…And Breathe…Advice on preparation for the 4+ assessments over Christmas by Mrs Alison Fisher

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It’s that time of year again……….!

The time of year  that shakes the tranquillity of North West London, when normally sensible and calm parents are turned into stressed and anxiety-ridden wrecks! And no, it isn’t the mad frenzy of preparing for a family Christmas but something much, much bigger – the 4+ and 5+ assessments!!

So what makes it such a fraught time for those going through it? Largely it is the extraordinary competition for places for the most popular schools. Knowing that your child is going to be assessed alongside as many as 300 other children for perhaps only 24 places is daunting and everyone wants to know what will give their child the edge. The problem with this is that parents tend to lose sight of what really matters most i.e. their children’s happiness and well-being.

Receiving schools are looking for children with potential who are excited and eager to learn and not children who are worn out from practising writing their names 50 million times or who sigh at the sight of yet another cutting activity! I am not suggesting that children shouldn’t be able to do these things, but finding inventive and imaginative ways to practise these skills is key, otherwise children will certainly lose their enthusiasm and sometimes their confidence too.

Another difficulty parents face is if they allow their nerves to get the better of them, then their children are going to suffer. Whether you talk about the assessments in front of your child or not, doesn’t matter. Children are sensitive souls who pick up the vibes around them and, if they sense that Mummy and Daddy are anxious about me going into this school, then maybe I should be anxious too! All this, of course, is completely counter-productive. I have found that the children who tend to perform best at the assessments are the ones whose parents are the most down to earth and relaxed about the process. Easier said than done, I know, but it is important to note.

What is also so sad is that I find many parents of these very young children have forgotten or have lost confidence in the fact that they themselves are the very best educators for their children. Their knowledge of their own child is far more valuable than anything a tutor can bring.  Building a snowman together has the potential for far more learning opportunities than sitting at a table with a worksheet. Young children learn best through play. Of this there is no doubt. If they are engaged and having fun, then the learning takes off. As a parent you have to be creative to make the most of simple everyday opportunities to teach your child something new, but that’s what makes it so much fun! It is a learning journey which doesn’t begin and end with the 4+/5+ assessments. It’s about enjoying the wonderful world around us and the joy of discovery.

So relax. Take a deep breath and let the games begin! Happy holidays everyone!

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