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.

mekong delta 4

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.

ethan pyramid

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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{ 22 comments… add one }

Mera Featherstory January 25, 2014, 9:52 PM

That is absolutely awesome. They are very lucky to have experienced first-hand and in person the things they learned through travel. The school does not own our children, we should not be fined for being parents and making our own decisions about how we choose to raise and educate our children. Especially when it is so obviously valuable to their learning. Thanks for sharing.

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Heather January 25, 2014, 9:59 PM

Appreciate you reading it! Thanks Mera.

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Roni Faida January 25, 2014, 10:06 PM

If I ever have children, I will travel with them as much as I want and I think your year around the world was such a useful learning experience for your kids! I totally agree with you, how many kids get to say they did 1/5 of the things your kids have done? Not many. Good on you guys for doing what you did.

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Heather January 27, 2014, 10:31 AM

Thanks Roni. I know our year away seems like a different choice, but I think a week away is valuable too. In my mind it’s not the length of time as much as what that option and experience can offer. I wouldn’t hesitate to pull my kids out of school for a day or two if I felt that that’s what their mental health needed. I think the key is that the parent is weighing what the child needs with what school offers at that point. The Sutherlands say their oldest was having a tough time at school and they wanted the family time to regroup. This is when they could afford to do it. That, for me, is enough.

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Sarah Yanchyk-Lamoureux January 25, 2014, 11:51 PM

I absolutely loved reading this Heather. As a child, I was very fortunate to have parents who felt that travelling as a family was important. These travel experiences have stayed with me while raising my own 2 children. I hope to one day travel the world with my boys but for now I’ll settle for a couple of weeks here and there. Yes, I pull them out of school to do it and I don’t think twice. What they learn in the classroom is essential, but the benefits of exploring outside the walls of the classroom is priceless. Experiencing different cultures and unfamiliar places is what I want for my children. Travelling with family, friends and by myself brought be so much knowledge, independence and confidence. I can only hope that my children learn to love and appreciate it as much as I have and reap the benefits of our beautiful world and what it has to offer. I am saddened that the Sutherland family has to worry about this kind of decision, as it takes more then a school to raise and teach our children.

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Heather January 27, 2014, 10:27 AM

Sarah, thanks for sharing. That’s what I’m hoping for our kids too.

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Rossana January 26, 2014, 12:49 AM

Love this…you know my feelings on traveling and learning. I have even pulled my daughter out of school for special events that I felt would be of great benefit to her. As a parent, the decisions we make for our children are in their best interests – whether it is to go to a day long event listening to inspiring speakers or on a trip that lasts much longer. School is not the only place a child can learn, and a school does not have to be made of walls. The experiences, memories and feelings that are made travelling will be with them forever; they will remember those much more than what they did in school in grade 5.
Being fined for making decision that I can only imagine would add to the children’s lives is just sad and wrong.

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Heather January 27, 2014, 10:25 AM

Thanks for the comment Rossana. It has been really interesting to see the reactions on this from kids who travelled and missed school when they were younger. There’s clearly value in both.

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Kate January 26, 2014, 9:07 PM

I totally agree with you Heather. Kids learn about their classroom at school, but they learn about the world when travelling. Luckily, we never had the same kind of teachers as the Sutherland family, and we sometimes got around this by offering to give some classes when we returned (to give the teacher a break), or the kids used their travel experiences for school projects. And they always came back from travelling more refreshed to tackle school!

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Heather January 27, 2014, 10:23 AM

We’ve done that too Kate. Both the boys and I have done power points in classrooms to add context/content to units at school. Teachers have also appreciated it.

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Carol January 27, 2014, 9:01 AM

Great read, Heather. I look at how much my children flourish not only in the classroom, but also during our travels, that I can’t imagine taking away that opportunity for them. If faced with the same wall, I think I would have to opt for the freedom to travel with my children. While the kids in class are pretending to travel different parts of the world in their social studies classes, my kids can actually say they’ve been to them and share a more personal insight than a text book could ever offer. That’s not something I would give up too easily, as it’s not an opportunity many of us have.

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Heather January 27, 2014, 10:22 AM

It would be a really tough choice for sure. I know that in the United States parents have also been reprimanded for taking kids out of school to travel. You guys have never had a problem?

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Paul (@luxury__travel) January 27, 2014, 10:08 AM

I agree with a lot of what you say but you have to bear in mind that a lot of parents don’t necessarily take their children away for the same reasons as you.

In the UK, everyone’s holidays fall at the same time, and everyone (I generalise) tends to go to the same kinds of places. This pushes prices through the roof for those weeks, and means that outside of those times there are some amazing bargains to be had. Parents are taking children out of school at sometimes crucial times (eg. just before exams) just so they can have more affordable holidays. I’m not entirely sure I agree with that. Perhaps they should opt to go on a cheaper (eg. camping) holiday and take their holidays at times which agree with the law of the country in which they reside.

Do children get as much educational benefit from lounging by a pool in a hotel in Benidorm as they do from a trip to Namibia? I doubt it. It all comes down to the specific situation of each family, I feel… and for that reason I think the old system of using headteacher’s discretion was the best solution all round.

Paul

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Heather January 27, 2014, 10:21 AM

I hear you Paul. I can definitely see how some parents might abuse the option to take kids out to travel but I disagree that the headteacher is in a better position than a loving parent to make the decision. My Namibia could be someone else’s poolside. I think the educational benefit of travel can’t be separated from the importance of a family being able to decide that this is the best time for their family to take a break. I also agree that there can be fallout for that. The kids may have to make up lessons or lose traction in school because of a decision made by the parent, and teachers shouldn’t be expected to make up that gap. I do think, however, that a parent who decides to take a child out of school just before exams is completely within their right as a parent. There may be repercussions felt by all involved from that decision, but it’s still their decision to make.

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Debbie January 27, 2014, 10:54 AM

When we lived in California, we took our kids out of school for a week for a vacation with the extended family. Because of the way property taxes are structured, schools are so underfunded that they resort to requesting what the state would have paid had our children been in school those days (they don’t do this if the child is sick, just if the child is pulled for non-medical or non-religious reasons). The school was penalized by the state for us going on vacation. We paid up. I can see how pulling kids can be disruptive to the teachers’ lesson plans. I do agree that kids learn so much from traveling and the parents need to be responsible about making sure the kids are up to date in what they need to be learning. Travel can provide such an amazing education to kids – something they’ll remember far beyond what they learned in school that day. Obviously it’s better to travel when school isn’t in session. Sometimes opportunities arise during school though.

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Brandee January 27, 2014, 1:39 PM

I love your point of view. Not everything in life can be learned through books or sitting in a lecture or classroom. Allowing our children to experience life and travel makes them more well rounded and teaches them, in a way, that there is more to life that what you see between the four walls of home or school. We have been talking about the possibility of taking our son out for a week or so for holidays. My husband is a shift worker who works in a job that is 24/7 and can’t always (read, rarely) get the “traditional” holiday times off. It is important for us to be able to spend special time together as a family, be it when the school says its ok or not. Don’t get me wrong, education is very important, but thankfully our son has a teacher this year who knows that homework and learning can take place somewhere other than a desk.

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Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 27, 2014, 2:57 PM

Heather, I agree with you on this.

I did, however, benefit from also hearing other perspectives when I was in Germany. There they have Schulpflictht, meaning children must go to school. No taking them out of school without a really good reason, no homeschooling even. They must be present at school when school is in session if they are of school age.

The reasons behind it are complex. From what I learned it was started in part to keep Nazis from home educating their children and radicalizing them. Today, while that is less of a threat, it is used to ensure that girls from immigrant families from countries that don’t value girls as much as boys actually get to go to school. Otherwise some of those families would keep their girls home or pull them out of school at a certain age to be of service in the home. It is also used to ensure that children in farming communities aren’t pulled out of school to help with the harvest.

It certainly could impede the vacation plans of well-meaning responsible parents, but the reason for putting the rules in place are more complex than that.

Personally, I’m grateful for the less-expensive, less-busy Cuba vacation that we took in December before the crowds descended on the resorts. :)

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Seema Chauhan February 4, 2014, 4:13 AM

HI Heather, we know that without travel can’t expect the real mean of lives. But, I’ve some question to you that as we all know that you take out to child from school, its all right but here I would like to know that without informing the parents of the children carrying them or tell them??

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Heather February 5, 2014, 7:09 PM

not sure what you mean Seema. Only parents would have this option.

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Molly February 8, 2014, 6:46 PM

I love your ‘take’ on the whole thing and now have to read about the Sutherlands in England as I’ve missed it! Great photos!!! I wish they were larger on the page!

best in 2014, with whatever you happen to choose, Molly

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Molly February 8, 2014, 7:08 PM

Ooops, most (photos) are, sorry… but the pyramid one was what I was thinking of when rushing (as I always do) the comment. It is really cool – same thing they do at the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, never seen similar type of shots from other places…

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Heather February 10, 2014, 12:02 PM

No problem. Yes, I’ll try to post them bigger going forward. Appreciate that you’re enjoying them! :)

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