How We Got Our Kids in College by Age 12

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding are just your average high school sweethearts … with 10 children. Oh, and seven of those 10 children have gotten into college by the age of 12 (so far), and the youngest three are well on their way to joining them.

First, a little about our kids. Our three eldest daughters are Hannah, 26, an engineer since age 22; Rosannah, 24, an architect with her own practice; and Serennah, 22, one of the youngest doctors in the U.S. Navy. Some of our boys are currently studying to become a computer scientist; a musician/composer; and a scholar of the Middle Ages (who currently has the highest average in his college classes). Another child, also now in college at age 11, is considering a law degree.

"How do you do it?" Since the release of our book "The Brainy Bunch," this has been the question we hear the most. People want to know how we get our children into college early — did we break or bend some sort of golden rule? They think it's impossible for our story to be true. Some even wonder how college admission could even be allowed for someone so young. The truth is that starting your child on a college curriculum at 10, 13, or 16 is possible — and we have done it seven times.

The common theme here is this: Our kids are not geniuses, and neither are we. We are just average folks who decided that we wanted to take a chance on homeschooling. And we're happy to share our homeschooling story whenever and wherever we are asked, because we want people to know that they have options. Parents can and should take control and decide how they want their kids to be educated. Of course, there are many private and public schools out there to choose from. But we want people to see that if ordinary people like us can homeschool and have great success then they can, too.

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So, how do we do it? There is no science or formula to our success. We offer consulting services to parents all over the country, and during these sessions, we never say "buy this or that curriculum" or "follow these steps and — presto! — your kids will get into college by 12." What we do share is the advice that if we as parents let our kids work at their own pace, provide material that the kids are interested in, and never hold them back, then they'll begin to see amazing results. Here are our top tips on how to get there.

Mona Lisa and Kip Harding and their brood. (Photo courtsey of the Harding family.)
Mona Lisa and Kip Harding and their brood. (Photo courtsey of the Harding family.)

Always ask your child questions.

The answers will allow you to see what they are truly passionate about – and can help show you their future paths. As parents we tend to think we know what is best for our children, and in many ways, we do. However, we don't always know how our children's talents may translate in terms of a career. You might think they are only wasting time on a video game or the latest fashion trends. But looking further into these expressions of interest may just reveal a deeper meaning: What if your child is the designer of the next Donkey Kong? What if he or she is the next Coco Chanel or Ralph Lauren?

The problem is, most parents and teachers don't address what a child wants to be when they grow up because there is a lot that has to occur between now and the time we get there. Moreover, you don't want to put stress on children, making them think they have to get through all these hurdles to reach their final objective in one day. The trick is to tap into what inspires them so you know what will keep their interest. It's kind of like a game; by discovering their core interest and focusing everything toward that, they grow amazingly fast.

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Be patient. If your child is a gamer and just wants to play online for hours on end, try to play with them. Except you're not mindless players — quite the opposite. You can ask your child provocative questions like, "How do you think the programmers created those graphics?" Pick up some magazines on the subject and let them read about it to increase their English skills, and perhaps even build some software programming skills. All of this takes extreme patience, which is something many parents have in short supply.

When properly equipped and inspired, a child will soon outdo his or her parents. That has been one of the most rewarding parts of our experience. Children can become "experts" in their own fields. Little Johnny may be able to tell friends and family all about insects, even though Mom has to force herself to smile at his latest capture. The point here is that Mom does not have to teach Little Johnny about the insect world or even like the insects. She only has to be willing to teach him how to do the research and how to write about those bugs. When researching, she should never say, "You can't check out that book, because it's above your grade level." It may be above Mom's grade level! But if she lets him check it out and learn something new, Little Johnny can explain the concepts to her in no time.

Give control to the kids. It may be scary at first, but when you see your kids beginning to read all the books they can find on their favorite topic, trust that there is real learning taking place. Reading is the most important first step and should be taught to children as soon as possible, followed by math and the rest as they mature. But if kids love reading, they will always be learning.

If you throw in intense family discussions, experiments, group projects, lots of family/homeschool group field trips, some sports, church, socializing as a family with people of all ages and cultures, and, of course, love, you will end up with a well-adjusted kid who is definitely ready for a college class or two.

Trust us, it's not as hard as it sounds.

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding  were high school sweethearts in San Jose, California. Kip asked Mona Lisa to the prom and proposed a few weeks later. After four kids, they decided to turn to homeschooling, and their success paved the way for their children to start college by the age of 12 and go on to great careers in medicine, engineering, architecture, and more. The Harding family has been interviewed on "The Today Show," CNN, "Fox & Friends," "Inside Edition," and "The 700 Club," and have been featured in publications including People and The Daily Mail. They live in Montgomery, Alabama.

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