Whether to Pull Kids From School for a Family Vacation

June 2, 2010

I’ve just committed my family to a 5-day July vacation to Orlando so we can visit a new amusement park dedicated to Harry Potter. The famous series of books about the teenage wizard has really sparked the love of reading in many children, including mine. My kids are really excited about seeing Hogwarts come to life, but my husband is not so thrilled about being in the potentially sweltering heat of Florida in the middle of the summer.

I’ve just committed my family to a 5-day July vacation to Orlando so we can visit a new amusement park dedicated to Harry Potter.  The famous series of books about the teenage wizard has really sparked the love of reading in many children, including mine.  My kids are really excited about seeing Hogwarts come to life, but my husband is not so thrilled about being in the potentially sweltering heat of Florida in the middle of the summer. 

My husband strongly advocated taking the kids out of school to make this trip in October.  However, I’m very strict about not wanting to disrupt the school schedule, and the school handbook forbids student absenteeism due to family vacations.  I want to comply with the school’s regulations and save missed school days for circumstances like illness, family emergencies or other events for which I cannot control the scheduling.  My children have missed a day or two of school when they’ve joined me at the national AAP meetings.  My husband just doesn’t think it’s a big deal for our third-grade son and sixth-grade daughter to miss school so that we can take a vacation at a time when the weather is likely to be more tolerable or lines at amusement parks more manageable. 

We’ve gone back and forth about this. From a health perspective, I have to admit that my husband may have the better case. One could make the argument that planning a trip in October is more medically sensible since it may lessen the risk for heat injury, and smaller crowds mean less exposure to infectious disease.  But what if we consider the impact on a child’s educational development? For children who are average or above average students, are there any serious educational or behavioral consequences that result from missing a week of school in the middle of the academic year?  Perhaps-but doesn’t travel provide children with unique learning opportunities?  Teachers are probably better qualified than a pediatrician such as myself to weigh in on the educational impact, since they see the effects that school absenteeism can have on all types of students. 

As I ponder this issue today, I do have to admit that for most children, a week or so of missed school per year for a purely recreational vacation likely has no short- or long-term consequences, either for their health or their education . . . . but don’t tell my husband that I wrote this.  Is there any available evidence to the contrary?  As a pediatrician in academic medicine, I’m always looking for evidenced-based answers to parents’ questions.  I’m sure that pediatricians and educators have both a professional and personal point of view on this matter.