What to Expect from a Nursery School Play Visit

What to Expect from a Nursery School Play Visit
February 6, 2024

Nursery school admissions in New York City can be a very overwhelming process. Parenting a toddler is hard enough without applications, essays, interviews, and all of the steps that come along with the admissions cycle! We’re here to help demystify the admissions journey for you and your family, breaking down all elements of the process to make you feel more prepared and less stressed. And what better element of the admissions journey to demystify than the nursery school play visit? 

From the moment that parents learn about play visits, they often come to us with a lot of anxious questions: What do you mean that teachers and admissions officers are going to watch my child play? What are they watching for? How can I prepare my child? Help! 

The good news is that play visits don’t need to be an overly overwhelming step of the admissions journey. They really are just what they’re called: a chance for your child to play. You don’t need to coach your kid to give a perfect performance, or prepare yourself for a harsh questioning by the admissions team; their goal really is to observe your child in their natural habitat (having fun!), gently evaluating along the way whether your child would fit well into their educational environment. 

And never forget: if they ultimately decide that your child isn’t the right fit, it doesn’t mean that your child is “bad” or that you’re a “bad” parent - in any way. Admissions teams are deeply experienced at evaluating fit between children and schools, and fit does not come with a values judgment - good fit doesn’t mean good kid/parent, and bad fit doesn’t mean bad kid/parent. Think of this process as trying to match puzzle pieces together - a lack of fit doesn’t mean a bad puzzle piece, just the wrong spot.

But as you gear up for a season of several nursery play visits along your admissions journey, here’s what you need to know about what to expect, how to prepare, and more. 

What to Expect from a Nursery Play Visit

Let’s start at the very beginning. You’ve applied to a nursery school; from here, someone from the school is going to reach out to schedule a play visit. 

When you arrive at the school for your play visit, there will likely be several other children and their parents, plus a few teachers and/or admissions committee members in the room. The staff members might ask you to separate from your child, so the parents will gather on one side of the room while the children play together on the other side. 

Teachers will be amidst the children, playing with them in a free-form way. There will be a variety of toys, books, imaginary play things (costumes, etc.), markers/crayons, and other craft supplies available - your child can gravitate naturally toward what feels fun for them, and a teacher will be there to play along. Your child will be free to move from station to station and play with different toys, teachers, and other children. 

When it’s time to leave, schools will often give your child a snack, read a story, do clean-up and help them reconnect with you to leave. Sometimes kids are having so much fun that they don’t want to leave!

That’s the visit in a nutshell - it’s short! The only times that you as the parent may personally be assessed is when you are interacting with your child - namely at the very start of the play visit, when your child needs to separate from you to start playing, or if your child needs support during your time there. Do not panic if your child has a hard time separating. What the teachers and administrators are really watching for is how you react and interact with your child; ideally, you’re very calm and caring, but ultimately able to steer them into the play visit. Being prepared to manage your own emotions (nervousness, etc.) and interact with your child in a loving and calm manner, despite their reaction to the situation, is key. 

How to Prepare for a Nursery Play Visit 

Our biggest recommendation for play visit preparation is, in fact, not to spend too much time trying to “prepare.” The play visit is simply an opportunity for your child to play; there aren’t any particular academic skills they need to have mastered, or developmental milestones they need to have hit. It can actually work against you to over-prepare and stress your child out about this visit; your child will shine best when they don’t feel any nervousness (often projected by you) about the visit and just experience it as a fun chance to play with new toys and other kids. 

Of course, it’s always a good idea to be generally participating in educational or developmental activities with your child, and we share a number of ideas for those in our various blog posts, like this one. You can and should keep doing those kinds of activities before and after your play visit, but we’ll say it again: do not approach a play visit with an anxious need to “prepare” your child.

Now, there are a few specific things you can prepare for to keep the play visit as comfortable and stress-free as possible for your child; these include: 

  • If possible, try to schedule the visit at an ideal time for your child, meaning a time in the day when they are typically awake and happy. For example, scheduling a play visit during your child’s typical nap time may make for a tired, cranky kid. If it’s not possible to book an ideal time (based on when the school offers availability), don’t worry; just spend a week or so before the visit adjusting your child’s schedule to get them ready to play at that time. 
  • Make sure your child is comfortable before the visit: they’re wearing comfortable clothes (there’s no need for them to dress up), they’ve just had a snack, they’ve gone to the bathroom or have a clean diaper, etc.
  • Also make sure that you’re comfortable before the visit! Dress in reasonably nice clothes, but no need to be too formal. Wear comfortable shoes, as you may be standing for a while during the play visit.
  • In explaining to your child what’s about to happen, emphasize that you (or their caregiver) will be with them the entire time, and that they’re going to have a ton of fun playing with new toys and some very nice teachers. Hyping up the visit as a super-fun, exciting opportunity is one of the best things you can do to ensure your child arrives ready to play. 

What You Should Evaluate During a Nursery Play Visit

Keep in mind that nursery play visits are opportunities for you to further evaluate the school, not just for the school to evaluate your child! Any and all data that you glean from interactions with the schools you apply to can be helpful when you ultimately pick a school at the end of this process

When you’re on your nursery play visit, you’ll have some time to observe the educators’ teaching style and the layout of classrooms; for the bulk of the visit you’ll simply be watching, so take that time to pay attention! Here are a few of the things you can look out for as you stand by for play visits: 

  • How is the classroom set up? What’s on the walls?
  • Does this school remind you of where you went to school growing up? How do you feel about that - positive, or negative? 
  • Do teachers seem approachable, warm, and nurturing? 
  • Do the parents or caregivers of the other children seem like the type of folks that you could be friends with?
  • Could you see your child thriving here? Do they seem to feel comfortable in this environment so far? 

Above all, try not to stress. Teachers and admissions team members are not judging you or your child at a play visit, they’re simply trying to assess (and help you assess!) whether this school is the right fit for your family. If you and your child are relaxed and arrive ready to play, you’ll do great. 

Looking for more help as you navigate the nursery admissions process? Reach out today; we’ve helped countless families in New York find the perfect schools for their little ones.