From Diapers to Dartmouth

This article was originally posted on the Scouted blog.

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A few weeks ago during Scouted team lunch, I joked that I’d write a blog post about how to prep your toddler for the Ivy League. So, true to my word, here are my initial thoughts on college prep for my three-year old daughter, Riley.

Preparing Toddlers for the Ivy League

Let’s start at the beginning. From birth through kindergarten, you learn more than you do from kindergarten through the rest of your life. I made that stat up, but it sounds pretty good. Think about what babies need to learn: digestion, processing sensory input, communication and language, movement, socialization and sharing, standing and the physics of falling, emotions…it’s a ton of stuff. When was the last time you learned a new language? Babies are like sponges – at no point in our lives are we better suited to learning new stuff than we are in the earliest years of life.

Some theorize that the more knowledge you feed kids in their earliest years, the quicker they’ll learn that stuff, and the sooner they can progress to the more advanced material. In other words, if you can get your baby processing visual signals faster, the sooner that baby will have the acuity to follow along as you read to them; the sooner you’re reading to them, the quicker they get to mastering language. It’s a slippery slope to writing War and Peace. The idea is that if you can accelerate all the early learnings, you can take greater advantage of the fungibility of that early sponge mind.

Exposure + Active Engagement = Success

Assuming the above was accurate, we started Riley out on a full regimen of baby exercises: flickering lights on and off to strengthen eye muscles, tickling feet to trigger the Babinski reflex, and of course flash cards on everything from words and numbers to flowers and insects. (I’m not joking.) We kept to this routine for months, tweaking it as Riley got older each week and month, eventually tapering it off once life got too hectic. By that point, Riley was an incredibly verbal and loquacious kid, and at least, according to her completely impartial parents, speaking at a level years beyond her age.

As Riley got older (like a year older), we started her in gymboree, swimming lessons, and Spanish. Conejo, brinca! And soccer. It’s not really soccer when the kids can barely stand – more just a means of getting familiar with the idea of a soccer ball, or playing outside with other kids who’d also rather eat the grass or play with the water dispenser. Our intent and hope was to expose Riley to as much as possible and see what stuck. She didn’t want to sit with me at the piano, but did want to dance to every song on the radio (YouTube), especially Katy Perry but never (thankfully) The Chainsmokers.

We are not tiger parenting nor in any way restricting creative play. (We spent hours this past weekend throwing paper airplanes around.) What we believe we’re doing is ensuring that Riley has every opportunity we can afford to find her strengths and happiness, especially at such a young age while her sponge brain is still open to the world and establishing formative neural connections.

Let Your Colors Burst!

Hopefully it’s obvious that I’m not actually prepping my toddler for the Ivy League. There is a moral here though: consider approaching life, especially as you think about applying to college or graduating from college, as if you still have a toddler’s sponge brain. Try out as many different activities as you can, find what sticks, and then go deep. Colleges and companies alike want a well rounded student body or roster of purposefully passionate individuals. Join the extra clubs so you can decide if you like them; try out for the intramural team and see if it’s your thing; go rock climbing or swing dancing because you might not have another chance for who knows how long (I spent a term doing each at Dartmouth). Figure out what you’re good at and what makes you happy, because it’s good for you and shines on a college application or resume.

Our ability to learn diminishes as we get older, so now is and will always be the best time to learn or try something new. Perhaps some will find my parental advice a bit crazed, but at least consider how it applies for yourself, even if it means Katy Perry dance parties every night.

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