That is so awesome that you are taking time to travel with your family! I truly believe that travel is an experience that everyone deserves and needs. Seeing the world is not only fun, but it also enriches our lives and expands our perspectives. By traveling abroad with your children, you are taking a pivotal step in raising global citizens. This is an important moment for your child to grow and learn from.
If your trip is taking place during the school year, you might have a few concerns such as what your child will miss in school, how the teacher will react to the absence, and how you can manage make-up work when you’ll be so busy. This article is meant to address these concerns and give you a solid plan, including an email to send to the teacher.
What will my child miss in school while we are traveling?
Try not to think about what your child will be missing, but instead what he/she will be gaining on this trip. With a little preparation, you can help your child to be engaged during the trip and return to school with new learnings to share with his/her class.
When traveling with kids, it’s important to keep learning focused and deliberate, so that it aligns with grade level expectations. To prepare, start by simplifying what to focus on in each academic subject.
Reading: Most students have a specific amount of time that they are supposed to be reading at home each day, many times keeping track with a reading log. Because your child will be missing in-school reading time, try increasing their reading time by about 10 minutes (if they are assigned 20 minutes a night, vow to 30 minutes during the trip). This shows the teacher that you value reading time.
Students should have a mix of informational and literature based texts. I would recommend helping your child pick out some books related to your trip for maximum integration.
TIP: For a lighter backpack, try a Kindle or tablet.
An easy and valuable standard to practice in reading would be key ideas and details. Take a quick glance at Common Core Reading Anchor Standards 1-3. These are called “anchor standards” meaning that they apply to all grade levels. To see exactly what that means for your child’s grade level, click on the grade level and read the same Key Ideas and Details standards 1-3 in both informational text and literature reading.
TIP: Save the standards into your notes or print them off for easy reference on the road.
For example, if your child is in 2nd grade, Anchor Standard #3 states “Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.” What that means to a 2nd grader reading literature is “Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.” And a 2nd grader reading informational text “Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.”
TIP: For an even simpler approach for you, many teachers will be happy to give you a set of book discussion questions if you just ask for it.
Writing: To see writing standards, click on your child’s grade level from this link. Part of raising a global citizen is incorporating plenty of chances for meaningful reflection.. Have your child journal each day, focusing on word choice, details, and sequencing. What you want to pay the most attention to is that your child is writing as descriptively as possible. It’s helpful to ask them to include the five senses (look, sound, smell, taste, feel) and to include any new vocabulary that they learned that day. Sequencing means telling the events in order with a variety of transitional words/phrases (first, in the morning, after that, etc.)
TIP: If your child is in kindergarten or first grade and writing is limited, have them start by sketching pictures of each event of the day. Then have them orally tell you, as you scribe for them under each picture. Next, pick one key word/phrase/sentence for each event, and underline it for your child to copy.
Math: If you are traveling with your children for less than 2 weeks, don’t bother setting aside a ton of time for math (unless that’s your passion). Instead, use given down times like the plane or a long train ride to chunk out a bunch of math.
If the teacher has already talked with you during a conference about something that your child needs to work on, use the time to focus on that skill. It might be that your child’s teacher gives you a packet of homework to complete. If not, you can ask him/her for recommended games or websites to practice a specific math standard.
Science: Science standards vary by district, but the Next Gen Standards are a smart place to go if you don’t know what’s happening in your district. The four main categories of science are Physical, Earth and Space, Life, and Technology. It’s fun to be creative with pointing out science concepts on your trip. For example, landforms like beaches and volcanos are great opportunities to discuss earth science.
Social Studies: Traveling makes it easy incorporate because you will be immersed in global culture and history. Take a look at these themes to give you an understanding of the big ideas of social studies across all grade levels, and then watch those themes come alive with traveling with your child. Each district has unique standards by grade level, but they are all based in those themes. For example, a 3rd grader learns about Ellis Island, a 4th grader learns about the Oregon Trail, and a 5th grader learns about Early American Settlements. These topics are all part of understanding the theme of people’s relationship to environments and migration.
Bonus: If you are really a go-getter, you can even look into physical education, art, music, and social emotional skills that this trip will help your child with!
How are we going to manage all of the make-up work?
If you take the initiative with your teacher, telling him/her what you plan to work on during the trip (using the sample letter below), you most likely will be able to skip packets and busy work that take up so much time. If you make it clear what learning you intend to focus on with your child during the trip, most teachers will be impressed and relieved. Just make sure to follow through on your promises as much as you can.
How will the teacher react to the absence?
I was an elementary teacher for 10 years. I worked in a school with a very high percentage of ESL (English as a Second Language) students. Because I had so many families that were immigrants to the US, it was very common to have a student out of school for 1-2 month periods while visiting their family in their home country. Some parents would come to me asking for all of the work that their child will miss (2 months of curriculum!), which was a ton of work for me. Many students would return having missed an entire unit of math, no context for current science projects we were in the middle of, and having missed important state or district tests that needed to be made up. It was pretty difficult to accommodate this, so even though I always celebrated family travel, I understand why teachers feel frustrated.
While most teachers actually really value family travel and the benefits it offers for education, it can be stressful on schools and teachers when a student is absent, especially if the student is already struggling academically. It’s extremely helpful to assure schools that learning will continue to happen while you are traveling. If you take some initiative and set up a basic plan, not only will your child benefit greatly from your trip, but also your child’s teacher will love you forever.
Use this sample letter of absence to email your child’s teacher about a month before your vacation:
Subject Line: (student name) will be absent for (amount of time)
Dear (teacher’s name),
Next month, our family will be traveling to (destination) for (amount of time). (Student name) will be absent from (date) and will return to school on (date).
We are so excited for this unique learning opportunity for (student name)! Some of the activities that we have planned during our trip include (name 2-3 things you plan to do). It’s going to teach (student name) a lot about (something that matches activities listed like: other cultures, ancient history, language, becoming a global citizen, etc.)
I know that it can be hard to make up what was missed when (student name) returns, so we want you to know that we are keeping learning in the forefront of our trip. Here is what we plan to work on while we are away:
Reading: (student name) will be reading for a minimum of (30-60 minutes depending on age and slightly increased from normal homework expectations). We have a mix of literature and informational text that we plan to discuss, focusing on key ideas and details – Common Core Reading Anchor Standards 1-3.
Writing: (student name) will be keeping a daily journal, writing about what we did each day during our trip. We plan to focus on his/her use of word choice, descriptive details, and sequencing. (student name) can turn in this journal to you when he/she returns to school.
Math: Which one math standard would you like us to focus on with (student name)? We are thinking that this is a great chance for us to help him/her improve in (if there is an area of struggle, this is a good time for intervention). Or maybe we could teach him/her a standard that he/she will be missing while away. Please let us know if there is a specific standard you want (student name) to work on.
Science: During our trip, we plan on visiting (site related to science), and are excited to teach (student name) about (choose from science topic on this link).
Social Studies: We plan to have a lot of discussions on this trip about (choose topic from this list), especially when we are (activities or sites you plan to visit that fit in topic). We can also compare the (topic) in (destination) to (topic learned this school year).
Thank you so much for being supportive of this extended field trip for (student name). Please let us know if there are any different specific skills/standards you would rather we focus on during our adventure! We will remind you of the absence again one week before our departure.
(Names of all family members going on the trip, including student name)
One week before the absence, reply to this previous email with a reminder for the teacher. Put an alarm in your calendar so that you don’t forget this step.
How do we put this all into a manageable daily family routine?
While traveling with children, it’s important to keep a reading and writing routine in place. Have your child do one in the morning and one at night. For example, if your child wakes up before you, they can immediately start reading (if independent readers). Then, you can discuss key ideas and details over breakfast. Journaling can take place in the evening before bed to reflect on the day. Reading and writing can also be done in the opposite order.
Here’s a sample of a daily routine:
Morning: Child wakes up and starts reading for 30 minutes while you shower and get ready.
Breakfast: Discuss key ideas and details about what your child is reading.
During the day: Keep your child learning and thinking while sightseeing by connecting science and social studies topics.
Dinner: Reflect together on what happened during the day and what was learned (to help set up your child for journaling).
Before bed: Child journals for 10-20 minutes about the day. If time, offer revision ideas for vocabulary, details, and transitions.
If on a plane, train, or long distance bus, have your child work on math!
TIP: To prevent argument and struggle, try starting your reading and writing plan a couple weeks before your trip, so your child is used to the routine.
Whether you plan to travel with your children for one week or one month, setting an intention for learning will help to nurture their current education as well as expand their understanding of the greater world. Use this time strategically for the betterment of your kids.
Happy family travels!
About the Author: Jessica Stegner is a former elementary teacher, and a Travel Consultant and founder of Get Out of Town, helping you plan your next big trip. Sign up for her free email course to get started in the planning process. Find her on Facebook for daily travel tips and inspiration.
Is your family going to Rome? Jessica has just the packet for your child!
Tags:school, Travel tips, Travel with kids