What are Schools Looking For?

What are schools looking for?

For most Nursery schools in NYC, a required part of the somewhat daunting and occasionally overwhelming admissions process is a play group/interview for the child, and a tour/interview for the parents. For those of us with memories of our own parents walking us across the road and registering on the first day of school, the process may seem absurd. However, the admissions process in NYC is competitive not by design, but because of the number of people going through it, with some schools seeing upwards of 300 applicants for as few as 25 spots (after siblings and legacies have a shot). Pulling names out of a hat doesn’t ensure the kind of classroom balance nursery schools are looking for, and the process becomes selective. So, what are schools looking for, anyway?

Simply put, schools are looking for full enrollment of a certain number of girls and a certain number of boys in a certain age range. Within that mix should be a range of developmental skills and personalities. While the nursery school Director is very aware that the child who presents in January as shy may be a chatterbox by September (and vice versa), by observing your child interact with materials and other children in a classroom setting, the people responsible for admissions decisions hope to gain some insight. While it might seem unreasonable to think that what a Director observes during one brief meeting (generally around a half-hour) will decide whether a child is a good fit for a school, the Director and staff have seen and evaluated many children and will go with experience and gut to put together a well balanced class.

In addition to a balance of personalities, the school is assessing where your child is developmentally, looking for age-appropriate language, cognitive skills, fine/gross motor skills and social skills. Early childhood educators are well-versed in developmental milestones and are looking for indications that your child is within a range that would indicate they are ready for a nursery school experience. Is your child engaged and interested in the toys presented to him/her? Does your child have good eye contact? Can she/he follow a simple direction? Has your child started to speak?

These are just a few questions that the admissions team has in mind. These criteria are important because, unless you are applying to a school that can successfully address your child’s level of development in the classroom, it would truly be a disservice to a child to allow him/her to attend a school that does not provide the appropriate services. That said, most schools will make every attempt to address the needs of children already enrolled in the programs by accessing services provided through the NYC Department of Education or recommending unfunded support.

Again, the admissions teams are aware of the wide range of on-target behavior and development and are not holding toddlers to unreasonably high standards. The occasional play date meltdown is not only tolerated…it’s expected. Assuming your child makes it through the play date without smacking other children over the head, transitions with relative ease from one activity to another, handles material in an appropriate manner and seems engaged in activities presented, he or she did fine. There is one other thing the admissions team is looking at during the interview…you!

During your child’s play visit and any separate tour or open house, schools are paying attention to a parent’s level of engagement, body language and questions asked. This is not a time for confrontational questions about how the school will accommodate your 18 month old’s “genius.” Among other things, schools will be asking themselves do the parents seem to like our school? Did they pay attention to the tour guide? Did they ask relevant and thoughtful questions? How did they handle that meltdown at the end of the play visit? (In case you’re wondering, the correct behavior in this last instance is scoop up your child and split).

Nursery schools love easygoing, flexible parents who are able to convey their love for their child. The Directors feel that it’s not just the child who is being accepted, it’s the family as a whole, and they are looking for parents who project the probability of being engaged, active and supportive members of the school community. Of course it’s difficult not to feel that your child is being unfairly judged, or that there is something you could have done differently. If you receive the dreaded “wait list” letter keep in mind that 9 times out of 10 it was just a matter of numbers. During the process, handle the things that are within your control. Go on tours with an open mind and look interested in everything the tour guide is saying. Show up on time. Be nice to everyone you encounter. Turn off your cell phones!!! If your child has a particularly and uncharacteristically bad day, assume that this might not be the right school for you and move on to the next one on your list…you might be pleasantly surprised on Notification Day.