By Beth Fredericks, M.Ed, Special to StudentAdvisor.com
It All Starts at Home. If you want your children to soar academically and become stars in their chosen field, it helps to adopt a family flight plan. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997), Stephen Covey suggests families map out their goals, in the same way a pilot files a flight plan to keep on course. But the most meticulous planning won’t keep you on track if your compass strays from true north. That’s why it’s important to identify family values — like respect and empathy — which are basic to your lives.
Learning is one of the core values that should be honored and encouraged in your family. It starts the minute you bring your child home from the hospital. Everything that baby will ever be or achieve in his or her life must be learned.
Here are 5 tips for making sure learning is a value in your home and family:
1. REFLECT ON THE VALUE OF LEARNING. It doesn’t matter how many diplomas hang on your walls; the idea is to recognize the worth of learning in your family. Get on the same page early. At a very young age your children will “feel” the value of learning in your home. They will observe what you do — watch the History Channel or daytime soaps? Get out the directions for “some assembly required” or call a handyman? They will pick up on your expectations, so make sure you know what your expectations are.
2. TALK ABOUT LEARNING. If you don’t share your values about learning with your child, someone else will. Kids will hear about college on the athletic fields (Oh, I’ll get a soccer scholarship), in the school hallways (Why study for the SAT? It’s not like I’m going to Harvard), and on Facebook (most people list schools attended). Find “teachable moments” that talk about learning. Do this while you go to the hardware store and buy supplies for a home project, while you watch movies, play ball outside, participate in community theater, or just cook a meal together. These activities may not be directly related to scholarly pursuits, but they are behaviors that say, “Learning is fun, and learning is something we celebrate every day in our family.”
3. FOCUS ON YOUR CHILD. Hands on learner? Loves to read? What is your child’s learning style? Make some mental notes when you observe your child doing something with focus and persistence. Can she read for hours? Does he stick with something better alone or with a group of friends? You may love numbers; he may not. The key, says Lloyd Peterson, Vice President of Education at College Coach, is simply to be supportive. He says, “There are three things to remember when encouraging your child’s passion: exposure (show them lots of options), encourage them to take a bite (try it, you’ll like it!), and then feed and water it. Believe me, whatever your child likes, I can find a major for it!”
4. DIG DEEPER. Do you expect your kids to go to a four-year college? Would you love them to go to your alma mater? Why? Is there a “legacy” expectation in your family? Write down your college hopes for your kids. Don’t think too hard about it; just write. Ask your spouse or partner to do the same. Compare your answers. There are basically four alternatives for children after high school: get a job, join the military, go to a technical/vocational school, or go to college. Which ones are you comfortable talking about now? Which ones should you find out more about?
5. TELL STORIES. Gather round the dinner table and talk about your college experience. What was it like? What did you study? Did you have any “hiccups” — take a semester off, change your major, transfer to another school? Highlight the humor and the pranks, as well as the low points. Did you make lifelong friends during late night dorm pizza parties? Why did you go to that school? Are you glad you went? Are you working now using what you learned in college? Find an opportunity to tell your story. Reveal what you learned and what has helped or held you back in life.
Parents – want more advice about the college process? Check out StudentAdvisor’s Parent’s Survival Guide.
What does your family do to promote learning? Comment & share below!
Beth Fredericks is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and Tufts University, and holds a BA in Education and an M.Ed in Early Childhood Development. She is a parenting educator, community builder, and advocate for children and families. A recent “empty-nester,” she brings her experience raising two children with her wherever she goes.