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Over the past decade, I've taught philosophy to many
hundreds of undergraduate students. Most of these students have been bright,
engaging and inquisitive. Most of them had reasonable success in my classes,
In my experience, the ones who tended to do well are the
ones who have mastered some important skills before entering college. Perhaps surprisingly, these skills aren't incredibly sophisticated.
In fact, they are skills we expect preschoolers to
So if you're interested in helping your kid get college-ready—and, in all honesty, instill them with some
important life skills—make sure that they are able to:
Say 'please' and 'thank you'
The demanding, ungrateful preschooler who keeps
shouting for a "Cookie! NOW!" often doesn't get what they want. The demanding
college student who acts as if it's their God-given right to a 50-point extra
credit assignment often doesn't get what they want either.
A simple "please" rarely results in any sort of
extravagant gift. But for me it has, on occasion, yielded some additional flexibility
and (yes) a small extra-credit assignment for the entire class.
Be OK with "no"
College professors aren't always amenable to extra
credit, grade changes or due date extensions. Parents aren't always amenable
to extra dessert, rule changes or bedtime extensions. No one
likes to hear the word "no," but everyone should be able to hear it without
throwing a tantrum (or storming out of the classroom).
Own up to mistakes
No matter what age we are, perfectionism can deter our
capacity for learning and enjoyment. Not admitting when we do make mistakes can
be just as disruptive to our lives.
The preschooler who drew a crayon collage all over
a bedroom wall should be able to admit to their mistake and—if we're open
to miracles—help their parent clean it up. The college student who didn't read
an assignment in its entirety, leaving out important details in their
work, should be able to admit to this mistake and—if we're open to burgeoning adulthood—accept a lower grade.
Figure out how to live with rules you don't like
Few preschoolers adore bedtime. Most actively
hate their parents' expectations about not drawing on the walls. (You can see
that I have some experience with this one.) Similarly, few college students
adore attendance requirements or homework expectations.
But college students who don't show up to class or
complete their assignments won't pass the class. Preschoolers who don't go to bed on time won't
pass life. (Or at least that's how it can feel to their parents.)
This is a fun skill—and one that small children often
master without any guidance. But somewhere along the way, many of us become
self-conscious about asking questions.
I might not want each one of my students to ask as
many questions as a toddler does each and every day. (I think the last running
total I heard was somewhere close to 400 in 24 hours.) But I do want each
one of them to rediscover the comfort that toddlers and preschoolers have when
it comes to asking questions. It helps everyone learn more, expands minds and open the asker up to all of the wonderful possibilities that come with an education.
Look for something on their own before asking for help
Once, 15 whole weeks into the semester, a student
asked me where they could find the course readings. These readings were on the
course syllabus. They were on our online course calendar. And I had just
written the readings on the board during the previous class.
I told the student as much and sent them back
It reminded me of the time when my preschool-aged son
scream-whined for me to help him find his favorite stuffed animal. Which happened
to be next to him. Half-draped over his leg. Right in front of his face.
I kindly asked him to take a moment to look for
the beloved toy himself before requesting my help again.
Experience the joy of hard work and discovery
Have you ever seen the look on a preschooler's face
when they complete a difficult puzzle or construct a huge tower or put on their
clothes or draw a beautiful picture all by themselves?