If your family’s applying to private kindergarten programs in 2021, the odds are pretty good that your child will participate in the T&E assessment. There are loads of articles about the test (some particularly helpful ones are linked below*), but I want to share some tips that worked best for us last year.
In March 2020, my son’s terrific preschool quickly transitioned from in-person to virtual programming. If only my son could have transitioned so quickly! Instead, he would run out of the room or hide under the desk at a mere mention of joining his class on Zoom. We quickly realized that if we wanted him to participate in remote school admissions interviews, the first step would be to increase his tolerance for video calls.
We began setting up practice one-on-one calls for him with adults, starting with close friends and family members, and then transitioning to contacts that my son didn’t yet know (ed. kudos to my instagram friends who enthusiastically took 30 minute shifts to talk to an energetic four year old). From there, we realized that we needed to create an experience that was more similar to speaking with a teacher in an assessment, so we hired a tutor to meet with William weekly. In these sessions, they focused on a range of activities, starting with ones he preferred (creating patterns and singing) and progressing to more uncomfortable ones as his tolerance increased. We ended up liking the experience so much that we continued these sessions for six more months after school interviews wrapped up. What a privilege!
If you’re looking for virtual tutors who can help with this practice, here are two terrific options that kindly offered to take on this type of work -- the former, Katharine, is the tutor who I describe above:
Katharine Page, M.S. Special Education
Phone: (646) 522-7263
Dana Rosenbloom, M.S. Ed.
Parent and Child Educator, Child Development and Behavior Specialist, Early Childhood Consultant
Phone: (516) 410-8968
Create a routine:
Our children thrive on routines and knowing “the plan”. While we couldn’t predict what would be asked in the call, we could create a comfortable, predictable environment that would help our son feel confident and do his best.
The routine we created consisted of replicating the situaton that he would experience (the same desk, computer, wearing headphones, etc.), as well as the prep beforehand. For our energetic son, we even added a 5 minute dance party into the routine which helped him sit longer -- and with more focus -- during the call.
An example of our son’s routine can be found below, or feel free to make a copy from this Google Docs link so you can customize it for your own child(ren).
Buy a timer… or 4 of them:
Similarly to creating a routine, our son would be more comfortable in Zoom calls if he had an understanding of time; namely, how much time was remaining. To avoid him turning to me every 3 minutes to ask how much time was left, I bought a set of sand hourglass timers.
In his practice sessions, we started with a 10 minute timer, and then moved up to 15, then 30 as his tolerance for zoom increased. If you adopt this approach, make sure to build up to a 45 minute one before the T&E, as that’s how long our son’s T&E call lasted! (What a good sport.)
Choose the best time slot for your child:
Does your child get emotional going back to school on Mondays? Are they always sleepy in the afternoon? You know your kid best, so make sure to choose a day and time when your child is engaged, awake and as emotionally stable as possible. Last year, new slots for the following 2 weeks were regularly released, so you may be able to wait a day or two for a better slot to come up.
Also, don’t choose the last possible slot in December, thinking that the older your kid will be the better. You want to give yourself a bit of a buffer in case he, she or they get sick, in which case you can reschedule the call. We had to do this, and I’m so glad we didn’t push him to participate when he wasn’t feeling well.
Did our son want to do 25-30 practice Zoom calls? Definitely not. To encourage him, we created an elaborate star chart, which incentivized him to sit and participate through each call (until the sand timer would run out). Here’s how we did it.
First, we picked out a large gift that he wanted for months.
Then, we created our “star chart” using a map of the world. We drew about 20-30 circles in different places and then drew a route from circle to circle that started in Australia and ended in NYC.
Whenever our son finished a call, he got a sticker that he could put into the next circle.
While the story started out as he was helping the mailman deliver his big gift to NYC, he grew more excited about completing the map and learning about new places in the world.
Fingers crossed this article becomes irrelevant quickly once the assessments go back to being in person.
*In the meantime, here are some articles that provide more insight about the test and why schools are using it:
“The T&E Assessment: NYC Kindergarten Admissions” - The Parents League
“Demystifying the Thinking & Engagement Assessment” - Bright Kids
Good luck, team! And don’t forget to breathe.