Competitive preschool admissions might sound humorous to most people, but they are fairly commonplace in affluent areas where premier education from a very early age is considered a key to success in college as well as life itself.
You don’t have start taking your kids to college fairs or arranging campus tours during the first grade, but there’s nothing wrong with making tentative plans for the future during middle school. Even though the SAT and application essays will still be a few years away, seventh and eighth graders are still able to develop good study habits that can last a lifetime—as well as other things that will be a benefit in the years to come.
Some middle school students have a better understanding of higher education than others—namely, those whose parents have college degrees and those with other brothers and sisters who are in the midst of applying to or attending college, but the following suggestions will come in handy in most families. Encourage your children to:
1. Enjoy hobbies. Things like sports, music, art, cooking and a variety of other hobbies allow kids to do something they like while giving them the opportunity to improve their skills over time. Becoming a professional athlete is a tough feat, but even the local soccer or baseball league teaches teamwork and how to be a good sport when the other team wins.
2. Explore new things and discover new interests. Participating in hobbies they enjoy is a great way for kids to spend time and learn, but make an effort to explore new hobbies, too. Try out new recipes in the kitchen or visit the library. Exercise together. Even the seemingly simplest activities have the potential to become “a big deal” in a child’s life.
3. Read as much as possible. Reading is important! Reading comprehension is an essential skill in school as well as—down the road—in the workplace, and according to The Chronicle of Higher Education a child whose family has multiple books at home will complete more years of school than a child raised in a book-less household. If you want to suggest books that are often required reading in high school and college, check out Books to Read Before College on goodreads.
4. Take challenging classes. Encourage your kids to reach for the stars. Taking Algebra I in the eighth grade can pave the way for higher level math courses during high school. Starting to study a foreign language at an earlier age can lead to proficiency before peers have even taken their first French or Spanish class.
5. Develop good study habits. Your son’s seventh grade GPA won’t matter when it’s time for him to apply to college, but if he figures out the best way for him to study—making flashcards, re-reading while taking notes, or something else—during middle school, he will be a step ahead come high school and college.
6. Learn time management skills. Teach your kids that putting off homework or book reports until the night before they’re due are habits that will be really hard to break later down the line. Even some of the most successful adults in the world are guilty of occasional procrastination, but putting things off can lead to lack of sleep, feelings of guilt, and sloppy work that could have been much better. Create a calendar or white board and track activities like sporting events, project due dates, days off from school, holidays, and more. Use kitchen timers or cell phone timers when watching TV or playing on the Internet to ensure time isn’t wasted.
7. Realize that asking for help is okay. Raising your hand to ask the teacher for clarification can be embarrassing, especially when no one else in the classroom seems confused. Confide in your child that chances are, if he or she doesn’t understand what’s going on, someone else feels the same way. There is nothing wrong with asking the teacher for help, working with a tutor, or asking an older sibling or parent for help. Ignoring the problem will only snowball and make things harder yet.
8. Participate in school-related and other activities. Clubs, teams and other school-related groups are a great way to get involved with friends and other members of the community, but don’t discount church or other religious groups, volunteer organizations, dance classes, and more. Don’t overextend your family’s schedule—which can lead to procrastination!—but be sure to get involved in various activities every now and then.
9. Help out around the house. It’s not uncommon for college freshmen to arrive at their new dorm with no idea how to wash clothes, vacuum, or cook simple meals in the microwave. Getting kids to help out around the house by doing basic chores may be met with arguments, but it’s one of the biggest favors you can do as a parent.
10. Visit a museum or take in a show on a college campus. If you live near a college or university, visit the campus to check out an exhibit, play, concert or other event. If you go out of town for a vacation or trip to visit relatives, find out about any points of interest on a campus in that area. Exposing kids to these schools will help them comprehend that college isn’t “grade 13.”
11. Talk about careers. Do your kids know what you every day? If you come home weary and crabby after a long hard day at work, they might assume that you hate your job. Is that true? Talk about jobs and careers with other people in your child’s life—aunts and uncles; friends; neighbors. There’s no need to decide on a future job at age 12, but many kids do have a good idea of what they want to be when they grow up.
While “too much of a good thing” when it comes to parental involvement can backfire—meaning, don’t do your kids’ homework for them or call their teachers’ cell phones at any hour of day or night—studies have found that kids and teens with parents who play an active role in their children’s education earn better grades and are more likely to attend college.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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