Two months ago, during breakfast, I taught my 6-year-old son, Holt, about ditch days by telling him we were going to have one that very day. When I explained how I was going to surprise him at school at some point so we could go on an adventure, just the two of us, he looked at me like I was his favourite superhero. Yes, I told him, I was going to bust him out of Grade One for the afternoon.
I emailed his teacher and asked that my son be ready, in the principal’s office, by noon because we had a “dentist appointment.” My son was waiting eagerly for me with a huge smile plastered on his face. (I also told him that I said he had a “dentist appointment” and he should play along. A little white lie!)
We had a secret together and he loved that! We weren’t going to any dentist! I had told my son we were ditching school just for fun. But, in all honesty, I was letting him have a ditch day because, well, I missed him. It had been such a hectic week that I felt I hadn’t spent enough quality time with my little boy. In my opinion, family-time is sometimes more important than missing an afternoon of school.
At first, my son didn’t completely understand ditch days. We ran to the car because I made it seem like we were escaping and kept yelling, “Let’s go! Before they catch us!” So. Much. Laughter! Not just from my son, but from me too. And our ditch day hadn’t even started.
“So what do you want to do?” I asked him, once we were in the car.
“What do you do on ditch days?” he asked, clearly confused.
“It’s YOUR ditch day. You can pick out whatever you want to do! Any ideas?”
Holt chose to go to indoor glow-in-the-dark mini golfing. We had such happy, quality one-on-one time together, and I know that I had made his day. In fact, it made my day, too. Quite frankly, I’m not too concerned that he missed a few hours of Grade One.
Perhaps I should have been honest with the teacher and just told her that after a weekend filled with his sister’s hockey practices, a visit with my parents, his squash lessons and other chores, my son didn’t exactly have a ‘fun’ weekend, and, since he’s six, I believe he SHOULD be having fun and a TON of it. Even if that means the occasional ditch day.
The one problem is that Holt now wakes up every day asking for a ditch day. I had to explain that ditch days only happen every few months and that they’ll always be a surprise. I don’t feel any remorse, because, as I said, sometimes family-time time trumps school.
This week I’m going to take Holt on his second ditch day. I’ve planned an activity that he’s going to go crazy for, and I can’t wait to see his face light up like a Christmas tree when I tell him that he’s going to have another ditch day. This time, I’m planning another ditch afternoon because it’s his father’s turn to take him for March Break and I won’t see my son for nine days. That’s too long for this Mama Bear to not spend quality one-on-one time with her son. Again, in my opinion, spending an afternoon just the two of us before we don’t see each other for more than a week is more important to me than him missing three hours of school.
There’s not much out there on ditch days for kids (Is it possible that no mother wants to admit they do this?) But in this article “Is It Ok For Kids To Ditch School For Family Vacation?” the writer begins, “Whether it’s to escape for fun in the sun, to see family back home, or visit an exotic destination, taking time off school is a hot-button topic that elicits strong opinions from both parents and educators.” She continues, “I have to admit, I’ve always been of the mindset that kids benefit from getting out from behind their desks and actually experiencing the world. In fact, we skipped my daughter’s first day of JK to spend the day in the lake with family…”
But, now that her daughter is long past kindergarten, she admits she is torn about taking time off from school and is ‘afraid’ it will ‘negatively impact’ her daughter’s grades. She also says, “…I saw the problems that arise when kids aren’t in school: group work falls apart, class experiences are lost and kids can get left behind. It adds stress to teachers who are already stretched when it comes to teaching 25-plus kids.”
She asks parents who are considering taking their children out of school for vacations “How is Your Child Doing in School?” (Meh, B average. Good enough for now.) “Will Your Teacher Support Your Decision to Travel?” (Since I’m only taking my son out of school for an afternoon, I don’t feel that I need the support of his teacher to make my decision.) “How Does Your Child Feel About Being Away from Class?” (Um, Loves it!) And, finally, “Are You Willing to Help Your Child Catch Up With Work?” (Of course!)
Plus, Holt’s older sister has missed school due to travelling with her father, and grandparents and she’s turned out more than a-okay. Now that she’s fifteen, she refuses to miss school for long stretches, because she knows how important getting good grades are and she likes to be around her friends. But, very occasionally, she’ll ask for an “emotional day off.” I always say yes.
In this article, “Taking a Mental Health Day Off from School: A Pediatrician-Mom’s Perspective,” the doctor starts with her daughter begging for a day off of school because she is exhausted. “My first instinct when one of my kids asks a question like this is to push them to get out of bed and get going,” she writes. “But when my daughter woke up last Friday and asked this question, I hesitated. My daughter has had a crazy month. Along with her usual load of 6th grade quizzes, tests, and homework, she’s had to stay at school until 7 pm almost every day for rehearsals for the school play. After that, it’s a long drive home through traffic, and then dinner. She’s not able to sit down and start her load of homework until 8:30 pm.”
I watch my daughter, amongst her many activites, sit for hours at the kitchen table, not even taking off her jacket, to do homework or study, while also eating dinner. Watching her stresses ME out! “What I’m seeing as a pediatrician is that more and more kids are incredibly stressed. Not only have their academics been ramped up, but they are expected to do higher-level sports, high-level arts, and be on the go constantly,” the author writes. She says we need to listen to our kids and know their limits, and states, “Let’s all take time regularly to have that break. Reset and recharge by staying home, by being with family…It will calm our soul and give us the “mental break” we need to recharge ourselves.”
I can’t wait to bust my six-year-old out of school again this week for our second ditch day. I haven’t emailed the teacher just yet, but I am thinking about being truthful and writing, “Holt has to miss the afternoon at school, because I share custody with his dad, and I’m not going to see him for a while over the break, so I want to do something fun with him. Will pick him up at noon!”
I know this ditch day is going to be a day he remembers forever, while, hopefully teaching him that family sometimes comes first. And I’m not at all sorry about that. At. All.
Plus, the teacher can’t punish me! (Can she?)
Tagged under: March Break,family vacation,emotional well-being kids,kids wellness,teachers. school,school vacation,school break,school rules,attention,ditch,family kids parenting school,school age children,ditching,how to bond with your kids,bonding with family,no school,preschool fun,mini vacations,missing school