At KinderPrep, Kids get Ready for Kindergarten

by Sonali Kohli

LA Times Aug. 16, 2016

The summer school students plopped down on an orange mat and listened as teacher Elizabeth Fraley read aloud to them from a book. As she pointed out different animals, they took turns pinning the lion and polar bear pictures on a cork board.

They had already gone through parts of a book  — front cover, back cover, spine — as they sat outside on the grass in Santa Monica. People walked by with their dogs. One floated past on a hoverboard.

The children, ranging in age from 3½ to 5, were engaged in more serious pursuits. They were at KinderPrep, a $1,000, weeklong boot camp designed to prepare them for the rigors of kindergarten.

Parents and at least one au pair had dropped the dozen children off at the Colorado Center, an airy office complex with its own park and private security. Among its tenants are Hulu, HBO and KinderPrep’s home, Academic Achievers, a private tutoring and admissions counseling company.

It’s now common for Westside parents to enroll their kids in these early tutoring programs. Some of the children in the group also had been signed up for separate one-on-one sessions that cost $120 to $200 an hour.

Such efforts can really help students, said Fraley, the director of KinderPrep and other early education programs at Academic Achievers.

“When they get into kindergarten,” she said, “there is no play. It’s like first grade.”

Parents vie for coveted kindergarten spots at elite private schools that charge upwards of $25,000 a year.

“It’s so competitive,” said Jenni Silberstein, as she watched her 5-year-old, Lily Joyner, settle into her writing exercise, mouth in a straight line, ready for the serious task ahead. “It’s more the private-school parents who do it,” Silberstein, a psychotherapist, said of the camp.

Lily will start kindergarten at Kenter Canyon Elementary, an L.A. Unified public school in Brentwood, but both of her older siblings attend private school — and Silberstein said Lily’s constantly asking to be taught how to read.

The camp day had started in the complex’s grassy park area, where the children opened their personal folders. Each contained family or personal photos, which parents had been asked to provide. Fraley had pasted each child’s photos in a notebook alongside space for the child to write.

For those who didn’t know how to write yet, the three instructors helped, using yellow highlighter to spell out what the campers wanted to say, and then showing them how to go over the letters’ lines in darker ink.

Then came circle time. The children left their bright green writing tables for the mat, where they sat surrounded by stuffed animals. Fraley led them through the months of the year, and when this prompted them to start shouting out their birthdays, she clapped rhythmically to get their attention. It worked. They quieted down. In unison, they clapped back the same sequence.

Next it was time to practice transitions by walking single file to the cafeteria. There, each instructor sat with four children in a booth to read a book about counting. One of the groups drew pictures of toys, bunk beds and other things that they could count at home. When this work was done, the children gathered their folders and walked back, single file, to the grass.

Packing up their things teaches them responsibility, while lining up and walking single file gets kids used to following instructions, Fraley said.

At snack time, the children could partake in organic fruit, gummies and aloe water provided by the program, though many brought their own food because of dietary restrictions. Fraley said she’s seen paté.

Even during snack and play time, Fraley and the other instructors observed their students and gently pushed them to think more deeply. Fraley said she looks at how many “communication loops” each student is able to complete — how many back-and-forth conversations they have.

“I take what they say and I add a couple more adjectives,” she said.

When one girl volunteered that she was going to San Diego soon, Fraley pointed up and then down as she asked, “Are you going north or south?”

When the kids painted rainbows, she asked Lily, “Have you ever seen a rainbow before?”

“Yes,” Lily replied.

“Where did you see it?”

“Don’t remember,” Lily said, busy concentrating on completing a perfect blue arc on her canvas.

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Skills Every 18 Year Old Needs

olivia1As parents, when our child encounters frustration or anxiety, our first instinct is to swoop in and solve the problem. This need to protect, however well intended, has created a generation of children without coping skills.

Let’s hear from an expert about how we should guide our children to thrive.

Former Stanford dean shares the 8 skills everyone should have by age 18

1. An 18-year-old must be able to talk to strangers

Faculty, deans, advisers, landlords, store clerks, human resource managers, coworkers, bank tellers, health care providers, bus drivers, mechanics — in the real world.
The crutch: We teach kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers — respectfully and with eye contact — for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.

2. An 18-year-old must be able to find his way around

A campus, the town in which her summer internship is located, or the city where he is working or studying abroad.
The crutch: We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there; thus, kids don’t know the route for getting from here to there, how to cope with transportation options and snafus, when and how to fill the car with gas, or how to make and execute transportation plans.

3. An 18-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines

The crutch: We remind kids when their homework is due and when to do it — sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them; thus, kids don’t know how to prioritize tasks, manage workload, or meet deadlines, without regular reminders.

4. An 18-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a household

The crutch: We don’t ask them to help much around the house because the checklisted childhood leaves little time in the day for anything aside from academic and extracurricular work; thus, kids don’t know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.

5. An 18-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems

The crutch: We step in to solve misunderstandings and soothe hurt feelings for them; thus, kids don’t know how to cope with and resolve conflicts without our intervention.

6. An 18-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs

Courses and workloads, college- level work, competition, tough teachers, bosses, and others.
The crutch: We step in when things get hard, finish the task, extend the deadline, and talk to the adults; thus, kids don’t know that in the normal course of life things won’t always go their way, and that they’ll be okay regardless.

7. An 18-year-old must be able to earn and manage money

The crutch: They don’t hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for what ever they want or need; thus, kids don’t develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, accountability to a boss who doesn’t inherently love them, or an appreciation for the cost of things and how to manage money.

8. An 18-year-old must be able to take risks

The crutch: We’ve laid out their entire path for them and have avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles for them; thus, kids don’t develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. “grit”) or the thick skin (a.k.a. “resilience”) that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.

Remember: our kids must be able to do all of these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone. If they’re calling us to ask how, they do not have the life skill.

Originally appeared in the book “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” (Henry Holt & Co., 2015).

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Private Schools Road to Ivy Leagues

While it is true that fewer than 9% of applicants were accepted into an Ivy League school last year, some high schools sent over 46% of their students to an Ivy, Stanford or MIT.

According to CBS Market Watch, “The path to the Ivy League is most successfully traveled through exclusive private schools. Of the 100 U.S. high schools sending the highest percentage of students to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, 94 of them are private schools.

Counselors say the Ivy League draws heavily from top-notch private high schools because most of their students had to beat out their peers academically to gain admission at that level.” In other words, they already know your child is academically competitive.

Of course, the first hurdle to the Ivys or any top tier school is gaining admission to one of the highly competitive Los Angeles private schools. Since the gatekeeper to admission is often your child’s ISEE score, let us help your child do his or her best!

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Waiting for Private School Admissions


After months of researching, preparing, applying, testing, and interviewing, there is nothing left to do now but wait.

We want to give families some behind-the-scenes insight about what is going on as final decisions are being made. Despite this being crunch time for the admissions directors, several top ADs and experts took the time to talk with us about the admissions process.

Laurel Baker Tew, Director of Admissions at Viewpoint School, reminds us that “the student isn’t the only part of the admissions decision. The family as well has to fit into the school community.”

“I used to be in college admissions,” adds Tew, “and admissions to an independent school is very different from admissions to college. In college we’re looking to admit a student; in independent school, we are looking to admit a family.”

Independent schools agree that the family has to be supportive of the school and its philosophies. Viewpoint likes parents who take the time to do the research and can articulate what it is they are looking for in their families. “Make sure the school is a good fit before going in for the interview,” suggests Laurel Baker Tew. Be sure to have specific examples and questions that align with the mission and values of the school.

Dr. Amy Horton, a prominent clinical psychologist who works with many families from independent schools, cautions, “Don’t go into the school admission process holding back relevant information about your child. It’s not necessary for them to have that perfect ISEE score. Admissions directors are looking at the whole child.” Her advice is, “The best school fit for a child is where they will thrive and feel supported even on their worst day.”

Jeanette Woo Chitjian, Director of Enrollment Management at Marlborough School, reminds us of the reality of the numbers for seats available for every applicant. “There are approximately 3-4 applicants for every one spot in 7th grade, and 10-12 applicants for every spot in 9th grade.”

Jeannette is quick to add, “We are looking for different things in different grades. In 7th grade we are looking to put a class together. In 9th grade, we are looking to add to an established class.”

Of course, each situation would have a different need. When you are putting a class together you want to have students who will balance the group as a whole. Neither an entire group of introverts nor an entire group of extroverts would make for a well-rounded class. Jeanette Woo Chitjian puts it into perspective, “Remember, it isn’t just about what the student can contribute to the class, it is also about what the student will gain from the experience.”

Like other top schools, Marlborough wants to see the academic record (grades, ISEE, ERB scores) and also importantly, the comments from the teachers. “Our girls are much more than numbers to us. We take a great deal of time in reviewing each girl’s application. We encourage parents to send additional information about the child if they feel it will help us to make a more informed decision,” says Jeannette Woo Chijian.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but especially during the stressful waiting period, it is important to remember that regardless of where your child goes to school, they will still bloom.

To this point, Admissions Consultant Rob Stone had this to say: “One thing families can do during that terrible limbo of waiting for the decision is to embrace the premise that everything is going to be okay. The biggest trap is thinking that a child’s whole future hinges on getting into a certain school. The second-biggest trap is allowing the stakes of the admissions decision to create so much pressure in the home that it begins to trickle down to the child. The worst case scenario is that a child feels like a complete failure if they don’t get in.”

You have no control if the orchestra does or does not need a double-bass player at this time. You give it your best shot but you have no ultimate power over which candidate is accepted. Being a top contender is what matters most.

Stone adds, “It is about positivity and perspective. Getting into a school does not make, or break, the success of a kid.”

The application process is part of a bigger picture in the investment of your child’s education. The skills they develop during this preparation will serve them for a lifetime.

–Janis Adams

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The ACT or the New SAT?

The new SAT will be offered starting March 5. What are the changes and which test should you prepare for? The new SAT or the ACT? What are the differences?

In the past few years, more students took the ACT than the SAT because students were more comfortable with the timing and the scope of the ACTTest Prep eBlast. None of those archaic SAT vocabulary words!

Now the New SAT has been redesigned to be more like the ACT.

Just like the ACT, there is now no penalty for guessing on the SAT, the writing section is optional, and there are 4 choices of answers instead of 5. The new SAT will score between 400-1600, and the ACT will continue to score 1-36.

How do the ACT and the new SAT differ?

The new SAT reading section is more analytical and requires the student to site evidence from the passage to support the answer. The questions are more in-depth, allowing 1 minute and 25 seconds for each question.

The ACT reading section questions are more straight forward. The pace is quicker and allots 52 seconds for each question.

The new SAT reading passages will emphasize US historical documents, social studies, and science.

The ACT will continue to have fiction passages along with humanities, social studies and science.

The new SAT reading section will emphasis style a bit more than the ACT which will continue to emphasize usage and grammar.

The new SAT math section will go more in depth in fewer areas with a strong emphasis in algebra.

The ACT math section will continue to offer a wide variety of math questions and may include things like trigonometry functions and matrices.

The new SAT will require a solid understanding of math fundamentals as one third of the math section is done without a calculator.

The ACT will tilt a little more heavily towards geometry and trigonometry, and continue with its rapid pace of a problem a minute.

The SAT essay will not be interested in your opinion and asks only for an analysis of the opinion of the author of the supplied essay.

The ACT essay does want your opinion as you evaluate 3 perspectives and then offer your perspective complete with your own examples.

Which way to go? The ACT or the new SAT?
We believe it is wise to take a practice test of both tests and see how you do. Either way, Academic Achievers is prepared to help you make an intelligent decision and do your best on whichever test you choose.

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Top 5 Ways to Boost Learning Confidence

pressSo often a child feels “I can’t do it.” And then, they can’t.
It’s a terrible mindset to have to unravel.
Here are some tips to build confidence and create a Can-Do attitude.

How does your child’s classroom instruction relate to their own life? Typically students who relate personally to the lesson are more interested and confident. Use family trips and experiences to make learning more meaningful for both you and your child.

When working with your child, start with lessons that are easier and then work up to more challenging material. Typically standardized tests, as well as classroom work, advances from easier to more difficult types of questions. Pre-exposure to this type of learning will help confidence dramatically!

PRAISE! PRAISE! PRAISE! When you give your child regular feedback they will typically be more in tuned to continue to stay motivated. Students need specific feedback on areas that they are doing well in along with areas that they can continue to “further develop”. Always use the “sandwich method”. Start with positive feedback first, then talk about the learning areas your child is continuing to develop. End the conversation with something positive so your child knows that they are on right on track!

Start with manageable amounts of work. Starting with too many learning tasks up front could intimidate you child or make them “turn off” to the learning at hand. Have conversations about the progress they are making along the way. Be sure to praise the efforts along the way, not just the learning outcomes!

Students will be more motivated to learn with someone they have good chemistry with, such as a tutor or peer buddy. Students enjoy the interaction and camaraderie with friends and professionals they see on a routine basis!

Once they feel secure in learning how to learn, they will…fly!

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Grammar Hints for Application Essay

You may or may not be having trouble getting off the ground with your application essay, but when it’s time for the polish, here are some basic language rules to keep in mind:girl writing essayNever use the word that when referring to people; i.e., “He is the person that….” People are referred to as who or whom; only things are that.

Even though it’s a first person essay, don’t use the word I to start more than two consecutive sentences unless doing so for emphasis or dramatic effect.

Don’t use the word interesting, because it just isn’t an interesting word. It’s one of the most overused words and it doesn’t tell anyone, well, anything.

Be careful about using the word myself. “I found myself….” It is not only trite, but it’s actually difficult to find yourself anywhere. You either are, or you aren’t.

Use “If I were“, not “If I was“. The Fiddler on the Roof gets it right, “If I were a rich man….”

The active voice is always preferable to the passive voice. “He gave me” is better than “I was given….”

Although the essay is reflective, don’t use the phrase, I remember.

Twos and threes are not the same. When it’s just the two of us, it’s between, but it’s among the three or more of us.

Be careful with the word unique. Very little in life is unique, but sometimes it is special.

Let us know if you need help with your application essay. We have specialists ready to lend their support!

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