Cognitive Skills Your Child Needs Before Kindergarten

5 Developmental Milestones for Kindergarteners

Mother and daughter with red apples in a row
Takahiro Igarashi/Image Source/Getty Images

Children develop at different rates and even though no two children are exactly alike, there are certain developmental milestones we can expect at a certain age. For kids who are ready to enter kindergarten, a new world is about to open up; they will be learning and experiencing new things. This is why it's good for them to show a few key cognitive skills before starting school.

Cognitive Skills and Development

Your child is reaching cognitive milestones at every stage of his or her life. But what exactly is cognitive development and why is it so important? Cognitive development refers to an individual's abilities to gain meaning and knowledge from experiences and information.

But cognition is more than learning new information. It's how we think about and process new information and disseminate it. It also involves how we apply new information to previously acquired knowledge.

As children grow, their thinking skills vastly improve. They are able to think and express themselves on higher levels. By the time they're kindergarten age, your child is thinking about things and expressing themselves in a variety of new ways.

Now that your child's cognitive skills are a little more sophisticated, they're ready to start school. The amount of growth you will see in your child during their first year of school is extraordinary. Before you enroll, there are a few cognitive skills that are particularly important for kindergarten.

Cognitive Skill #1: Communication

Kindergarten-aged children should be able to use five to six-word sentences. They should also speak clearly enough so that most people are able to understand what is being said.

Why it's important: Good communication skills are a key part of kindergarten. Your child must be able to make their needs known, communicate with teachers and fellow students, and be able to answer questions.

Cognitive Skill #2: Counting

Most children at this age should be able to count to 10.

Why it's important: Counting skills are essential. Kindergarten students will learn how to write numbers, do basic addition and understand the concepts of "more" and "less" as they pertain to groups of items.

Cognitive Skill #3: Fact vs. Fiction

Kids at this age should begin to understand the difference between the truth and a story (fact or fiction).

Why it's important: Students will begin to hear more stories, tell and write their own stories, and even read some stories. That's why it's important for them to be able to distinguish between something that could have happened and something that actually happened.

Cognitive Skill #4: Sequence of Events

At this point in development, most children can talk about an event in a sequence order.

Why it's important: Being able to sequence events is a precursor to grasping that a story has a beginning, middle, and end. As students begin to read and write, this kind of knowledge is crucial.

Cognitive Skill #5: Simple Directions

Kindergarteners can follow two or three step directions without confusion.

Why it's important: Kindergarten is replete with multi-step directions, whether it be instructions on how to complete an assignment or how to get ready for recess. Your child needs to be able to complete basic instructions without having to ask for the directions to be repeated step by step.

When Your Child Isn't Reaching Milestones

Children reach developmental milestones at their own pace. Failing to hit benchmarks at a certain age doesn't necessarily indicate a learning disability, nor is it a reflection of "bad" parenting. Still, if you're concerned about your child's cognitive development, don't ignore your instincts. Meet with your child's teacher or doctor to address your concerns.

The trajectory of a child's cognitive development is primarily influenced by genetics, but research has found that cognitive skills can actually be taught. You can help your child improve his or her cognitive skills by talking with them and asking questions about a book they read, a trip they took, what they did in school that day, etc. This will motivate your child to process and share information.

A Word From Verywell

Kindergarten is a big step for kids and parents, so it's understandable if you have concerns about whether your child is ready. Take some time to review these key cognitive skills and gauge where your child falls in. If there is a concern about a particular skill, try to work on it with them and seek advice if needed.

View Article Sources
  • Bjorklund DF, Causey KB. Children's Thinking: Cognitive Development and Individual Differences. 6th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 2018.