6 Things Kids Should Know Before They Start Kindergarten

By Keairra Chaney
Education is always a collaboration, and having these six skills will prepare your child to collaborate with their teachers in kindergarten.

During my six years as a kindergarten teacher, I noticed a number of gaps in foundational skills among the kids coming into my classroom. In my current work as a tutor for pre-K through third-grade students, those gaps are even clearer, especially with pre-K enrollment in the United States down 22% this year.

Preschool remains optional for students across the country, and many families don’t have access to in-person preschool programs. This leaves a foundational part of children’s education in the hands of families who often aren't sure what is expected of their children before they enter kindergarten.

Here are six key things, based on common standards across the nation, that children should know before they start kindergarten.

1. Knowing and identifying their name

Children should be able to identify their name when it is spoken and written. Listening for their full name means students are able to respond when the teacher addresses them. This could be through roll call for attendance, a celebration or answering questions. Children should also be able to identify their name when it is written. This may be how their teacher expects them to find their cubbies, desks, materials and other important items in the classroom. Many children have gone by a nickname for most of their lives and may not recognize their full names. You may remind your child that at school, teachers will call them by their full name. It’s important that children know that their name and nickname are the same person. How do you plan to remind your child that their name matters?

2. Counting to 10 and associating numbers with quantities

Counting involves many concepts and skills. During the preschool years, children should be counting from 0-10. It is important that children know that numbers are associated with quantities, and that quantities represent numbers. The skill of writing numbers to match the quantity, one-to-one correspondence, and number cardinality are also very important. Number cardinality is the ability to understand that the last number counted represents the total amount of objects in a set. So, next time your child counts a set of objects, make sure that they touch and count each object (one-to-one correspondence). Then ask them what was the last number they counted, and to write that number. Try this activity and make it fun! Whether your child counts books, chips or flowers, these skills will help their math progress and support their understanding of new math concepts as they enter kindergarten.

3. Identifying letters

Your child may not know all 26 letters of the alphabet and what sounds they make before entering kindergarten. However, they should have a good idea of what the alphabet is, how to recite it and some basic letter and sound recognition. Early in kindergarten, your child will start working on sounding out simple words or recognizing sight words. If your child has a solid understanding of the alphabet, they will advance and understand new skills at a faster pace. 

4. Holding and using a pencil

By the time your child reaches kindergarten, they should have a solid start on holding and using a pencil. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to hold it a specific way, but it does mean that they should have progressed beyond wrapping their entire fist around the pencil. If your child struggles with fine motor skills, or has not yet chosen a dominant hand, you may want to spend some time over the summer specifically focusing on how to hold and use a pencil correctly. Golf pencils and grade-appropriate handwriting paper are great (and inexpensive) resources for students.

5. Communicating their emotional state

The transition to kindergarten is a difficult one for many students, especially those who may not have attended preschool and therefore may not have spent considerable time away from their families in the past. Your child should be able to identify and communicate their emotional state: naming when they feel happy, lonely, sad or frustrated. This communication helps support students in challenging moments that may occur.

6. Being able to play

Playing, in kindergarten, is one of the most important skills your child can have. You want to make sure your child is adept at:

● sharing;

● following directions; and

● taking turns.

With COVID’s restrictions, children were immensely impacted by the lack of social interactions. These skills encourage and create positive peer interactions that are essential for academic and social growth. While preparing your child for kindergarten, I encourage you to focus on the six essential skills that will position them for success.

Education is always a collaboration, and having these six skills will prepare your child to collaborate with their teachers in kindergarten. No matter what skills students have or don’t have, the teacher’s role in the collaboration is to build a trusting relationship with each student. When I was teaching, that meant I developed individualized greetings for each student before they entered my room, and also made sure I could have “Ms. Chaney time” with each student. Parents and caregivers should know that, as hard as they’ve worked to get their children ready for school, their teachers will work every day to support them in becoming their best selves.

Keairra Chaney is a senior implementation specialist at Waterford.org. She spent six years teaching kindergarten, including working as a lead kindergarten teacher, a team lead, and school representative for mindset skills. Families can apply for Waterford Upstart, a free, at-home, internet-based school-readiness program that teaches preschool-aged children basic skills, at Waterford.org/upstart