According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 41% of all students who started college in 2006 had graduated by 2012! That statistic is even worse for boys, who dropped out at a rate of 44%. Girls did better with a dropout rate of just 39%. I strongly believe that higher education is a key component of our children’s future success, and that statistic is very worrisome to me. Why are our children starting college but not finishing a 4 year degree, even within 6 years?
Something to consider is that maybe the quality of education our children are perceiving they are getting. For selective schools, such as the Ivy Leagues, the graduation rate was much higher, with only a 14% dropout rate. Schools that took almost everyone who applied faired much worse, with a 67% dropout rate. I do hear complaints from our college students at these types at schools that the professors don’t care, the classes are stupid, they will never use them, it’s pointless to go to class. I NEVER hear these statements coming from any of the students I work with at selective colleges. While I don’t know conclusively why this happens, I think that the students who are in the selective schools believe that they are getting a good education because it is expensive and not everyone was allowed in. However, that doesn’t mean that students in open-enrollment schools, or even in community colleges, are getting an inferior education. Here’s the key to it all – the value of education is 100% up to each student!
So how can you help your child have the mindset to value their education and do the best they can? It’s certainly much harder now than when we were students. With all the testing, testing, testing and the Common Core Curriculum that forces all students to learn the same topics the same way, I fear hardly any child will be able to keep their inherent love of learning, especially if they go to a public school. The responsibility lies now on you, the parent, to help foster and encourage your child’s interests so they will be able to rise above the Common and achieve all they desire as adults.
Here are some simple ways you can work with your child, as early as toddlers. It is never too early to start engraining the notion that the more educated you are, the more successful you will be in life. However, if you have older kids, even teens, it’s not too late to start. Better now than never!
For any child who can communicate with you (ages 3-adult), start by finding out what they WANT to learn. If it is a topic you don’t know anything about, such as dinosaurs or electronics, learn with them. Give them the opportunities to expand on their interests until they are not interested in it anymore. Absolutely DON’T force a topic on them, especially if they have new interests. The more diversified their knowledge base becomes the more opportunities they will have as adults. How can you do this when they are crushed with homework to get ready for The Test? Use it as an incentive to get their other work done faster. No one WANTS to do anything that they feel is tedious or boring, but let’s face it, we all have to do that almost every single day. Happy, yet productive, adults embrace doing the things that are hard or unenjoyable first, knowing we have the reward of being able to do what we enjoy later. Help your children understand that concept. Set timers to see how fast they can get it done. My kids like to try to ‘beat the clock’ each day. That doesn’t mean they get to rush through it and do it incorrect – I check their work and if they do it wrong, they have to not only fix it but do an extra problem to make sure they understand it. I’m around to help them, so they can ask any questions. We are always striving for efficiency – meaning that we do it right the first time as quickly as we can. No cell phones, no doodling, no staring into space. THEN we get to do something fun. You would be surprised at how quick children (and adults for that matter) can work when a clock is ticking. If they are just inundated with work that takes hours and hours regardless of how efficient they are working, set a time limit and then take a break to talk or look up things they enjoy. That way they know that while they may have to learn things they don’t care about, they will get a chance to do what they want. By having interests they are learning about will also help them realize that the subjects they thought they didn’t like, i.e., English, will actually help them with what they do want. If they want to be scientists, writing will help get their ideas published. If they like sports, math will always help them understand the physics of how the ball moves. All subjects tie-in together somehow.
Talk to them about what they like and don’t like about school. Do this on a regular basis and you will eventually get past the best part of school is “gym, recess, lunch, or the ending bell”. Talk about YOUR day with them too. Be real. Talk about what was frustrating to you as well as what you are proud of that you did. Let them realize that their education is their JOB and is as important as your job. You still are their parent and need to be in charge because you know what is best for them, but their opinion should count too.
Absolutely, by no means, EVER, EVER say “Of course you don’t get math (or whatever subject), I was bad at it too. You are just like me.” This statement belittles you AND your child. You may not be good at math or science or reading – but that was because you didn’t have the right teacher showing you how to do it in a way that engaged you. Don’t put that on your child. Instead, say “You know, I had a hard time with this subject when I was student too. So much that I still have a hard time with it. Let’s work together and learn it side-by-side. I would really like that.” Learn with them. It is never too late to learn Algebra or Chemistry. If you need help, find a tutor who will work with both of you and show you in a meaningful way that you both can enjoy it.
**Most important*** Continue YOUR education. You don’t need to go to college or take classes, although that is a great option. Spend some time each day learning something new. Talk about it in the car or at the dinner table. Make education something that just happens every day like brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. Read the newspaper or look up something new on Wikipedia. My favorite method is to ask my teens about things they are really interested about – at this moment they both love baseball. So much so they read Sports Illustrated, ESPN magazine, watch MLB network talk shows, play fantasy baseball, and, of course, play baseball themselves. Even though I am not a sport-minded person, I at least read the headlines of the sports section in the newspaper so I can ask questions about it. If it seems that all your children are interested in are video games and texting, try to get them engaged in those topics. I’ve been practicing this technique since my oldest was 2, so I have a good relationship with them and they don’t think that I’m being weird – or I am weird ☺ but they are used to it because it is just what we do. If you have teens that don’t talk to you, it will take some time. When talking to them and asking their opinion, especially in the beginning, try not to question them or put their opinions down as ignorant because they are young. If they have a different opinion or take then you, make sure you tell them that you haven’t thought of that perspective before. Doing that may just be the hardest thing for you to do. I have a hard time when my kids tell me something that is so off the wall, especially when they are in the young teens, but to put them down will do nothing to open communication. Topics that may be a good ice breaker include:
If your child likes sports, then discuss an article like this article that talks about parents suing because their daughter was benched.
If your child is concerned or anxious about standardized testing, ask if they think the author of this article is correct.
If your child loves art or music, especially if it is being taken away, talk about why they think it is important, and you can get their opinions on this article.
I’m always interested in what people do to get their children engaged. Please share with us!