So, your fourth grader is interested in climbing trees, Minecraft, macaroni and cheese, dressing up like Princess Mulan, and college? How exciting!
One elementary school student just celebrated birthday number ten! She enjoys singing, playing the piano, drawing, and Skittles. She has already “committed” to attend Texas Southern University. That’s right! One of her young classmates was talking about college, declared where and what she was going to study, and all the girls followed suit. I told her mom not to discourage the decision, because she can build on that desire later. Let them “play college.”
If you think about it, didn’t we all have career dreams or play career dress-up? I wanted to be a fireman, policeman, teacher, architect, astronaut, and a preacher. I soon learned that I was not fond of heights, so flying to space was no longer an option.
Even though some states require that every grade explore careers and college options, nurturing your young child to prepare for college is actually a brilliant idea!
My wife and I had lunch with mom of three children ages 12, 9 and 4. After the meal, the kids were playing with cars, reading, wrestling, and crying. Once mom learned that I was an educational consultant in the world of college planning, she began asking a lot of questions. She shared that in her circle of influence, the parents were already discussing the possibility of their children going to college.
In one conversation, we discussed what it would take to major in astronomy because her middle child is interested in flying (her dad is an airline pilot), telescopes, and space. I mentioned attending space camps, playing with telescopes, and having fun. I also emphasized math, science, and learning a second language.
Kids love connecting the dots to discover the image on the paper. As parents and educators, we need to help them connect the dots from careers to majors to higher education to their higher calling.
Consider how the National Association for College Admission Counseling is helping build a career superhighway. They have a guide called “College Awareness and Planning: Elementary School.”
I agree that “introducing students to career and college exploration in elementary school will provide them the opportunity to establish a foundation for more in-depth conversations and exploration about their futures in later years.”
School counselors should help students identify personal interests, link those interests to possible careers, and encouraging students to express their initial thoughts about college. They should also prompt students to list some characteristics they might look for in a college, understand basic college-related terms, and incorporate aids that match their preferred learning styles.
Caralee Adams wrote that, “by creating a college-going culture in elementary school, the hope is that students will aspire to a lifelong path toward higher education and deeper learning that ends with a degree.” While higher education is not every student’s dream, creating an environment in the classroom and at home establishes a mindset that all things are possible.
Prepare for College
Here are four simple ways to help your children prepare for college.
Students need to do their best in school. Encourage them to try new things and work through problems.
Let your children explore the world of ideas, art, creativity, science, and diversity. Visit children’s museums, visit college campuses, invite college students to the elementary school, and have a career dress-up day. There is no replacement for a great education.
And encourage your kids to have fun playing games as they learn about jobs.
Read. A. Book. One that has paper, a cover, a spine, and the potential for paper cuts. While technology is wonderful, limit their screen time.
Another tip is to encourage your child to read a lot.
One more tip is to read aloud to your child so they develop an interest in reading, careers, and hearing the voices that you give the book characters.
After they read, encourage them to play inside and outside. They need to explore, be creative, learn to fall, learn to fail, communicate, and enjoy being a kid. Challenge them to build a “sand-campus” – a college university in the sand (I did this with adults!).
One of the MOST IMPORTANT decisions you can make as a parent is to include higher education in your annual budget. Yes, it will be hard. But it is worth it. Just know that the four-year cost of attendance for a highly selective private college bachelor’s degree program is a quarter of a million dollars ($250,000).
There are many ways to reduce that by 50%-75%, but not if you wait until the second semester of their sophomore year.
The Student Aid Checklist for Elementary School gives three steps you can take now:
Elementary school is not too early to think about what you want to be when you grow up.
Since learning, reading, playing, and saving are important for your elementary school children, it is more important if you have a student in high school. Contact me when you are ready to start planning for college!
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.