I almost titled this blog, "What Would Kelly Trotter King Do?", but then this wave of fear washed over me. Perhaps this title was too close of an association to that "not-so-cerebral" new reality TV show. Although I like the network that airs that show and the title did seem applicable, I decided to go in another direction. Parents will often preface their questions to me with, "If she were your child, what would you do?", and "If he were your son, which direction would you take?" I have to say that I try to always offer advice or guidance to my clients as if their children were my own. Anyone who has ever worked with me knows that I am direct, honest, have their child's best interest at heart and I call it like it is. I advise clients not only from my expert knowledge and years of experience, but also from my gut. Still, despite knowing this, I still get the, "If she were yours..." disclaimer. And guess what? I get it. I know why they say it. Parents say it generally because the question they are about to ask is very significant to them, and because my answer could likely be the tipping point for them as to which path they choose. Because I know how many of you would ask me a similar question given the chance, I have decided to list for you five essential educational choices that I will make with my own children. They are not the only five, but they are "five biggies." They are five decisions that will take my children from the 'k'radle of Kindergarten to the glory of graduation. To all my clients who are reading this, take note because I just may have saved you a tiny portion of my consulting fee with these freebie tips!
1. Kindergarten and the early years: AVOID the Matthew Effect! If you do not know what the Matthew Effect is, please watch my Huff Post live segment in order to understand the great importance of this topic.
WATCH: The Matthew Effect
The gist of it is prioritize reading with and to your child. Read to him every night, read with him when he is learning his sounds, and make a structured time for mandatory reading when he is old enough to read books on his own. The sooner you carve out reading time in your family life and make it a habit, the more your child will love reading. The sad fact is that today, only 1 out of 8 students that we see come through our door at Generation Think is a voracious reader. That's only 12%. OK, maybe I would say 15% of our students are avid readers, but that's it. When a parent of a 4th or 5th grader comes to me and wants to discuss improving reading habits, it's a bit too late. The Matthew Effect could already be in full force! That's not to say we can't make marked improvements in a child's reading prowess, but it is harder to do the older the student. Breadth of vocabulary, grammar competency, comprehension skills, and critical thinking ability are all directly related to reading in the early years. Also, pay attention to what your child's school standardized test scores say about your child's reading ability. Look at where your child ranks percentile wise, and then go to your teacher to get a more detailed assessment of your child's reading level. This is a key prophylactic in preventing the Matthew Effect. So, if you ask me, my young children will be read to, with and will be required to read on their own nightly. Oh, and I will be on their standardized test reading scores like a hawk, too.
2. Elementary School: The most important years for building the fundamental math skills are grades 2-5. I will have my children in some sort of math boot camp during those years, or the summer between those grades in order to solidify the basics. I don't mean my 3rd grader will necessarily have a private tutor, maybe or maybe not. She will, though, spend some time either in the summer or during the year attending a supplemental math program that enforces math drills, math facts and basic computation. She will be as comfortable with her times tables, her division skills, her fractions, decimals and percents, as she is with searching on Google and running around a soccer field. I believe in drills, repetition and consistency for these fundamentals. So, my future daughter or son better come into the world knowing that their Mommy is a math tyrant, and already has them signed up for summer math boot camps at my education company, Generation Think.
3. Middle School (6th-8th Grade): I will find the balance between micromanaging and letting them find their footing. I think middle school years are pivotal in teaching students the skills of self-sufficiency and independence. Now, as we all know, every student needs a different amount of coddling vs. freedom at different stages of maturity, but either way, you have to release the talons a bit during these years. By 9th grade, students really need to be, and their school will expect them to be, independent thinkers and doers in many regards. The skills of responsibility and autonomy are learned and practiced in the 6th-8th grade years. As much as it will be hard for me as a mom, and even harder as a Type A educational expert, I will let my middle schooler rise, fall and dust herself off without my constant intervention. Micromanaged and perfectly scheduled middle schoolers turn into dependent and struggling high schoolers more often than not. Trust me, it is not a pretty sight and it is exhausting for both parent and student.
4. High School: I will start prepping my student for the PSAT exam starting a little in the summer between 9th-10th grade, and a lot in the summer between 10th and 11th grade. I know that unless you are an innately brilliant standardized test taker, that it takes time for many students to master test taking strategies and skills. I am a HUGE fan of prepping for the PSAT exam -- Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. It is literally the SAT's little brother test. The exam is administered by almost all high schools in October of junior year, and by an increasing number of private high schools in the sophomore year as well. I think that standardized exams are very difficult overall, so I believe that any edge you can give your student, and any extra boost of familiarity and confidence on these exams, the better.
5. High School and getting into college: I will encourage my children to become "well-lopsided" and not "well-rounded" during their high school years. During my generation, becoming well-rounded was a key strategy for getting into a great college, but today, not so much. Having your child focus on one or two key activities/commitments is what colleges today are looking for. Keep in mind though, the one or two activities should be something your student really loves to do. These activities do not have to fit into the traditional "extracurricular" parameters. If my son loves surfing, then I will encourage him to commit to the sport. If my daughter loves design, I will see to it that we help her to take drawing classes, get a summer internship or job at an apparel company, and we will make sure her academic load isn't so heavy that she can't enjoy her passion.
Now you have it straight from Kelly Trotter King. These are certainly "Five Must Do" educational recommendations that I focus on with my clients, and will with my own children as well. We all know that it takes a village nowadays to raise our children and carry them from Kindergarten to graduation, so consider today the day you just added me to your personal village.