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.
Like 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.
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.
Back 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.