Educational Travel: How to Get Permission and Justify the Experience to Your Local School

The summer “high season” for travel is winding down. Teachers are preparing classrooms. Children are milking their last moments of freedom. Parents are scurrying to squeeze in the last few summer journeys and have the kids “ready to go back.”  I remember well the first week’s writing assignments of “What I did over summer break” in grade school. It was always fun to share the adventures with my friends. But I also remember my dad rolling into the principal’s office on a September afternoon and mentioning that he’d be packing up his kids and heading for Central America for a few months and inviting the school to send our books, or not, as they chose. They sent the books.

I’m as happy as the next lifestyle traveler to see the end of the summer high season, when the museums become less crowded and the hotel prices drop by at least a third. The shoulder seasons are some of the very best for travel, everywhere in the world, and we plan carefully to maximize that time. What makes me sad; however, is how much most families miss out on by being locked into their school schedules.

Have you ever considered taking your kids out of school for a week, or three, or even a month or more?

It seems like an impossibility, like some big prison break, playing “hooky” or something that might damage your child’s chances at entrance to Harvard. May I suggest that it is none of those things? In fact, it can be a boon to your child’s education and to that of every child in his class.

How to get permission

Let’s start with how not to get permission.

Please don’t waltz into your administrator’s office and say, “Yeah, we were thinking of spending a few weeks on the Mayan Riviera (getting drunk), and we thought Joey might have some fun snorkeling and climbing on rocks while we were there.” This will just reinforce the perception that you can’t be trusted with your child’s educational future.

Instead, craft an educational plan for the trip.

Highlight the educational benefits and focus on curricular subjects:

  • History: Museums, historical sites, battlefields etc. that you plan to visit.
  • Geography: Come armed with maps and discuss the mountains you’ll climb, the oceans you’ll sail or swim, and the cultural implications of time in the world for your child.
  • Language Arts: Create a book list for your teacher from which your child will choose to read two or three (this can easily be done with an Amazon topical search).
  • Science: Historical sites are full of science, so are ecological tours and adventures. Marine biology and SCUBA lessons go hand in hand. Visit a baboon sanctuary in Belize or tour a mine in Arizona.

You get the idea; demonstrate that there is educational benefit to the trip for your child and demonstrate that you intend to maximize it.  Work with the teacher and develop a plan for your child to maintain his current work.  When we traveled, we took our school books with us, and we worked each day on our math and other lessons. It took an hour or two, at the eighth grade level, and then we had the other 10 waking hours to learn and adventure our way around the world.

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If you approach your school with a two-fold educational plan, what your child will learn and how your child will “keep up,” you will be very likely to be met with enthusiasm and encouragement from the educational establishment.

Take it to the next level

It’s great that you are traveling with your child. It’s life changing for him or her. It’s the best thing you could do. Everyone is cheering for you.  But what about the other 20 kids in the classroom? Of course you can’t take them all, but there are a few things that you can do that will benefit the entire class your child belongs to, perhaps the entire school.

If you approach your school with a two-fold educational plan, what your child will learn and how your child will “keep up,” you will be very likely to be met with enthusiasm and encouragement from the educational establishment.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Turn your journey into a virtual field trip
  • Allow your child to communicate with the class from abroad
  • Create video-logues for his classmates
  • Send postcards
  • Take a Flat Stanley
  • Create daily news reports for the class
  • Start a blog
  • Take in a big map and let the kids in the class follow your route
  • Skype from somewhere far flung during school hours
  • Have the class create a scavenger hunt for your child to complete on the journey & bring the items home

If you want to really be fabulous, create a book list, find activities online that relate, and compile a whole file that the teacher can easily turn into a “Unit Study” or a party when you return from the place you’re going for the whole class. Don’t ask her to do it, she doesn’t have time, she’s teaching a full curriculum already!

Quantifying the learning

School administrators are notoriously results oriented, and they have to be. The state holds standards over their heads. Children in their care have to pass tests and prove competency. They’re the first to admit that learning is taking place outside of their classrooms, but if you can’t quantify it then it doesn’t help them meet their numbers. Perhaps that sounds harsh and unfair to kids and teachers alike, but it’s the way of things. If you want to take your child out of school for some alternative learning, then you’re going to need to be ready to demonstrate what the child has learned in a way that is meaningful to the school.

How do you do that? Here are some ideas by age group:

Primary (Grades K-3)

  • Collect postcards: Buy one each day of the trip and have your child dictate what she has learned or experienced that day.  Write it on the back and create a scrapbook.
  • Alphabet soup: Create a scrapbook for your child in which you catalog interesting items and experiences from your journey by their letter.
  • Map it: Take along blank maps, label, color them, and mark the places you visit on the map.
  • Create a treasure chest: Take a small bag in which your child collects little treasures to “show and tell” his classmates about when he returns.

Middle (Grades 4-8)

  • Journaling: This is obvious and drop dead boring to many kids, so take a new spin on it.  Make it a video journal, an audio journal, or a photo journal
  • Create a website: Our boys have discovered that finding ways to get more and more people to visit their website and racking up “views” and “shares” has the same addictive quality of a video game, but they are learning so much more and sharing what they learn in the process. If your classroom has a smartboard, then your child’s website might be part of every morning’s “news.”
  • Pick a project: One child collected “dead people” the year we cycled Europe (as in, historical figures we encountered) and wrote about them. Another child photographed architecture and learned about the differences. Another collected candy wrappers from each new country we passed through. Some children might be interested in cataloging animals, musical instruments, different sorts of art, or sports games. Find out what inspires your child, and let him demonstrate what he’s learned through that lens.
  • Create a notebook: Country notebooks are wonderful ways to summarize a trip and demonstrate what has been learned across the curriculum. A scrapbook of maps, postcards, journal entries, ticket stubs, art experiences, photographs, as well as documenting what’s been learned about the physical geography, culture, religion, economics, environment, history, and daily life of the region your visiting.
If you want to take your child out of school for some alternative learning, then you’re going to need to be ready to demonstrate what the child has learned in a way that is meaningful to the school.

High School

High school students can do any of the things suggested for the middle grade kids, but take them to the next level.

  • Let them plan the trip: Teens are notoriously difficult when pushed into something they’re not excited about, but they are wildly enthusiastic if they think they’re “getting away” with something special. Tell them you’ll let them out of school for a month to “go anywhere and do anything” that they want, but they have to demonstrate that it has benefit to their educations. Why yes, you’re right, you did just get them to do your work for you! Kind of like Tom Sawyer trading fence painting for swinging a dead rat… aren’t you a smart parent!
  • Follow their passions: Good grades in a traditional school are not enough for admittance to the high level universities any more. They are looking for kids who’ve gone above and beyond, done fabulous things or “given back” in some way. What are your kids into? Would they love to climb some big mountains in Peru? Raise money for literacy in Guatemala and then visit those schools? Volunteer in refugee camps in Asia? Help build a windmill for a village in Africa? Your child will be learning a ton and they’ll be filling in that “other experience” line on the college applications with something other than, “community service sweeping up in the local park on Saturday mornings.”

Here’s the Key:

  • Craft a pitch
  • Demonstrate that your child will be learning
  • Quantify the results
  • Bonus points if you can benefit the whole class

I’ll be watching for your family on a Wednesday afternoon in the L’Ouvre. We’ll be the ones sitting on the floor in front of the famous piece with our colored pencils out, drawing. We always have extra paper, so you can sit and draw with us if you like; it will make a great piece to take back to your kid’s teacher!

To read more about education and slow travel, check out the following articles:

Photo credits:  USAG-Humphreysmil8, all others courtesy of hte author and may not be used without permission.


Leave a Comment

  • Marlayne Metzker said at 2014-06-15T23:01:13+0000: To get our kids into the French immersion program at our local school you need to get them on the list as soon as you have a birth certificate. I am planning to meet with the administration to see how we can hold onto our spots while away. Was planning to study Spanish but now reconsidering and French probably is a better idea. Hope the school goes for it.
  • Lisa Chiodo said at 2012-08-14T10:19:11+0000: Hmmm never thought about getting permission We are moving to Italy next year from Australia and the kids will do a mix of homeschool and local school. I know this will give them so many opportunities to learn that they would never have had otherwise. thanks for the ideas, my daughter aged ten has already started a blog to create the lead up to the move ciao lisa x.
  • Sean E Keener said at 2012-08-13T23:03:30+0000: This article and this comment thread reminds me of the movie Surfwise: guy took his 9 kids on an endless roadtrip/surftrip in the 50s and 60s. It's super interesting to see how it all worked out. Not saying I want to do it like this guy Doc, bu there adventure is super fun to see in this context.Rent this flic for a worthy few hours of family, education, taking chances, and general nuttyness.
  • Worldtravelfamily said at 2012-08-13T20:48:25+0000: I took my boys out of school, 18 months ago, it's better for all of us and they are doing far better academically. They have travelled a lot already and we are off on a RTW trip with them next year, indefinitely. I can't think of a better way to learn! It will be my 2nd RTW, their first and it's so exciting! Just forget about all those artificial hoops that school creates for them to jump through , they're just not necessary or real. I would encourage just about anyone to break out of school so long as you are committed to the best possible outcome for your children, you can't stuff up.
  • Shannen Hammond Parsaca said at 2012-08-13T18:12:32+0000: Good article and awesome idea. I would do this in a heart beat if money was available to do so. Where we live we would not have to "ask permission" or even explain why we were taking the kids out of school but simply need records to show in case a disgruntled teacher/principle decides to call authorities. I think the ideas about working with a teacher to incorporate and share on the road lessons is a great idea!
  • Peter Speirs said at 2012-08-13T15:25:46+0000: if I am going on what I feel is an educational holiday, visiting new countries and cultures I wouldn't think twice about taking my son out of school, not for your average beach holiday though. Obviously if it was an exam year etc I wouldn't do it.
  • Shibly Noman said at 2012-08-29T18:02:18+0000: new player available available available on the industry, and little players try to make their name in the business, hence offering some amazing benefits every now and then. Cheap Hotel Expenses 365 is a amazing web page to protected a ton of money nowadays by looking our huge resort internet directories containing over 230,000 features. cheap resort costs, resort costs, best efficient provides on hotels. [url=]hotel rates[/url]
  • said at 2012-08-14T00:11:11+0000: Its an education within itelf. Teaches lifes lessons, that cannot be found in a book. The obstacle we are facing is the income to do these things. The desire is there. Working to turn that all around Today! Our first family start the school year off! Thanks for your inspiration!