As a parent, it is terribly confusing to deduce what exactly school staff assesses during the playdate (if you look around, you mainly see toddlers licking LEGOs). Apparently, schools look for children who are social, polite, engaged, and who transition well from one activity to the next.
While it’s true that some organizations offer tutoring services for the preschool interview, I’m really (really) not sure how or if they work. It’s difficult for me to believe that any amount of training or ESP-ing (“Please please just sing Wheels on the Bus and eat your pretzels like a higher-order mammal…”) my just-turned-two-year-old would have dissuaded her from clutching at my thighs during one high-powered clean-up time as she chanted, “Mommy, you clean.”
How to Prepare Your Toddler
In general, the best way to prepare a child is probably to raise her not to be especially wild and violent (a feat that is in itself hard, I know). As a parent, it is terribly confusing to deduce what exactly school staff assesses during the playdate (if you look around, you mainly see toddlers licking LEGOs). Apparently, schools look for children who are social, polite, engaged, and who transition well from one activity to the next.
There are certainly a few things you can do to make the experience easier:
- Try not to arrive too early; your toddler will get bored and become impossible.
- Try not to arrive too late; your toddler won’t have time to adjust and become impossible.
- Try to ensure that your toddler is not hungry, thirsty, exhausted, or filthy (though, of course, this will be exactly the day that she will refuse to nap or eat and will excrete uncontrollably. Or all three.)
- And perhaps most importantly, don’t pressure your one- or two-year-old about the stakes here — a simple “we’re going on a playdate to check out a school” is all she needs to hear.
How to Prepare Yourself
Probably the most important thing is to prepare yourself for the playdate because you will be there and form part of the dynamic. Follow the school’s instructions; typically, they’ll want you to sit quietly on minuscule chairs at the side of the room. Most schools will ask that only one parent or caregiver accompany the child to the playdate.
What the Playdate Looks Like
Playdates vary, though they do at least involve some amount of play. Most of them consist of a condensed preschool class period that takes place over 20 to 30 minutes. Usually five to ten applicant children arrive at one of the classrooms (empty of current students) and are free to play with toys, books, and craft supplies that are set up throughout the room. This activity is often followed by clean-up, circle time (for stories and sing-alongs), and sometimes a snack. I also attended one playdate where both parents and child were invited for free play alongside current students, and another where my husband and I were taken to one room for our interview, while our daughter was taken to a different class for an individual assessment.
Managing Everyone’s Emotions
If your child becomes upset or clutches on to you, try (gently) to lead her back to the group, and then go back to your mini-stool. Or, if you think it’s best, join the play with her, or even take her outside if need be. Ultimately, do what you have to do; you’re the parent!
Also, keep in mind that if you’re super-stressed, your child will pick up on that. If you exude tranquility (to the greatest extent possible under the circumstances), you can help set your toddler at ease.
Keep Your Goals in Sight
Applying to private preschools is a time-consuming, demanding undertaking, made all the more fraught because, well, it’s about your child. Still, entering preschool is one more experience in the lovely, enriching cascade of discoveries you’re making together — so try to keep sight of the delight amid the stress.