Every Day’s a School Day

Last week I took my five year old out of school for a week to go on a cruise

The first thing a lot of people asked me when I said I was doing it was “what about school? Won’t they mind? Won’t her education suffer?”

And that got me thinking.  Would her education suffer?  Was taking her out of formal education for a week going to hold her back?  Would she come back and stress over catching up with her peers?  When you’re five, is a classroom environment more important than immersive learning?  So I approached her teacher and asked for her thoughts.  I explained the situation; how I was reviewing the cruise and that the opportunity was for a family, so it was expected that my daughter would come along and experience the children’s facilities on board.  I asked if there was anything we could take with us to keep her on track.  Perhaps some work sheets or some extra reading books.

“Just get her reading to you” the teacher had said, “maybe a bit of number work if you can, and some writing practice.  But mainly, just enjoy the experience.”

With those words in mind, off we went. 

P&O Cruises Barcelona Sagrada Familia 1Like a lot of five year olds, Ruby has a thirst for learning, and an active imagination.  And there is no denying she’s an incredibly bright spark.  She loves going to school each day, and thrives on doing well; her bedroom walls plastered with certificates for her reading, creativity and all round enthusiasm.  She often amazes me with her ability to recall little details and easily remembers things I had long forgotten.  Learning comes easily to Ruby and I am grateful she goes to a school where her teachers have nurtured that love of learning and have provided her with creative topics and projects that have piqued her interest.  When she came home one day, this little four year old, in the middle of her reception year, and informed me they were learning about the works of Antonio Gaudí, and asked me what I could tell her about his lizard statue.  Well, let’s just say my mind was blown.  

And so, almost a year later,  when I told her the cruise ship would be stopping off at Barcelona, and she would be able to see a lot of Gaudí architecture for herself, it was her turn to be astonished.  Her excitement was palpable.

BCN Metro

The day we docked at Barcelona, we ate breakfast in Plaça de Catalunya, where she heard me speaking Spanish, and learnt how to say “hello” and “goodbye” and “coffee with milk”.  We took a couple of trips on the Barcelona Metro, where she saw for herself how children are regarded on the Continent (much better than on the London Underground where they are generally considered a nuisance at best.  Both my children were offered seats and cooed over by other passengers)  We took her to look at what is probably Gaudí’s most famous work, Sagrada Família, which she stared at, wide eyed and open mouthed for minutes on end, before snapping a few photos on her camera and declaring it to be amazing.  She ate Tapas for lunch, and counted out Euros to buy herself a little souvenir before we headed back to the ship.  

Geography, art, culture, numeracy and language all in one morning.  I make that a pretty good day’s learning.  Later on, when I asked her what she thought of Barcelona, she said it was wonderful, and fantastic, and that she’d like to go back for a longer visit another day.  

BCN EurosBack on board the ship, she learnt about what its like living on a boat; what a muster station is, for instance, and how to put on a lifejacket.  She learnt how to behave in restaurants she wouldn’t usually get the chance to eat in, and how it’s really not polite to rip off a napkin a kindly, well meaning waiter had loosely tied around her neck to stop her dress getting dirty.  She’s a shy being, and tends to hide away when unfamiliar people speak to her, but by the end of the week her confidence had grown, and chatting to grown ups wasn’t such an obstacle for her. 

Ruby was back in school this week, bright eyed, bushy tailed and armed with a project she’d completed throughout our trip.  It was a scrapbook of all the places we’d visited and included postcards, attraction tickets, leaflets, maps, photos she’d taken and a daily diary she’d written.  It wasn’t something we were asked to do, but part of me wanted her to have something tangible to take back, some kind of proof that my removing her for a week had been worth it, and beneficial, and she hadn’t just had a week of lazing around on a boat at someone else’s expense with a couple of half-day jaunts on land thrown in for good measure.  I’m glad we made that effort: so keen, she was, to show it to her teacher that I barely got a glance back when I dropped her off, let alone a kiss goodbye.

I understand the need for children to be in school.  Really, I do, and I don’t condone truancy.  I don’t home school – I am the first to admit I simply don’t have the patience.  And I know she gets a far more stable, structured education at school than I could ever hope to give her at home.  But just because she spent the week out of the classroom doesn’t mean our cruise wasn’t a week of full on learning for her.  

Would she have been quite so interested in Barcelona had she not learnt about Gaudí’s salamander last year? Hard to say.  It might have just been another bustling city to her, with an underground system to get around on, an enormous, unfinished cathedral she didn’t understand the significance of, and a port to leave from in the afternoon.  

Either way, I don’t believe for a second her education has suffered from that week off.  If anything, it has enhanced it.  Every day is, indeed, a school day.  And as for whether the school minded or not, I have no idea: despite chasing, I never got her holiday form back.  

Disclosure: We got to visit Barcelona and see Gaudí’s beautiful architecture thanks to P&O Cruises, who sponsored our cruise.  All opinions are our own. 


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  1. I’ve been thinking about this today actually, and you know what? I would definitely take my kids out of school for the experiences we had. Writing about the kids club made me ponder how structured and thoughtful the activities the kids did were, at least on a par with pre-school. Ruby (and Elliot, Elfie and Hux!) definitely got lots out of the trip! x

    1. The kid’s clubs were definitely on a par with preschool – especially the setting Elliot goes to, and I think that was partly why he settled in so easily, and I wouldn’t hesitate to remove him from preschool again. Taking Roo out did require a bit more consideration, but I truly believe it was in her best interests.

      1. Absolutely one of the best posts that I have read for ages, very pertinent, since my eldest has started formal education it has really brought it into sharp focus the way in which the children take in learning from their environment, whether it be from a formal setting or immersive as you say. It has made me determined to up my game thats for sure. I think the way that you encouraged Ruby to interact and record her experience is inspiring! For some it comes very naturally, and from others it has to be a more concerted effort, but echoing what others have said in any case, I think we should not underestimate what ANY child takes way from an experience.

        I would not fret too much about the time away from school especially at that age, in all senses it is a valuable lesson learnt i.e. your social interactions, noticing changes in the classroom etc. Thank you for writing such a great post.

    1. I don’t know. That was one of the things I asked her teacher about, and I was told they could authorise up to 5 days. If they wanted to fine me they should have got the form back before we went away – they had it a week. I think I’d likely dispute it now, especially since there was industrial action whilst we were away. It was brilliant, we love Europe.

  2. This is such a difficult subject and one that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately.

    Firstly I’m in no doubt that your daughter benefitted from your trip. No doubt at all. But the problem is, would other parents be as good as you? If a school allows one parent to take a child out then do they have to allow all other parents to do the same? I’m sure some of those parents might only be doing it so they can get a cheaper holiday and not give a second’s thought to what their child might be missing, or what they can do to help them have new experiences whilst away. It might be that the school knows that for those children it would not be beneficial to miss a week’s school, but can they day no to their parents without the parents getting upset?

    It’s a can of worms really. Our school has a very strict policy that children are not allowed to be taken out of school during term time and the head is very strict about it. As a governor I support her, but at the same time I can also see that some opportunities may come up that would be wonderful for the children involved, but if she says yes to their parents may it cause problems further down the line?

    Tough one.

    1. It definitely is a tough one, and I am really glad you commented. As far as I am aware, in our school term time absences are only authorised before Y2 and never in September for any year group. I am not convinced a blanket rule fits, but I also appreciate the amount of work teachers put into their jobs and dealing with holiday leave on a case by case basis would be a crazy amount of work.

  3. I bet you can guess what I think! Young children learn so much form observing, doing and being. Formal learning can have a place but all those things she did during your time away gave her chance to put some of her school learning into practice.

    For those who don’t know, I home ed my nearly 5 year old with 2 days per week in a kindergarten giving me a break and her a different learning experience and the other days home with me. I see every thing we do as an opportunity to learn.

  4. Oh we went there a few years ago pre-kids and LOVED it, vowing to return with kids once we had them. I think next year may have to be the year – it’s such a beautiful place.
    I am very much of the opinion that kids learn stuff even when you don;t think they are. I home schooled one of my older ones for a year and my eyes were really opened to how everyday things teach them numeracy, literacy and the arty things – good on you for going and great to hear the kids loved it too!

  5. This is a really difficult one – I actually believe that family holidays are important, whether educational in the traditional sense or not. I have to say I would have no issue taking Sophie out of school to go away as we would struggle to afford it during holidays, however I would be mindful of her age and what she had going on and also avoid beginning of the new school year if possible. It sounds like Ruby had an amazing time and all you did was reinforce what she had learnt at school – I am a huge advocate in learning not always being classroom based.

  6. I think it’s a no-brainer, kids of Ruby’s age and in fact all primary school kids can only benefit from being taken on a holiday like this, because life is a learning experience when you’re a child. We were away the same week with our daughter, who has just started at the nursery of the school she will go to. We had to fill in the request form, even though it was just a formality at her age. I dread the time when we will literally have to seek permission to take our own child away during term-time. As long as it isn’t more than a few days in a year, I really don’t see what the problem is. How much will a child realistically miss out on in five days? And compare that to what they will gain from relaxing with their family and exploring a different country or place. Right, stopping now, before I get carried away… photos are ace BTW!

  7. I love this post SO much and for the record, it sounds like you’d be an awesome home educator. Ruby sounds a lot like Edith and we take every opportunity as something to learn from, so even on boring car journeys we’re pointing things out, learning as we go.

    I think a lot of people make the mistake of assuming that certain information or experiences are ‘too grown up’ or boring to kids, but I think we should give our little ones far more credit when it comes to art, travel and lots of other things. I’m glad you had a good time; the scrapbook looks like a fab idea and I’m in TOTAL agreement that a few days out of a formal classroom setting doesn’t have to mean a total brain-freeze for kids.

  8. All I can say is, I wish all parents are as good as you! As a teacher (primary school) I do witness quite a few holidays during term time, most of them to avoid the extra school holiday costs. A lot come back boasting about how great the time off school was. And yes, learning is missed and it is difficult for them to catch up. However, *if* they came back with a wealth of experience, photos, talk, stories, languages, words, phrases that we could all share and learn from (and that has obviously impacted on them), what a difference that would make. The fact that you care enough about your child to do things just for her (activities, outings, exposure to culture) sets you apart already. Well done!

  9. I can understand not taking children out of school in term time during secondary school and particularly during exam preparations (which seem constant) but children in primary school benefit from any and all experiences and not just the ones in a classroom as you clearly know. I hope primary schools develop a more realistic and understanding approach to taking the odd week off despite the rules, particularly when holidays during the school holidays can be impossibly expensive for some.
    Brilliant post :)

  10. I absolutely agree with you.

    When you’re that age you’re learning all the time whatever the setting. Our school however have made it impossible to take a child out of school during term time now. Whilst I can sort of understand it for holidays, this post proves that learning continues whatever you’re doing.

    Love the idea of her scrapbook too, I bet she’ll treasure it forever.

  11. I had a very similar conversation last night at dinner with a headmaster. He fervently believes that the education of primary school children comes from a well-rounded experience of the world and not from sitting in class being taught to formula. That said, there are so many government-imposed targets and requirements that need to be met for fear of losing vital funding that most school boards are stuck between a rock and hard place.

  12. Dude, it’s totally admirable how you took such a hands on approach to her learning while you were away. I think schools, certainly primary age anyway, need to be flexible for unusual circumstances, espesh stuff you can’t refuse like this. There’s absolutely no doubt that this experience and the things Roo learnt will stay with her. Good on ya missus :)

  13. Did the school say anything about her book?
    I think she sounds very bright – and I can see from my own children what big differences there are in children in the same year group.
    The problem is helping those children struggling, whose parents are always late, don’t see the importance of education and let them have days off because they (themselves) were tired. That the holidays on top were just another way those children were missing more school – and so to help those children they’ve had to penalise everyone – that’s my opinion any way.

    I am glad your daughter had such a great time, and learnt so much too.

    1. Her teacher was really impressed with the book. I think you’re right about having to penalise everyone, and if I’m honest, if the cruise opportunity hadn’t come up, I wouldn’t have booked a holiday in term time at all. I just think it’s a bit of a shame, and almost a bit limiting in a way, especially for those parents who want to give their children experiences they’ll remember. I completely understand why they have to have one rule for everyone though.

  14. Our school has a zero tolerance policy to term-time absence – I can see why they implemented it as the amount of truancy, often because parents just couldn’t be bothered to get their kids to school was ridiculous.

    We took the Sealion Keeper out of school when she was in Reception – we went to the Isle of Wight, she learned to swim, saw different coloured sand and did all sorts. It was just before we went into GOSH and I wanted our family to spend time together before our summer was ripped apart by hospital treatment. We went with her teacher’s blessing, it being close to the end term I seem to recall the words “she’ll learn more with you than she will here” but I was called in for a stern telling off by the Head.

    As I say, I can understand why the policy is in place but compassion, humanity and a hefty dose of common sense could be applied…

  15. I’m afraid I’m going to rant. It’s people like me and you who are made to pay for the generalisations schools are forced to make in order to meet targets. If appropriate resource was allocated to appropriate management, then people who regularly keep their kids off school because they can’t be arsed to go in when it’s raining, etc. would be held to account. And people who strive to make sure their kids get a good education wouldn’t be penalised for taking them out occasionally for life and family-enhancing experiences. Makes me so angry!

  16. A really excellent post…weare all always learning aren’t we. Your daughter sounds bright alert and excited by the world and you are giving her amazing opportunites to grow and learn. Lovely . You made me smile

  17. I agree, one week at age 5 won’t harm and any intelligent parent can add a bit of reading, numeracy and writing into the week. I don’t think I’d be so eager to take them out of school as the curicculum gets tougher though.

    Looks like you had a fantastic time, so pleased for you

  18. Very thoughtful post. Personally, I think blanket rules of letting parents take kids out of school doesn’t work. For some families at our school whose families live in South Africa, if they had to fly during school holidays, going to see grandparents would be prohibitively expensive.

    We’ve taken our daughter out of school for occasional days here and there that were important for us as a family or beneficial to her (eg, one day she got the opportunity via a friend to be an extra in a film. Drama is her thing so it was a huge opportunity). Perhaps school heads ought to require things like your child’s diary, like a report about what they learned and did.

    Sounds like a great trip too! I’ve never been to Barcelona, only Madrid. Sounds like a ferry ride would be a great way to go.

  19. I enjoyed reading this post. It sounds as though you all had a wonderful time and of course she learnt things from the experience. She also had the chance to spend quality time with her family which is priceless.

    I home educate my own children and every day is a learning day. It sounds as though you would really enjoy home ed and I wonder if your recent experience has made you consider this as an option?

    It doesn’t all have to be about tests, targets and red tape :)

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