How to prepare your child for college while they’re still little

Even if they don't choose to go to school, these skills are key.

preparing your child for college

When my son was born almost 15 years ago, his father and I were told by our (much more financially-savvy) friends that we needed to start saving for his college tuition right away. "College?!" I thought to myself. I was still trying to teach my son to call his human feeding device Mama.

My friends were right, though—saving for your child's future is fiscally responsible, and I've since opened a 529 plan. But, while 60% of parents expect their child will earn a bachelor's degree or higher, only 33% actually secure degrees. Is there too much focus on saving and not enough focus on preparing for college?

Maybe. But, the good news is that education research has provided parents with plenty of tools to help get your child college-ready.

As a high school teacher for 15 years, here are several ways I've learned that you can help your child prepare for college now.

1. Read to your child

There's a reason why you've been inundated with advertisements about the importance of reading to your child: it works. Studies show that students who were read to and who continue to read are more successful academically, earn higher state test scores, are stronger writers, and have better study skills—all required attributes of the college-bound. Early reading even affects your child's behavior, too. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that reading out loud to your child could reduce behavioral issues like hyperactivity, aggression and ADD. So, to get your child college ready, read to them during their formative years, and when they're old enough, let them read to you. It may be the most productive bonding time you have with them.

2. Encourage critical thinking

Critical thinking, in contrast to simply memorizing facts, demands that students use the facts learned in school to deduct, reason and infer. In other words, it helps them figure things out. It not only allows children to practice their philosophical skills, but it is how company leaders are able to make decisions that affect their team's success or failure.

You can help your child develop this skill in a variety of creative ways. Ask them to attempt to come up with their own answers to questions after you've supplied a few simple facts. When reading a new bedtime story, see if they'll share what they think will happen or why a character acted the way they did. And, don't leave them out of discussions around the dinner table; even though they likely can't contribute to the larger conversation, your encouragement of their opinion will give them the confidence they need to express their own thoughts.

3. Have positive role models + peer groups

Children learn by observing behaviors and actions of people they see as modern-day heroes. Just as your toddler mimics your facial expressions, they will soon find another, much "cooler" person to mimic as they get older.

But, it's important this role model is a positive influence. Introduce your littles to iconic figures you think are great role models and explain why. Maybe it's Malala or Ruth Bader Ginsburg instead of a Youtube star. Your child may not identify with what you think is cool, but by staying in touch with your child's interests, and by encouraging your child to analyze their own choices, you will be helping her to build character.

4. Become tech literate but not tech dependent

You may think that tech literacy comes easy to kids given that they are so well-versed with devices, but that's not always the case. What most people don't realize, however, is that using a computer doesn't guarantee tech literacy.

There are many resources like Scratch (created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab) to help teach kids coding basics, Learn With Homer uses a systematic phonics lessons approach to teach kids to read and The Sounding Out Machine app helps students who are having problems decoding words.

5. Foster a love of learning

Passion for learning is simply an interest in knowledge—a desire to always learn more. If your child has this passion, learning will cease to be a chore and will become an adventure. Research in educational motivation has shown that students who are intrinsically motivated (the motivation to learn because they want to) tend to be more successful learners (earning higher grades and test scores) than those who are extrinsically motivated (those who learn to get the "A" or the $10 grandpa promises for a good report card).

6. Expand your interests

Children will model your actions and behaviors. If you show an interest in learning new things, they will probably mimic your enthusiasm. For example, watch a documentary and, instead of falling asleep, discuss the show with your child. Share your new adventures with your child. If you're a history buff, visit a space museum. The best way to get your child to enjoy learning is to enjoy learning with them.

A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.


I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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