HEAD HELD HIGH with a new backpack secured on his shoulders, my son marched confidently into the first day of second grade this week. Carefully placing his belongings away and settling in at a desk, the newest chapter of his educational journey began calmly, without a bit of fanfare.
I love back-to-school season. I love the rituals, the shopping, and the slightly anxious feeling that comes from entering a new realm of learning and growth. Hmmm, sounds a little bit like travel, doesn’t it?
Our family spent the summer, as we always do, on the move. On a quest to explore as much of the state’s family-friendly destinations as possible for my upcoming book, AK Fam (as we're known on AK on the Go) went in all directions between May and August, and had a blast. But we’re not done yet, and yes, I will be pulling my son out of school. Next week, in fact.
The decision by parents to travel during the school year is full of goods and bads, depending upon who you talk with. From a strictly practical standpoint, trips after Labor Day typically bring special offers and lower airfares, critical for many of us budget-conscious Alaskans. Crowds are decidedly slimmer, as well, especially in the high-traffic areas of Denali National Park, the Kenai Peninsula, and southeast, so why not pack up and enjoy the essence of Alaska without the jostle of a million other people?
How do you say 'shoulder season' in European?
It’s not that simple, however. Schools have attendance policies, homework ramps up as kids progress, and some teachers absolutely refuse to step out of the box for missed assignments or make-up work (although so far, we’ve been pretty fortunate). Can this potential tension be mitigated? Below are a few tips for discussing the idea of a temporary absence for travel - with your child, his or her teacher and, even, the principal.
1. Plan ahead. Set up a meeting with teachers, outlining the dates, destination, and making a polite request for assignments. Consider your child’s progress, too, before setting final plans. If he/she is already struggling, ask yourself if being absent for a few days will make things worse, and be prepared for residual struggles upon your return.
2. Set up a learning objective. Work with teachers to establish goals for your trip outside the daily work that might be sent along. Is there a daily list of new words he/she can find and write down? Could your child plan to give a photo slide show and presentation to the class upon returning? Perhaps the older child can create a budget for the family, and accomplish some math work. The point is to show a committed, cooperative effort in tandem with class objectives, and a firm willingness to spend time with your student during the trip.
3. Ask your child how he or she feels about missing school. As kids grow up and begin to establish friendship groups, it becomes more and more important to be at school. Not for bookwork, mind you, but for the social opportunities. Respecting your child’s desire to stick with his buddies, while balancing your own family’s plans, is critical.
Just like peanut butter & jelly, learning & traveling make for perfect partners
Ultimately, it’s open and honest communication that creates a successful school-year adventure. The key is remaining actively involved in your child’s education, whether in school or while sailing the Seven Seas. Travel is an opportunity to experience new cultures, new environments and new routines. Doing our part as parents to facilitate this plays an enormous role in creating a worthwhile experience for everyone.
Erin Kirkland is the owner and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to Alaska family travel. She is currently writing her first book, Alaska On the Go: Exploring the 49th State With Children. Her youngest son attends a charter, language-immersion school in Anchorage.