The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

Why I broke school rules for a great escape

Virginia Chadwyck-Healey decided that a week in the Maldives would mean her children would return enthused, educated and refreshed


As a Telegraph fashion columnist, I’m more at home writing about Marks & Spencer than the Maldives. In a similar vein, my husband is more likely to want to go to Inverness than to the Indian Ocean. We would never normally go abroad in term time, and have never understood why so many do. But earlier this year, I suggested to him that, perhaps, after two years of a pandemic, it was worth breaking the rules to take our children (aged two, five and seven) out of school for a week.

I’d had more than long enough to ponder all the things they’d missed by being cooped up for so long. What if a holiday could teach the children more in a few days than they might learn in the classroom? What if they could see Nemo up close, not on a screen? Or swim endlessly in the sea, rather than for just 30 minutes in their weekly swimming lesson? What if they could learn about coral reefs from marine biologists, rather than watching David Attenborou­gh (again)? The school did not grant, nor deny, permission. Neverthele­ss, I was determined. We would go, and my children would return enthused, educated and refreshed.

I won’t lie, the flight to Dubai was an eye-opener, literally. Our two-year-old son tapped his screen most of the way, our daughters cross-eyed in front of yet another Disney movie. A short stopover in Dubai was long enough to stretch our legs, and to explain to my five-year-old why I wouldn’t buy a giant bag of M&Ms at 3am. Six hours to Malé and then our first resort stop, the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa... then it hit us. We had arrived in paradise. The blue waters, the clear skies, the perfect sand... It was the ultimate drop-the-shoulders-and-relax moment.


Our family villa (two bedrooms, two bathrooms, one small pool) also offered much entertainm­ent via an outdoor shower, as did the seemingly bottomless cookie jar. We walked barefoot under the palm trees to breakfast, we meandered back from early dinners, with tired children, under the stars. Our stroller came with us, the mud splats of England now layered with sand spray.

The sense of security at Kuda Huraa must surely be one of the biggest selling points of the Maldives. Each island is a resort; its own little hub of happiness. As a lockdown baby, our son is easily turned off by strangers, but the hotel staff were sweet and judged when to back off and when to offer a high-five. At breakfast they read when to help carry my daughter’s bowl of cereal (she always pours far too much milk) and when to bring the colouring books, so that my husband and I could savour the last sips of coffee.

Yes, of course at this level of luxury they pay attention to the children as much as they do the bill payer, but their authentici­ty shone through. And we all relished that feeling of safety. We could allow our children to feel a new freedom that – lockdown or not – was not possible at home. I didn’t hesitate to let the girls wander back to the villa on their own if it got too hot, or head to Kids’ Club by themselves for the latest activity. No having to hold hands to cross a road, no “don’t talk to strangers” chats. They could, momentaril­y, just be.

This new-found independen­ce was magnified at the larger (but just as intimate) resort of Landaa Giraavaru – the sea plane took just 35 minutes, but as a nervous flyer, seeing barefoot pilots is not something I need to repeat – where bicycles are the easiest way to get around. Picture cycling through Jurassic Park (minus the dinosaurs), along perfectly raked sand trails. Our sevenyear-old wanted to ride everywhere. Our five-year-old, however, discovered a love of calling reception to order a buggy to pick her up.


Of course, not every guest has an inclinatio­n to understand the bigger picture, but for us it was key to our children’s learning. The Maldives is at risk from the impact of climate change and tourism, and the reality is that this country cannot afford to give up caring about either – and quite apart from its very existence, there is no sense of tokenism in resort. There were no plastic bottles of water, no plastic amenities in the bathrooms; we used paper straws; we noticed solar panels; linen was only changed on demand. These all tangible examples for our children to absorb.

The Four Seasons partnershi­p with Reefscaper­s is a special asset for a handful of resorts in the Maldives, and led by on-site marine biologists we saw, firsthand, the impact of plastic nets entangling turtles, we learnt about coral damage, we saw baby clownfish being reared to then be transporte­d onto aquariums (a way to prevent people stealing them from the wild, thus endangerin­g them), we fed black-tipped sharks. My girls now understand what coral damage is, and could tell you, for instance, that 70 per cent of Maldivian coral coverage was lost in the El Niño event of 2015-16.

A tangible understand­ing of how coral regenerate­s is not something they would grasp just by Googling. We were barefoot on the beach building a coral frame. Likewise, we were up close with turtles in rehab, inspecting their amputated flippers, the clearest representa­tion of the severity of plastic. (After that particular moment, I even found the girls playing “tag”, where one was the turtle and the other the fishing net.)

They made friends with Picasso triggerfis­h and rabbitfish. When I asked the children what their favourite parts of the trip were, I was expecting Coco Pops at breakfast, or the ice-cream cart – the highlight of every afternoon. Instead, they chose the coral class, snorkellin­g and seeing dolphins and turtles. Phew.

Don’t, however, for one moment think it was all heavenly learning and playing. As one friend put it (and I won’t use her exact language): “Same (fussiness), different location.”


The children found it very hot (31C in February), they argued over the remote control, they flocked to the same breakfast option they have at home... The Kids’ Club and babysittin­g services worked well (but under-4s must have a babysitter with them in Kids’ Club, so do budget for that). Mostly, they just wanted to be with us (generally, just as I lay down to sunbathe). My husband and I did sneak off for the odd dinner, I did early morning yoga, we went fishing at sunset; momentary pauses and some much-needed adult conversati­on – but no cooking or washing-up, which was frankly heaven.

This holiday crossed with the start of the war in Ukraine. It will be a trip I remember with both fondness and great sadness. It brought home to me that wherever we go, we make our own fun – and we make our own chaos, too. Did my children love it? Yes. Have they only realised how special it was on return? Sadly, yes. Were they overwhelme­d? Yes, these places have previously only ever existed in the movies.


The holiday brought home to me that, wherever we go, we make our own fun

The Maldives is a special place on earth; this trip will not be repeated lightly – nor, I hasten to add, will the intentiona­l absence from school. Covid has taught us we can live with less, but I maintain it is important to seize the opportunit­y to make new memories. This was a oneoff, and it was also one in a million. And though they are very young, armed with their new-found snippets of learning, I do believe they will always carry this holiday with them. And for that, the time out of term was well worth it.

 ?? ?? ih Down with the kids: both island resorts gave Virginia’s children freedom to explore
ih Down with the kids: both island resorts gave Virginia’s children freedom to explore
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 ?? ?? i Maldivian haven: the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa villa is pure escapism
i Maldivian haven: the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa villa is pure escapism

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