There are various ways L.A. private elementary schools assess kids for admission. Most schools request that parents bring their child to the school for a “visiting” or “testing” day. A few schools will visit your child’s preschool to observe them. When I applied to kindergarten for my daughter in 2005-2006, we went through a testing day/ visiting day and a preschool observation. I explain these in more detail below. These assessments are a time for the school to get to know your child. Its really the only chance during the admissions process they will see your child, unless you attend a non-admissions event like a book fair.
A Visiting/ Testing Day at a school can involve one or more of the following activities:
- Gathering the applicant kids in a mock classroom setting with one of the school’s teachers for story time and other age-appropriate activities. The teacher might read a story and ask the kids questions about it. The teacher will observe whether the children are paying attention, sitting still and listening. In other words, are they ready for kindergarten? And, the teacher is looking for a mix of personalities that will fit well together i.e. shy, outgoing, kind, soft-spoken, etc.
- Outdoor play time. Some schools will have applicants play outside to observe their motor skills and other personality traits. They will look for who runs and climbs onto the play equipment, which child takes some encouragement to become involved in the activity. They will be looking to see if a child pushes another child or refuses to take turns. Again, they are observing the kids, looking for the best fit for their school.
- Testing. A written test is sometimes used to determine an applicant’s fit for a school. These tests vary from school to school, but typically involve questions to test the child’s ability to answer written questions, hold a pencil, write letters, spell their name, finish a sentence, add a missing word, identify shapes and colors. If a child needs prompting, often the teacher will gently encourage the student to see if they can answer the question. The ability to read isn't required for these tests, although some children can read when they take a kindergarten entrance exam.
- Preschool visits. There are several schools in L.A. (including my kids’ school, The Willows) who prefer for the admissions director to observe the kids at preschool. You’ll be notified the day the admissions director will be there to observe your child. Visiting kids at their preschools means the elementary school wants to see the child in the familiar environment. They will still be looking for many of the same elements as with visiting day at a school, just in the preschool setting.
For me, the visiting days were the most stressful aspects of the admissions process. It’s difficult to predict how your 4 or 5 year-old will act in a new, unfamiliar place with 20 or more other kids they don’t know. But, most times these days go just fine, as they did with my daughter. However, if your child is having a bad day or refuses to participate, politely ask if you can reschedule the visit for another day.
Christina Simon and Anne Simon are co-authors of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles. Christina is the mom of a 6th grade daughter and a 4th grade son who attend The Willows School in Culver City. For more information, including sample test questions, check out their book and blog, www.beyondthebrochurela.com