kids out of school to travel

I take my kids out of school…for a weekend, for a week, for a year.

The reaction from my children’s teachers and principal as we planned for that incredible experience ranged from “Great idea!” to “Can I come too?” To say they’ve been supportive would be the understatement of the century.

In order to take the kids out of  school for a year the government said that I had to fill out a form, sign my name and acknowledge that I would “take responsibility for my children’s education.”

And that was it.

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Vietnam in the summer of 2011 – a day when the kids weren’t in school.

We left in June 2011, came back in 2012 and have returned to a world of homework and school council meetings with nary an eyelash batted.

Lucky for me we live in Ontario, Canada. Had I lived in England,  that very same act could have landed me with a fine and potentially, jail time.

That’s the predicament the Sutherland family there is facing now after opting to take their children out of school for a week of holidays. You can read the reasons behind the decision that hit the news last week here (Emma over at “Embrace the Chaos” also sums it up nicely here), but suffice it to say that their decision about what was right for their family came second to the opinion of the school’s…about their kids.

Here’s the thing: I value a traditional education system and I feel very fortunate  to have access to one of the best in the world, but I have never seen sending my kids to school as a decision to give up my parental authority.

I went to elementary, high school, and two universities in pursuit of higher education. I found it and learned a lot  within the walls of those institutions, but my learning didn’t stop there.

cam mandela

Learning outside of a classroom has often had the most lasting effect.

Trips with my parents who at times worked shifts and scrimped pennies to be able to show their kids the country they chose to live in, exposed me to learning through travel. I may have learned about my country’s geography from the books I was handed at school, but I began to understand it once  I’d seen it for myself.

There are rules. I get that too. And as much as I hate to say it, the Sutherland family in England seems to have broken one – by accident or on purpose – and are now subject to the consequences.  I understand that. I just think the rule itself is flawed.

I can’t tell you what the Sutherland kids gained from a vacation with their parents instead of days at school, but I can tell you what I’ve experienced with my two over countless missed days:

1.  They’ve missed things because they weren’t at school :  I took my kids out of school for a year. I did not teach them grade two or grade four. They did not learn those grades by osmosis and they will never get those school years back. They came back and went on to grades three and five and did well. Are there  holes in their learning because they missed those grades? Absolutely! We (their dad, myself, the kids, their teachers..) work on filling those in together when they’re found. On shorter trips we give lots of notice, discuss options for missed work ahead of time and follow up once we’re back. I have no expectation that their teachers will bend over backwards to fill that gap of information that we opted to miss, only that they will continue to work as hard as they would for any student to help my kids continue to learn. If that effort falls short? It’s Ish’s and my responsibility to find the help and information to get them what they need.

2. They gained from missing school: The learning that I have watched my kids have while traveling goes far beyond the education any teacher in their incredible school could have ever given them. It’s true that they gained social skills that many adults don’t have, that they can read a map and that they can navigate an airport but that’s just the beginning. They have brought knowledge of first-hand experiences back to their classrooms and to the playground. They have helped to eradicate ignorance about what people are like in other parts of the world simply because they can share the fact that they have been to the other side and know better. They did not take the field trips that year to the Royal Ontario Museum but they have  learned Egyptology from Egyptologists while standing with one hand on the pyramids, practiced French with Parisian school children and had discussions with wildlife specialists about the fates of species while holding a cheetah’s jaw in Namibia. That learning, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t covered in Grade 2 or Grade 4.

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3. Our family is stronger because of our travels together:  Sometimes a parent may want to take kids out of school because they want to expose them to something profound; sometimes they just want to build sandcastles together on the beach. Doesn’t matter.  I don’t believe it’s okay for strangers to decide what kind of holiday time is more valuable or worthwhile for my kids. It’s not their call.  As parents we give up our kids to other people for the better part of every day. Turn to social media or the evening news and you’ll see the stress we’re all under. Mornings and evenings are rushed and frantic. Weekends are attempts to squeeze in obligations, enrichment programs, extended family and homework. And somehow, somewhere in there, we’re supposed to also find some time to spend time with our kids and create a strong family bond with meaningful time together!?! It’s hard to do. And if a family decides that a vacation (at the time they can afford it)  gives them the opportunity to do that, I say help them pack a bag.

The fine against this family irks me if only for the  fact that at its core, a rule/law that suggests that a parent can’t take their child out of school is an affront to my rights to parent.

They are our children.  I didn’t have them as a surrogate for the province, or the country. My responsibility, as I see it, is to them.  My job is to guide them into young men who, among many other things, understand that what happens on the other side of this planet affects us and vice versa, to show them that their opportunities and responsibilities go beyond the neighbourhood that we live in, to help them see that the things they read about in books and learn from their teachers have depth and real-world application.

It’s my job to be their parent and sometimes I will take my kids out of school to do it.

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