My husband and I are big believers in what I like to call "show, don't tell” parenting.
For example, since we want our kids to be readers, we make family trips to the library regularly, and they have grown up seeing us reading books and the weekend newspaper. Since we want our kids to be active in our community, they volunteer with us at our local fire department, wildlife refuge, schools, and environmental non-profits. Finally, to practice what I preach professionally, and to show them that there are lots of amazing places to attend college, we’ve made a point to see a mix of colleges and universities throughout their lives. No, I did not start taking my kids on “official college tours” when they learned to walk, but we intentionally seek out on-campus sporting events and art exhibits and do drive-by glances of universities while on road trips.
We’ve been to lacrosse games at Cornell, Hofstra, Duke, Stony Brook, and Georgetown, and to basketball games at Davidson and West Point. We’ve been to a college football game for my son’s birthday, and had dinner at the restaurant where my husband worked throughout college. We’ve visited my kids’ older cousins while they attended Endicott College, UNC Chapel Hill, and the College of Charleston. We sent a second grade “Flat Stanley” project to a niece at the University of Washington and another at Oregon State. We have filled out March Madness brackets during basketball season, and had sweets at the coffee shop at Williams College after hiking on the nearby Appalachian Trail. We’ve visited waterfalls just up the street from SUNY New Paltz and have driven around Boston University, Boston College, and Harvard (because we got lost!). We wandered through the Bowdoin campus to see where a family friend will be starting next fall, and my son surfed just off the Salve Regina campus in Rhode Island. We regularly detour through Mt. Holyoke and Smith. From small liberal arts colleges to larger state universities, we have shown our kids parts of the world that live beyond our small town.
Each experience has brought out such lively conversation, such true curiosity for what lies within each campus. While driving home from Maine last winter, my current 10th grader announced: “I know I want to go somewhere cold for college.” Meanwhile, my inside voice was thinking, “I never want to go that far north in February ever again!” When I think back on what I may have wanted for my daughter’s future when she was making her way through elementary school (because, let’s face it, I’m a college counselor, how can I NOT think about where my own kids will go?!), I’m grateful that I never pushed my dreams ahead of hers. Though I know my kids well, I am not them, and I am not the one who will be waking up on that (cold) campus someday.
This fall, we will have a 10th and 11th grader, so our process will soon be changing. We will probably be swapping skateboarding on quads for registering for official campus tours, but I’m hopeful that we have built a foundation of awareness for the many exciting and diverse opportunities that exist beyond high school. Most importantly, we have had fun exploring our beautiful country in unique ways. It feels like we’re leading our kids to water, rather than forcing them to drink.