‘The World Is a Classroom Too!’ Why I Want to Take My Kids Out of School to Travel…and How to Do That

The Christmas I was 17, my sisters and I unwrapped tiny airplanes and plane tickets. Our parents surprised us with a trip to London that spring! My excitement quickly waned however, when I began telling my teachers I would be leaving in the middle of final exams and concert season. My orchestra teacher, in particular, was angry I would miss the final concert and threatened to fail me until my parents spoke to her. But my AP literature teacher took a different approach. When I asked her if I could make up the work I would be missing while abroad she shook her head.

“You’ll learn far more there than you ever would here,” she said. Instead of tasking me with all of the work I’d miss, she loaned me several books set in England and told me to read them if I had the time.

And I made the time. I read the books. And she was absolutely right. I learned more there than I did in any class at school. I studied art at the National Gallery, saw my first Broadway musical, walked every step to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I remember details from that trip vividly, bonding with my parents and sisters in a new way as we navigated the streets, tried new foods and explored together. It was absolutely life-changing in a way that sitting in a classroom never has been. The benefits of travel are truly astounding, which is why I make a concerted effort to travel regularly ever since that first big trip.

Why Travel Makes You Smarter

Research on travel shows that it makes us more empathetic, compassionate, and creative. Emerging research also shows that it may actually make us smarter, too. A 2016 study of chimpanzees showed that the chimps who traveled more were more likely to develop tool use and sociality. Researcher Dr. Thibaud Gruber from the University of Geneva attributes it to their need to adapt to, “heightened habitat instability.” If travel can make chimpanzees smarter – can it have the same effect on humans?

One study suggests that yes, it can. A 2013 study found that retired adults who travel have 75 percent higher rates of stimulation. And 82% say that travel gives them an increased ability to “get things done.” Perhaps, like chimpanzees, travel forces us to adapt to a new habitat or place, rewiring our brains to be sharper and more capable than they were before.

Even With its Benefits, Should I Pull My Kids Out of School to Travel?

Despite research on the many benefits of travel, most parents are hesitant to pull their kids out of school to travel and their reasons are perfectly valid. I’m a parent now myself, and with my daughter starting kindergarten in the fall I’ve had to evaluate our travel plans to make sure they work with her schooling. The answer to whether or not to pull them out isn’t always cut and dry. And in some schools, pulling them out for travel can even be illegal

According to The New York Times, “Some states give schools the authority to impose fines for truancy, and others allow parents to be charged with misdemeanors if truancy becomes chronic. In Britain and the Netherlands, truant officers are posted at airports and train stations to ensure parents don’t attempt to take children on vacation during the school term.”

So how can you provide a meaningful, even life-changing experience for your children while also respecting their learning and the rules put in place to ensure their education?

Find out if your school allows it

Some schools have very strict attendance policies, requiring a doctor’s note for absences and not excusing any others. Others have built-in travel absence days. Find out what your school’s policy is before you book your trip. If you still decide to go, you’ll have an idea of what you’re up against when you pull your child out.

Talk to your student’s teachers/principal

Teachers are well-versed on the school’s policies and they also have the best insight into how your child is doing. If your child is struggling in school, it may not be the best to pull them out to travel. If your child is doing well, they may agree to the absence. Some may require your kid(s) to make up their work or prepare a report or presentation on their trip. Give your teachers plenty of advance notice as well – no one likes surprises, especially when they may have prepared for your child to be in attendance. (I also bought a small gift from wherever we were visiting when I pulled my preschooler out as a thank-you to her teacher for her extra preparation getting the makeup packet put together.)

Talk to your child

How does your child feel about missing school? Do they feel confident they can make up the work? Elementary students may be easier to pull out, but middle school and high schoolers may have more difficulty. Ask them if they feel up to it and excited about the idea.

Time your trip wisely

While some may say that missing school is still missing school no matter when you do it, the truth is that not all school days are created equal. An extra day or two (or five!) during Spring Break probably isn’t as devastating as pulling your child out during testing periods. Likewise, the week before Christmas and after New Years might be more relaxed than the first two weeks of school when your child is still finding their bearings. Try to plan the trip during the least disruptive time for your child and their teachers to avoid any negative backlash.

Make the trip an opportunity to learn

I absolutely loved reading Jane Eyre and A Tale of Two Cities in London. They came alive to me there in a way they never would have if I’d never seen the streets of London. That experience also came in handy, as an English literature major in college.  If parents are able to foster a love of travel in their children by researching the destination, providing educational experiences on the trip and recounting them at home, travel can absolutely enlighten young minds.

Make it a rare treat

If your trips become the rule rather than the exception, you have a problem. You’re at risk for upsetting your children’s teachers, the principal and your child. Make it a special treat and they’ll probably be more likely to work with you the next time you take a trip.

Ultimately, I think it’s always better to go. Young minds are so open to new experiences that the best time to expose them to travel is now. The world is your classroom – the classroom isn’t your world.

‘The World Is a Classroom Too!’ Why I Want to Take My Kids Out of School to Travel…and How to Do That