Secrets of getting your kids into kindergarten

By Michelle Konstantinovsky

Interviews, assessments and cutthroat competition: a succinct description of the Bay Area job market? Maybe. But it’s also an accurate portrayal of another ruthless race for success: landing your child in the best kindergarten.

Between public, private, parochial and more, parents have an overwhelming number of options when it comes to selecting the best educational paths for their children. But what constitutes “the best” anyway? And how do parents navigate the overwhelming array of academic choices and score a prime institution without putting too much pressure on their offspring?

Enter some serious experts, Betsy Little and Paula Molligan.

In the 14 years since founding their consulting firm, Little and Molligan, the two have provided personalized placement services for more than 2,000 families, helping Bay Area parents choose the right kindergartens and K-8 schools for their kids.

“Apply to schools that are appropriate and realistic fits for your family,” Little advises. “Schools are looking to work in partnership with families and want to accept students who will be successful in their program. Parents need to remember that although a school may be the right fit for them, it may not be the right fit for their child.”

Here are a few ways Little and Molligan set families on the right path while keeping priorities and big-picture perspective in check:

Step by step

The path to enrollment varies, so be sure you get a head start. “Typically, parents should begin the process the summer or fall before their child will be entering school,” Molligan says. If you’re going the public school route, consult the San Francisco Unified School District website for details and dates, and if you’re going private, start studying up on institutions’ websites and RSVP for an open house or tour. In addition to application fees ranging from $50 to $200, you may need to jump through additional hoops. “Some schools will require parent interviews and/or student assessments and/or playdates,” Little says. “These are usually scheduled from November through February. The assessments range from informal playdates to developmental screenings.” 

Helping hand

Private schools certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of excellent education, but if cost is a concern, your options are wider than you might think. “There are definitely affordable alternatives, but also keep in mind that private schools seek a cross-section of students and are looking for diversity in this regard,” Little says. “Most independent schools offer tuition assistance in the form of financial aid, flexible and indexed tuition.”

Kids will be kids

While pricey prep and stressful strategizing may seem like the only routes to guaranteed success, Little and Molligan are adamant that the journey to academia should prioritize growth and exploration over test scores and interview outcomes. “We always suggest allowing your children to play, reading to your children, helping them with their listening skills, teaching manners and encouraging socialization,” Little says. “Reward the process, not the product, and encourage academic risk taking and problem solving.”

Let it go

Even if your child is the perfect prospective student, some things are just beyond your control, so stay open to many possibilities. “Parents need to have realistic expectations and apply to a range of schools,” Little adds. “They need to take the process seriously and remember that many uncontrollable factors such as gender and geographic balance, sibling applicants and more are part of the admission decision.”


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