Parents helping children with homework

Parenting is a full-time job, which makes it difficult since most parents already have full-time jobs. Parents have a lot on their plate, so having to add one more thing is probably not welcome news, but did you know that every parent should be preparing their elementary school student for college and a career? 

Parents may look back on their own childhood and think of carefree days, playing outside, watching television, and sleeping late on weekends; unfortunately, that was then, and this is now, and now it’s suggested that it’s never too early for children to begin formulating college and career plans. 

According to the International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, students should begin thinking about college and career as early as kindergarten. University City School District thinks college and career planning should start even earlier, saying, “College and career readiness starts in preschool and creating a love of learning and reading can even begin at birth.” The school district of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh, has career focused lessons for grades k-5 as part of their curriculum.

If it seems cruel to heap even more anxiety and stress upon children who already have full schedules, many parents and educators agree. Besides a full load of homework, many young students also have sports, robotics, coding, music, or language learning to fill most of their non-school time. Expecting elementary-school students to also analyze their college or career options may be asking too much. 

According to Forbes, the reason for this early-childhood emphasis on college and career is this: “Only 9% of students from low-income families earn a bachelor’s degree – an increase of just three percentage points since 1970.  During the same time period, completion rates for affluent students skyrocketed, from 40% to 77%. Sadly, the college completion gap is widening.”

Not only is competition making it more challenging for children of affluent families to get into college, but it’s becoming less likely that children from low-income families will ever set foot in a college or university. Parents can help change those odds immensely, putting their student on a path to success early in life.  

The American College Test’s (ACT) Center for Equity in Learning and the American College of Education’s (ACE) College Application Campaign have developed material meant to be used by school counselors but can just as effectively be used by parents to get children thinking about college and career choices in the early grades.  

The National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) provides the following worrisome statistics:

  • In 2016, only 39% of ACT-tested graduates met three or more of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in English, math, reading and science. One out of three students—34%—did not meet any of the benchmarks, indicating they are ill-prepared in all four core subject areas.
  • Every year in the United States, numerous college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies. Millions of dollars are spent on remediation course work—classes that are not credit bearing but cost the same.
  • It is estimated that nearly half of young Americans are unable to join the armed forces. A large contributing factor is poor educational achievement; nearly one-fourth of the students that try to join the military cannot pass the entrance exam.
  • Businesses across the country depend on a highly qualified workforce prepared for jobs in the 21st century. Today’s workplace requires employees to be able to think on their feet, make decisions and solve problems.

To remedy the situation, the National PTA says that their role is to “advocate as a powerful voice for all children and a relevant resource for families and communities—providing resources to help parents and families support and assist with their child’s education including readiness for college and career.”  

The U.S. Department of Education also claims to be there to help, and says, “It’s critical that, collectively, we raise the bar so that every student in this country—regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or geographic location—is held to high learning standards that will ensure students have the skills to compete in today’s global, knowledge-based economy.”

What can you, as a parent, do to help your child begin making their college and career plans and to act as a partner with your child’s school, PTA and Department of Education? There are many approaches to helping to direct children to the college degree or career that’s right for them, from making young children aware of the plethora of career options available to them, to taking your student to visit college campuses. 

More importantly, children need to develop the skills that will make it easier for them to be ready to make good choices in determining their future. While schools focus on teaching and improving a student’s skills in subjects like math, science, or reading, parents can play a crucial role by teaching interpersonal skills a student will need. To that end, Edmentum, Inc. provides five contributions a parent can make by helping their child develop skills in: 

  • Self-Management
    As a student’s grade level advances, there is less structure while more responsibilities are placed
    upon the student. At college, there is almost no structure and all the responsibility for
    completing coursework is placed completely on the student. It’s important that even children in
    the earliest grades learn to manage their time.
  • Communication
    Good communication skills are vital to success throughout life. Parents can help children learn to express their thoughts, ideas, feelings, and challenges in both verbal and written form. It’s also important for children to learn the different styles of communication required for different
    audiences so they recognize the difference in how they would speak or write to a prospective
    boss and how they would communicate with a friend.
  • Collaboration
    Working with others will be necessary throughout life. Many projects in both school and career
    require working with a team and students should be prepared to interact with others whose
    background and worldviews may be different from their own, and to accept and embrace those
    differences. Working in groups also requires occasional conflict resolution and knowing how to
    make disagreements productive.
  • Personal Goal Setting
    Whenever we go anywhere, we plan our route and choose a path to reach our destination. College and career planning are no different. Help your student set personal goals and identify a path which can be taken to reach those goals. Students will be faced with an overwhelming number of options and possibilities, many of which redirect them from their goal. Students need to learn how not to be distracted and how to stay on the path they’ve set to reach their goals.
  • Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking
    Learning to solve problems will be a skill needed every day in both college and career. It’s
    important that students are also able to see the mistakes they’ve made and to use that
    experience in future problem-solving. Another crucial skill is for students to be intellectually
    curious and critical thinkers. Students should always ask questions and move beyond simply
    learning facts to learning the “how” and the “why” behind those facts. As in literature, there is
    the story which one can take at face value, and there is the symbolism behind the story, which is
    where the book’s real message truly lies.

Children may not realize it, but they begin making life choices at an early age and parents are in a better position than anyone to help ensure the choices they make are the right ones. Helping a child to find their passion—whether it’s being a fireman, a biologist, a dentist, a teacher, a medical researcher, or an electrician—will give them the opportunity to spend their lives doing something they love, and that may be one of the greatest gifts a parent can give.

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