Los Angeles School Admissions Consultant - Preschool, K-12, Private Schools, Magnet & Charter Schools

What to Look For In a Private School

The day has arrived - far sooner than expected - that you need to start looking for kindergarten for your child. For whatever reason, you've determined that the local public school is either not up to par, or doesn't offer the depth and breadth of learning and extra-curricular activities you see as necessary. Charter schools, magnet schools - while these might be options, handing your child's educational future over to a lottery system hardly seems like the quality approach you want for your child. You may have heard glowing reports from other parents, friends and colleagues about this or that private school. So here you are, in search of the right private school. In Los Angeles for example, the pressures of protecting your children from the public school system due to its generally poor reputation and scare stories you may have heard, combined with the plethora of private school choices and their limited openings, make for a trying time for many families.

As a first step, parents need to answer some questions themselves, such as "Is it all about prestige, or is it about finding and getting accepted to the school that is best for your child?" Being frank with yourself about your child's prospects at any particular private school can be difficult, but will serve you better in the long run. Rather than applying to only the most "prestigious" schools, or, conversely, putting an application out to every private school in sight, consider getting the help of an educational consultant to help you examine your options and winnow them down to what appear to be the best options for you. Of course you have to be prepared to accept a professional's considered opinion, advice and assistance, every step of the way.

Introducing a variety of schools and winnowing down the final list is perhaps an advisor's most important function. Any educational consultant should help keep the process organized and make sure everything gets done and submitted well in advance of deadlines. There is no doubt that private school application essays should get a careful review and edit, but resist the temptation to have someone else write them for you. You want your application to 'read' the way you speak during your interview with the private school admissions representative.

When weighing your private school options, here are some key ideas to keep in mind:

  • You and your partner need to agree on - or at least discuss - your goals and your ideas about good educational programs.
  • Understand who your child is and how s/he learns. What might be a good match in a school? Why? This is an ideal time to talk to your child's preschool teacher and preschool director, and get detailed feedback on what they would see as a good fit.
  • Whenever you visit a school, in addition to seeing the lower grades, visit the class with the oldest children. Can you imagine your child in that class?
So what are some of the things you're looking for when you consider private schools?
  • Teaching is designed to enhance development and learning.
  • Teachers respect, value and accept children, get to know them well and treat them with dignity.
  • There is a small student to teacher ratio, not more than 15 students to any one teacher. This should stay consistent throughout the grades.
  • The school as well as the individual classroom teacher creates a range of enriching and engaging learning environments, using a wide range of teaching methods to promote children's achievement and intellectual curiosity.
  • Teachers strengthen children's sense of competence and motivation and facilitate the development of responsibility and self-control.
  • The school encourages the development of reciprocal relationships with families in which all parents feel welcome.
  • The program creates a sense of community.
  • The school encourages consistent, positive relationships with other children, where social relationships are seen as an important area for learning.
  • The school sees diversity as a strength.
  • The learning environment is designed to protect children's health & safety.

The good news is that you will survive the private school admissions process. Fortunately the cliché is true: There is a great school for everyone, and things are going to work out just fine.


Choosing a Preschool in Los Angeles

Many people come to L.A. School Scout for help in finding a preschool with available space – and without a 3 year waiting list. High quality Los Angeles preschools, especially on the Westside, are notorious for keeping families on waiting lists for years. Blame it on the “too many siblings” factor, blame it on the baby boom (four seems to be the new two), blame it on the lack of a sufficient number of spaces for the number of children out there in need of preschool – whatever it is, many of you will find yourself in the position of touring far too many schools, in the hopes of getting into one.

So my choice of a title for this article – “Choosing a Preschool in Los Angeles” – might seem puzzling. After all, it looks like the family is hoping to be chosen, and not the other way around. But just because L.A. preschools are in high demand does not mean that parents are powerless in having a say in what they want for their children. Just because a preschool or a particular educational philosophy might be popular one year does not mean that you should take everything in about the school without casting a critical eye. Instead, here are some tips on what to look for in any preschool – whether everyone you know thinks it is a highly desirable school or not.
A high-quality preschool program can help set your child on his or her way, including promoting kindergarten readiness. Hours, cost and convenience are important considerations, but what else is important? These tips can help you choose a preschool that fits your family.

  • Ask about the teachers.
    • What educational backgrounds do they have? Are they trained to work with this age group? Is the staff stable, or does it change constantly? High staff turnover may negatively affect your child, and might be indicative of other problems.
    • What is the student:teacher ratio? Six to one is ideal; if there are more, are there also teacher aides or assistant teachers, and/or specialty teachers?
    • Do the teachers show warmth, respect, and interest in each child?
      The children should seem comfortable with the teachers. The teachers should be approachable as well as firm, when necessary. Teachers should interact with children individually, in small groups, and as a class.
  • Ask about the program.
    • Does the educational program allow time for individual and group activities and offer a variety of activities and materials? Are there intellectually stimulating activities as well as “fun” ones? Is there time for outdoor as well as indoor play?
    • Does the program have a particular educational philosophy? Children should be involved and absorbed in interesting activities much of the time. They should not have to sit and listen to the teacher for a long time – this is developmentally inappropriate. Every day should include time for reading, playing, gross and fine motor activities, painting, dramatic play.
    • How do teachers document the children’s learning throughout the day?  How are you informed about your child’s activities and accomplishments – or are you?
  • Look at the school and the classroom environment.  
    • Are all areas, indoors and outdoors, clearly safe? Are there distinct areas for reading, playing, and participating in group activities? Does the classroom look inviting? Is the noise level generally acceptable? Is there a comfortable space where a child can calm down away from the crowd?
    • How is the world of the child displayed? There should be building blocks, toys, other objects for play, art materials, print materials, puzzles, and games. The children's work should be carefully displayed on walls and bulletin boards.
    • Is the school, and the classroom, visually appealing? Are there natural elements throughout, such as wood or stone, for example? Is there music?
  • Observe the children.
    • Do most of the children seem happy and truly absorbed in their activities most of the time? Are the classroom rules fair and consistently applied? Does the teacher help misbehaving children reflect on how to act next time, saying clearly what behavior she expects? Listen for positive discipline words. "Remember how we walk in our classroom?" rather than "Stop running!" "I want you to use your indoor voice" rather than "Stop shouting!"
  • Does the school encourage and expect parent involvement?
    • Does the teacher discuss the child's progress with parents at scheduled times as well as informal times?
    • Is the site director available for parent discussions? Are parents invited to events at the school, other than parent-teacher conferences?
    • Can parents be involved in the life of the classroom, or of the school, in a meaningful way?

While this is far from a comprehensive list of questions when touring preschools, looking at preschools with a critical eye will help you go far in your quest for the right school for your child.


What is Developmental Kindergarten (DK)? 

What are the differences between a Developmental Kindergarten and regular full-day Kindergarten, and why would parents be interested in putting their child in a transitional kindergarten?

Developmental Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten are the same, and serve the same purpose, acting as a bridge for children who need the gift of time – time that is essential to become more confident as they move to the next level of academic achievement. Sometimes the gift of time is literal – they don’t quite fit the age cutoff for kindergarten, but have gotten all they can out of preschool.

A Developmental Kindergarten program has a comprehensive curriculum that meets the needs of the 5-year old child at a pace that has been adapted to best suit their abilities. As children acquire skills, they advance at their own individual pace to the next level. 

Quite simply, DK is very similar to kindergarten, but it is for a child who is not quite ready for kindergarten. Children in DK will do a lot of the same things, but at a slower pace and with more individualized attention. Classes might be smaller, with a greater teacher:student ratio, allowing the teachers to do more experiential, or “hands on” activities. Students might have all the same special subjects as the other grades (P.E., music, art, library, computers), but the school day might end an hour or so earlier. 

Does the work in DK differ significantly from Pre-K or Kindergarten? That often depends on the school. Ideally a DK program would have a more developmental curriculum, even in an academic environment, including more of an activity-based program, and functioning as preparation for kindergarten.  

But the great gift of Transitional or Developmental Kindergarten is that it provides a way for children to enter the school environment at different levels of social-emotional and interpersonal maturity. And since children in K are expected to have longer attention spans and greater ability to concentrate, DK offers practice in these areas.  There might be more one-to-one attention, for example, although in all good classrooms instruction should be differentiated for each child, according to individual needs, abilities and academic and social-emotional readiness. 

Ideally, children would come out of preschool with many of the skills they will need for a successful kindergarten experience. In the real world, not all preschools are alike, nor do all children attend a preschool that will teach them these skills. Some children attend a pre-K, which might focus more on academics (pre-reading and pre-writing activities). So giving children a “bridge” year, or the “gift of time,” as some refer to it, is a way to get them used to going to school, but in a classroom setting that more closely resembles their preschool environment.  

In thinking about the differences between Developmental Kindergarten and Kindergarten, we can look at three major areas of early childhood education: social development; attention and concentration; and individual attention.  

In order to enhance social development, some of the social skills developed in a Developmental Kindergarten are: 

  • making their own choices 
  • cooperating with others
  • joining in appropriately in a group situation 
  • listening to and following several instructions
  • responsibility for their own possessions 
  • responsibility for classroom materials
  • responsibility for their own behavior.  

While these behaviors are also the goal of preschool education, not all children reach the same level of maturity at the same time. And although clearly children in Kindergarten are still learning these skills (and will probably do that for the rest of their lives!), they will learn them at an increasingly advanced level.  

Attention and Concentration 

In their ability to pay attention and concentrate on the work at hand, children in Kindergarten are expected to be able to concentrate on an activity for longer periods of time than children in preschool or DK.  Many children in Kindergarten will get homework of up to 15-20 minutes each day; it is rare that Developmental Kindergarten students are given that level of commitment and responsibility for homework. Developmental Kindergarten recognizes that children are at different levels of development, and may still need a rest period or nap time; this is not in Kindergarten.  

Individual Attention 

Finally, there is a greater emphasis on one-one-one attention in DK, while there is often more group work in Kindergarten.  While all good classroom teachers should be able to differentiate instruction for the level of the students in the class, children in Developmental Kindergarten may run the gamut from already reading to not reading at all.  The teacher will give appropriate work and individual attention to each student at their own level. So, for example, reading in DK is taught individually according to each child’s needs and abilities, whether it involves sharing a book together or the child reading the text independently.  Children in Kindergarten are usually taught reading in groups, whether it be in one formal classroom group or broken up into smaller groups.  Ideally children in Kindergarten have the concentration and social skills necessary for small group reading lessons.  

Concluding remarks 

In looking at the differences between preschool, DK and Kindergarten, however, one area stands out over all, that is, that DK functions as a real transition between the child-centered curriculum of preschool, and the academic expectations of elementary school. In every sense, then, developmental kindergarten is a real gift to your child, allowing for more time to experience the joy of play-based learning, giving them the best of both worlds.

LA School Whisperer