Christmas trees, stripped of their shiny ornaments, are shedding their last needles onto the pavements. Night falls fast and early. Fresh Moleskine diaries are bursting with New Year resolutions. That can only mean one thing: 4+ assessments are coming right up.
And while three-year olds up and down the country, still mesmerised by their Christmas haul, are blissfully unaware of what is about to happen, the same cannot be said about their parents. Behind a serene front, many will have spent the holidays fretting that their child is not quite “ready,” or worrying that the mid-nap slot they have been allotted will harm their chances.
And who can blame them? The process of letting anyone “assess” the character and academic potential of one’s child is daunting. Even more so when you factor in that it all happens in an allocated 45-minute timeslot, amid strangers, in a completely new environment.
The headteacher may have insisted at open day that no reading or writing would be expected and promised the session would be play based, informal and fun. Realistically, it’s unlikely to be a barrel of laughs for the parents sitting outside the classroom on uncomfortable miniature chairs.
So what CAN parents actually do to ensure it all goes as well as possible?
- Pre-empt issues: If the assigned slot really clashes with your child’s nap and they still really need it, ask to change. You may be told no but it is always worth a try. Similarly phone in if your child is unwell on the day (most schools have a catch up session for exactly that purpose).
- Communicate: While you don’t need to explain the purpose of these assessments to your child, you should describe in simple terms what is going to happen, i.e. you are taking them to play with other children at a new school; teachers they don’t know will be leading a few different activities in which they will be expected to participate. You will be waiting for them next door. Don’t leave them completely in the dark and expect them to leap into that room and shine.
- Project confidence: This one’s a game changer. Be positive and enthusiastic about the experience. It will be nice to meet new friends, listen to a story and perhaps try a new craft. If you arrive early, introduce your child to any other children and encourage them to talk or play. They will all be better off for it. Lead by example by striking up (non assessment-related) conversation with another parent.
- Do not change the routine: If your child goes to nursery wearing leggings and a T-shirt, do not dress them in their Sunday best on the day, thus signalling a special occasion. Your best option? Comfortable clothes and shoes that your child has worn before. If they want to wear the rainbow unicorn sweatshirt, let them. The potential meltdown is not worth it.
- Low key is your motto: Again, the goal is to keep your child relaxed and spontaneous. Don’t flag the importance of the event for them. So if your husband never takes your child to school, do not request his company on the day, and risk perturbing them.
- Be equipped: Take water and plenty of nutritious snacks as well as a change of underwear (yes, even if there hasn’t been an accident in two years.) Ensure your child sleeps well the night before. Put away electronics and talk to them on the way to the assessment. But don’t overdo it. If you never really make small talk with your child, then keep them quiet company.