At 3 and 4 years old, children don’t have transcripts to review. How can you possibly determine readiness in pre-kindergarten applicants?
At The Fessenden School, the pre-K admissions process was designed not to judge individual applicants, but to create a class. As Margaret Kelly, Director of Lower School Admissions, explains, her team’s mission is to select from among a given year’s applicants to build a well-balanced pre-K class, representing a variety of complementary learning styles and personalities.
The objective, Margaret explains, is to be sure each new student is positioned to be well-served by the school and his classmates.
“We really strive for great diversity on many, many levels when creating a class,” Margaret says.
At the pre-K level, there is even less objective data to measure in the young applicants than at the kindergarten level. So the admissions process at Fessenden is primarily based on observation. Families bring their children in for a two-hour small group visit, during which boys have the chance to interact with several teachers, other children, and admissions personnel.
“Many eyes and many perspectives are pulled into consideration,” Margaret says.
Here are two of the main areas Fessenden’s admissions officers look at in boys as they seek to create a well-balanced pre-K class:
1. Language Development
During their two-hour small group visit, all pre-K applicants to the Fessenden school spend little time 15 minutes with a speech and language pathologist. This expert leads each boy through exercises designed to assess how well they express their thoughts and understand the words they hear. For example, the pathologist might ask a boy to describe all the steps involved in brushing his teeth.
“Language development is a big part of what we’re trying to understand,” Margaret explains. “Children who struggle with language-based learning issues would find our very verbal environment challenging.”
Margaret emphasizes that the purpose of the language assessment is not necessarily to exclude applicants. It’s to get as complete a picture as possible of where each boy is and, when necessary, recommend further testing to parents.
“In many instances, we’ve recommended full speech and language evaluations for families,” she points out. “If we have real concerns that aren’t getting resolved through further discussion with teachers, we would share that with the family.”
2. Social and Emotional Development
An applicant’s social and emotional readiness for pre-K matters as much to Fessenden’s admissions team as his cognitive and academic abilities.
When young boys aren’t able to connect with their peers at school, they tend to shy away from taking risks when the academic content gets difficult. They plateau, Margaret says.
“Some students may impress us with how verbal they are, but they may have some other areas where they might need a little more support,” she says. “We’re looking at the whole boy. As we’re setting them up for the long-run at our school, the social and emotional component as we’re building a class becomes very important.”
Among other things, Fessenden’s team looks at each boy’s ability to:
- Resolve conflicts with others.
- Control his impulses.
- Wait his turn to speak.
But, Margaret notes, “We’re not expecting perfection at all.” These are still, after all, 4 year-olds.
“To varying degrees, all these boys are going to exhibit these behaviors. We’re generally interested in where on that spectrum they fall,” she says.
Are you considering a private pre-K program?
If you’re searching for a private pre-K program, use our Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist as your guide. It will help you narrow down your choices with 14 questions to ask to find the best fit for your child.
If you have any questions about the pre-K admissions process at Fessenden, we’d be happy to answer them in the comments section below.