Magazine

How to ace a pre-school interview

Carlson Chuen, aged two, plays with a puzzle during a session at the HKYTA, 25 February 2015

Every year, thousands of one and two-year-olds in Hong Kong attend interviews to try to get into pre-school. Teachers, experts and tutors have been telling Helier Cheung what parents should expect.

"Jenny" - a teacher at a renowned bilingual kindergarten

During the interview, we'll observe children and their parents playing in a classroom. We watch how they interact with their toys and their parents, and walk around the room talking to the children.

Next, we sit them down in a circle and read them a story - we assess their listening skills. We also do a music and movement segment with a song and dance to see how they move.

I see some parents who are very pushy, who tell their children what to say, for example: "Tell the teacher what colour this is." They have no idea what I'm looking for.

Some parents will try to bring in portfolios for their children - even if they're only one-and-a-half years old! Parents don't realise that I never look at these - I can only assess a child based on what I see during the interview.

Fanny Yee - founder of Fanny's Workshop, a tuition centre

Image caption Many pre-schools test a child's fine motor skills

Children may be asked to identify shapes, types of transport, food and colours during their interview. The hardest one is often colour.

It's best to teach children colours by incorporating it into their play. For example, I use a sock puppet called Mr Red who likes eating red foods like cherries and apples.

Children may be asked to point out where various body parts are - at the centre, we sing songs with them like "Heads, shoulders, knees and toes".

A child may be examined on their manners. For example, if the teacher gives them a toy, they should be able to put it back down or return it when they're done.

"Becky" - conducted interviews at a nursery with thousands of applicants

I think it would be better if there weren't interviews - it would be less stressful for both parents and teachers. But the reality is that many schools do conduct interviews - and children who interview well are more likely to get accepted.

We are looking for language ability in both Chinese and English. We may want to see how children present themselves, whether they make eye contact and have basic social skills. We may ask them to do some simple counting.

It can be quite stressful for the children but most interviewers are very understanding if a child is nervous or cries.

My advice to parents is to play with their children and encourage them to speak to lots of different people so they're used to interacting with others.

Leung Wai-fan - principal of King Shing Kindergarten

Image copyright Leung Wai-fan
Image caption Leung Wai-fan worries that if early education becomes too tough, children won't enjoy it

When parents come in, we look at their application form and ask why they chose this school - we want to know what is important to the parents and whether the school and student are suited to each other.

Teachers will often start noting down a child's temperament, and how their parents look after them, while they're still in the waiting room.

We will talk to children in small groups and test their fine motor skills. We are interested in whether they can express themselves and their manners.

Iris Leung - education consultant who has conducted pre-school interviews

Image caption Parents can also expect to be interviewed

We will ask a few simple questions. For example, if they are sitting beside their mum or dad, we may ask: "Who is that beside you?"

We're watching the parents as well. We want to find out what they know about the school, and how they communicate with their child. Many parents will tell the child what to do and say - that can be very pressuring for the child.

Interview classes can help teach a child manners. But I worry that it starts too young. From a child development perspective, we expect children to start developing social skills aged four to six. It's normal for children younger than that to be less sociable - so when you have toddlers being taught social skills it can feel kind of forced.

Anne Murphy - ITS Educational services

Parents should interact with their children as much as possible - instead of just dropping them off at an activity, take part in an activity with them.

You can even count with your child while you're driving. Or bring your child to the supermarket with you so they can help with picking up food items or paying at the till.

Read moreabout the toddlers being trained to pass nursery interviews.

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