At the Fessenden School, one of the most important steps in the kindergarten admissions process is the small group visit. This critical visit gives our team the best chance to see what your son is like in a classroom setting.
As your son makes his way from activity to activity, what are teachers and admissions staff looking for? For an insider’s view, we spoke with Margaret Kelly, Director of Lower School Admissions.
1. Creating a Class
Admissions staff at Fessenden are not just looking at your son’s individual characteristics, Margaret explains. Their job is to “create a class.” They’re interested in how your son will fit the overall diversity of learning styles and readiness of the rest of the class—and how well the rest of the class fits his needs.
For example, the admissions team tries to balance the “chronological composition” of the kindergarten class.
“If your child is age eligible, but he’s going to be six months younger than the bulk of the class, that’s not necessarily setting him up well for that given year,” Margaret says.
Admissions officers strive for a diversity of temperaments, as well.
“We look for children who jump in with both feet and we look for quiet observer types. We’ve got our firstborn alphas and we’ve got our last in the line go-with-the-flows,” Margaret says.
2. Social and Emotional Readiness
No matter how academically prepared your son is for kindergarten, if he’s not socially and emotionally prepared for the classroom, he may find himself falling behind.
“Over time, if a child hasn’t made nice friendships or doesn’t feel well connected, when academic content starts to get more challenging, he tends to be a little more reluctant to take risks and put himself out there,” Margaret observes.
For this reason, the admissions team at Fessenden puts social and emotional readiness on the same footing as academic readiness.
According to Margaret, admissions officers at Fessenden hope to learn:
- Can you son share nicely?
- Can he resolve problems with other boys?
- Can he self-regulate during storytime?
- Will he shout out answers or wait his turn to speak?
Margaret notes: “To varying degrees, all these boys are going to exhibit these behaviors. We’re generally interested in where on that spectrum they fall so we understand how best to balance the classroom.”
3. Language Development
“Boys who struggle with language-based learning challenges would find our visual and kinesthetic environment challenging,” Margaret says. “When we see that might be a concern, we dig a lot deeper.”
The Fessenden team is particularly interested in receptive language skills. For example, Margaret explains, “How well can your son take in information that’s delivered orally without the benefit of any visual support? Can he hang onto details of a story without seeing the pictures?”
When admissions officers at Fessenden are concerned about an applicant’s language skills, they’ll follow up with teachers from his previous schools and ask parents targeted questions. They understand a 1.5-hour small group visit and a 45-minute one-on-one gives them a limited window into a child’s abilities.
“With students this young, building a class is far more art than science,” Margaret admits. “But these are the things we’re trying to look at just to be sure each student will be well supported at our school over time.”
What to Ask When You’re Visiting a Private Kindergarten
These are some of the things admissions staff are looking for at the top private kindergarten programs in the Boston area. But what should you look for in a private kindergarten? Learn 14 of the best questions to ask in the Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist.
If you have any questions about the private kindergarten admissions process, please ask them in the comments section below.