It’s more important than ever that students graduate with the knowledge and skills to attend college. But what does it mean to be ready for college? That’s the question we’ll be exploring in this series for parents.

When your child is just past potty training, college may seem a very, very long way away. However, the road to college starts path_to_college_innovate_public_schoolsearly and keeping your eye on that long-term goal will help your child build a strong foundation to thrive through school and beyond.

There are several key milestones that parents should focus on as they weather the bumps in the road of any long journey.

So how can you make sure your child is on track? What are the most important things parents should be doing?

Know What Your Child Should Learn in Each Grade

All schools in California follow the same curriculum standards, which set clear guidelines for what every student should know and when they should know it. The annual state tests measure students’ progress toward mastering these standards. Learn more.

As a parent, you don’t need to know every one of the standards, but it is helpful to know the broad strokes. For instance, by the end of 5th grade, students should be able to tell a story from multiple points of view, summarize something they’ve read, use phonics to read unfamiliar words, and understand the multiplication of fractions. (More here.)

Know How Your Child and Their School Are Doing

Academic performance data is a great tool for tracking how both your child and your child’s school are doing. Look closely at your child’s report card and scores on state standardized tests, the SBAC.

GreatSchools enables you to easily see how your child’s school is performing compared to other schools nearby. When you look at data for your child’s school, ask the principal about areas where test scores aren’t strong and how he or she plans to improve.

Key Questions:
Where could my child use improvement? What is the school doing to help her advance? How can I best help her? How is my child’s school doing overall? How is it doing for children like mine?

Set High Expectations: Talk About Long-term Goals and What it Will Take to Get There

We often ask kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But we also need to talk to them about how they’ll get there. Make sure your children know that no matter what they want to be—from astronaut to movie director to firefighter—doing well in school is how they’ll get there.

Support Your Child’s Learning at Home

Parents are their children’s first teachers and research shows there are several ways that parents can powerfully support their child’s academic success. Two of the most powerful are also the simplest: talk and read with your child. The conversations you have with your child help build her vocabulary and connect classroom learning with the wider world. Sitting down and reading together can have a huge impact on children’s early reading.

Maintain a Growth Mindset

Research increasingly supports something that parents have long known: Success in school has as much to do with students’ attitudes toward learning than with what they already know. One prominent researcher distinguishes between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” A “fixed mindset” is the attitude that some people are naturally smart or good at a subject, while others aren’t. A growth mindset, on the other hand, assumes that everyone can improve and learn with effort. When students adopt a growth mindset, they are better equipped to take on new challenges and persevere when they experience setbacks or failures.

Parents have a huge role to play in helping students maintain a growth mindset. Be selective with praise—focus on instances when your child has shown effort, regardless of the outcome. Help them adopt the attitude that, when something is challenging, that’s evidence they’re learning and growing. For instance, when helping your child with their homework, you may see them get frustrated when they don’t know the correct answer. That’s OK. Rather than giving them the answer, help them look for ways to find it.

Learn more about how character and mindsets help learning.

Check out GreatSchools’ Emotional Smarts Toolkit.

Ask questions and ask for help!

You are your child’s very best advocate. Throughout your child’s education, these are key questions to ask your child’s teacher and principal:

• How is my child’s school doing overall? How is it doing for children like mine?
• Where could my child use improvement? What is the school doing to help her advance? How can I best help her?
• What resources are available to help me and my child?