Elementary and middle school are the ideal time to focus on these three things: (1) finding what interests your child, (2) getting into a good school routine, and (3) getting more serious about a direction for your savings plan.
Around this age, your child will start favoring some activities over others. The easiest way to get them to start making distinctions between what they like and don’t like is to give them opportunities to get involved in a wide range of things. Explain to them that as long as they try something, they can choose to stop if they don’t like it. This is sort of like a research gathering phase.
Once you can hone in on what sort of special interests your child has, you can invest money into opportunities geared toward that. When they find an area of interest, spend your money here, and save the rest for college. Put money and time towards after-school classes and programs, summer camps, conferences and competitions. Also, put some aside for the personal time spent on their hobby—like weekends, evenings and school breaks.
It may also help you determine the direction for their future. For instance, if your child can’t get enough of tinkering with building blocks or magnets, it may be a good idea to get them into a STEM program. Or maybe your child loves volunteer opportunities and may have a path leading towards the non-profit sector. While these two paths both lead to higher education, the routes to get there are quite different and may impact the way you save. This is a great time to enlist the help of a financial professional to help you allocate funds the right way and get the most from your savings plan.
Middle School Activity Log
As kids get into middle school, they have even more chances to get involved. Whether it’s sports, scouts, volunteer opportunities, church activities, or personal hobbies at home, take written inventory. Write down what sort of activity they are doing and how much time they’ve invested. This will be exceedingly helpful when they get to the age that they start applying for scholarships.You can also use this activity log to track their feelings towards activities to help them in their continued pursuit to find something they love. At 18, it seems like a lot of pressure to decide what you’ll do with your life, but by establishing early the things they love and are passionate about, you are setting them up for a better sense of self and direction in the long run!
Establish Academic Discipline
Elementary and middle school are the time to build the foundation necessary not only to succeed in higher education but to get there. The academic habits that get rewarded with scholarships are started early—not in high school. It’s a common trap to wait until high school to start planning intentionally how you’ll get scholarships or find favor with the university of your choice. In reality, by high school, you should be picking and choosing—not starting the process.
Taking school seriously early sets the motion for more education discipline, leading to higher GPAs and better test scores, which opens the door to better scholarships and more college options. Here are a few easy ways to set your child up for good academic habits:
Model the behavior
If you want it to be clear that education is important, you need to treat it that way. Get your kids to school on time, know their teachers, pay attention to important dates and get involved where you can. When they see that their school and education matter to you, it’s more likely to matter to them, too.
Set clear expectations
Let your kids know what you want them to get from their schooling, and hold them accountable for those standards. What sort of grades do you want to see? How much time should they spend on homework each night? Do you want to look over their homework before they turn it in? Should they participate in an after-school activity? What are your priorities, and theirs?
Stick to a routine
Wake up at the same time each day, have an established routine for a good breakfast and plan to get to school on time. At the end of a school day, know what you’ll have for a snack, what time you’ll have dinner, the homework that needs to be completed, any chores to do and stick to a bedtime.
Give kids responsibility
As they near middle school, kids should understand that their success is largely in their hands. Parents will need to be responsible for getting the kids to school, but make sure kids know that it falls on their shoulders, to be honest about grades, upcoming assignments and any struggles they may be facing. Give them a space to share, and reward them for doing so.
Middle school is also a good time to introduce testing to your child. Your child should take their first practice ACT before high school. It will get them familiar with the process, but also could possibly reveal a special interest or knack that maybe you hadn’t had a chance to explore yet. While it may seem early to start testing, the reality is that a lot of college funding, higher ed admissions and scholarship awards are tied pretty closely to good test scores. The sooner you can introduce your kids to that environment, the more time they’ll have to excel.
By the end of middle school, you should have a good starting place on what kind of track your child wants to be on, and that can impact your savings plan. Invite your child into the conversation and explain what you’re saving for and how their actions can be an important part of that plan by getting good grades and sticking to their commitments.
The College and Career Planning team at CommunityAmerica Credit Union is a 2018 National Parenting Products Award winner. In addition to college planning help, CommunityAmerica provides a full suite of financial products, including checking, savings, mortgages and a variety of loan products to meet consumer and business needs. As a not-for-profit financial institution, CommunityAmerica offers highly competitive rates on deposits, loans, and fewer, lower or no fees at all. For more information, visit https://collegeroadmap.