Skills Your Child Should Know Before Kindergarten

17 Things You Can Do to Get Your Children Prepared 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 in this day and age? 

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 (you don't.) 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 almost six. Some will recognize just a few letters of the alphabet while others will be reading short words. 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 your child is ready to learn.

Common Core Standards

Of course, having some background pre-academic skills can make the transition to kindergarten much easier. This resource was created after reviewing the Common Core State Standards in language arts and math to see what kindergarteners across the nation are learning.

A simplified list of kindergarten skills for each major subject (math, reading, and writing) is below. Following the skills list is suggested teaching activities to prepare or introduce an idea or concept.

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 beyond what is here 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 

Regarding math skills, in kindergarten children learn:

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

7 Math Activities

Below are suggested teaching activities to use to introduce your pre-kindergartener key math concepts.

  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. Once again, your child does not need to master this idea, you are just introducing the concept.
  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, pizza is a circle shape. Once again, your child doesn't need to memorize this. Introducing the idea is enough.
  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. 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. Don't worry about whether or not your child can fully understand this, just show it to them to spark the idea.
  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, next to, and beside. 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 the following 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

Many of today's parents have heard about the importance of reading to your child regularly to develop good pre-reading skills. Below are ideas for activities that will introduce kindergarten reading concepts to your child:

  1. Read a variety of different books to your child. Read them storybooks, books of rhymes and poetry, non-fiction books with facts about animals or nature, books that describe real events and situations. Spread these out over time, you don't want to overwhelm yourself or your child.  
  2. Teach your child nursery rhymes and children's songs to help your child recognize the patterns of language. You can ask them afterwords 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. The idea is to introduce letters that your child can relate to something they find interest. To teach them to recognize the letter you can ask your child to look for it 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 letters to your child, and the use of a tune will make it easier for your child to remember. Many of today's parents learned the alphabet to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. If your child enjoys watching the PBS children's show "Superwhy" they may enjoy learning the alphabet to the tune used in each episode of the show.
  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. For silly exercise, try reading the words on the page in reverse order, or randomly to show that it doesn’t make any sense when not read left to right. Just showing this to your child to peak curiosity is enough at this point.

Writing Standards

In kindergarten, kids typically learn the following writing skills:

  • Describe familiar places, people, and settings with some help.
  • Explore using digital tools to produce and publish writing with adult help.
  • Spell simple one-syllable words.
  • Understand 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 the child.
  • 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.
  • With support, 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. The reading activities above directly support pre-K writing skills. Below are ideas to do with your child to prepare them for writing in kindergarten:

  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 new standard of using digital media to produce and publish writing.
  3. Make lots of small talk with your child. Ask them all kinds of questions that will cause them to think about an answer. Ask them "What are your favorite stories, colors, clothes, or animals?" Ask them how they feel and what happened that led to them feeling the way they do. Feel free to 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. There are several ways you can teach your child to write their name. Once your child knows how to write their name, they will be able to write their name on their school assignments. Many children are very proud of being able to write their own name and enjoy practicing it. One way to teach this is to sit down beside your child, with each of you having a sheet of very wide lined paper. Write each letter slowly, and ask your child to copy and follow along. the first few times, you may have to stop and show them each letter or stroke several times.

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 your child when they find a task a challenge or don't know something right away.

You can point out how awesome it is that they are learning something new if they don't know the name of a letter yet. Praise them for the practice they put into writing their name. Remind them that if they continue to learn and work at learning, they will get more knowledge rather than only having the set of skills they started with.

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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Article Sources
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