Candace Lewis has been a school librarian for six years and worked at Al Mizhar American Academy for the past four. Here she writes on school admissions and assessments and how you can navigate successfully and painlessly through the processes...
So you had a baby, blinked, and now she's old enough to go to school. How did that happen? Where did the time go? How is she old enough for school already? What will she need to know?
When it comes to preparing your child for school entrance assessments, you will need to ensure that your child is equipped with the skills she needs to thrive in the school environment. Most schools are looking for roughly the same things from their students and parents alike. It is to your advantage to know what those things are, and to start preparing your whole family to adapt to them.
Social and Behavioural Development:
Does your child interact well with other children? If she doesn't, or if she is not around other kids regularly, you may want to put some time and effort into developing her behavioural and social skills. Students entering FS1 or FS2 specifically, (PreK or KG1 in the American curriculum) should be comfortable in a room full of other kids. They should like to play and communicate with their peers. Being able to speak and interact with others without much difficulty is key. It doesn't really matter if your child is a bit shy, or the class clown, as long as they are cool with other kids and don't mind leaving mom and dad's side, they're on the right track. As the parents, you should be comfortable leaving your child in this environment as well. Academics are of course important, but at this stage, behavioural and social development is assessed with high importance.
Academics and Attendance Records:
If you are transferring your child from another school, you are going to have to provide their academic transcript. Academics are of course a vital component in deciding if your child is a right fit for the school, as well as the appropriate grade level. However, it is important to keep in mind that schools are looking for the whole package. As a parent, you are a major part of this, especially when it comes to attendance. No matter what grade your child is in, if their records show that they are always excessively late or absent from school, this will do nothing but hurt your child’s chances of entering the school of your choice. Those attendance records from your child's previous school matter. Make sure they're up to par.
Special Needs Concerns:
If your child has special needs, please do not try to keep this information concealed from the school. You are only hurting your child. Not giving the school the information it needs to properly assess what extra support your child may need can do nothing but harm in the long run. There is nothing wrong with having a child who needs extra accommodations at school. Just be up front about it. The school should not be the only interviewer in this process. You are assessing their ability to help your child grow and to see that their needs will be met.
No child can succeed in school if they do not at least possess some simple every day skills. Potty training is a must. This is nonnegotiable. One of the worst things you can do is show up to an entrance assessment with your child in a diaper. Also, all children should be able to feed themselves at least by the time they are old enough to start PreK. With the abundance of nanny care in the UAE, there have been many problems with students just not having fine basic motor skills to thrive at school. Trust me, having your child's nanny hand feed them at this age is not only hurting their chance at getting into a good school, it is hindering their fine motor skill development. Use this simple chart
to see how well your child's fine motor skills are developing:
Knowledge of phonics and phonemic awareness are usually assessed when entering Key Stage 1 (KG2). For starters, your child should be able to hear and distinguish what 3 sounds make up the world 'dog' for example. An excellent free phonics website you should explore with your child is found here.
Preparing at Home:
There are several ways you as a parent can prepare your child for early years assessments. You should have literacy tools at home. These can include simple letters to make up words, as well as easy picture books. If your child is applying for any grade level other than early years, they will more than likely take a computer based test. This will be testing for a child's readiness to enter a specific grade level. At the very least, make sure your child knows how to use a computer mouse. Practicing this at home can be quite beneficial. Also, make sure your child knows how to hold and use a pencil, as well as other tools used for drawing.
Students being assessed for early years programs are being monitored for their social and behavioural awareness. Of course academics are important, but at this age, eagerness to learn, becoming less dependent on mom and dad, and interacting well with their peers can go a long way in showing a school that your child is ready for this new environment.