When my son was knee-deep in the college application process, I received an email about a college prep lecture for parents and children. It had a bold title: "College Prep From K thru 12: It's Never To [sic] Early To Start." Besides the fear factor, I was also struck by the typo, but that's another story.
My first thoughts as a psychologist were these: Are we really talking college in kindergarten? What if parents jumped on that bandwagon? Would first graders be forced to swap recess for flashcard drills? Would the obligatory elementary school "What I did on summer vacation" essays soon include a rehash of college tours?
I don't know what topics were covered in that class because I was too busy shaking my head to attend. But if I ever consented to take to the stage of an elementary school to give parents tips on making their kids "college-competitive," here's what I'd suggest....
1. Don't be college-obsessed. Parents should never be college-obsessed. Panic-pushing prep industries make money by making parents nervous. Nervous parents often make their children nervous. Remain calm and focus on helping your young children develop their skill sets and overcome obstacles to become academically competent and confident. PS: There's a great college for everyone, so back off of the thought that your child must land in one place. You'll be doing yourself and your child a huge favor.
2. Make reading a priority. Ask any great test prep expert and they'll agree -- Years of dedicated reading, especially reading for fun, will boost SAT scores more than an expensive prep course.
What if your child proclaims he hates to read? Look for creative ways to incorporate reading. Some parents have reported spikes in teen reading with a People Magazine subscription. Others claim Uncle John's Bathroom Reader is the secret to reading enthusiasm and crazy facts. No, these options aren't Shakespeare, but sometimes you just need to get the process rolling.
Always have books and magazines on hand when traveling. And consider using devices like the Kindle to kindle an enthusiasm for reading and improve vocabulary.
3. Build math confidence early. Work with your child to make math fun. If you suffer from math anxiety, don't proclaim it's genetic. Speak with your child's teachers and find a tutor if he or she needs one. Some school districts provide free tutoring via high school honor students. Take advantage of options to make your child math savvy. And remember, males and females share equal mathematical talents.
4. Encourage writing mastery. Students who write well can inspire and convince. A student who is comfortable writing may be less apt to procrastinate (That includes college admission essays!) and will feel more comfortable with some forms of testing. She may find she has more time in test-taking situations. How do you get your reluctant-to-write child on the bandwagon without forcing her? Provide materials early. Paper, colorful journals, cool pens and a computer can push the reluctant to create. Identify writing opportunities like after school classes, contests, blogs and summer camps. And, most importantly, always support your child's writing efforts by being cautious before you offer up your own critiques.
5. Embrace technology. Computer literacy can enhance academic success as students are able to strengthen project content and presentation. In addition to online research and learning opportunities, computer skills can build confidence and increase presentation options.
6. Focus on social skills. Every day I am surprised at the number of adults I encounter with poor social skills. Great social skills improve a person's potential for success. When you witness inappropriate social behavior, privately point out these examples to your children. Teach sensitivity, respect and concern and remind your child that a person's value is not measured by his bank book, his weight or his physical "beauty."
7. Celebrate your child's unique talents. Every child is special. Nurture your child's talents and interests. It's not about college right now. It's about childhood and family and creating educational opportunities and experiences that will help your child succeed.