Should You Prep Your 4 Year Old?

Should You Prep Your 4 Year Old?
To prep for the preschool admissions test or not to prep. That is the question.

If you live in New York City and are thinking about sending your child to pre-school, you know how competitive the situation is. At least with the desirable schools. There are simply dozens more applicants than there are available places. As a result there is a huge temptation for well-to-do parents who tend to be hyper-competitive anyway to take what they feel are necessary measures to prepare their three and four year olds for admissions testing. A cottage industry of consultants and tutors has sprung up in most cities to provide the support which these eager parents demand and are willing to pay for.

Admissions testing is simply one part of the admissions process.

Most New York independent schools use the ERB as one part of their admissions testing. The Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA) is important insofar as a low score will most likely preclude your child from further consideration. So, the question is whether or not to prep or not to prep your child for the test. Most schools take a dim view of that practice. Yet some parents feel that they have no other choice. As a result, Jenny Anderson reports in Private School Screening Test Loses Some Clout that several Manhattan schools are dropping or thinking about dropping the test altogether. The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York gives parents this advice about ERB testing: "The ERB test for young children requires no preparation."

As mentioned previously the admissions testing is one part of most schools' admissions process. Just as important is the interview and documentation provided in your application.

So, once again parents are caught between wanting their child to get into the best school and making that happen. What do you do? After all, the goal is to get little Cedric into an Ivy League college so that he can get the best possible education and make the most money he can? Right? Perhaps you need to assess what the best possible education for your child really is. Perhaps raising a happy, well-adjusted child who can cope with everything life will offer is more important. Those are choices which you need to make. Your core values come into play here. Just remember that you are setting the foundation for your child's adult life.

The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York offers some good advice: "Apply only to as many schools as you and your child can comfortably fit into your schedules." In major metropolitan areas is places in pre-schools can be extremely limited. But it also makes little sense to apply to more than three to five schools. Do your research carefully. Take into consideration the daily trip from your home to the school. What arrangements will be necessary to get your child to and from school safely every day?

The other reality about pre-school admissions is that you should be building habits and expectations for a life-time. Rather than teaching your child to game the system, wouldn't it make more sense to teach her to appreciate the beauty of language by reading to her? How about stimulating that malleable little mind with painting and sculpture? How about avoiding television and video games? Encourage your child to use her imagination. That's what Montessori and Waldorf schools do. There's no reason why you can't do the same yourself.

Then, when it comes time for your child to apply to prekindergarten, she will be more than ready. All things being equal, she will pass the admissions tests and interviews with ease. But, more importantly, she will have done so without any stress and pressure from admissions testing preparation.

If the school decides not to offer your child a place, you have no recourse. The decision is generally final. Move on and find another school which will accept your child. If the school puts your child on a waiting list, you would be well-advised to have Plan B ready just in case the place never materializes.

Parenting suggestions

I strongly suggest that parents follow these guidlines as opposed to fussing about admissions testing preparation for pre-schoolers:

1. Spend quality time with your child

Learning literally begins at birth. Your constant reassuring, loving presence will teach your child more than you can possibly understand or know until he is much older. Then all that quality time which you spent with her reading to her, listening to music together, exploring the world around her will all become very apparent. Spending quality time with your child is one of the most difficult aspects of being a modern parent. We all have so many demands on our time. Parenting is not something you can neatly schedule into your busy calendar. Parenting is 24/7. Forever. You can try to sublimate it. You can hire care-givers as we euphimistically call nanies and baby-sitters. None of these people are a substitute for you the child's parent.

2. Remember that stimulating your child's imagination never stops.

Babies come into this world full of curiosity. They are discovery machines. Will you help them discover? What will you help them discover? You see, all the things which you show them and help them appreciate are precisely the things which those very competitive pre-schools seek to assess with testing and other components of their admissions process. If you have been doing your job to the best of your ability, your child will accept testing and interviews as simply one more exciting thing and occasion.

3. Never stop believing in your child.

I know it is very difficult at times to know that things will work out. But you cannot ever stop believing in your child. They sense that support and that love. That is what gives them the confidence to achieve great things. Your unequivocal belief in and love for your child is the essential cornerstone of your child's education. Everything flows from that.

A century ago Dr. Maria Montessori wisely advised us to follow the child. It is still sound advice and advice which you and I as 21st century parents need to understand and put into practice.

More on Admissions Testing for Preschool

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