The Kindergarten Readiness Checklist

For first-time parents, it can be difficult to know when our children are ready to begin Kindergarten. They have been with us for their whole lives. They’ve adapted to us and us to them. Some parents are apprehensive. They worry their child will not cope well, or be misunderstood. Others are overconfident, and forget to help their kids learn some basic things.

For first-time parents, it can be difficult to know when our children are ready to begin Kindergarten. They have been with us for their whole lives. They’ve adapted to us and us to them. Some parents are apprehensive. They worry their child will not cope well, or be misunderstood. Others are overconfident, and forget to help their kids learn some basic things.

Anyway you look at it, starting school can be challenging for both parent and child. But there’s good news. Small children change and adapt very quickly. A skill they lack this week, they may easily pick up the next. Kids want to learn. Children have a natural desire to gain new skills, and they have boundless energy.

To help you and your little learner get ready, we’ve compiled a list of all the skills they need to succeed. We’ve also work-shopped a few home activities you can do with your child. It’s fairly comprehensive, and some are more important than others. A few of them, if unlearned, may inspire a frantic call from a teacher, but not many. And there’s a good deal of overlap between most skills. Your child doesn’t have to master all of them to enter school. But the more they know, the more they’ll grow, and the happier you’ll both be.

Basic Learning Readiness

Before small children can receive instruction, they must have some basic pre-school learning skills. It’s difficult for teachers to run a classroom when a child has to be taught these basic skills. Children who fail to show a significant amount of learning readiness may be at risk of being incorrectly labeled with a learning disorder.

Language Readiness

To engage in meaningful communication and move beyond rudimentary skills, they should also show basic listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills.

– Recognizes own name in print and attempts to write it
– Expresses ideas so that others can understand
– Recognize the beginning sound of some words
– Recognizes five to ten alphabet letter names
– Uses sentences that include two or more ideas
– Recognize some common sight words like “stop”
– Matches three letters with the sounds they make
– Follows two-step oral directions
– Uses descriptive language
– Tells or retells stories and/or everyday experiences

Suggested Activities

Model correct speech by repeating what she or he says correctly. If she says, ‘Imma basroom,’ say “Do you have to go to the bathroom?’ Answer their questions as completely as you can. This can lead to the never-ending chain of “Why, why, why…” But taking the time to give a full explanation teaches them cause and effect. It also shows them that you respect their curiosity. Many children will refuse to learn if they feel adults do not value their being inquisitive. Show them how letters make up words by saying the names of letters in familiar words like their name.

Math Readiness

Math readiness skills like; classifying, number concepts, counting, ordering, time and space relationships are important for the child to receive more complex instruction.

– Matches a numeral (0-5) to a group with that number of objects
– Arranges numerals in order 1-5
– Identifies/points to three shapes
– Understands concepts of none, some, less, and more
– Counts four to ten objects
– Recognizes some numbers
– Understands addition and subtraction (‘give’ and ‘take-away’)

Suggested Activities

Use toys or fun foods like Goldfish or pretzels to practice counting. Count blocks or Legos with them as they are added to and taken away from the things they build. Use groups of objects to demonstrate adding and subtracting and teach mathematic reasoning.

Reading Readiness

Reading from books is a staple of all academic learning. Children should be familiar enough with books to hold them steadily, and upright. Formative knowledge like, English is read and written from left to right is a critical building block.

– Looks at books or pictures on their own
– Pretends to read books by reading the pictures
– Tries to read everyday texts (signs, labels, etc.)
– Recognizes rhyming words
– Blends sounds into words
– Identifies some common words in print
– Recognize uppercase and lowercase letters
– Recognizes some letter sounds
– Describes characters’ actions/feelings in a story
– Connects story events to personal experiences
– Puts the events of a story in order

Suggested Activities

Have a collection of children’s books available within their reach. Offer them their favorite books at bedtime, naps, and quiet times. Let them have snacks while looking at their favorite books. Read with your child and hold the book so they can see the words while following the text with your finger. Put up simple pictures with words that connect objects with words in their room and on their door. Talk with them about the events of books and kid’s shows to develop narrative comprehension. Incorporate writing names and letters with painting activities and art projects. Anything you can do to reinforce reading as a pleasurable experience will help them develop the habit of reading.

Social Skill & Emotional Stability 

While problems with social and emotional competence are less common than learning delays, they can bring school activities to a screeching halt. Children with emotional or social problems frequently have experienced some trauma. If your child is having trouble in these areas, she or he may need to see a developmental psychologist. It is important to identify what is holding them back and to address it fully and compassionately.

Missing a few of these skills is not the end of the world. Indeed, it’s a rare (and strange) child who is socially and emotionally perfect. It’s only when a critical mass is reached where a child is simply unable to be part of a classroom. In that case, the warning signs should have been evident for some time.

Emotional Readiness

– Makes need known
– Interacts with other children
– Listen to stories without interrupting
– Pay attention for short periods of time to adult-directed tasks
– Begin to share with others
– Start to follow rules
– Be able to recognize authority
– Begin to control oneself
– Separates from parents without being upset
– Recognizes familiar signs, words, and symbols

Suggested Activities

Socialize your child as much as possible. Use affection as a reward every time they do anything good or correctly, or for no reason at all. Set up play dates, and let them interact with other children regularly. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, get them outdoors at least once a day, weather permitting. The more familiar they are with their fellow humans, the more they will develop empathy, respect, and a sense of having a place in a community.

Self-Awareness & Personal Care

Kindergarten age children have to be fairly independent. Teachers know there will be a few potty accidents. But they can’t spend too much time wiping bottoms, and buttoning pants. These are pretty close to deal breaker skills if too far gone. Fortunately, most kids aged four or five can learn them quickly.

Also, in case of emergency or confusion, the child should be able to tell their teacher who their parents are. Your child should know your name and be able to point you out of a crowd of parents.

– Knows parent’s first and last name
– Identifies own age
– Shows independence in personal care (washing hands, dressing, bathroom use)
– Manage toilet hygiene
– Button shirts, pants, coats, and zip zippers

Suggested Activities

Model buttoning clothes with them. Put on your coats together at the door. Take care not to shame children over potty mistakes, or they may become averse to using the toilet on time – which will lead to more accidents. And it may seem strange to tell your child your name is Karen, but for their safety they should know ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ are titles – not names.

Social Readiness

Most of the items on the next list could be said to fall under manners. But it’s about awareness of the feelings of others, being considerate, and knowing a few techniques for not arousing the ire of those around them. It’s not critical, or even recommended, that they are perfect. They’re kids, not pod-people. What matters is that they have reasonably good manners, (are not outright rude) and that they show an upward trend of learning their manners. Moreover, it’s important for them to give teachers the impression of having concern for others.

– Speaks understandably
– Talks in complete sentences of five to six words
– Participates in repeating a familiar song, poem, or nursery rhyme
– Retells a simple story after listening to a story with pictures
– Uses symbols or drawings to express ideas.
– Uses words to solve problems or conflicts
– Uses words like please, thank you and excuse me
– Adjusts to new situations
– Attempts new tasks without fear of failure
– Shows pride in accomplishments
– Stays with an activity to completion
– Interacts appropriately with adults and peers
– Respects the rights, property and feelings of others
– Works cooperatively (listens to others, shares and takes turns)
– Demonstrates increasing self-control
– Participate in clean-up activities
– Takes responsibility for own belongings (lunch, coat, etc.)
– Adheres to a routine and schedule for personal hygiene, eating meals and going to bed
– Uses good hygiene habits and table manners
– Follows simple safety rules
– Tries to regulate emotions and expresses feelings verbally

Suggested Activities

Make them ask correctly for what they want: ‘May I have some juice, please,’ and ‘thank you.’ Sit down as a family for meals at least twice a week. Socialize your child to be a polite eater. Take advantage of the many quality children’s television programs that teach kids to respect other’s property. They can provide you with phrases that are easy for kids to understand which you can use to remind quickly your child to be considerate. Dora the Explorer is excellent for this. “Swiper, no swiping!”

Problem Solving Skills

Abstract thinking skills can be difficult to teach. It’s important to engage your children in as many interactive learning activities as you can. Play and experimentation are the natural way kids learn about the world, how things work and how to use their bodies to negotiate with their environment.

– Awareness causes and effects
– Understands times of day
– Looks at pictures and then tells stories
– Matches like pictures in small sets
– Recognizes, copies or repeats in a pattern
– Able to sequence up to three story-pictures
– Completes simple puzzles (4 pieces)
– Understands spatial concepts like; in-out, under-over, on-off, front-back
– Shows interest in new games and toys
– Describes how objects are similar or different
– Identifies common plants and animals
– Recognizes natural objects like the sun, moon, clouds and trees
– Pretends creates and makes up songs or stories

Suggested Activities

Get them outside to play! Go to the playground. Show them how to ride bikes, swing swings, and throw balls. Give them challenging puzzle games. Paint with them and show them how colors change when mixed. These are also great ways to socialize them.

Hand Eye Coordination

Hand-eye coordination and physical skills, as well as speech, are the way children (and everyone else) utilize cognitive skills. The ability to act on our desires and ideas is essential to all areas in life. Children who are delayed in these areas may need special help to compensate for them.

– Uses writing and drawing tools with control and intention
– Copies figures such as: line, circle, square
– Cut with scissors
– Trace basic shapes
– Bounce a ball
– Basic athletic skills: hop, jump, run, catch and bounce a ball
– Holds and uses crayons, markers, pens and pencils correctly
– Builds using blocks
– Tries to tie own shoes
– Uses riding toys
– Enjoys outdoor activities, like running, jumping and climbing
– Dances to a beat

Suggested Activities

If you’ve done everything we’ve suggested so far, you’re up to speed in this area. Children who have had plenty of physical and social activity should have no problem with their physical skills. Those who do may suffer from an injury or neurological impairment. If that’s the case, your job is to help them overcome or adapt to their disability. And, above all, avoid anything that might make them feel ashamed of their difficulty.

Make It Fun Early!

The most important part of helping your kids through school is teaching them the love of learning. And the best way to jump that hurdle is to teach them at a preschool age that learning, playing and being with friends are rewards unto themselves. Do this, and chances are, you’ll have a champion learner on your hands.