Can a 5 year old study for the Admissions test?

Ok, it sounds like a joke, but parents ask this question all the time. And the ones who don’t ask are still worrying about it. I get it. Our children are so much a part of us by the time they reach pre-school age that we, as parents, are pretty sure they are “practically perfect in every way.” (Special thanks to Mary Poppins for that elegant phrase!)

Even so, the smartest ones in the bunch still need to study for the test, right?

Here’s how to start thinking about Admissions test prep for your 5 year old:

  • Have conversations with your child. Can she tell you what she see around her? Can he find, name and count shapes, colors, dogs, grandparents, fence slats, and cucumbers? Can she tell you what happens at an airport? Or why a car has wheels? These discussions reinforce vocabulary, thinking skills, speaking skills, and even a sense of humor.
  • Work on gross motor skills. Toss pine cones through a hula hoop or into a bucket and let your child help keep score. Use the curb as a balance beam, and talk about how hard it is. Skip. It’s just plain fun, and everyone can do it together. Roll down a hill. Again, it is really fun and will get you and your child giggling.
  • Build fine motor skills. Pinch, roll and shape clay or cookie dough. Play board games with tiny pieces. I like Mancala, a simple game where you count, scoop, and drop little glass spheres. Watch out, or your little one will figure out strategies and beat you.
  • Practice competing. Show your little one how to navigate the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. (Yes, I had to make an Olympics reference since Rio is still in recent memory.) Practice being a good winner and loser in front of your child. Exaggerate and role play. This is best learned early on.
  • Play with scissors. Not really, but don’t make scissors an off-limits item, either. Sit down after dinner with your child and cut out strips of paper from the recycling bin. Tape them to a cutout circle and you have a jellyfish. Even tearing tape from a dispenser is an important skill, and with practice, it will get less awkward.
  • Teach grace and courtesy. Please and thank you are not passé. They demonstrate respect for self and others, and they pave the way for getting what you want, at lease sometimes. Practice these at home. Allow your child to respectfully remind you if you forget to use these magic words. This is not old fashioned, it is simple good manners, and will garner positive feedback for your child.

Finally, on the day of the test/visit, get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, and make sure your child does, too!


Martha Donovan

Martha Donovan

Mrs. Donovan is the Associate Director of Lower School Admissions at St. Paul’s. She previously spent ten years in Middle and Upper School Admissions at the Key School in Annapolis, where her three children graduated. Since coming to St. Paul’s, she and her husband have moved to Baltimore and love it. Mrs. Donovan also has experience as a national news editor with NBC Radio and Mutual News, and spent a year as a Press Secretary on Capitol Hill. You will often find her in the Kindergarten classrooms or on the early carpool line, anywhere she can see the kids in action. She can be reached at

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