What are some things children should know before starting kindergarten?

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How to prepare your child for Kindergarten: Five things to teach your child before Kindergarten

There comes a time when we are all ready to send our little ones to Kindergarten & we want to know if they are ready for Kindergarten.  We want to prepare them and guide them before we send them.  I waited an extra year to send ours (you can see why I decided to “red-shirt” my kids here), but now it is almost time to send our second child to Kindergarten. And this list of five skills to teach your child before kindergarten helps them get prepare for success from Day 1.

These things may seem little to you, or not important, but I can tell you that for your child, they are HUGE when getting your child ready for Kindergarten.  As a teacher, play therapist (working with a child age birth to five years) and a parent, I can tell you that they matter.They give your child confidence and they show the teacher that your child is ready and independent.  They are excited to take on Kindergarten!  It’s the little things that give your child that feeling of success and leadership.

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Is my child ready for kindergarten?

Your child is probably ready to start kindergarten if they:

  • Follow simple directions. It’s important that your child can listen to a teacher and complete instructions. Be aware that children at this age should not be expected to follow complex instructions. “One or possibly two steps is about what young children can generally manage,” says Snow. “Simple instructions means few items or steps and are very specific and concrete.”
  • Can sit still. Your child should be able to remain in one spot long enough to listen to a story and participate in class activities. Temper your expectations. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your child should be able to sit completely still for a period of time during class. Sitting still really means that your child can listen to a story or participate in an activity without being a disruption. “A child who is fidgeting but listening to a teacher read a story is great — even a child who may be standing up and walking around, as long as the child is not being disruptive,” Snow says.
  • Use the restroom. Your child should be able to know when they have to go to the bathroom and be able to manage it by themselves.
  • Recognize some letters and numbers. Believe it or not, it’s OK if your child isn’t reading when they start school. But they should recognize some of the letters of the alphabet, along with some numbers. Snow says there is no hard and fast rule as far as how many letters or numbers a child should be expected to recognize, so don’t focus on a specific goal here. “Once children start to learn a few letters, the rest follow pretty soon,” he adds.
  • Work on fine and gross motor skills. Your child should have some practice jumping and running, throwing a ball and holding a pencil and scissors. Many children will have had the opportunity to practice these skills in preschool or in another early education program, but Snow says that it is as much about anatomy and physical growth as it is about practice: “Children’s hand shapes and sizes work better with some tools than others, so writing with a large diameter pencil precedes holding an average size pencil.” No kindergarten teacher will expect your child’s skills to be refined at this point.
  • Get along with peers. Ideally, your child knows how to share and take turns, but those are skills that can take a lifetime to master.
  • Handle emotions. It’s normal for a 5-year-old to break down in tears when they’re upset. But it’s important that they know their feelings and have coping strategies. Snow stresses not to expect too much of a young child here. “Young children generally cannot reliably name their emotions,” he says. A better measurement is if “the child’s emotional states — especially those that signal distress, fear and anger — are appropriate given the situation the child is experiencing, and that they change in response to intervention.”
  • Show an interest in learning. They don’t have to be a little Einstein, but it helps if your child enjoys listening to stories, music and books and seems stimulated by the information.

Snow reiterates that talking to the people most familiar with your child (their current teachers, child caregivers and pediatrician, along with their potential future kindergarten teachers) will provide you with the best information in making your decision.

“As parents, we can quickly lose our sense of perspective, so reaching out and having conversations with these other folks helps to establish and maintain a kind of learning support community for the family and child that can nurture them into and throughout school,” Snow says.

Personal Care Skills

Think about how it feels when you are trying to rush to go out with your child on a cold winter’s day.

You need to make sure that he has his hat, gloves, boots, and coat on, as well as yourself.Now multiply that by 20.

Teachers simply cannot spend that amount of time helping every child get ready before an already-too-short recess.That’s why these skills top the charts of what teachers need their students to accomplish independently!

  • Toileting – No bones about it, your child needs to wipe their own bottom by this point, as well as zip, button, or snap their pants.Many schools do not even allow the teacher in the restroom with the children for legal reasons.
  • Hand Washing – Schools are a hotbed of germs. Unless you enjoy trips to the pediatrician, teaching all the steps of handwashing and reinforcing it at home is at least one thing you can do to prevent your child from bringing home every virus that enters the classroom.
  • Donning Outerwear – zipping coats, putting fingers in gloves, and buttoning sweaters are all important tasks to master! Be sure to select clothing with easy fasteners whenever possible, such as Velcro shoes or mittens, and practice difficult clothing at home.

Toys like this one help kids learn fine motor skills while having fun.

  • Responsibility for Belongings –It’s time to teach your child how to be responsible for their own items while you are out.You won’t be there to remind your child to grab their backpack, so it’s best to get them on top of it early! Self-sufficient children are more confident in the classroom as well.

If your child hasn’t accomplished all these things, don’t worry.

Kindergarten teachers are well trained to deal with a variety of abilities.If your child continues to struggle, reach out to the school in advance to see if they have suggestions as well.

They should be getting pretty good at cooperation

Kindergarteners should be able to share, take turns and be able to (mostly) listen and follow simple directions. This will obviously continue to be a work in progress for some time, but the concept of having to wait in a line or raise a hand before speaking should not be super new. (I’ve also read some advice about how to teach them to sit still —“practice” playing school at home—but I don’t know… good luck with that.)

Kindergarten Readiness: Personal and Social Development

Learning

  • Shows an eagerness to learn and age-appropriate curiosity
  • Persists in completing a task and is willing to ask for help if needed
  • Exemplifies a pleasant and cooperative personality

Self-Control

  • Follows rules and routines
  • Manages transitions (going from one activity to the next)
  • Demonstrates normal activity level

Interactions with Others

  • Interacts easily with one or more children
  • Interacts easily with familiar adults
  • Participates in group activities
  • Plays well with others
  • Takes turns and shares
  • Cleans up after play

Conflict Resolution

  • Seeks adult help when needed to resolve conflicts
  • Uses words to resolve conflicts

Fine Motor and Social Skills for Kindergarten

To be ready for Kindergarten, kids are expected to:

  • Use the bathroom without any assistance
  • Tie shoes
  • Button pants and zipper flies
  • Zip coats without assistance
  • Sit for at least 10-15 minutes at a time
  • Follow simple one-step instructions
  • Move around a room without bothering others
  • Show control in play
  • Respond to redirection
  • Express feelings appropriately
  • Try to find solutions to problems
  • Manage transitions without issue
  • Try tasks without giving up easily
  • Express own experiences clearly
  • Show interest in classroom activities
  • Speak with others in group discussions
  • Develop friendships with other children
  • Help with basic tasks

Is It Better to Start Kindergarten at 5 or 6?

Some parents may be forced to wait until their child is 6 because of their birthdate and a school’s starting age policies. Some parents choose to wait until their child is 6 because of preference. It’s a very individualized decision and experts aren’t unanimous on what the right decision is. There is a Stanford study that shows children who start at a later age may be more successful in their Kindergarten classroom learning, and may be better able to stay focused and on task during the school day. However, there are many 5-year-olds that are perfectly ready to begin kindergarten and in fact benefit from it. Again, it’s a very individual decision that every parent must wrestle with. 

Practice planning skills

Kindergarten brings new rules, new routines, and lots of new distractions—right when kiddos are just starting to learn self-control. You can help your little learner by encouraging them to remember the steps in your daily routines (wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth…) to give them practice staying on track.

It can be a lot of work for a kindergartener to keep up with it all, so be sure to talk through what to do when plans change or get interrupted, in order to build their adaptability, too.

Some apps can make learning to stick to a routine fun. STEM projects and coding apps are also great for practicing these skills, since kids need to follow sequences, think about if-then relationships, and explore cause and effect.

If this feels overwhelming

Getting ready for Kindergarten is a simple resource that will show you step by step how to have your child kindergarten ready, whether you are a first time parent, a carer or home school.

How to Teach Kindergarten Readiness at Home

If your child isn’t in preschool, is it possible to teach kindergarten readiness at home? Chances are, you already are teaching preschool skills without realizing it.

Reading books, singing the alphabet, following bedtime routines, building with blocks, counting fingers and toes, playing with siblings or friends, putting together a puzzle, and singing nursery rhymes all help to teach Kindergarten readiness.

If you want to mimic a preschool classroom, you can set up activities and routines each day for approximately 10-15 minutes at a time.

They should be able to write their first name

By kindergarten, kids should be getting pretty adept at writing their own name with the letters arranged in the correct order from left to right and, ideally, with a capital letter at the beginning (no need to panic about that last part, though). Their penmanship doesn’t have to be perfect but clear enough for the teacher to be able to read it.

Being a Good Friend

Learning how to start conversations, invite friends to play and apologize when we make mistakes is hard.  Even for adults.  You can give your soon-to-be-kindergartener a jumpstart by reading books on friendship, brainstorming with your child how to behave before he starts a play date and setting up play dates so that he has plenty of opportunity to practice.  This is an essential kindergarten readiness skill and life skill as well!

Kindergarten Readiness Checklist

You can download the school readiness checklists (in three different colors) at the end of this post.

What academic skills should my child have before kindergarten? In order to show kindergarten readiness, your child should be able to:

  • recognize and name basic shapes: square, circle, triangle, and rectangle
  • recognize and name numbers 1-10, even when they are out of order
  • count to 20
  • count 10 objects, pointing to each one as she counts
  • say or sing the alphabet
  • recognize the letters of the alphabet, both uppercase and lowercase (even out of order)
  • identify colors in an 8-ct crayon pack
  • recognize her first name
  • write her first name
  • sort items by size, color, or shape
  • hold a book and turn pages
  • tell if two words rhyme
  • identify some letter sounds
  • say her parents’ full names and phone numbers (at least one)

All the teachers I interviewed said a child doesn’t need to be reading before kindergarten (and most kids aren’t), but that they should be read to regularly. Teaching nursery rhymes was mentioned as a great way to get kids reading-ready: knowing how to rhyme is HUGE when it comes to learning how to read.

If your child is having trouble remembering letter sounds, I can’t tell you how much I recommend this video: LeapFrog: Letter Factorycombo pack with Talking Words Factory (affiliate link). It teaches the sounds of each letter in a fun and memorable way (the A’s all get scared by a monster, so they scream AAAAAH!). I’ve been absolutely AMAZED at how quickly my kids learned their letter sounds from watching it. You can get it in a combo pack with Talking Words FactoryWhat other things (non-academic) does my child nee, another LeapFrog video I love. ***These two LeapFrog videos are not available on Netflix, and are much better (IMO) than the ones that are.***

What other things (non-academic) does my child need to know how to do before kindergarten? Your child should be able to:

  • put on his coat and zip it up
  • tie his shoes
  • take turns and share
  • sit quietly and listen
  • follow simple directions
  • use the bathroom by herself (including zipping and buttoning pants)
  • put on his backpack
  • hold a pencil or crayon
  • cut with scissors
  • put things away
  • hang his backpack on a hook
  • wash her hands with soap
  • use a tissue to wipe his nose
  • cough into her elbow
  • stand in line
  • drink from a drinking fountain
  • raise his hand and wait to be called on
  • open any food containers in her lunch

It’s easy to forget some of these things when you’re preparing your child for school, but imagine how much time it would take for a kindergarten teacher to help 25 kids put on coats or hang up backpacks, etc. One teacher mentioned that kids who have all the other skills become “super students” who are able to help their peers.

You can print out these checklists and hang them up somewhere in your home, then let your child check off things as he or she masters them. Hopefully it will be a good way to get your child prepared and excited for school at the same time. (NOTE: if you think your child would feel overwhelmed by the idea of a checklist, just use it as a guide for yourself in what you teach.)

As a final note, I asked the teachers I interviewe

As a final note, I asked the teachers I interviewed what is the one most important thing parents can do to prepare their child for kindergarten. These are the responses I got:

  • Teach kindness & respect (for rules, property, and people).
  • Do activities at home where pre-kinders have to listen without interrupting, take turns, focus on the same activity for 15 minutes, use manners, etc.
  • Read! Teach them how to hold book, how to turn pages, etc.
  • Give them opportunities to play with other children.
  • Give them some responsibilities and teach them to follow through.
  • Teach nursery rhymes and songs.
  • Give them chances to be away from home and family so they feel comfortable and confident when they come to school.

What age do kids start kindergarten?

The age at which kids should be when they start kindergarten varies by location, but most schools suggest your child be 5 years old to register. However, more parents these days are “redshirting,” which is the practice of holding your child back a year in order to give them a leg up in school.

Most schools suggest your child be 5 years old to register.

But do redshirted kids really have the advantage? Not necessarily, says Snow. He points to studies that show the benefits to redshirting disappear in the first half of elementary school.”By the time the child reaches third grade, they are doing the same as any third grader,” he says.

Parenting expert and psychotherapist Robi Ludwig says parents need to think about their child’s self-esteem when considering whether or not to delay starting kindergarten.”You have to consider: What will help my child feel successful and be successful?” she says.

“You have to consider: What will help my child feel successful and be successful?”Robi Ludwig, parenting expert and psychotherapist

While most kindergarteners start school at 5, keep in mind some children are late bloomers, and others suffer from attention disorders. Ludwig suggests consulting an expert if you have any doubts about school readiness.

“There are some kids where it just makes sense [to redshirt],” says Ludwig. “They really do need an extra year to learn to process information. At the end of the day, what’s the big rush?”

Basic Art Skills

Let’s face it: kindergarten is famous for creating irresistible art projects.  Making sure that these activities don’t overwhelm your child requires knowing a few art basics.

Teach him how to cut with children’s scissors, take marker caps on and off, and draw simple stick figures.  Your child will feel prepared to create masterpieces and will strengthen his hand muscles so that he can write heartwarming kindergarten stories for you later.  

What Should a 5 Year Old Know Before Kindergarten?

Need some back to school tips? Your child should know some basic skills before starting early childhood education, both academic and non-academic. 

Some Academic Skills to Know

  • Sing or say A,B,Cs
  • Recognize A,B,Cs (upper and lowercase)
  • How to hold a book
  • How to turn pages
  • Counting to 20
  • Recognize shapes and name them
  • Recognize and name numbers 1-10
  • Know basic colors
  • Recognize his name
  • Write his name (at least his first name)
  • Know parents names and phone numbers
  • Sort by color, size, and shape
  • Recognize words that rhyme
  • Know some letter sounds

Some Non-Academic Skills to Know

  • Use scissors to cut
  • Use the bathroom alone
  • Tie his shoes and put on his coat
  • Hold a crayon or pencil
  • Share and take turns
  • Listen and sit quietly
  • Follow directions
  • Wash his hands (soap included)
  • Wipe his nose with a tissue
  • Put away his stuff
  • Hang up his backpack
  • Raise his hand and wait
  • Cough into his elbow
  • Drink from a water fountain
  • Stand in a line

Knowing these skills are all good indicators your child is ready to start kindergarten, even if you are not quite there yet. There’s no getting around the fact that starting kindergarten is a bittersweet time. He’s your baby and it’s never easy to release our babies into the wild. However, when he’s ready to start kindergarten, he’s ready. You should be too.

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