By Michele LoBosco, private tutor and author of How to Ace the SAT without Losing your Cool
For many NYC parents, getting their child into a top choice elementary school has become a high stakes, high anxiety process. With approximately 10,000 admission spots at all private nursery and continuing schools combined and more than several hundred thousand children under the age of five living in Manhattan alone, the competition can best be described as fierce. Central to all this anxiety and concern is an admissions test that parents commonly refer to as the ERB.
In actuality, the ERB is not the name of the test itself. It is the name of an educational services company (Educational Records Bureau) that offers admission and achievement assessments for independent and public schools. What many moms call the ERB is really the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA), a test most private schools use as an evaluation tool and a vital part of their admissions process.
So what exactly is the Preschool ECAA and what does it measure?
The ECAA given to children who are applying to Pre-K through grade 1 is a modified version of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, or WPPSI-III. Comprised of eight subtests, it provides a wide range of information about a child’s current level of development. Four of the subtests explore verbal skills (vocabulary, similarities, word reasoning and comprehension) and four of the subtests measure non-verbal abilities (block design, matrix reasoning, coding and picture concepts).
How can parents help their children perform to potential on the ECAA?
Many parents ask me if they should hire a tutor to “prep” their children for the test. This is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, prepping can help familiarize a child with the types of questions posed, and can give them an edge over their peers. On the other hand, children who are aggressively prepped may develop anxiety about the test and may ultimately find themselves in a school or environment in which they are not well suited. Lastly, prepping is frowned upon and ERB testers are trained to spot kids who have been prepped. If there is ample evidence that a child has been coached, the child’s chance for acceptance could be compromised. So, what’s a parent to do?
My suggestion is that parents engage their children, from a very young age, in activities that can help them develop a wide range of skills. To improve comprehension and increase vocabulary, read aloud to your child. While you are reading, ask your child content based questions. Why do you think the character did that? What do you think will happen next? When you spend time with your child, review the purposes that particular items serve. A car is something that allows you to get from one place to another. A pen is something you can write or draw with. Once your child has a good knowledge base, you can ask him or her to identify everyday objects. For instance, point to a chair or umbrella and ask, “What is this? What is it for?” Be sure to point out the relationships between certain items. This will help your child in the similarities subsection. For example: Pencils and crayons are both things you can draw with. Dogs and cats are both animals that people keep as pets. Be sure to make these interactions fun and conversational and avoid making the child feel he or she is being tested.
To help your child develop his or her visual special abilities, play with puzzles and wooden blocks. Encourage your child to paint, draw with crayons and play with pipe cleaners and stickers. Stickers are one of my favorite tools because they require coordination and dexterity (just give a page of stickers to a two year old and you will see what I mean). Teach your child shapes by reading shape concept books and drawing shapes together.
So what’s the moral of the story?
Parents who encourage their children to actively engage with their environment are helping them cultivate their innate reasoning powers and natural curiosity. Yes, hiring a tutor for a few months may help increase a child’s performance on the ECAA, but it is not likely to increase the child’s mental agility over the long haul. Parents who kindle their children’s inquisitive nature and spur their efforts to engage with the world around them are encouraging their children to develop skills that will not only help them perform well on the ECAA, but will help them to interact with the world in more satisfying and dynamic ways. Long story short: Start early and encourage your child to engage thoroughly with everything and anything the natural world has to offer!