Who’s Nervous? Your Child’s Private School Kindergarten Testing Day

Testing Day

A version of this piece was originally published on Elizabeth Street on January 27, 2014

 

It was early and I was nervous. With my daughter in the car, we drove to the 8 a.m. “visiting day,” one of the requirements of the private school kindergarten admissions process. The school, Oakwood, was more than 30 minutes from our house, traffic was bad and I mistakenly went to the high school rather than the elementary school. Frazzled and arriving with a minute to spare, I arrived at the correct location, a progressive school on a rustic campus.

 

After a brief time in the school library with our kids, parents were asked to go into a conference room for a meet and greet with the Oakwood head of school. At the same time, our kids were taken into classrooms with teachers for various for visiting day. This was the aspect of the admissions process that filled me with anxiety, since a lot depends on how your 4-5 year-old is feeling the day of the visit and how he/she acts when you arrive at the school. As soon as we got there, my usually shy daughter turned on her biggest, most charming personality (one I had only seen at home). Feeling very comfortable in the library, she pulled some books off the shelf and began reading in a loud voice. The admissions director turned to look at her, clearly impressed. Now that she had an audience (the best possible audience, I might add), my daughter continued reading other parents and kids turned to watch.

 

Relieved, I went with other parents into the conference room for what turned out to be a chance to ask questions of the head of school. This, you should note, is a time to ask smart, well-formulated questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the school. It’s also a good time to find something nice to say about the place you want to accept your kid. The room was filled with parents who already had older kids at the school, so they were confident about the process and even joked about their chances of getting in. There were also parents there applying for the second time, after being wait-listed the previous year. The competition for spots Oakwood is no joke, I learned. After about an hour, my daughter emerged from the classroom bursting with enthusiasm. We thanked the staff and left. I didn’t have to ask my kid if it has gone well. I knew. She’d nailed it. The look on her face told me everything. In March, we received our acceptance letter from the school.

 

Beyond The Brochure co-author, Porcha Dodson, has administered numerous testing days at Curtis and St. James schools in Los Angeles. Her advice to parents is from the perspective of the teacher/administrator. Here are Porcha’s tips:

 

• Many private schools use the terms “visiting day,” “testing day” or “play date”. This is the opportunity for the school to observe your child in a mock kindergarten setting with other applicant kids.

• Telling your child the day will be like a fun play date or a visit to kindergarten with teachers and other kids can help them understand what to expect.

• Some schools prefer to visit applicant kids at their preschools and observe them in a setting familiar to the kids. The preschool director will let parents know ahead of time to make sure the child is at school that day.

• Don’t over dress your child! They should wear comfortable clothing that they can move around in. A suit and tie is too formal.

• Some families hire tutors to prepare their kids for written tests, but this isn’t required by schools. Helping your child learn to recognize basic letters, shapes and colors can help ease anxiety.

• If your child is having a bad day when you arrive at the school, try to gently encourage him/her to separate from you and participate in the activity. If he/she refuses, politely ask the teacher to help. If that doesn’t work, as a last resort, ask to come back another day. This happens occasionally and schools expect kids to have bad days.

 

Visiting/Testing Day usually includes some or all of the following activities:

 

o Circle Time/Story Time. Listening to a story read by a teacher and answering questions about the story. Schools are not expecting kindergarten applicants to read, but many kids are early readers. Many schools also give kids a snack.

 

o Written Tests. Written tests can include questions about shapes, colors, letters, lower case and upper case letter and fill in the blank (see sample test questions in our book). Schools will be looking to see if kids can answer the questions, as well as use fine motor skills to hold a pencil to write their name or ABCs.

 

o Play time. Outdoor play time on the school yard. These activities can include playing games, unstructured play with other kids and activities designed to give kids a chance to use gross motor skills to climb, run and play. Schools will watch to see which kids actively play and who takes more time to participate, who shares the ball or play space and who can follow directions. Schools are interested in which kids demonstrate readiness for kindergarten and those kids they believe will be a good fit for their school’s educational philosophy. In order to determine a child’s readiness for kindergarten, schools want to observe a child’s motor skills, language skills and a range of other developmental indicators. For example, the school will be looking to see whether kids raise their hands to answer questions when asked, if they can sit still, if they demonstrate patience by listening to the teacher, whether they will allow other kids a chance to talk and whether or not they can follow basic instructions.

 

Remember, this day is only one aspect of a multi-faceted admissions process. The amount of emphasis placed on visiting day varies by school.

 

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8 Steps To Getting Your Kid Into Private Elementary School on mom.me

Momme

 

Applying to private elementary school is like trying to set up an arranged marriage, one Los Angeles preschool director told me.

 

She’s so right.

 

The entire process is an awkward series of applications, interviews and events, all attempts to find out if you’re the right match for each other. But to even get to that point, you’ll need to know what steps in the admissions process are required. Only after that will you know whether you have found a perfect match.

 

As a mom of two kids, 11 and 14, I’ve been through the kindergarten and middle school admissions process twice for each kid. Here are the eight steps you need to take when applying to private elementary schools:

 

To read the entire post, click on mom.me 

 

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Odd Squad: PBS Kids’ Smart New TV Show

Earlier this week, I attended a screening of Odd Squad, a new TV show for kids on PBS Kids. The show is educational and fun! Odd Squad It features an adorable, quirky cast and the cutest puppets you’ll ever see. Odd Squad is an agency run by kids and they investigate anything strange or unusual. In quintessential PBS Kids style, Odd Squad teaches kids as they watch. Computing fractions, how to tell time and other learning lesson are creatively woven into the plot. Yucky foods caused the kids in the audience (preschool-early elementary ages) to laugh uproariously…Did you say broccoli pudding? How about egg salad pizza? Yuck! This is definitely one of the best new kids shows on TV. Thanks, PBS Kids!

The cast of Odd Squad
The cast of Odd Squad
Agent Olive being interviewed at the screening of Odd Squad
Agent Olive being interviewed at the screening of Odd Squad
Odd Squad 2
Odd Squad solves a mystery
At the screening with my friend Candi
At the screening with my friend Candi
The fabulous KidSpace museum, Pasadena
Screening at the fabulous KidSpace museum, Pasadena

This post is not sponsored. I did not receive compensation and all opinions are my own. 

 

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Guest Blogger Alice: The Dreaded Parent Interview

keep-calm-and-eat-chocolate

 

So you’re applying to private elementary schools and you’ve managed to actually get a date for a tour and/or interview  (which for some schools means you called months in advance and already jumped through some hoops), which generally means both you and your child will be interviewed. You’re a grown up and have survived job interviews and talked banks into loaning you money, so this should be a piece of cake.  “You aren’t nervous,” you tell yourself and pretend the new outfit you bought is for some other reason, but the truth is as much as we are prepping our kid by begging and bribing them to behave for just one hour, we know that we also have to pull it off.

 

In fact, when you’re applying for a kindergarten spot in the competitive L.A. private school market, it may even be more about the family than it is about the child.   I remember the butterflies.  I remember trying to look like I had money, but not so much that I was pretending to be a big donor.  I remember wondering if it’s better to look like working mom, or a stay at home mom, (as if I could fake it one way or another).  I remember frantically searching a school’s web site to see if I could think of at least one or two “intelligent” questions to ask, and then trying to memorize those questions.

 

I decided to go to a source and ask an admissions director at one of these schools, to sit with me and anonymously give me some insights into what they are hoping to get out of the parent interview

 

Alice: What’s the single most important thing you are looking for in a parent interview?

 

Admissions Director:  For parent interviews I want to hear in their voice that they are supportive of their child and will be of the school.  In other words, once they put their kid in the school, I want to know they will trust the school to do what it’s supposed to and not get in the way.

 

Alice: You mean?

 

Admissions Director: (laughing) Get in the teacher’s faces.

 

Alice: Is there a tip off that makes you know you may be talking to a difficult parent?

 

Admissions Director: Yes.  When they start getting really pushy, questioning the curriculum before they even spend time here.  “If my child does this or that, will you do this or that?”  They are always seeking more and more.  It’s not many parents, but you do find them.

 

Alice: What would your biggest tip be for a parent going into a parent interview?

 

Admissions Director:  For them to realize that not every school is necessarily a perfect fit for their child.  They may think it’s a fit because of the status of the school, or whatever, but they need to understand that a child has to be socially and emotionally ready for any school they’re applying to.   Some parents want to push them further than they can actually handle.  Know the boundaries of your child and what’s good for them.

 

Alice: Can you give me an example?

 

Admissions Director:  Often the child is just too young and not ready for what a school is going to ask from them.

 

Alice: I’m just curious, does it mater what you wear to an interview?

 

Admissions Director:  No.  I mean, some parents dress up and that’s nice, but what’s on the outside doesn’t matter.  It’s the way they present themselves verbally in conversation that’s more important.

 

Alice: What if one of the parents doesn’t show up?   Does that matter?

 

Admissions Director:  It’s not a big deal for one interview, but if dad, for example, doesn’t show up, I’ll reach out at some point.

 

Alice: You’d like to lay eyes on both parents?

 

Admissions Director nods.

 

Alice: So any final tip for us parents?

 

Admissions Director: Parents should do their homework about the schools they are applying to, try to talk to other families and get the pros and cons and have questions.

 

Alice: Sure, but what kinds of questions?

 

Admissions Director: Anything, about their financial commitments, what after school programs are offered, what transportation, parent involvement on campus?   What high schools the kids matriculate to?

 

Alice: And finally?

 

Admissions Director: Come in with an open mind.  Before deciding if this is or isn’t the right place for your child.  Even if you come in thinking it is right, listen and make sure before you apply.

——

My own final thought is this:  I once was in a group interview situation for one of the most of prestigious K-12 schools in the city and they had about eight to ten parents around a large table and opened it up to questions.  It started with one person asking how many letters from board members of the school would be too much to include in the application.  I believe the officer responded with one is likely enough and then another hand went up and a parent asked, “Following up on that, is it obnoxious…?”  I didn’t even have to hear the end of the question, because if you start with, “Is it obnoxious?”, it obviously will be obnoxious.  Sure enough: “Is it obnoxious to have someone from Clinton’s Cabinet write letters recommending our family?”   Clinton at that time was President.  I can’t say how the admissions director took that, but everyone else in the room including me, rolled their eyes.  So my personal thought would be, try not to be obnoxious.

 

Mother of three, Alice attended east coast private schools as a child and has been in the private school world as a parent for nearly twenty years.  Her kids attended Mirman for elementary, then Harvard-Westlake and Brentwood for high school, with one still to go.  She is a writer working in film, TV and for various magazines such as Family Fun, Wondertime, Glamour and Brides. 

 

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Tips To Help You ACE Your Private Elementary School Parent Interview

This piece was originally published on Elizabeth Street on January 19, 2014.

Photo credit: Adam Capriola, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo credit: Adam Capriola, Flickr Creative Commons License

Many, but not all, private elementary schools want to meet applicant parents without their kids present as part of the admissions process. Parent interviews are typically meetings between parents and the admissions director. There is no single format and each school determines how the interview will work. Some schools are very casual, while others are more formal. The tone of the interview will depend on the personality of the admissions director and the general atmosphere of the school.

 

If you’re applying for kindergarten, keep in mind that a parent interview is about you and your child. Some schools are very interested in how well a family will fit into the school’s culture. Other schools are more focused on whether the child will excel academically. It’s hard to know what to anticipate, but researching the school and talking to your preschool director and current parents at the school can help you prepare.

 

Here are our tips to help you ace your parent interviews:

 

1. Do your homework ahead of time. Review the school’s website and be sure you are familiar with the mission of the school and what differentiates it from other schools. Be prepared to talk about how your family fits with the philosophy of the school. Why your kid would be a great addition to the school should also be something you are prepared to talk about.

 

2. Review your written application and be consistent in your interview conversation with what you said in your application about your family and its values and goals. Make sure you communicate who you are and make your family’s story one that will be remembered by the admissions director.

 

3. Be positive AND honest about your child. Don’t try to make him/her look perfect. In talking about his/her strengths, give real examples of these characteristics. You might talk about how he/she is willing to share toys in the park. Or, perhaps your kid will include other children in playtime at preschool, rather than exclude them. These two examples indicate friendliness, empathy and maturity. In speaking about any challenges, make sure you share that you understand and accept them and are committed to working with the school to partner in serving your child’s needs.

 

4. Be careful about telling the admissions director you’ll definitely accept a spot if it is offered. You may feel tempted to do this, but it isn’t necessary and could hinder your applications at other schools since some admissions directors do talk to each other. And, don’t make the mistake of being too aggressive in the type of questions you ask like, “Why does this school cost so much?” or, “How much will it cost us to guarantee you’ll let our kid in?” These are inappropriate questions!

 

5. Arrive early. Plan your route and allow for traffic and other delays. Showing up late is a big no-no. Both parents (if there are two) should attend. The absence of one parent signals a lack of interest in the school.

 

6. Try to anticipate a few commonly asked questions like, “Tell me about your child,” or “Why do you want your child to attend our school.?” Sometimes, starting with a broad comment about why you love the school and then moving to specifics about why this school is right for your kid works well. It also helps to discuss your answers to these questions with your spouse/partner before the interview. You should both be in agreement about why you want your child to attend the school!

 

7. Not every parent interview will go well. In Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles, I write in detail about a parent interview for kindergarten that went so badly we withdrew our application from the popular school. Sometimes, the interview may feel more like the admissions director is merely going through the motions and has little interest in what you have to say. Or, you may learn more about the school and realize it doesn’t seem right for your child. However, just because you don’t think an interview went well doesn’t necessarily mean the admissions director felt that way. There are plenty of families who were convinced their interview was a disaster or just adequate, only to receive an acceptance letter a few months later!

 

Finally, we highly recommend approaching each parent interview with confidence, professionalism and a bit of luck.

 

Written by Christina Simon and Anne Simon, co-authors of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles

 

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