Kids are never too young to prepare for college. Learn simple ways of raising college bound kids and building a love of learning and success.
I’m getting my kids ready for college, and they’re all still in elementary school.
I’m not sifting through college applications or signing them up for enrichment activities. Nothing like that.
Instead, I’m cementing the idea of college as an exciting opportunity, even at this young age. We’re already talking about the college experience, from dorm cafeterias to getting a degree. And while I won’t force going to college, I’ll certainly make it as smooth of a transition, starting even now.
You see, I don’t want to spring college onto them like it’s foreign world. I want them to be comfortable with the idea of it, to feel excited, and to excel during those years.
Raising college bound kids even at a young age
If you’re here, I’m guessing you want to ensure that your child sees college as an attainable and even expected part of her education.
You understand that raising college bound kids isn’t just about filling out applications or doing well in school. Instead, it’s also about nurturing a love of learning and the confidence to make an impact on the world.
What can you do to help your child feel excited about college, even at this young age?
1. Make learning fun
Preparing your child for college starts with her view of education and knowledge.
Watch your language and tone of voice when talking about homework or school. Is school something you dread or avoid (“Yay, no school for two weeks!”)? Do you nag about homework as something to get out of the way?
Keep your words positive or at least neutral about her current school activities. In fact, frame learning as something fun she has the privilege of doing. And the better she does in school, the more likely she’ll attend college (and enjoy and reap the benefits of it).
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2. Visit college campuses
Exposing campus life gives your child an early introduction to campus life. Years later when she steps onto hers, college won’t feel so foreign or intimidating. Visit nearby colleges, or make it a point to include campuses on your next vacation.
What are some things you can do at a college campus?
- Visit the botanical garden. Take advantage of the biology department’s botanical garden.
- Attend child-focused events. Your college campus might host a child-focused event, such as arts and crafts.
- Visit the museums. Most colleges have museums open to the public.
- Eat at the food court. As a teenager visiting campuses, I was impressed by the food court! It was something familiar and non-intimidating, and I could actually see myself eating there at some point.
- Picnic on the grass. Many campuses are crawling with grassy areas, perfect for a picnic blanket and basket.
- Run on the track. See if your local campus has a track and field open to the public.
- Look at fountains. Fountains have fascinated my eldest, and the local campuses we visit have plenty of them.
- Visit the student store. Like the food court, the student store also impressed me as a child and made campus life seem more doable. Many campuses have restaurants, retail stores, groceries, and arcades. These venues tie daily life with academics.
- Attend sporting events. We have yet to take our kids to one, but going to a sporting event like football or basketball instills team pride and is a fun experience.
- Walk around. Give yourself a tour of the campus and walk around.
- Attend festivals. Universities host music and book festivals as well as concerts, too.
3. Teach your child how to handle school work
The last thing you want is for your high schooler to never have had experienced doing school work independently before going off to college. Use the time now to teach him how to handle school work, being less involved the older he gets.
In kindergarten, you’ll want to sit down with him as he does his work. As he gets older, you’ll be in the same room to help as needed but aren’t looking over his shoulder. Eventually, he’ll own his work completely and be accountable.
By giving him these responsibilities, he’ll learn the skills to manage his work load on his own.
4. Encourage free play and curiosity
Raising kids who love to learn starts with giving them plenty of time to tinker and play. Your child is always learning, but more so through free play.
Don’t feel pressured to enroll him in every class or over-schedule his days. Yes, it’s good to expose him to extra-curricular activities, but carve plenty of time for him to be able to direct his own time as well.
One child might want to spend the time after school bouncing a basketball while another will sit and read. Yours might want to build and construct one day, and observe bugs in the yard another. This unstructured time allows him to be curious and engage with his surroundings.
5. Involve your child in “school” early
Being in a school setting like preschool can help your child better acclimate to a learning environment.
If he’s not enrolled in preschool, perhaps do the same activities that preschool teachers would be doing with their students. Introduce him to letters and numbers, read often, and practice self-sufficient activities. Immerse him in open-ended play, and encourage him learn to write and draw.
Having a structure of learning can help raise college bound kids who will already be familiar with many topics once they enter school.
6. Make college a given expectation
One way to make college feel normal is to talk about it as if it’s a given, not a rarity. Talk about when your child will attend college, not if. Phrase college as the next step after high school, a stage that she’ll eventually experience.
As Lance A. Millis wrote in an article on collegeprep101.com:
“…[M]ake college a part of their life, one of your expectations, and something they learn about, talk about and hear about throughout their young life. When it’s summer they will go swimming, when it’s Halloween they will go trick-or-treating, and when they’re finished with high school they will go to college. As the parent, you can make it that way.”
7. Start a college savings fund
Starting a college fund makes college feel more tangible, however far away it seems. Setting aside a long-term goal like college bridges the present to the future. You can use the time between now and then to save and talk about the prospects of going to college.
Taking the time and money to start a savings fund reinforces the importance of college—it’s something worth saving for.
If your child receives money, set aside half of it toward a college fund. More importantly, explain where the money goes. You can say, “Grandma gave you $40 for your birthday. I’m putting half of that into your college fund.”
That way, putting half of her money toward college won’t seem like such a foreign concept. It also instills long-term savings habits for things like retirement or a down payment. And once in a while, share how much she has saved so he can see that her college money has accumulated.
Preparing your child for college at this young an age should be positive. You’re not sorting through applications or enrolling in enrichment classes to give her an “upper edge.”
Instead, focus on framing college as something exciting. Start saving for college, and involve her as well. Instill a love of knowledge and a school “curriculum” so she does well in school. And make college part of your everyday life, a given in his life story.
College prep isn’t a checklist or a manual. Instead, encourage continued learning and expose her to the benefits of college life—even if she’s still only in elementary school.
Get more tips:
- How to Teach Our Kids to Embrace Mistakes
- 25 Awesome Outdoor Activities for 3 Year Olds
- Homeschooling Pros and Cons: 6 Things Every Parent Needs to Consider
- Characteristics of a Resilient Child
- Why Technology Isn’t Necessary for Kids (Even In These Modern Times)
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