Skills Your Child Should Know Before Kindergarten

17 Things You Can Do to Prepare Kids for School

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You want to make sure you do everything you can to prepare your child for kindergarten. But what does "prepared for kindergarten" really mean? 

Maybe you worry that since kindergarten is the new first grade, you need to teach your child how to read before they even begin school. Or you worry that if you teach them too much they will be bored sitting in a classroom where they know everything but aren't really socially and developmentally mature enough to be advanced a grade.

Children's Skills Vary

Before you dive into what you can teach your child to prepare for kindergarten, remember: kindergarten teachers know that children vary a lot when they start kindergarten. Kindergarten classes are designed to reach this widely varying group of kids. 

Some kids will have just barely turned five while others will be six. Some will recognize just a few letters of the alphabet while others will be reading short words. Some may be able to count, while others won't recognize numbers. All of these widely varying academic skills are fine to start kindergarten.

What matters most isn't what your child already knows when they begin kindergarten, but that they are ready to learn.

Common Core Standards

Still, having some background pre-academic skills can make the transition to kindergarten much easier. Taking a look at the Common Core state standards will help you see what kindergarteners across the nation are learning.

In many cases just being familiar with a skill or concept is enough. Your child will not need to master it before kindergarten.

The goal of this list is simply to prepare your child for kindergarten. If you think your child is ready to learn more than what is here, you can certainly teach your child without concern that they will somehow be ruined for kindergarten.

The idea here is to present the minimum for a child to be extremely well prepared. Knowing a little extra won't hurt, and may even help ease your child's transition to kindergarten.

Math Standards 

In kindergarten math, children learn how to:

  • Add and subtract within five
  • Count by ones and tens
  • Describe objects using measurement (length and weight)
  • Identify shapes that are 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional: triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, circle, pyramid, cube, prism, and sphere
  • Learn to compare two objects (bigger/smaller, greater than/less than)
  • Sort and categorize objects
  • Count to 100
  • Understand how to add or subtract to get to ten

7 Math Activities

Use these teaching activities to introduce your pre-kindergartener to key math concepts. Don't worry about whether or not your child can fully understand. You are just introducing the ideas.

  1. Count to 20. This can simply be memorizing the words one, two, three...
  2. Get familiar with counting objects up to ten. For example, counting up to ten toys. You can also set out a group of objects (keep it below 10) and ask your child to count it. If your child isn't ready, ask them to count it with you.
  3. If your child has mastered counting to 20 verbally, demonstrate skip counting by twos. You can line up ten pairs of shoes to demonstrate this. First, count the shoes one by one, then do it again, only skip count by two with each pair.
  4. Talk about the differences between flat shapes and solid shapes: A flat paper circle, compared to a ball, a square compared to a block. Talk about shape names regularly. Describe things with the name of the shape, as in, "pizza is a circle shape." 
  5. Talk with your child about different measurements: Show them that objects can be measured by weight. You could weigh yourself, and then your child on a scale to demonstrate. You can also show them a ruler and that objects can be measured by length. Point to the numbers on a clock, and tell them that clocks measure time. At this stage, you are just pointing out that numbers are used for different types of measuring, not teaching how to measure
  6. Tell your child that bigger numbers can be reached by smaller numbers. For example, when you have five toys, count them up to five. Then separate the toys into two and three toys, count the two and three, put them together and count to five. 
  7. Use position words when talking with your child. Call attention to them and talk about the opposite, i.e. in front of/behind, on top/below. Your child will learn the meaning by hearing you talk about this concept in context. The bonus on this one: it is also a reading skill.

Reading Standards

In kindergarten, children learn these reading skills:

  • How to read single-syllable words
  • How words are read from left to right and top to bottom of a page
  • Long and short vowel sounds
  • That words are separated by a space, and that spoken words and represented by written letters and language
  • The full upper and lower case letters of the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes
  • To identify the main characters, setting, and events in a story
  • To read and understand very beginner level readers, i.e. "phonics readers" or "leveled readers"
  • To recognize common types of text, such as storybooks and poems
  • To recognize the title, author, illustrator, and the front, back and title page of a book
  • To understand how the illustrations support the text in a story

5 Reading Activities

You have likely heard about the importance of reading to your child regularly to develop good pre-reading skills. You can also try these activities.

  1. Read a variety of different books to your child. Read storybooks, books of rhymes and poetry, non-fiction books with facts about animals or nature, books that describe real events and situations.
  2. Teach your child nursery rhymes and children's songs to help them recognize the patterns of language. You can ask them afterwards which words rhyme, or if they can hum the tune of the rhyme.
  3. Teach your child to recognize at least ten letters. A good place to begin is the letters of their first name, as they will be of great interest to your child. You can also use letters from your name, names of pets, favorite objects or foods. Ask your child to look for a letter on signs or objects around your home. You can also get a set of magnetic letters or an alphabet puzzle, and place the letters you are focusing on in a bag. Draw out letters randomly and see how many your child knows.
  4. Teach your child to sing the alphabet song. This will introduce the names of all the letters, and the tune makes them easier for your child to remember.
  5. When reading a book, occasionally point out some of the basic rules of reading. One rule is that you read the book from front to back. You can also trace under the words at times when you are reading, and explain that since the letters and words on the page represent the words you are reading out loud, that you read the words in the order on the page. Try reading the words on the page in reverse order to show that it doesn’t make any sense when not read left to right.

Writing Standards

In kindergarten, kids typically learn how to:

  • Describe familiar places, people, and settings, with some help
  • Use digital tools to produce and publish writing, with help
  • Spell simple one-syllable words
  • Know what a question is and that who, what, when, where, why, and how are question words
  • Use drawing, speaking, or writing to explain what happened in a story or text that was read to them
  • Use drawing, writing or speaking to explain events, such as what they did during the weekend or at an event
  • Use nouns, verbs, and prepositions properly
  • Answer questions and add detail to their drawing/speaking/writing of a story or event
  • Work in a group to answer questions or explain an event using drawing, speaking or writing
  • Write all upper and lower case letters of the alphabet

5 Writing Activities

There is a great deal of overlap between reading and writing skills in the pre-K stage. Reading activities directly support pre-K writing skills. You can also try these activities.

  1. Encourage your child to color and draw pictures. Being familiar with writing tools and knowing how to do even simple drawings will prepare them for using drawings to tell a story.
  2. Let your child use a few digital tools before attending school. Playing games on a tablet or cell phone will familiarize your child with digital media, which will prepare them for the Common Core standard of using digital media to produce and publish writing.
  3. Make lots of small talk with your child. Ask them all kinds of thought-provoking questions. Ask them about their favorite stories, colors, clothes, or animals. Ask them how they feel and what happened that led to that feeling. Offer some suggestions if they don't seem to have the words to express themselves. Not only will this give them foundational writing skills, but it can also enhance your relationship with your child.
  4. Specifically ask your child questions about familiar things that have an order to them, such as "What did you do today?" "What did you do on your play date with your friend?" You can extend this to books you have read to your child by asking them to tell you what happened in a storybook.
  5. Teach your child to write their name. Once your child knows how to write their name, they will be able to put it on their school assignments. Many children are very proud of being able to write their own name and enjoy practicing it.

Remember to try and foster a growth mindset while working with your child on the above skills. While your child may already feel proud when they know something or when skill comes easily, it's critical to encourage them when they find a task a challenge or don't know something right away.

A Word From Verywell

While this list is inspired by the rigorous standards for kindergarten being used throughout the United States, there are no single hard lines for kindergarten readiness. Again, your child will not need to master every skill on the above list to be ready for kindergarten.

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5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Common Core State Standards Initiative. English language arts standards. reading: Foundational skills - Kindergarten.

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  4. Common Core State Standard Initiative. English language arts standards. writing - Kindergarten.

  5. Andersen C, Nielsen HS. Reading intervention with a growth mindset approach improves children's skills. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(43):12111-12113. doi:10.1073/pnas.1607946113