Blog about what you know.  OK.  I know that my sons each earned full tuition scholarships to college and law school based on their academic proficiencies. You hear a lot about full scholarships for kids who excel in sports, but merit scholarships are out there too, based on academic performance.  As a teacher and mother I just may have something to say about that.

First of all, let me fully disclose that I did not earn the scholarships, my kids did.  I only laid the ground work to help them be academically successful.  As a parent there is only so much control we have over our children.  Much of that control is no longer as effective once they reach the teenage years so this list will start much earlier.

  1.  Read to your kids everyday:  I started reading to them when they were in the womb.  Some of us can get carried away with that.  But really, the number one way to improve your child’s reading scores is to read at home every day.  Even after they can read by themselves.  Continue to read aloud chapter books, discuss vocabulary and talk about the story.
  2.  Make school a priority:  Homework, projects, organization… there is so much to make sure is being done well.  In America, we tend to get very busy with our extra curricular activities.  That’s great if there is time.  But be sure that school is the priority.
  3.  Team up with the teacher:  You and the teacher are on the same side.  You both want the best for your child.  Be sure the teacher knows that you support her or him and appreciate their efforts.  Know what the assignments are so you can monitor their work if needed.   *Gift cards to Dunkin Donuts never hurt either.
  4.  Turn off your cell phone:  Your school age child is only awake for a few hours while you are together.  You are their role model.  Let them  know they are important.  Talk to them and engage in conversation.  Read together.  Play a game.  Give them some attention. Even in the grocery store.  There is so much to teach your kids.  It’s your job.  Have fun.
  5.  Eat dinner together:  Plenty of research has been done on this topic.  Families that eat dinner together, with the TV turned off, have kids that do better in school.  Engage in discussions and have everyone tell something that happened each day or something they are grateful for.
  6.  No T.V. in the bedroom and consistent bedtimes:  My kids NEVER had a TV in their bedroom in our home.  We also had a firm bedtime, 8:00 in elementary school.  I did make a concession that they were allowed to stay up a bit later to read a book before falling asleep.  They took advantage of this bonus and both of my boys read books before going to sleep at night.  Needless to say they were both good readers.
  7.  Hire a tutor if needed:  There are times when kids struggle in school.  I was able to help with some assignments but when Geometry proved challenging or SAT prep was available, I sacrificed new clothes, nail appointments and dinners out for tutors to help the kids. If a college education is on the horizon, taking some AP (advanced placement) classes is almost expected at many schools so be sure your child is being challenged.
  8.  Bribe them to read:  This strategy works best when they are little.  One summer I bribed my son to read by telling him after each 10 books, I would buy him a Beanie Baby.  That summer he got 10 Beanie Babies.  Who doesn’t love a little competition.
  9.  Sign up for music lessons:  My husband did not play an instrument growing up.  He had read that it was good for children to learn to play instruments before the age of 7.  “It changes the brain which could lead to cognitive advances as well,”  said Yunxin Wain of Bejing Normal University.  One of our kids started violin in Kindergarten, he later switched to trumpet and then piano.  He was allowed to quit in 10th grade.  Kid number 2 started piano at age 6, then tuba at age 10. He played both for years and continued the tuba in the marching band until he graduated high school. Encourage practice with their allowance. In my opinion, the music lessons strengthened their math aptitude.
  10. Put a world map in their bedroom: My kids loved Geography and enjoyed matching places in the world on the map.  It was a fun challenge and we liked to quiz each other about capitals and populations during dinner.  So important that we Americans know a bit about the rest of the world.
  11. Turn off the T.V. / screen time during the school week: This strategy was a bit drastic and again my husband’s idea.  We started when the boys were very young and it became a habit.  They played with each other, made forts or read books.  On the weekends they did watch TV and eventually played with video games and the Game boy so they fit in with their generation just fine.  I am convinced that the fact that they didn’t spend all those hours during the week engaged in mindless screen time truly helped them do well in school.
  12. Three or more years in an organization: Colleges like to see that your child has some perseverance and has stuck with something for a few years.  Maybe it is scouting or a sport, marching band or a club at school.  Don’t forget to have something with community service involvement as well.
  13. A job: Kids who have a job are generally not lazy so that is a good thing.  It is often something your child can talk about during an interview and will make your kid responsible and more interesting.
  14. Enrichment camp: So many opportunities for kids are available these days, even into their high school years.  Many universities offer summer programs to high school students.  Learning how to sail or attending the local DNA science camp may just give your child an edge.
  15. Research colleges: Spending time on the website will give you insight about the schools that offer academic scholarships and more about the programs they offer.  It will take some time, but you will find which schools offer merit scholarships and even if your child is in the running for one of their programs. Check out the individual websites and information they have regarding scholarships.  They may break it down for you and let you know exactly which SAT or ACT scores will offer which amount of money.

Both my husband and I worked full time when the kids were growing up so we fell into that category – you make too much money to receive financial aid.  Even though we were underwater in our home mortgage and sitting on 2 car loans, living paycheck to paycheck, we were living the American Dream and needed to figure out a way to do this college thing without a college savings account.

Thankfully for us, the boys both did well in school.  They took AP classes, engaged in clubs and sports, did community service and were good kids.  They also did well on the standardized tests.

My husband, who had spent hours studying during law school and for the bar exam, spent hours researching the website as well as individual schools and their reputations and programs available.  Some colleges have a basic formula determined by the SAT scores and grade point average.  Some universities will let you know how much money you will get based on those score.  Of course most schools base their scholarships on a combination of grade point average in school, how competitive the coursework is, extra-curricular activities and then the standardized test scores.

Parents do make an impact on raising kids. Our kids saw us going back to school to further our careers and learn more. As a teacher I went back to school for a master’s degree and an additional 60 credits including several different certifications. My husband changed his career from landscaper to bell hop, to prison guard and finally attorney.

My youngest will be 21 next week.  It’s amazing how fast those years all went. Both my sons are away in the world continuing the love of learning that we encouraged and modeled early in their lives. We may have made plenty of mistakes raising our kids but I’m glad we encouraged learning and I hope they will continue to be life long learners, like me.

I’m starting to feel like there is an expiration date on mothering.  The position I used to hold no longer exists.  I know I will always have my sons and will be there for them, but it is time for a change. I need to learn my new place in this life. I have been having dreams about packing and moving. I wonder what my next chapter will be?