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.

In This Article