April is the Month of the Military Child. It’s a time when we focus attention on the contributions and sacrifices our children make. My third grader has gone to four schools in three cities and two countries.
Having a school-age child definitely adds a whole new worry to the PCS process. In fact, for some moves, it dominates the decision-making process. We want to do our part in raising successful, happy children. But, how can we do a good job with the constant upheaval and lack of choices about where we live?
Our next duty station is in the D.C. area. Northern Virginia boasts some of the best public schools in the country. But, we decided to send our daughter to a private school even though it will require careful budgeting and sacrifice. Why would we make such a decision?
It all boils down to this. We want her to have opportunities that will help her stand out as an individual so she can be clear on what her interests and talents are, and so potential universities and employers will take notice. We’re looking for a richer experience than just obtaining good test scores and grades. (I think I just wrote a mission statement for parenting my child.)
Parenting styles vary greatly so I don’t expect that everyone will agree with me, but here are three ways to help military children stand out:
Military life offers us the opportunity to travel more than most, especially if you’re lucky enough to get an overseas assignment. Take advantage of the opportunities at every assignment. Your children can connect things they’ve seen and places they’ve been with what they’re learning in school.
Start early. Traveling with little ones is not easy, but go anyway.
- Start from the very beginning so they can learn to be content traveling in different ways…car, plane, train, their own little feet.
- Have some tricks up your sleeves when things get particularly arduous. Don’t just automatically turn on the DVD player. Let them learn how to engage with you and just be.
- Take them to restaurants and let them share your food or order from the regular menu. Order the local dishes or ones that are unique to the restaurant that you’re visiting.
- Keep a small activity bag that comes out on special occasions.
Let them walk. Traveling with a stroller is cumbersome and frustrating.
- A sling or a wrap is a great way to wear your baby, leaving you more mobile.
- As soon as your child can walk, encourage them to walk as much as they can. We did away with the stroller when my daughter was three and by the time she was four, she could manage full days of city walking.
Explore your region. Plan vacations around what is affordable near your current duty station. In Europe, we got to take the vacation of a lifetime several times a year either by driving or hopping on a budget airline. In the States, we’ve visited big cities like San Francisco and New York, and enjoyed time outdoors in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and the Dakotas.
Explore your area. Don’t wait for a family vacation to go out and about. Play the tourist at every duty station and plan special activities on the weekends. We feel great when we have a unique answer to, “What did you do this weekend?”
Making outside-the-box education decisions is scary. Once you step off the beaten track that most people take it’s easy to be overcome with doubt, wondering how your child will measure up to the rest of the pack. I’ll share the choices we’ve made as examples of what’s out there, but I want to give you permission to look for non-traditional opportunities that might suit the uniqueness of your child.
Skip preschool. I chose to stay home with my daughter because I wanted to be her primary influence while I had the chance. She learned a ton by interacting with me and being free to go on outings.
Choose a host nation school. Learning another language from native speakers and being exposed to a different culture is a priceless opportunity. Our daughter attended kindergarten through third grade in German schools and in the end she was mistaken for a native. Back in the States, she caught up with her classmates by Christmas.
Choose a private school. You might be asking, “Why would I want to spend a good portion of disposable income on private school tuition?” Well, there is a German school that our daughter is uniquely positioned to attend. She’ll be 10 in the fall and she’s getting old enough that she’ll have a great shot at maintaining the second language. Big risk, big reward is the mantra we’re claiming for this move. If you think a private school is the most exciting choice for your child but you’re intimated about the cost, check out this piece on how to afford private school on a budget.
3. Extracurricular Activities.
Offering your children the chance to explore their interests can help them hone in on what they love and areas where they can succeed. This might be through sports, music, or specialized camps.
Support. Let children try new things, but also recognize that results come from hard work and dedication.
Select. Choose activities that will travel from assignment to assignment so your children will automatically have a place to belong in their new environment.
Schedule. A lot can be gained by letting children have free time to play. Provide them with opportunities to learn skills, but also let them have time to develop on their own.
With childhoods full of travel, unique educational opportunities, and solid extracurricular activities, our military children will have lots of things to choose from when it’s time to write that college entrance essay.
What choices are you making for your military kid(s) that helps them stand out from the crowd?