What are the 4+ Assessments?
Independent junior schools are divided into those that assess for entrance into Reception class and those that don’t. There are even some independent schools with nursery classes that assess for entrance when children are only 2 years old! Thankfully assessing this young is a rarity but 4+ assessments are common and vary substantially from school to school. Academic girls schools often assess for more specific fine motor skills such as how controlled pencil and scissor use is, as well as being able to write names from memory and what numbers they can recognise and write. However the majority of schools are looking less for a specific set of skills and more for general readiness to learn and ‘teachability’. Some London schools assessing at 4+ include: Thomas Battersea, Kensington Preparatory School, Glendower Preparatory School, North London Collegiate, Falkner House Boys and Girls, Wimbledon High and St. Christopher’s School.
4+ assessments generally take place in the morning within small groups of 4-12 children the October-February before September entrance. The rooms will be set up with a selection of learning activities (drawing, puzzles, books, small world play) and children will be observed in the way they focus on activities as well as how effectively they work alongside and with other children and adults. Children should be able to show a good level of focus and concentration and follow instructions without problems (e.g. tidying up, sharing and taking turns.) Teachers from the schools early years department will also take time to sit with your child and complete an activity together, this could be a drawing, puzzle, matching game etc. Teachers will be looking especially at communication skills, how confidently and clearly children can respond and how well they engage with the activity. There is often also a story read to the group and teachers will look out for children who have good levels of comprehension and can make comparisons to their own experiences, retell events or identify their favourite parts or characters. Some schools are looking for how engaged and curious a child is,how quickly they absorb new ideas as well as their resilience in learning. Others are looking for how focused children are and how well they concentrate and follow instructions. Generally these are not skills you can specifically tutor for and should be developed by day-to-day interactions with parents and carers or within an outstanding nursery environment.
How to handle them
- Don’t build them up to your child, tell them they are going for a play date in a new school to see if they like it there.
- Make sure they are well rested and have had enough to eat that morning.
- Don’t arrive too early (or too late!) as hanging around for more then 5/10 minutes before the session will probably effect the enthusiasm with which the child participates in activities.
Games and activities to help prepare for 4+ assessment:
* Talk, talk, talk! Encouraging communication skills and modelling language are one of the most crucial areas a parent can help develop. Modelling and extending language where you can, for example you child says ‘I drinked my juice’ you say ‘yes you drank all of the juice in your glass.’
*If you are concerned about language delay consult a speech and language therapist. On of the most effective methods for enriching and supporting language development is commenting on shared play with your child. It need only be 5 minutes a day but fully engaging in your child’s imaginative play with cars, dolls, role play, train set can be extremely beneficial. There is a skill to it though- no questioning, try to comment and describe what your child is doing in simple phrases. For example “Daddy cooks in the kitchen”, “the car goes up the slide”.
* Books are essential in developing higher-level comprehension and language skills. Reading with your child every night will ensure a love and enjoyment of books, which will aid their learning for years to come. Try and develop discussions and open-ended questions about the texts, e.g. What happened at the beginning? How do you think this character is feeling now? What part of the story did you enjoy most…why? Model your own thoughts and feelings about the book too. Studies have shown that children of 3- 4 years olds are recommended to share 12 books every day.
*Audio books on car journey or before bed time are also an excellent tool for developing language comprehension.
* Recognising and ordering numbers 1-10. Draw your child’s attention to numbers in the world around them: door numbers, car registration plates, page numbers etc. Role play washing line with numbers cards and pegs and encourage children to pin numbers up in order starting with 0-5 and then extending to 10 or 20. Play dice games like snakes and ladders as a good way of recognising number value, counting accurately using 1:1 correspondence and recognising numerals.
* Play games and turn taking activities- simple games like lotto or matching pairs work wonderfully at encouraging children to wait their turn and helps them deal with not always winning!
* Practice hearing sounds in words- I spy with my little eye is a wonderful game for isolating first sounds in words and an excellent pre-phonics reading and writing skill.