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As a parent, our child takes days off from kindergarten for important family events or when sick. I would like to think that the stakes are low for kindergarten in general and a family fun day, mental health day, etc. are reasonable justifications for a day off.

Eventually, later in her school career, these could be disruptive to her learning. In kindergarten, there isn't as much of an impact.

On the other hand, since part of the purpose of kindergarten is to teach kids how to be school kids, does taking a day off outside of major events or sickness set a bad example? Should we be ensuring her days off are only when sick or for very important things, or should we take advantage of the low stakes of kindergarten and take days off when we feel like it?

How do we frame both our thinking and how we talk about it with our child either way?

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As an adult, I've come to realize the value of taking days off much more than when I was a kid. Throughout all of school I had perfect or near perfect attendance. I & my family never played hooky and planned all our trips/day trips around the school calendar. However, as an adult I've come to value the idea of mental health days where I take the day off just to recharge my battery and get my mind in a better place. I believe part of the reason we're facing such high burnout levels for adults is because they were never taught that they're allowed to listen to their body/stress levels and that they always have to go to school/work even if they don't want to.

There's a balance to be drawn between teaching them school isn't important by pulling them out all the time, and school is the most important thing by never pulling them out. Personally I feel like Kindergarten is a great time to teach this lesson because the stakes are incredibly low, but I also feel like there are very few single days in a child (&teen)'s life where removing them from school would cause irreparable harm. Your concern is that removing them now would teach them to be bad school kids, but I think removing them now and explaining to them the benefits of taking a break/doing something different will make them better balanced throughout school and their adult life.

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    This came about because my child wanted to take the day off because something exciting was happening later that day at home. My concern is that I don't want it to be a thing down the road where we just choose to skip school because something is exciting. I think your response hit the nail on the head and that I was probably overthinking it.
    – Steve V
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 14:52
  • @SteveV I think your concern is great and admirable. Teaching both sides of this is important. Actions have consequences and there is such a thing as mandatory attendance at school/work, but use the leeway you have and teach about this early on.
    – Mast
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 22:02
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This will depend some on your location. In California, for example, unexcused absences (such as most of the above) are very tightly regulated, and having more than 3 of them in a calendar year can cause the school to begin interventions. In other locations, schools may be more lenient, particularly in kindergarten.

We largely evaluate absences based on the harm to the schooling, the amount of disruption it will cause, and the benefit from the absence. Missing a day in the first week or two of school is probably less disruptive (in my opinion) than a day around when testing is occurring. Missing a day to play at the park is probably less beneficial than taking a day off to attend a tournament in a sport or activity that the child is learning and benefiting from, and even more beneficial is visiting Grandma in the hospice.

As for talking to the child, it's hard for children to understand the importance of schooling, and to understand why it's not okay to just stay home because they don't want to go; so have those conversations. Why is it important to go to school. What benefit do they get out of it? What immediate benefits?

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    This is interesting. I always was under the assumption that kindergarten is entirely voluntary in the U.S. And what recourse ("interventions") does a school (after kindergarten) or an administration have to prevent absences? Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 14:58
  • Kindergarten voluntariness is highly variable - some states it's fully voluntary, some it's required. nces.ed.gov/programs/statereform/tab5_3.asp It's not mandatory in most states, but is in some. Regardless, above Kindergarten it's mandatory in most places (at 6 or 7).
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 20:34
  • As for "what recourse" - eventually, fine the parents, jail time for the parents, or taking the children away, though obviously that is only in the extreme. Prior to that vary by state again, but in California for example there are interventional meetings, attendance plans, etc., but each have defined consequences for failure to comply.
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 20:35
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Another point is that learning/education is not necessarily the same thing as "attendance at school". I've promoted the idea to my own kids, and others, that, ideally, "school" is intended to be an aid to one's learning and education. (With mild but non-trivial socio-economic assumptions), anyone can read books (or watch youtube videos, or access wikipedia) with or without school attendance.

Genuine physical and immediate-psychological orientation about dealing with other people may be harder to attain by reading or on-line stuff.

(I can't resist commenting that, in my youth, in one circumstance, I got into serious trouble for "reading ahead"...)

In summary, probably best to promote vague/general respect for "the system", but explain that "the system" is a rule-based approximation to the obviously good goal of educating kids... but/and that kids can learn many things outside of "the system".

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As you say, kindergarten is more aimed at socialising children, and not so much about learning facts. Missing days isn't going to be a problem there.

how we talk about it with our child either way

I think you're radically overthinking this. A preschooler doesn't get a say in decisions like that because they literally do not have the mental hardware to comprehend the decision or the thought processes behind it. Simply planning a few days ahead is beyond most preschoolers, because their brains aren't yet developed to the point of having those kind of capabilities. They can't possibly understand any part of what you're talking about.

So at best they'll just glaze over, but more likely you'll confuse them. At worst if you use the phrase "mental health" then you might actively scare them. There is no possible positive outcome from having the conversation, because it isn't age appropriate.

If you're going to go and do something else, then just do it. Assuming normal family dynamics, kids would generally prefer to go to a play park with their parents than go to kindergarten. Maybe tell them the evening before, so they aren't blindsided the next morning, but that's all the preparation you need.

OTOH you do want to give the kindergarten a reasonable heads-up. They do plan ahead, and if your child isn't going to be there then it's fair to let them know in advance.

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    -1 I genuinely disagree with this answer's supposition that children in kindergarten are too young for such conversations or can't plan a few days ahead. They may need it explained a different way, but my daughter absolutely held me to a promise to take her trunk or treating on Friday when I made it on Tuesday. Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 14:06
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    As for avoiding the phrase 'mental health' not being age appropriate, it's going to depend on each kid, but there's always a way to talk with kids about how they're feeling. And the later you put it off, the harder it will be and the more problems come up because they don't know how to handle their feelings. Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 14:06
  • This is long on opinion and short on supporting sources. Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 18:35
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I think the simple answer is if the child starts asking whether they can have Xyz day off from school this week then you've done it too much. Don't get it in their head that society will wait for them; it won't.

A day off from school has to be special so having a picnic in the park at 12pm on a Tuesday doesn't qualify. You would quickly notice that your child is the only young one present so the anxiety of knowing the other kids are advancing while your child leisures could be negative to mental health.

You should also consider their teacher. They spend a considerable amount of time planning the curriculum so pulling your child out on a whim could be quite disrespectful. Particularly if you made zero plans to have the child catch up on missed tasks before they return; now you're just adding burden to an already stressed and underpaid teacher.

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    I think this is highly dependent on the kid too. If the kid is doing very well in school the breaks are not nearly as problematic. The kid will be able to quickly catch up without anyone's help. If the kid truly NEEDS to be in class or they will legitimately fall behind then one should avoid breaks. This critique probably applies much more in high school than kindergarten Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 18:32
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    It's kindergarten, don't forget. Unless you're a kindergarten teacher (I'm not), you should not speak for how kindergarten teachers feel about missed days. Some may feel the way you do, some may enjoy a slightly lighter student load, some may believe that family time is much too limited as it is and value family experiences over a day in school. You just don't know. Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 18:34

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