How early is too early?

How early is too earlyWhether I am chaperoning a class party at my third-grader’s school or attending a cocktail party with neighbors, I am always asked the same question when it comes to preparing for college: How early is too early? While I start working with students in 8th grade in my individual consulting practice, the real answer is it’s never too early to help your child build the interests and skills that will lead them toward a college-bound path.

Early childhood is when students begin to wonder. Their curiosities are not yet limited by lack of skill or confidence. This is the time when parents should encourage their children to explore, to ask questions, to figure out how things work, to develop new interests and to learn that it is ok to make mistakes.

Elementary School is when kids first develop their relationships with school. Do they like going to school? Do they see the value in learning? Do they feel valued and supported by their teachers? Do they feel comfortable making mistakes? This all forms the foundation of life-long learning. If your child is in the wrong learning environment, change it.

Middle school is when kids really start to form the foundation of academic and extra-curricular interests. If your child is struggling academically, get help now. That might be a tutor in a specific subject area or an assessment to determine if a learning difference is present. Encourage your student to explore new activities, even those they may be afraid of. A summer engineering or writing workshop might ignite an interest in an academic discipline or career. Working on a political campaign might teach students about issues their community faces. An introduction to a sport, instrument or artistic endeavor may help your student release stress while doing something they love.

High School is when colleges start to take notice of what students are doing in and out of the classroom. High school classes, which can be taken in 8th grade at some schools, should demonstrate both rigor and performance. Opting for gifted or pre-AP classes early on will enable qualified students to take advantage of AP classes later on.Colleges will also consider extra-curricular activities starting the summer before 9th grade. Depth of interest in a few areas will be more valued than shallow participation in a breadth of activities so find what you love and do it!