Interview with Canadian Press – Taking Kids out of School to Travel

Here’s a recent interview with the Canadian Press

TORONTO – Heather Greenwood Davis has few qualms about pulling her children out of school for short-term trips — a practice she plans to continue in future.

In fact, the Toronto-based travel writer is such a firm believer in the benefits of learning beyond the classroom that in 2011, she took a year-long globe-trotting journey with her husband and sons (then aged six and eight).

Greenwood Davis documented their adventures — which spanned six continents and 29 countries — on her website, Globetrotting Mama.

“I know the value that travel has brought to my life, even as an adult, and how many times I’ve been places where I’ve wished: ‘Gosh, if I had seen this when they were trying to teach me out of the geography book or history book, it really would have sat with me better,'” she said in a recent interview.

“Outside of strict educational channels, too, we talk about socializing kids, instilling confidence and all of those sorts of things — and travel offers all of that.”

As a travel adviser, Sheila Gallant-Halloran said her busiest periods at work are when her clients are on vacation, such as March Break and the summer. That’s one of the reasons the mother of two daughters, aged 14 and eight, has previously allowed them to miss school to help accommodate the occasional family vacation, like a fall trip to Walt Disney World or an extended break for travel around Easter.

“Work commitment is the biggest thing for me. But certainly there are price considerations,” said Gallant-Halloran, Ottawa-based luxury travel adviser with Vision Travel/Lush Life.

“I have a lot of teacher clients, for example, they can only go on (vacation during) March Break … it is very difficult for them to take off other times. As a result, they’re going for when the majority of people are trying to travel with their children, so they’re paying higher costs for flights….

“If you’re stuck and you have to travel at that time, you have to actually book far in advance to get the best pricing. And if you don’t have that liberty, then you’re stuck.”

Having children miss several days, a week or more from school for non-essential travel may prove appealing to parents looking to squeeze in family getaways within busy work schedules or seeking to save with last-minute deals. But a British couple with three children recently paid a high price when their kids missed class.

Natasha and Stewart Sutherland had booked a week-long fall trip to Greece a year in advance. Previously, the Department of Education allowed teachers to grant leaves of absence for family holidays during the school term in “special circumstances” of up to 10 school days per year. But amendments enacted last September removed references to family holiday and extended leave, as well the “statutory threshold” of 10 school days.

The Sutherlands were forced to pay more than more than $1,800 in costs and fines. Meanwhile, an online petition seeking a reversal of the amended rules has gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

Representatives for public school boards in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver told The Canadian Press that cases are addressed on an individual basis, and the decision on whether kids will miss class ultimately rests with the parents, provided they obtain proper clearances from school officials.

Toronto District School Board spokesman Ryan Bird said their policy is that teachers shouldn’t be expected to provide detailed classroom work and homework assignments for students who are away for extended periods of time as a result of family or parent-initiated absences.

In an email, Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said the union is opposed to having teachers develop homework assignments for students who are absent.

“Teachers often do get requests for homework when students are going to be away, and it does require additional work for the teacher planning what activities will be meaningful for a student when they’re not in class, and trying to make sure that they do get caught up on assessments,” said Dianne Woloschuk, president of The Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

But Woloschuk, who has 35 years of teaching experience in Saskatchewan’s rural and urban school systems, also noted that “vacations can have education value.”

“I guess it depends a lot on how the parents will approach that,” said Woloschuk, adding that she thinks teachers would be concerned about students who are struggling missing school for a vacation.

“There are students who are very well-organized and who are able to handle something like this, perhaps better than others. It just depends. And then parents also have a responsibility to ensure that students are following through with homework if that’s been requested.”

Gallant-Halloran said she contacts teachers in advance and confirms her kids will cover the work they miss.

She recalled one year when they travelled to Disney and one of her kids was assigned by a teacher to complete work as she toured Epcot Center, which features international pavilions, tying in an aspect of what was being learned in school to directly to the trip.

“They know it’s a benefit to be able to extend their vacation, extend their knowledge by going on vacation and learning about other cultures, or just having time together as a family. But schoolwork comes first,” said Gallant-Halloran. “So we have to make sure that if we do take them out of school, they can quickly catch up and that they don’t miss any important learning.”

Greenwood Davis emphasized the importance of providing ample notice about a potential trip to find out what may be covered during that period and determine if it’s a good time for the child to be away.

“You might change your mind once you hear that they’re studying something you know your child’s struggling with. So I think that notice is really important,” said Greenwood Davis, whose sons are now 11 and nine.

Beyond the opportunities afforded by travel to learn about new locales, people and cultures, Greenwood Davis said their extended vacation helped in bringing the family closer together.

“Even since we’ve been back, we operate more as a unit for having been away and having to depend on each other while we were away.”

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