What are private schools looking for?

By Janis Adams
janis adamsThere are a lot of questions about whether or not one should prep their child for the all important playdate/entrance exam to private school Kindergarten.

The subject is so fraught with emotion that many parents do not even discuss it with other parents. This anxiety is fueled by the low number of openings in Los Angeles private schools and by a sense of competition that careens off the walls of inflatable party bouncers the minute the child turns three.

Such is the reality of today’s private school admissions.

The problem with training a young child to cram for so tedious a test is that the child often turns off to the learning process altogether. This is the antithesis of what you really want.

Recently, I took the time to contact the principals and admissions directors of most of the private schools. I asked one basic question of each of them: “What do you look for when you evaluate a child for your Kindergarten class?”

The answer most often stated was: “We are looking for children who want to learn.” In fact, I heard the terms “eager to learn” and “enthusiastic to learn”.

Test scores were not mentioned. Parent’s connections were not mentioned.
The administrators were looking for children with “a twinkle”, “a spark”, “curiosity”. Are these qualities so rare? Sadly, yes.

The American school system seems intent on differentiating playtime from study time. Our students grow up with a sense of dread about schoolwork that starts early and continues throughout their academic careers.

There is nothing intrinsically satisfying about memorizing facts out of context to be regurgitated upon request. There is, however, something fascinating about learning how pieces fit together and how one concept builds on another.

Children learn because they want to learn. They learn because they are intrigued and curious and engaged. If guided correctly, a child will easily assimilate complex concepts because he or she wants to, because it is fun and interesting.

Read to a child and discuss what you’ve read, debate the what-ifs, and change the endings or characters in a story to see what else could have happened. Engaging the imagination through story telling is the beginning of literary analysis.

Basic math concepts should be approached in a similar manner. What is the point of flashcards? Count blocks for a game and then change it around and take some away. Make a recipe introducing 1 cup and 2 cups.
Keep going; your child may even learn fractions using ½ cup and ¼ cup.

Following a child’s natural curiosity will lead him/her and you to the end result faster than any pre-packaged enrichment program.

Let your child lead you with where their interests lie. Whether Barbie dolls or baseball, use their focus as a launching point for basic storytelling, writing, reading and simple math exercises. If they are still involved and asking questions, keep going. Let them guide you as to how complex your answers should be. If they want, let their ideas morph into a broader arena.
What other countries play baseball? What was fashion like in the 1950’s?

Children want to play. They are fascinated by science experiments that they can see and do. Even better, if they have someone explain it and give the process a name, they will remember it because they want to tell someone else about it. Children like to label and want to communicate.

As the child progresses through school, and if they have learned to think of learning as a game, a puzzle, a challenge, they will be thoroughly engaged because they are curious and involved; they will want to figure it out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I own a tutoring agency. And yes, if you want a tutor to prepare your child for the Kindergarten entrance exam, we can do that. Not a problem.

But if you really want to help your child get ready for kindergarten,

give them a huge gift they will keep with them for the rest of their lives:

Make learning fun.

It will give your child that spark, that enthusiasm, that eagerness to learn. And isn’t that what everyone is looking for?

Janis Adams is the owner of Academic Achievers and the popular KinderPrep: Learning to Love Learning.