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The Importance of School Attendance

Exploring the impact of chronic absences on children.

By Ellen J. Berlin

Ellen J. Berlin is the director of finance and administration for the national school readiness organization Reach Out and Read. She and her son, who just started kindergarten, live in Needham.

After 12 weeks at three different camps and two weeks since, it feels good to be back into a school routine. My son just started kindergarten, and in my house, our routine includes school, KASE (Kindergarten After School Enrichment), daily activities, dinner and, of course, reading before bed.

Fall is busy for all of us. And key to making the back-to-school season successful is making sure our kids attend school regularly and that I get all the forms the school sends back in the red folder each day. All too often, we are tempted to take our children—especially those in the early grades—out of school for doctor’s appointments, family vacations, and special field trips, because we say they are so young it really doesn’t matter.

According to the national Attendance Works initiative, too many absences, even starting in kindergarten, can cause children to fall behind in school. And if you can believe, missing 10 percent (or about 18 days) of school can make it harder for a child to learn to read.

Consider this staggering statistic from Attendance Works: Every year, one in 10 kindergarten and first grade students misses a month of school with excused and unexcused absences. What we don’t think about is that these absences can affect the whole classroom if the teacher has to slow down learning to help children catch up.

Setting—and sticking with—routines helps children get to school on time every day ready to learn. My son, who by nature likes knowing his schedule, knows what to expect each day, and knows what’s expected of him after he wakes in the morning. 

Attending school regularly helps children feel better about school—and themselves. Start building this habit in preschool so they know right away that going to school on time, every day is important. Good attendance will help them do well in high school, college, at work and in life.

Some things we can do as parents to help ensure our child’s strong school attendance include:

  • Setting a regular bed time and morning routine.
  • Laying out clothes and packing backpacks the night before (I am guilty of this one)
  • Not letting your child stay home unless they are truly sick as sometimes complaints of a stomachache or headache can be a sign of anxiety and not a reason to stay home.
  • Talking to teachers, school guidance counselors, or other parents for advice on how to make them feel comfortable and excited about learning if your child seems anxious about going to school.
  • Avoiding medical appointments and extended trips when school is in session.

Attendance Works has additional information for parents about the importance of school attendance. Click here to check it out.

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