Ten Reasons Why Your Family Shouldn’t Take a Year Off: Reason #5 “What about your kids’ education?”

Pulling up your family’s suburban roots and heading off for some developing country for a year is foolish. There are lots of reasons not to do it. For example: What about your kids’ education?

Both our kids will miss the entire school year next year and our daughter studied under the auspices of the district’s independent study program this past spring. The three most common questions that we’ve heard from friends and acquaintances were “Will they let you take the kids out of school for a year?”, “Won’t they get behind in school?” and “How do you know what to teach?” As we started to tell our family and friends about our plans, these three questions cropped up more than any others. (One of the more amusing questions we heard was from an administrator at the kids’ school: “How will you carry all those textbooks?” Answer: “We won’t.”)

The first question is an interesting one: Will they let you take the kids out of school for a year? All school districts are different, but we had surprisingly little interest or concern from our kids’ middle school. No one from the school, the school district or the State of California has stepped forward and said that we couldn’t do what we planned to do. The school was much more concerned about the minutiae of our daughter’s independent study for the final trimester than for missing the entire next year. The independent Study program allows “distance learning” under a teacher’s remote supervision for a period of up to 60 days. Our daughter’s teachers set up an independent study curriculum with scanned pages from her math, science and language arts textbooks, as well as research reports on both the Andean Condor and the Andean ecosystem as well as a research paper on The Beatles.

The second question, “Won’t they get behind in school?” is a fear that many parents share. It helps that both our kids are very good students so there is no “catching up” or learning issues to deal with. Both my wife and I both think that there is not a lot of learning going on in middle school. It is a time when kids are going through drastic physical and emotional changes and middle schools’ resources are overtaxed just to keep kids from falling off the deep end. Additionally, the time required to homeschool two kids ought to be much less than the time required to teach 20 kids in a school classroom. Finally, when we did a 6-month sabbatical through Central America and Spain in 2005, both kids missed the final trimester of that school year and did not miss a beat upon returning in the Fall.

The third question, “How do you know what to teach?” is easy in theory but hard in practice. The California education standards for each grade are listed in detail at the State of California’s web site. The blueprint is right there on the World Wide Web and all you have to do is print it out. In practice, the act of coming up with problems, exercises and projects that will teach the standards has given us a deeper respect for the teaching profession. Last week both our kids finished 500 word persuasive essays on the question: The Monroe Doctrine: Good or Bad for Latin America?” This week they are writing a 750 word dual biography on the twin liberators of South America: Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin.

Most of this blog entry has been about “keeping up”, but there are many things that they are getting from travel that their classmates aren’t. They are already intermediate-level Spanish speakers and they are acutely aware that most of the world is nothing like the privileged place they call home. They have learned that many simple things that they have taken for granted are luxuries in the developing world. They are much more open to new and different people, foods, customs, experiences and points of view. Perhaps most importantly, they will have a broader view of their responsibilities as global citizens when it comes time to choose their careers. It may be a cliché, but it also happens to be true: “Travel is Broadening”.


  1. “Travel is Broadening”

    i agree

    it may not be the conventional way of schooling but traveling seems to be better in teaching someone a lot of useful life skills...

    i came home from a six month backpacking trip (1st time) and i told my mom that i wish i should have done it earlier...

    goodluck on your family's journey...


  2. Thanks, Flip.
    When was the trip you refer to? Are you on the road now?