Jane Roper

Writer. Blogger. Hater of Olives.

10 Good Reasons to Play Hooky


For the second year in a row, we forced our daughters into truancy for the first week of school.

Well, actually, we didn’t have to do much forcing. They willingly agreed to it.

The thing is, every year since Alastair was four years old, he and his family have spent the week before Labor Day at Sandy Island, a YMCA family camp in New Hampshire, on Lake Winnipesaukee. When people ask me to describe it, my quick version is “like the place in Dirty Dancing, except way more rustic, and no dance classes with Johnny Castle, alas.”

The slightly longer version is that it’s summer camp for grown-ups: You stay in a cabin (with your family), you have to walk outside to get to the lav, you eat your meals in a dining hall, and can do things ranging from swimming to crafts to tennis to frisbee golf to boating to  just sitting by the lake and reading your heart out (my favorite). What’s extra cool about the place is that the same families tend to come back for the same week, year after year. So going there is really part vacation, part reunion.

I’ve been going with Alastair to Sandy ever since we were college sweethearts, aeons ago, and have only missed a handful of weeks in all that time: twice when we were “on a break” and twice when we were living in Iowa. Even during the first summer of Clio’s treatment, Alastair and I each managed to go up for a couple of days, tag-teaming, while Elsa stayed there the whole time.

It’s a wonderful tradition – something we, and now the girls, look forward to every year. So you can imagine our annoyance when, last year, we moved to a town where school starts before Labor Day. (Why, oh, why must school start before Labor Day? The number of required days in the school year hasn’t changed. Why is ending the summer early preferable to starting it late?)

Heading Off to Program (Getting Along with Peers, Following Rules, Listening)

Last year, we brought the girls down for the first day, a Tuesday, and came right back up. This year, they said they wanted to do the same thing again. We tried to convince them they were crazy, but said, OK, if you really really feel like you “have” to go to school, fine. Whatever. Be that way. (Aren’t we good parents?)

Happily, though, after one night at Sandy they decided hell no. They didn’t want to go.

Fishing from the main dock. (Icthyology, Survival Skills)

Fishing from the main dock. (Icthyology, Survival Skills)

And I’d like to posit that the times they spent at Sandy Island was just as valuable — nay, MORE valuable — than what they would have experienced in the classroom, including but not limited to:

1. Mastering the complexities of the arcane and frequently changing “Sandy Rules” for four square — the most popular kid sport on the island. (Phys Ed, Folklore, Critical Thinking)

2. Assembling salads from the salad bar to share with the rest of the table at family-style dinners. Elsa’s specialty: Ranch dressing garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives and croutons. (Home Economics, Health)

3. Building “wish boats” using all-natural materials, to be topped with

Watching wish boats set sail

Launching the Wish Boats (Navigation)

birthday candles and launched into the lake. (Science, Environmental studies, Engineering, Metaphysics)

4. Watching and cheering in glee with the other kids when several boats catch on fire viking funeral style, and when a swarm of baby ducks pecked one of the flaming boats into oblivion. (Pyrotechnology, Cultural Anthropology, Ducks)

5. Accidentally poking a friend in the eye, hard. Being accidentally banged on the finger with a rock by another friend the next day, hard. (First Aid, Karma)

6. Having to make decisions about what to buy for your daily permitted snack from the camp store, and when and how to redeem your three permitted candy / ice cream purchases. (Economics, Self-restraint.)

Meals in the Dining Hall (Etiquette, Self-Restraint)

Meals in the Dining Hall (Etiquette, Nutrition)

7. Being trusted to be fully independent when you’re not in the morning program, as long as you let your parents know where you’re going to be, and NEVER go swimming without us nearby, or in the presence of a responsible adult who has talked to us about watching you if we’re not there. (Aquatic Safety, Personal Responsibility)

8. Learning that, yes, going into the lake up to your waist in front of our cabin with your friend, without us there, IS breaking that rule, even if your friend did pass the deep water test (unlike you) and even if your grandfather happens to be next door at his cabin, because you didn’t ask his permission, and he’s not actually watching you. (Cause and Effect, Respecting Authority, Semantics)

9. Getting to / being required to stay on your own in the cabin for a few hours after bedtime, with a cellphone to use if necessary, so your parents can go back out to evening events. (Mobile technology skills, Self-Reliance)

10. Only having to take two actual showers in the course of seven days, because hey, the lake water is pretty clean, right? (Environmental Stewardship, Setting Priorities, Making Your Parents’ Lives Easier)

I could go on.

So, I figure that for at least the next two years, we’ll continue to thumb our noses as the first week of school in favor of the many joys and valuable life experiences of our week at Sandy Island. (And for what it’s worth, the girls were able to jump right into the routine when they started school the following week, with no need to play catch up. It’s freaking elementary school.)

But things will get a little iffier down the road. Certainly, the girls won’t want to miss their first few days of middle school in three (ack!!) years. They probably will want to be back for at least the first day or two in seventh and eighth grade too. And high school…well, that’s a whole other ball game.

It’s a drag, but it is what it is. In the meantime, we’ll just savor the next couple of years of glorious, life-enriching, memory-making, truly educational hooky-playing.

Multigenerational Family Time (Love, Joy, Appreciation)

Multigenerational Family Time (Love, Joy, Appreciation)



  1. Considering we yanked our kids out of school for over a week in the middle of winter last year in order to go hunting for Mold-A-Ramas in Florida, I’m with you on this. Sounds like an amazing tradition and one I wish we had in our lives as well!

    My kids do love school, though. I’m reminded of when we watched Ferris Beuller’s Day Off a while back, and I told the kids that if they ever wanted to take a day and do any of that stuff in Chicago I would happily take them, they said, “That would be great! But…can we just do it on a day we don’t have to miss school?”

  2. I wish I could go to this camp with you all and absolutely agree that a day or so out of elementary school is not worth the life experience you pack into that week. And I LOVE seeing the beautiful family pictures with a smiling healthy Clio…your girls are so beautiful! Enjoy school and the fall…

  3. That place sounds like so much fun and tradition is way more important than the first week of school.

  4. Great job! You captured it well. I have goose bumps.

  5. And don’t forget the lessons of most value that they learned – love for man kind (playing with friends), respect (following the rules), and family! sounds like you had a great time!

  6. good job as parents!
    I had my kids miss one week of school every March even in high school. That’s when I hady teaching vacation and seeing my grandma (their great grandma) wasore important than ANYTHING else!
    So, keep on keepin on at camp!

  7. Man, I wish Chris liked camp!

    And that photo is beautiful!

  8. camp sounds awesome! Great family picture too!

  9. Wow, makes me want to come there, wait I do! awesome place and much richer with you, Allister and the Mooklets

  10. Heather Macdonald

    September 17, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Great blog and worthwhile adventure hookie 1, school 0. I agree! Worthwhile adventure is more
    Important than first week of school! Love your picture too, Jane, lovely!

  11. I’ve been going to Sandy since 1976 and I couldn’t agree with you more. We first went on our honeymoon, we then brought our three daughters from infancy to adulthood on and now we all return each year, our girls, their husbands and our grandchildren. To vacation with 180 friends and family away from cars, phones and televisions is heavenly.

  12. Cellphones have made it to Sandy? Surely you jest.

    Thank you for the nostalgic, interesting, funny article Jane. (the parenthetical commentary was a 10)

    Ryan, from the ol’ Alastair/ Paulie/ Kurz/ Heidi Sandy Gang

  13. Just spent the last two days reading all your blogs on your family’s experience with ALL. I felt that you had written my blog for me! My daughter was diagnosed with ALL in May of this year at 5 years old. We had to leave our overseas jobs and fly back to Iowa for treatment. Since then, I’ve stayed here with my daughter while my husband and other daughter returned to work overseas. This disease shakes up your whole life. You captured so many of the feelings that we have experienced so far along the way. She’s also had reactions to methotrexate, and I was sure during one hellish 45 minute drive to the ER that it was the last time I would speak to my daughter, at least without brain damage. Very scary experience, and I was beginning to believe we were all alone with that type of reaction. It helped a great deal to read about Clio’s experience. I actually found your blog when searching randomly about hospital workouts. Haha. You got that post right, for sure. I am not able to work this year as an English teacher, and you have also inspired me to pick back up with writing, if only for myself. Thank you for your honesty, wit, and occasional swearing. Because the truth is, cancer sucks, and it really makes you want to cuss. We often call my daughter by the nickname of “bear,” and she and her sister have been known to throw parties similar to your family’s bear party. I wish your little bear many healthy years ahead.

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