Teaching Kids Life's 'Giant' Lessons Outside the Classroom

What you can learn playing hooky

To whom it may concern,

I hope this letter helps explain why my son and daughter were absent from school yesterday. They were living history instead of reading about it in a textbook.

A ticker tape parade. A jubilant gathering at the stadium. The Giants won the Super Bowl and we took our place in celebrating this bit of history.

I didn’t think twice about saying yes to letting them skip school.

My older children whine, “You didn’t let us go to the Giants celebration four years ago.”  

What changed? Am I burnt out and a more lenient parent for these children? I know I am older, but I think also a bit wiser for my change of heart.

Like the lifelong learners I want my children to be, I have learned that textbooks and lectures are important but life lessons are just as valuable.

In the family movie Dolphin Tale, the main character is withdrawn, lonely boy struggling in school. He spends his vacation enrolled in a summer school class. Soon he begins skipping school after he meets a marine biologist and volunteers helping care for an injured dolphin.

The mother sees her son excited, engaged and learning science by actually doing, touching, seeing and exploring. It is a shining example of differentiated learning.

Mom asks the teacher to let her son seize this opportunity and let this experience become his “class.” She promises he will produce a research paper and presentation. The teacher says no — it's outside the box — untraditional.

Mom takes the risk and let’s her son continue his studies in a “real life classroom.” In the final scenes of the film, we learn the teacher will indeed give him credit for the class. Movies have happy endings.

My school system now has a policy of one field trip a year. When my children first entered the district students were taking upwards of three trips a year. We live in the New York metro area and have educational and cultural institutions that are revered worldwide yet our students remain tethered to their desks.

When I travel to Europe, I marvel at the school children I encounter in museums learning firsthand about artists and sketching their own interpretations of masterpieces. They visit the Eiffel Tour and learn about architecture and math. They are learning about history on the streets of Brussels.

One November I took my children out of school days before the scheduled teacher’s convention break. We were taking a family cruise. I remember feeling guilty breaking the rules and having them miss school when the kids weren’t sick. 

I confess the vacation was fun and created family memories but it also provided valuable lessons. We visited tropical islands where we learned about nature. We learned about business and the local economy touring a nutmeg plant. We met local people and observed cultures different than our own. My children practiced their table manners and expanded their culinary tastes each night in the dining room. They were learning outside the classroom and could bring back the experience in the next writing assignment.

Do I have any guilt that they have extra homework today to make up the class work they missed?

Not at all.

In between helping them with the English essay I will be checking out the date for Yankee’s Opening Day. See you at the stadium.


Christine Becker February 09, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Couldn't agree more, Lynn. I friend of mine, whose mother was a public school teacher, used to say, "Don't let school get in the way of your children's education." Of course, the teachers' unions would never promote this type of thinking but I like to think this is where parents know better.
michael February 09, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I agree with your opinion. Schools can only teach the basics...its the teachers that teaches the students to go out and explore, to seek life lessons and to add to what is taught ; they are the ones we remember. Lynn, a lil Upsalite reference next time maybe
Donna Kimmel-zolli February 09, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Spot on Lynn...it is the lessons we learn OUTSIDE the classroom that leave us open to learn INSIDE the classroom...and for those of us..no longer "enrolled" Keep thirsty for knowledge it is around you everywhere, especially in our children!
Michelle Ferrara February 09, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Love it Lynn!! Travel is educational and there is nothing like time with family! Bravo
Susan February 09, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I can't imagine why any teacher would complain considering how much time my child has spent watching NEMO, Little Mermaid and all their Disney cohorts during the last 14 years so that our schools can meet their 180 day requirements.
Ashley Bruggemann February 09, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Once again Mom, a great story. Thank you for always taking us on those field trips! You're right, you really do learn more outside the classroom. While I was abroad, I learned a lot in my classes but I feel like I learned just as much walking around the cities and interacting with the locals. Some things just can't be taught in a textbook.
Carla Pappalardo February 09, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Bravo Lynn...my husband came home Tuesday and commented on how heartwarming it was to see all of the families on the trains making their way in to the city for the celebration. We keep cramming more "learning" into the curriculum but don't give the school schedule the flexibility to accomadate a field trip or spontaneous victory lap...I disagree that it is the teacher's unions or the administrators faults - as communities we need to look at the way the world has really changed and begin to structure OUR school systems for this century. Our schedule is still based on an agrarian society and last time I checked not one kid in Wyckoff was picking crops
Patrick O'Hagan February 09, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Life is lived OUTSIDE the classroom. Hopefully we are all fortunate enough to have teachers, coaches, who help us prepare for REAL life. I took my boys to the super bowl this past weekend. When my 17 and 14 year old sons looked at me and said, Dad, this could be or was one of the best days of our lives.To me, was well worth them missing school on Monday. Great work as always Lynn..
Kate Randazzo February 09, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Awesome piece Lynn. We too used to have several field trips every year. Now there are none. Myself and a few moms have decided that these field trips were not only fun, but valuable to the children. We play hooky a few times every year to replace the trips our children would otherwise miss due to budget cuts. There is much to be said for learning "outside the box". See you on opening day!
Martha Kiley February 09, 2012 at 03:21 PM
right on sister
Terri Ahlmeyer February 09, 2012 at 06:50 PM
I agree wholeheartedly to embrace a learning experience and all of those "teachable" moments. So much of life's experiences are so impressionable to our children that to be rigid and not take those opportunities are foolhardy. Our vacations were always on nature walks, museums, plays, etc....way or means to expose our children to memorable experiences. Great job, again, Lynn!!!
Diane Sobin February 09, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Nice article. Teaching children to love learning and to be intellectually curious is the best lesson for success, and experiences outside the classroom can be integrated with required curriculum. Unfortunately, it's easier to miss school than sports practice or a tournament! All great experiences, but balance is needed in all aspects of family life. Lynn - fantastic topic, and coincidently an article in the WSJ today on parenting is also a good read. Hope to see your work go national (or international)!
Nora O'Sullivan February 10, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Great article. I agree with you that field trips and a day out of school can occasionally be more rewarding than the classroom. Luckily, my principal is a huge fan of educational field trips and allows us to take the students on multiple trips each year (Broadway shows, dinners, museums, etc.). I think it's important to remember not all students come from families which enable them to have life experiences such as those you taught your children the day of the parade or during vacation. Instead, a day spent at home is often not spent doing something engaging or educationally stimulating. In fact, I find that most of my students miss school due to a family conflict or another unfortunate situation. Some children's parents do not have the educational background themselves to provide their kids with such "valuable lessons." Therefore, the only safe, educational or life lessons they are exposed to are within the walls of the school building. So my side of it would be, more schools should frequent the "playing hooky" approach by taking their students out to get the hands on experience. Those parents, like yourself, who are able to provide their children with these types of experiences should be strongly encouraged to do so and should NEVER feel guilty about it! These experiences are not only memorable and fun for you/your children, but provide them with real-world connections to their textbooks.
Randi Pomerantz February 10, 2012 at 12:20 PM
I couldn't agree more! Great article once again, Lynn!
NLTITAN February 10, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Sorry - disagree! HISTORY is when there is a parade for our military men and women coming home from Afganistan and Iran!!! Bloomgerg said it was too expensive. Winning a Super Bowl IS NOT HISTORY! History is "man on the moon", etc.
Ed February 10, 2012 at 02:11 PM
How is it history? Was it the first Super Bowl played? Was it the first indoor game? Was it the first time an NFC team beat an AFC team? Was it the highest scoring game? The lowest scoring game? The closest game? The game with the most offensive yards rushing and/or passing? The first time someone won a second MVP trophy? The first time a team won two Super Bowls in a row? Was it their 7th Super Bowl win? First ticker tape parade for a winning sports team? First celebration in a stadium? The answer to ALL of the above questions is a resounding NO!!! So, pray tell, exactly HOW is it HISTORY???
Mike De Vito February 29, 2012 at 02:53 AM
Well said Lynn! - also - can I be one of your kids!?


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