In the cold calculus of the marketplace, people are valued for the economic benefit they can deliver. Family (esp. parents and grandparents) is the unique place where your child's skills development is important but only as part of caring for them as a unique human being with infinite value in their own right not merely for what they can produce. Even Albert Einstein, in a 1952 N.Y. Times essay acknowledged that excellence in your profession, without strong character and virtue, renders the best technician a "well-trained dog" or cog in a machine. It is within this broader, enduring context that parents can be the best "experts" in the world when it comes to genuine caring for their kid's overall well being, a component of which is education planning.
When college is a decade and more away it is hard to put college planning at the top of priority lists. But parenting can be more motivating if you can see the great things that can happen when planning starts with more years to accomplish these education planning goals. With compound interest, a lot more money can be saved with a 10 or 20-year plan than with a 5-year plan. Bring a more tangible reality to these less-than-immediate goals with pictures of your own family’s college years with your young child’s picture next to them. In fact, the ability to place importance on vital goals that are less tangible in time and place than the tangible things right before us is a key trait of children destined to be future successes, per the Stanford Marshmallow study.*
Success in higher education is a manifestation of children raised with the virtues of the love of hard work, the ability to bring a tangible current value to far off but vital goals, and a historical context of and gratitude for their rare opportunity to take advantage of freedoms most people do not have. Start by reading with them the best literature including classic fairy tales. While this is self-evident to any good parent, knowing that there is scholarly support for doing so helps buttress your moral. Read Prof. Guroian’s essay on the vital importance of fairy tales*** Knowing the best fairy tales will give kids an uncommon vision of right living and a deeper view of the origins of common phrases like "sour grapes," "crying wolf," etc. If you get bored with reading "simple" things to your kids, then regenerate your motivation by reading Dr. Jack Wheeler's short but classic essay about the infinite importance of what might first appear to be mundane: "Pretending to be Happy" at http://www.tothepointnews.com/content/view/1596/126/ or call us for a hard copy.
Read inspiring events in history to your kids. Help them know a great inventor or a moral, religious, or government leader in great detail with original sources and journals so that this heroic leader becomes a real person and a child's close acquaintance so peer pressure can work for the good.
All we have is history. The present is too fleeting to be real and the future does not yet exist. Without our personal history (i.e. our memory) we would literally lose our humanity. We would not know who we were yesterday nor could we build on our prior learning and experience. Former Presidential Commission on Bioethics fellow Dr. Meilaender published an essay "Why Remember" at www.firstthings.com that uses historic and literary sources as well as scientific findings to show how integral to our very humanity even bad memories are. We also lose something if we do not know our heritage and family history. Tell stories about your great grandparents' immigration to American and their failures and successes. (see The Power of Myth: The Benefits of Sharing Family Stories of Hard Times at the Wall Street Journal). Kids need to feel they are part of one large family tree and that their hard work and success honors their ancestors. Today, there are too many opportunities to always find programs or content on TV or the internet that uniquely targets your most passionate interests. Fifty years ago turning the TV off was easier because your interests weren't matched often by the three TV programs available at the time. What time there is left may be spent helping your kids with sporting activities. As important as these activities are, some priority should be given to joint readings and one on one conversation possibly with formal weekly family nights where the important things are read and discussed, beyond homework. Of course, some of these consequential issues could come from homework but the motive should be beyond the need to get the assignment done. Parents where possible should point out to kids important material left out of textbooks. Please read about the poor scholarship manifest in too many textbooks at the American Textbook Council website. This problem assumes book-length form with Dr. Diane Ravitch's "The Language Police."
Help kids realize the stark consequences of decisions by running their own business such as a lemonade stand or a paper route or caring for pets or farm animals. With, say 10 pennies they earn (if you are a member of a church or nonprofit community group) tell them that one penny goes for outreach for those who cannot care for themselves or to the church to build chapels or further missionary work and one penny goes to the government to pay for police, firemen, and soldiers who protect us from danger. We could go further with other topics but with this perspective about life, they will have the age-appropriate wisdom and work ethic to be the best in math and science studies, which process can be hard and frustrating. They will also be more likely to resist the frat-boy culture in school or college. Such a culture is generalized by the focus on the palpable "hear-and-now" pleasures and powerful temptation to be accepted by peers. The best values fostered over many parenting years reflect a rather polar opposite that may be powerful enough to help them resist the imperfect natures in us all. You should read the rest of the material on this site regarding the college environment when you have small children because the teachers teaching your kids and the authors of textbooks your kids' study are products of college and you should know where they are coming from.
You can build on the findings of the Stanford Marshmallow Study* with your age 8–14 kids or for other kids of that age if you teach or mentor scouting or church groups. After the kids perform well on a task, award each of them their favorite candy bar or treat. They are free to eat them. BUT, any child can choose to hold onto that candy bar and bring it back when the group gets back together in, e.g., a week. If they do, you will give them another candy bar as a return on their investment of deferred gratification. (Any kids who say they will hold their treat for the following week maybe "egged on" by the kids eating their treats who want the abstainers to give in). Tell them that these temptations and opportunities will occur throughout their life where good things will happen to them if they will put off instant pleasure for less tangible but ultimately greater rewards in the future. They may have to resist peer pressure then as they may have to now, to make the more mature choice. This can be a subliminal abstinence lesson. Also, it helps teach fundamental economics. Investing in your own business also is giving up the treats you can buy now for greater long-term career satisfaction. If government burdens the investor with too many complex laws whose impact becomes too unsure for the future, investors may not hire employees and invest more in their business or may not anticipate a sufficiently large or certain return on their investment to motivate themselves to give up the instant joy this money could give them now. Similarly, if I only promised the kids one penny in a week, or if they knew I had a reputation for lying, they would not see a large or certain enough return in a week, so why not just enjoy the candy now? Be sure to follow through and reward the abstainers in front of those who did not.