This post is part of a series dedicated to saving for college, sponsored by ScholarShare.

I wasn’t a fan of my husband’s decision to hang his diplomas in our laundry room because they’re one of the first things you see when we enter the house through our garage. It turns out that there’s a reason. The placement, in a space we all walk through daily, is meant to serve as a subtle reminder that college is important and, frankly, expected.

Most kids start preparing for college in high school, when it’s absolutely necessary. However, some experts believe preparation should start as early as toddler years. It doesn’t happen by constantly mentioning college to a 3-year-old, but rather by the way we allow that child to explore the world from those years onward.

From an academic perspective, preparation still should start earlier than most parents think. According to a recent Forbes article, UC San Diego Director of Admissions Mae Brown suggests that kids need to start preparing for college in sixth grade or age 11. The idea is that kids need time to learn how to work efficiently and lower their own stress levels when it comes to studying. And, most ivy league students surveyed in the article wished that they would have started thinking about college much earlier than they did.

With school back in session, here are simple things parents can do to prepare young kids for the college experience.

1. Make Learning Fun

One of the best things parents can do for a child of any age, is to instill a love of learning. The earlier, the better. The Simple Dollar suggests some of it has to do with respect, meaning that parents should take a minute to put themselves in the child’s shoes and think about how they’d like to be treated in the same situation.

The concern is that when force is used to get kids to do homework, it can become a chore. Perhaps, they’d like to tackle it alongside you while you’re paying bills or also working from home–camaraderie, if you will. Give them a little leeway to get it done on their own terms. Praise them when they do.

Then, there’s of course, learning outside the home by visiting fun museums or historic destinations. Edutainment, if you will. Parents can dial up the fun aspect by asking questions and showing enthusiasm for whatever the subject matter is. If parents think it’s fun, the kids are more likely to as well.

2. Don’t Hover

Susan Newman, PhD writes in a Psychology Today article that helicoptered kids can reach high levels of anxiety and depression during college because their ability to solve problems without help from their parents is low. Kids with controlling parents struggle with independence and dealing with failures, both a natural part of life.

Oddly, the rise of helicopter parenting is sometimes attributed to increased competition when it comes to college admissions. It’s a good reminder that we parents need to know where to draw the line between being supportive and encouraging versus totally taking charge.

3. Let Them Choose

In line with number two, experts suggest letting your child make decisions for themselves within reasonable and safe parameters. The type of extracurricular sports he or she participates in is a perfect example. What’s the benefit to this?

You’re teaching a child that he or she is a person separate from you that is capable of charting the course of his or her own future.

4. Respect the School

We make it a policy never, ever to be late for school. I am also never late picking her up. Candy isn’t allowed and though it shows up in other lunchboxes, it is never present in my daughter’s. Rules at school are to be followed and it’s up to parents to set a good example.

That being said, I support learning outside the classroom (not necessarily pulling her out for a beach holiday in Barbados) and we have pulled her out of school to enjoy rare educational opportunities (like climbing the Teotihuacan pyramids in Mexico City). However, we very rarely miss school for travel. My daughter managed to travel the world last year while missing only 5 days of school (one was a sick day). You can keep them in school and travel, too, if that’s your priority.

A common complaint of teachers, I’m learning, is that when parents pull their kids out of school for planned holidays, kids very rarely return with their packets of work fully complete. If you’re going to do it, make sure that the packets are returned. Respecting the teacher’s time is important, too!

5. Start Saving Early

I’ve said many times before, but studies show that kids who know they have money earmarked for college are more likely to. Groom the kids and your savings for the big event by opening a 529 college savings account like ScholarShare. If you’ve taken the time to navigate them on a path to higher education, make sure you can send them there in a way that will impact them less after graduation.

Open a ScholarShare Account

It takes just $25 and about 5 minutes to open a ScholarShare account, which has some of the lowest 529 fees in the country. We’ve had one for a long time and love it.

How are you preparing your kids for college? When did you start?

See also:

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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