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Testing for Kindergarten Table of Contents and Chapter 10

The 7 Abilities of Highly Successful Kindergarteners

Below, you’ll find the Table of Contents for Testing for Kindergarten along with Chapter 10, which I believe is one of the most important chapters.  Here, you’ll read about the importance of talking to your child and how it can make a 38 point difference in his IQ score. You’ll learn about something called “ping pong” conversation and discover it can have a significant impact on your child’s language development. After you read this chapter, you’ll be able to strengthen his language ability in the course of everyday life and it will take no extra time or effort on your part. Enjoy!



Chapter 1: What Educators Know and Parents Don’t:  Confessions of a Mom Who Had to Figure This Out for Herself

Chapter 2: This Is NOT About Kinder-Cramming: Why Preparing for Kindergarten Testing Is Not “Cheating”

Chapter 3: The Scoop on Intelligence Testing: What Takes Place Behind Closed Doors

Chapter 4: The 7-Abilities of Highly Effective Kindergarteners:

Measure – Language, Knowledge/Comprehension, Memory, Mathematics,

Visual-Spatial, Cognitive, Fine-Motor Skills

Chapter 5: What Is On the Test?: Breaking Down the Most Common Tests,

Section by Section


Chapter 6: Milestones that Matter for School Success: How to Recognize What Your Child is Ready to Learn

Chapter 7: Sneak Learning Into the Moments You Already Spend With Your Child – No Extra Time Required!

Chapter 8: Reading to Build All 7 Abilities: Read Aloud in a New Way to Supercharge Your Child’s Intellect

Chapter 9: Instruments to Strengthen all 7 Abilities: Playing an Instrument – the Secret, Almost Automatic Way to a Smarter Child

Chapter 10: Conversing to Support 6 Abilities: The “Right” Way and the “Wrong” Way to Have a Conversation – This Chapter Alone Could Be Worth 38 IQ Points!

Chapter 11:  Language and More: The Biggest, Most Common Mistake Parents Make – NOT Teaching Their Child to Listen and Respond

Chapter 12: Knowledge/Comprehension: It’s All Here – Everything Your Child Must Know for Testing!

Chapter 13: Memory: You Must Remember This…Kid Tested Techniques For Strengthening Memory

Chapter 14: Mathematics – Natural Ways to Bring Out Your Child’s Inner Math Geek

Chapter 15: Visual-Spatial Reasoning – How this Little-Understood Ability Impacts Your Child’s School Success – and What You Can Do to Build It

Chapter 16: Cognitive Skills – What It Really Takes To Raise a Baby Einstein (Hint: It’s Not on a DVD)

Chapter 17: Fine Motor Skills – Secrets Occupational Therapists Use to Get Children’s Fingers to Do the Walking

Chapter 18: Beyond Testing Success…The 5 Must-Have Skills Every Child Needs to Succeed in Life

Chapter 19: How to Get Started…Activity Plans Even the Busiest Parents Can Manage

PART II: WHAT THESE TESTS REALLY MEAN—How Your Child’s Test Scores Will Affect the Options Available to Her

Chapter 20: Your Best Public School Options: Gifted Programs, Magnet and Charter Schools

Chapter 21: Getting Past the Velvet Rope:  Private School Admissions

Chapter 22: How Public Schools Use Testing: The Down and Dirty Dish on Ability Tracking

Chapter 23:  Testing for Support Services for Children with Delays: Early Intervention and Special Education


I:  Breaking Down Three More Tests, Section by Section

II: 150+ Games and Activities: Crib Notes

III: The 25 Most Important Life Lessons: Crib Notes

IV: Recommended Books for Parents

Chapter 10

Support 6 Abilities:
The “Right” and “Wrong” Way to Have a Conversation – This Chapter Alone Could Be Worth 38 IQ Points!

The year Schuyler was born, a woman in my building had a son named Aaron. This woman was extremely weird, in my opinion. We’ll call her Sandy because that was her name and I don’t live in the building anymore anyway.

Sandy used to have a loud, one-sided running dialog with Aaron about everything and anything they encountered. They would be walking down the hall to go up to their apartment and Sandy would be saying, “We’re walking down the hall, Aaron. Now we’re getting in the elevator.” The boy would squeak, “elevator.” “What floor do we live on?” Sandy would ask. “Seven,” he’d say. “That’s right. Can you press the seven button?” Aaron would press it. “Now we’re going up. The doors are opening now.” “Open,” a high voice would peep. They’d step out of the elevator and I’d hear, “The doors are closing now. Let’s walk left to our apartment. Which way is left? What letter is our apartment…”

I think we can all agree that Sandy was obnoxious. Me, I was too polite to inflict my parenting dialogs on neighbors like that. Sure, I talked to Schuyler while we were at home or out and about, but I rarely engaged her in front of strangers and always used my spa voice. This was partly because I felt silly carrying on with a toddler who could hardly keep up her end of the conversation.

From the time Aaron was born, I’d see them at the grocery store. Sandy would be pushing Aaron in the shopping cart jabbering away about everything they encountered. “Aaron, what is this orange fruit I’m holding? It’s called an orange. Feel how rough and bumpy the skin is. And these yellow bananas, are they fruit or vegetables? They’re fruit. We get our fruits and vegetables first and our frozen foods last because we don’t want the frozen foods to melt. What kind of cereal shall we buy today? Let’s not get Cocoa Puffs; they’re full of sugar. Let’s get Cheerios. They’re made from whole grain and whole grain is healthy.” She did this even before the kid could talk! When she was pushing him in his stroller outside, she would point out letters in signs, colors of cars, relative sizes of people, breeds of dogs, makes of cars, types of flowers– there was no end to Sandy’s commentary. The woman was ridiculous. I did not invite her to be in my new mother’s group.

Imagine my surprise when, a few years later, Aaron got into Hunter College Elementary and Schuyler didn’t. As you may recall, that is the most prestigious gifted and talented program in Manhattan – getting in is like hitting the educational lottery.

Experts agree that talking to your child is critical.

Sandy convinced me that talking to your child is one of the most important things you can do for his intellectual development. I’m not the only one who believes this. Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley analyzed over 46,000 hours of speech between parents and children ages 7-months to 3-years-old. Their research showed the number of words a typical 4-year-old born into various family income levels has heard. In a professional family, it’s 45 million words; in a working class family, it’s 26 million words; in a family living in poverty, it’s only13 million words.

According to their research, children raised in a low language environment had an average IQ of 79, children raised in a medium language environment had an average IQ of 107, and children raised in an enriched language environment had an average IQ of 117 – a 38 point difference between low and high language homes! At age nine, the authors found a tight relationship between the academic success of these same children and the number of words they had heard when young. They concluded that the variation in children’s IQs, language abilities, and academic success were directly related to the number of words the parents spoke to their kids (that’s live words; TV doesn’t count!). They also found that parent talkativeness was more predictive of IQ than socioeconomic status or race. For more on this, go to

Daily Life Lessons

Here is my advice: Do what Sandy did and what Drs. Hart and Risley recommend. Talk to your child ALL THE TIME about anything and everything. If you work full time, make sure that your caretaker is a talker – don’t entrust your child to a shrinking violet! You can’t start this too early. From the time your child is an infant until he is about three, he has what Marie Montessori called an absorbent mind. He learns by absorbing what he sees, hears, touches, smells, and feels. It is an unconscious kind of learning. No one actively teaches him how to speak or understand his language. He picks it up without effort.

After age three, he still learns by absorbing, but now he becomes involved in gaining knowledge and skills. He asks questions, explores and discovers more and more through exercising his own curiosity. During this time, the more you talk to him, the more language, information, and understanding of his world he will absorb. When you talk to him, use high-level vocabulary – no baby talk!

Even if your child can’t talk back, bring up an interesting book you are reading or something funny you saw. Describe your day at work, what you did and whom you saw. At the doctor’s office, talk about what it was like when you went to the doctor as a child. Narrate your life as you are out together. Think out loud when making your grocery list or deciding what to do or where to go. When you are out shopping, point out your favorite fruits and vegetables, their colors and flavors. Pretend you are star of your own cooking show and narrate every step you take as you prepare dinner.

Even as your child is barely beginning to talk and says something simple like, “More,” he is communicating with you. Use that as an opportunity to respond in complete sentences – “Oh, do you want more Cheerios? I’ll pour them in your bowl now.” Children learn vocabulary within the context of meaningful experiences. It may not seem like your child is listening (especially if he is a baby) but he is absorbing more than you can imagine.

How to Talk to your Child

It is not just chatter I’m recommending. After your child starts to talk, you should engage him in conversations. A particularly powerful way of strengthening his verbal skills is through Ping-Pong dialog. Sandy did it quite naturally. Here’s all it is. The mother LISTENS to what her child is saying; then she EXPANDS on it in her response. As the conversation goes back and forth, it gets richer and richer. Here is an example:

Sandy: You’re going to stay with Aunt Helen next week when I go to the hospital to have your sister.
Aaron: No sister. Have a puppy.
Sandy: You’re silly. Dogs have puppies, not mommies. Mommies have children. Puppies and children are both babies.
Aaron: I want puppy.
Sandy: Someday you’ll get one. What kind do you want? A boxer? Poodle? Collie? Golden retriever?
Aaron: Boxer that barks.
Sandy: Yes, dogs bark. And babies cry and coo. Your new sister will cry and coo.

Through this kind of back and forth interaction between mother and child, the child innately begins to understand the power of language to communicate. It’s more than just random sounds coming out of Mommy’s mouth! Here is another Sandy and Aaron conversation that I overheard in the elevator one day. Notice how well Sandy listens and then expands on what was just said:

Sandy: Daddy and Aunt Helen will be home for dinner tonight.
Aaron: Dinner.
Sandy: Yes, there will be four of us for dinner, you, me, Daddy and Aunt
Helen. What do you think we should have to eat?
Aaron: Chicken.
Sandy: Good idea. Daddy loves meat. Chicken is meat. Should we have fried chicken or barbequed chicken or baked chicken?
Aaron: Fried chicken.
Sandy: Fried chicken it is. How about baked beans, too?
Aaron: Yum. Baked beans.
Sandy: Would you like to help me make the baked beans?
Aaron: Yay!
Sandy: What ingredients will we need to make baked beans?

At this point, the elevator got to their floor. Not only was Sandy a real pro at conversing with Aaron in a way that would build his language skills, but she made baked beans from scratch. I hated her.

In the course of running Smart City Kids, I observed many young mothers talking to their toddlers. Often the conversations went more like the one below, and I point it out to you as an example of a less effective dialog. Why? Because the mother isn’t listening to her child:

Mom: Sally, look at that car.
Sally: Car.
Mom: See the lady over there and her big dog?
Sally: Me pet doggie.
Mom: What do you think we should have for dinner tonight?
Sally: Doggie.
Mom: Let’s order Chinese.

Remember, LISTEN and EXPAND on what your child says as you converse. Sandy had that right. However, while Ping-Ponging with your child this way, try not to annoy your neighbors as she did. Still, if you follow this model, you will not believe how many of your child’s skills will be strengthened. The conversations between Sandy and Aaron affected his:

Expressive language – he learned to say new vocabulary words (“boxer”).

Receptive language – he understood harder vocabulary words because he heard them used in the context of a meaningful conversation (“ingredients”).

Knowledge – he learned that chicken can be baked, fried, or barbequed. He learned dogs come in different breeds.

Similarities – he learned that dogs bark and babies cry and coo.

Classifications – he learned puppies and children are types of babies; chicken is a kind of meat; boxers, poodles, collies, and golden retrievers are types of dogs.

Math – he learned that he, Mommy, Daddy and Aunt Helen added up to four people.

Depending on the conversation, talking to your child can affect every ability children need before kindergarten except their fine motor skills! Sandy didn’t actively think about teaching Aaron all of these lessons. She just listened and spoke to him in a way that kept expanding on each thing that was said.

As Aaron got older and his language skills developed, I watched Sandy change the conversation model a bit. She would listen, expand what Aaron said, and then ask Aaron to elaborate or make connections between the topic and experiences in his life:

Sandy: We have to walk fast this morning or we’ll be late for school.
Aaron: Not supposed to be late.
Sandy: That’s right. How many more blocks to get to school?
Aaron: Three.
Sandy: Yes, you need to be in your seat by nine. It’s five minutes until nine. Can we walk three blocks in fine minutes?
Aaron: Uh huh.
Sandy: Do you remember what we were late for yesterday?
Aaron: Rachel’s party.

With her first comment, Sandy inspired Aaron to expand on the topic of being late to school. With her second and third questions, she injected a little math lesson. Then she asked Aaron to relate the topic of being late to school to another experience in his life. By helping Aaron make connections between being late to school and being late to a party, Sandy was helping her son strengthen his thinking skills.

If you build this way of conversing with your child into your life, much of the language and information exchange will be absorbed, remembered, and appropriately applied by him as he develops his verbal skills.

The Foreign Language Myth. If you’re a parent who thinks you have a small window of time to teach your child to speak a foreign language, relax. It just isn’t true that very young children pick up languages more easily than older children. Several studies have shown that older students learn a second language more quickly, although younger students develop native-like accents more easily. Source: The Center for Applied Linguistics.

Always say why
As long as you are going to talk to your child more, remember this: Whenever you’re doing something together, explain WHY you are doing it. First, the more he understands why, the more cooperative he’ll be. Second, by kindergarten, children are expected to have acquired the same degree of common sense and understanding of their world as other kids their age. For him to have amassed this fund of information takes time and verbal explanations on your part. Almost all intelligence tests have a comprehension section where a child is asked questions about his world that he should know from experience. Here are some examples (they go from easy to harder):

• Why do we wear coats in the winter?
• Why do houses have roofs?
• What is a house made of?
• Where does milk come from?
• What is a cake made of?
• What happens if you leave ice cream out on the sidewalk in the summer?
• What should you do if you break your friend’s toy?

So, if you are talking to your child about going to the dentist, you’ll want to say something like, “We are going to the dentist so he can clean your teeth and check to see if you have cavities.” This way, if a tester asks your child why he goes to the dentist, he won’t say, “Because mommy says I have to.”

Other Tips for Talking with your Child

Name things. When you are together, name common objects at home, in nature, or outside. For example, name body parts, colors, numbers, and letters that you see.

Keep sentences short. Five to seven words are perfect for younger children.

Low-key his mistakes. When your child makes a grammatical error or mispronounces a word, don’t be critical. Just repeat what he was trying to say, but say it correctly.

Never ask, “How was school today?” That is too broad a question for most preschoolers to answer.

Children respond better to comments. Questioning a child can feel like an interrogation to him. If possible, comment on something, then pause and give him time to respond since children take longer to answer than adults. Instead of saying, “How was the birthday party at school today,” try “I see there was a birthday party at school today. I’ll bet that was fun!”

Converse while doing something together. That gives you both something concrete to refer to. If he makes a mistake, it’s easier to correct. For example, if you’re playing cards and you ask him how many cards he has and he says four, you can gently correct him by saying, “Are you sure? I see three. Let’s count them together.”

Go out of the house. Give your child language rich-experiences by going to the art museum or zoo. At the museum, you can talk about different paintings, the objects in them, the colors, the feelings they evoke. At the zoo, compare animals by color, size, and characteristics. At dinner, you can talk about your day and all the things you observed.

Variety matters. To create a foundation for speaking, reading, spelling, and vocabulary, children need a wide variety of language experiences. Conversations around the dinner table, being read to, singing, reciting nursery rhymes and poems will all enrich your child’s language abilities.

Games and Activities
Here are fun ways to help your child with vocabulary, comprehension, knowledge, similarities and differences, all skills that are strengthened when you talk to your child about everything and anything. Younger children can play these games, but they may give limited and simpler answers. That’s fine. As their verbal skills grow, they can give more detailed and complete responses.

How many ways can you describe a… In this game, you’ll take turns with your child describing something. When one player can’t think of another synonym, use for, or key feature of the item, that person loses. Example: The object is a car. Child: You drive it. You: It has four wheels. Child: It has a trunk. You: It goes very fast. Child: It takes you where you want to go. You: I can’t think of anything else. You win! Age 2.5+.

“I Spy” Descriptions – Look at something in the room and describe it. 1) You: I spy with my little eye…something that keeps your feet warm. They’re yellow and fuzzy. Child: My slippers! You: Very good. Now it’s your turn. 2) Child: I spy with my little eye…something soft and white with two long ears and a cottontail. You: Is it your stuffed rabbit? Child: That’s right. Age 2.5+.

I’m thinking of something…Here, you and your child take turns thinking of something and describing it until the other person guesses. 1) You: I’m thinking of something that’s white, soft, on your bed, and you put your head on it. Child: Pillow. You: You’re right! Now it’s your turn. 2) Child: I’m thinking of something that has four legs, fur, and barks. You: Gosh, I’m not sure. Can you give me another clue? Child: It likes to eat bones. You: A dog? Child: You’re right! Good job. Ages 2.5+.

Alike and Different – You and your child will take turns giving clues about how two things are alike and different: 1) You: How is a lemon like an egg yolk? Child: You eat them. And they’re both yellow. You: Good job. Now it’s your turn. 2) Child: How is a sweater like a coat? You: You wear them both and they keep you warm. Child: That’s right! Age 2.5+.

Microphone and Tape Recorder. A fun way to help your child build his expressive language skills is to buy a toy microphone that amplifies his voice or a tape recorder. Take turns entertaining each other by singing songs, reciting nursery rhymes, telling little stories and knock-knock jokes behind the mike or into the recorder. Age 2+.

According to our milestones, a three year old should understand about 2,000 words. By the age of five, his receptive vocabulary is estimated to be 6,000 to 8,000 words. This means he is learning 4-8 new words a day during his pre-school years. Often a parent’s concern about language skills is the tip-off that something may be wrong and a developmental evaluation should be undertaken. But if everything is on track, your child should be learning new words every day and one way you can support this is to talk to him ALL THE TIME about anything and everything.

Crib Notes

• Children who hear more words have higher IQs and do better in school.

• There is something called the “ping-pong” affect in language development. LISTEN to what your child is saying; then EXPAND upon it in each new sentence of the conversation.

• As you talk to your child, point out names of things in the world around him, ask him questions and encourage him to talk about what interests him. If he makes mistakes in his speech, just repeat what he said, but say it correctly.

• When your child is older, listen, expand, and help him make connections.

• In the next chapter, we’ll talk about the enormous impact the ability to listen and respond will have on your child’s success in testing and at school. We’ll talk about ways you can build the skill at home.