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My child is starting kindergarten soon, at a public school in California. We've always done family adventures, lasting weeks and months. Backpacking trips, sailing trips, etc.

In a few years, I'd like to do a trip that starts around May, and ends in October. Regular school lets out in June, and starts in September. I'm curious for recommendations on how to approach the school with our plans. I don't want my daughter to lose an entire school year.

My thinking right now is along these lines:

  • Put in extra work with my daughter so that the year she's leaving early we get all school assignments done in advance. Obviously class projects won't be so smooth, but I imagine the content and learning objectives can be met.

  • Put in extra work during our family trip on the year she'd be showing up late to. We'd make sure that any assignments were met and hopefully surpassed.

My wife is an educator (high school teacher), and I taught my daughter a lot of pre-school lessons out of work books and the such. If this was her senior year in high school I don't know if we'd be up for the workload, but as a 2nd or 3rd grader I feel like this is well within our scope.

How should I approach my daughter's school in regards to wanting to cut the school year short in the spring and again in the fall one year?

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  • What country are you in and what type of school does she attend? (e.g. fee-paying or not) – A E Apr 4 '15 at 21:35
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    United States, California, public charter school. – Eric Apr 4 '15 at 21:36
  • Hi, and welcome to the site. What a great opportunity! We traveled extensively with our kids during the school year as well. Though our kids don't remember all of it, it was still very rewarding. – anongoodnurse Apr 5 '15 at 0:00
  • Be aware that many school districts have laws enacted detailing the length of the school year and the maximum number of miss-able days (which means minimum number of attendance days). Some schools are paid by the state for attendance-days, and the school itself may not have much flexibility if you hit such limits. That said, there are plenty of opportunities to schedule around three day weekends and various holidays. Just don't trim your days too close to the wire. When your child eventually does get sick, you want a buffer. – Edwin Buck Apr 5 '15 at 18:15
  • This is a neat question (and I wish my parents would have done trips like this with me), but I feel like this question is mostly about you and the school system and doesn't have quite anything to do with parenting your child. I've flagged to suggest it to be moved to Travel.SE. – LCIII Apr 6 '15 at 16:58
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Congratulations on your adventuresome family! It sounds like a wonderful opportunity for your daughter.

This is eminently doable, and you'll have surprisingly little trouble carrying this out. The simplest way is what I'll describe first. (May vary by state)

By law, every year every teacher must file official goals and objectives for the year on every subject taught, and often lesson plans as well.

When you know which elementary school years you want to travel, start looking for this information which is filed with the school district superintendent's office; the school principal will have copies as well, but I'd start with the district myself. (You might find a lot of this information for online. Search goals and objectives/expectations/reading lists/ etc.)

If you can get the same teachers' G&Os that will be teaching your daughter the rest of that year, that will help you to know exactly what the teachers want your daughter to learn in her absence.

Also, the school will lend you all the books and workbooks (except for teacher's answer keys and teaching/teacher's edition of the book) the kids will use during those years. You might have to pay a refundable fee for the books to guarantee their condition on return. Obviously, you pay for any books you might lose.

During the school year before you go, once you find out who her teacher will be for the year to come, make an appointment to meet with both teachers. Lightly peruse the textbooks, the workbooks, the reading list, and brush up on the G&Os/expectations before meeting with them. Tell them your plans, explain how you will cover all the required material you've read about, and sell them on the wonderful opportunities your daughter will have, especially what she can learn on her adventure - a second language, marine biology, exposure to a foreign culture - all of it.

Offer to give them a copy of your own G&Os (you can just discretely copy), and a sample of lesson plans (you only need one or two per subject for such a short absence) if they wants to see them. Ask their opinions of special projects your daughter can do based on your trip, and offer double the number of projects your daughter would be expected to do in school. Offer to do a skyped or taped special presentation on some incredible aspect of your trip. (This will also keep your daughter in the teachers' and students' minds.) This should buy you a lot of goodwill. They will probably have to meet with the principal, and you might too.

Then off you go, and make sure you do all of it and more. Keep all the worksheets, tests, etc. to turn over to the teachers on your return (graded, indexed by subject in a binder, of course, and with a summary of grades, etc.) You'll be schooling one student, which can be done in a fraction of the time it takes to teach an entire class because there's no waiting on other students to get their books out, to ask questions, to line up for recess, etc.

The harder way is to pull your daughter out of school and file to homeschool. If this is the route you take, you'll have to file a bit more paperwork with your school district. Search for the laws regarding homeschooling in California, e.g. here. Or, you can call your district supervisors office and ask them for guidelines. If you want to pay, there are often for-profit organizations which will do it for you. Mostly they prey on the insecurities of homeschooling parents, though. It's really not hard to do. You can gain a lot of information on forums with whose ideology you might disagree, but it's still useful (Don't join the HSLDA).

I would use the same tactics I discussed before - getting your daughter's teachers' G&Os/expectations - which will keep your daughter current and will allow her to return to class caught up or ahead - and use them to frame your own plans, and if California requires G&O's, etc., file them. You might have to cover the entire next year, though, but I'm not sure; that's why doing it through your daughter's school might be easier.

In any case, this is a great idea and a fantastic opportunity not to be missed! Enjoy the trip, and the preparations. Please let us know how it goes!

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While you may attempt a negotiation by stressing the educational value of the trip, you may need to withdraw your daughter from school and re-enroll her when you return. Schools in the US aren't generally very vacation-friendly, despite the educational value of the trip. This may not be an option, though, with a charter school, as you may lose your place.

Some states, including California, tie funding to attendance - schools lose money for unexcused absences. They use a system of Average Daily Attendance (ADA). The state is not going to fund students who are not attending school. If schools allow the practice of approved vacationing, then lots of people would do it, and they would suffer a drop in funding.

Additionally, ADA statistics may be used to demonstrate adequate progress for No Child Left Behind. If your child's school is not academically strong, this may also affect their willingness to allow unexcused absences.

Chronically Absent Students Cost Schools Millions (California)

Average Daily Attendance (rules, Washington)

Average Daily Attendance...significant impact on funding (TX)

Central Texas Students' Absences Cost Districts Millions

What's a Day of School Worth (Forbes)

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    School funding does depend on attendance, but on the number of students enrolled, not how many days they come to class. (A bad flu epidemic in a school would not give them a budget cut, for example.) Reluctance to grant an extended absence is likely part of truancy law, not school or district policy. – Acire Apr 5 '15 at 10:44
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    @Erica It varies state-to-state, but it is certainly the case in California (where the OP is from) that absences cost schools money. I have updated my answer to give more information. – MJ6 Apr 5 '15 at 14:32
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    Huh, so it is truancy law but implemented in a terrible way... thanks for the clarification, it's very interesting. – Acire Apr 5 '15 at 16:44
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I never negotiated. I did inform the teacher in advance of a long absence. I also tried to have a pretty clear idea of what was expected in the curriculum, especially as regards math, because I didn't want the child to feel lost upon returning.

It was never a problem. The teachers always appreciated the importance of family life (however that happens to play out in a particular family), and the horizon-broadening effect of travel.

Starting in middle school, I did ask for assignments ahead of time, so the child could keep up with the specific work that was being missed.

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