Understanding what your preschooler should know before kindergarten can be a daunting task. Especially if you’re a first-time parent or this next preschooler of yours is totally different than their older sibling. You’re likely wondering whether your child is academically ready. Or if they’re mature enough to participate successfully. It’s normal to worry or wonder.
On the flip side, there are other parents who unwittingly assume their child is prepared to start because they can already read. But it’s important to realize that academics are just one piece of the puzzle. While skills like counting + letter recognition are valuable, a child’s readiness to be an active + contributing participant in the classroom environment are arguably more important indicators of readiness. It’s still important to focus on your child’s overall development when gauging readiness.
Frustratingly, there’s very little information out there that is consistent + reliable when it comes to being informed about what really matters when it comes to preparing your child for their first year of elementary school. This is largely due to the fact that just 19 states actually require kindergarten for all students. The resulting inconsistencies in expectations make it very confusing for parents to know exactly what their preschooler should know before kindergarten.
Which is why this blog post helps you get clear on which 4 areas are most important in a successful first year of elementary school.
In this blog post, we will discuss the 4 key areas you can focus on in order to prepare preschooler for kindergarten. We’ll also explore the concept of redshirting + what you should consider before enrolling your child in kindergarten. And be sure to download the free guide to Navigating Kindergarten Readiness for a breakdown of your exact next steps in supporting your child.
I know, starting what your preschooler doesn’t need to know before starting kindergarten seems unhelpful, but what I really want to do here is relieve some of the pressure for you. Because, truth be told, a lot of what you think is important for your child to know probably doesn’t matter all the much.
Most states + territories have adopted the Common Core Learning standards which clearly communicate exactly what a kindergartener should master by the end of their kindergarten year.
If you want to know specifics, take a peek at what they cover. But some of the big takeaways are that it’s in kindergarten that your child will learn letter names + sounds as well as how to count to 100 + add/subtract up to 20. Your child does not need to know how to write their letters or name. These are all skills that your child’s kindergarten curriculum will teach them. I promise.
As a side note, if you live in Virginia (Reading + Math), Texas, Alaska, and Nebraska (Reading + Math), these are the only 4 states that don’t use the Common Core so I’ve linked to their kindergarten standards for your reference as well. But more or less, the skills covered by these standards are very similar to the Common Core.
So what does matter? As an educator, I think of kindergarten not only the time to establish that foundational understanding in literacy and math, but also a time to learn a lot of the core social + emotional behaviors that successful students possess in the longterm.
When we look at your preschooler’’s readiness for kindergarten, there’s a lot more to consider when it comes to the skills they need to be developing before you enroll your child that go beyond the curriculum.
Not only do you want to consider whether your child is exhibiting behaviors that set them up for learning concepts (such as being able to focus for 5-10 minutes at a time), but also whether they’re prepared to participate in the classroom community (such as organizing their materials, taking turns or being capable of using the bathroom independently).
There are many signs that your preschooler is ready for kindergarten. And your child won’t check all of these boxes before kindergarten starts. But I want to break down for you what a preschooler should know before kindergarten in the context of 4 key areas of development that your child should be progressing in before beginning elementary school.
It will not only help you know where to support your child in these months leading up to the first days of school, but also inform your decision to enroll your child in kindergarten at age 5 or 6 (more on that later).
So let’s break down these 4 key areas right now + then we’ll talk more about what your next steps will be.
Social and emotional development is a crucial area for preschoolers to focus on before starting kindergarten. This includes developing skills such as sharing, taking turns, and expressing emotions in a healthy way. Preschoolers should also be encouraged to develop positive relationships with peers and adults, as well as learn how to navigate social situations and conflicts. These skills will not only help them succeed in school, but also in life.
Here are some examples of social + emotional skills your child should begin working on:
Another important area of development for preschoolers is self-help and independence skills. This includes things like dressing themselves, using the bathroom independently, and feeding themselves. Encouraging these skills not only helps prepare them for kindergarten, but also builds their confidence and self-esteem.
Parents can start by giving their child simple tasks to do on their own, such as putting on their shoes or pouring their own drink. As they become more confident, they can gradually take on more responsibilities.
Here are some examples of the self-help + independence skills many kindergarteners develop before kindergarten:
Considering the characteristics of academic readiness is another important area of development for preschoolers before starting kindergarten. This includes basic literacy and numeracy skills such as recognizing letters, numbers, and shapes, as well as being able to count and identify colors.
These are some characteristics of academic readiness many preschoolers display before elementary school:
Physical development and motor skills are crucial for preschoolers before starting kindergarten. Not only is there a certain level of strength their bodies require for sitting still or writing, but developing their balance + hand-eye coordination through activities such as throwing and catching a ball help them participate in physical activities and sports as well.
Here are some examples of physical development + motor skills to look for:
If there is one important understanding you walk away with, let it be this: development is unique to every child. While you now know what a preschooler should know before kindergarten, it doesn’t mean they have to perfect these skills. Remember that there are certain areas of development that will come to them more easily than others. Just because they haven’t mastered all of these skills does not mean they aren’t a good fit for kindergarten this fall.
We’ll talk in a moment about what options you have if you’re noticing many gaps or delays but let’s first tackle what you can be doing at home to help support your child’s progress over the next few months. You may find that this small amount of extra intention makes all the difference.
Here are a few ideas to get you started, but be sure to check out the free Navigating Kindergarten Readiness guide for 20 area-specific ideas for targeted support as well.
After reviewing what a preschooler should know, you may be wondering whether your child really is ready to start kindergarten. That can feel worrisome. I recommend taking some of the following steps to help you gain some clarity around this concern:
If you’re worried development is very delayed, rest assured. This is a very normal concern + doesn’t necessarily mean your child is going to struggle in school. It might just mean they could benefit from additional time or support before beginning kindergarten.
There are likely options such as specialized support (such as a structured preschool environment, speech-language therapy or physical therapy) or delaying the start of kindergarten by one year.
As a K-8 teacher + intervention specialist for nearly 15 years, I can definitively say that there are commonalities that I’ve observed over the years when it came to the students who were ready for school + those who would’ve benefitted from an extra year at home or in preschool.
The preschool years are a time of rapid growth + change—a lot can happen in 12 months. Not to mention, birthday cut-off dates can mean that some kids are already 6 by the time they start kindergarten, while others are barely 5. That’s a wide range in development at this young age.
Redshirting is when you start kindergarten a year later than you would normally. This means that your child will be one of the oldest kids in your class.
Some parents do this because they think their child will be more ready for school if they wait a year. Others do it because their child’s birthday is at the end of the summer, and they don’t want their child to be the youngest in their class.
There are pros and cons to redshirting. Some people think that kids who redshirt do better in school because they are more mature. And redshirting your child on the mere basis of academic advantage is not a reason to redshirt. It can have social + emotional implications that are equally important in the experience they have at school.
In truth, the biggest advantage is to give children the extra year to develop + be more available to learning + participating in the classroom environment successfully. Children who are the best candidate for this are those who are delayed in several of the 4 key areas of readiness.
Many parents considering whether to redshirt worry that it sends a message to their child that they aren’t as good or smart as their age-level peers. In my experience, the experience of repeating preschool is less detrimental than pushing a child through when they aren’t ready that has the potential to negatively impact their entire educational career. The key to successfully waiting another year is supportive communication + encouragement that is reassuring rather than shaming.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to redshirt is up to the parents. There is no right or wrong answer. This is just one of those decisions where you do the best you can with the information you have.
I have a few action steps you can take to dive deeper into your child’s readiness. I also recommend grabbing the Navigating Kindergarten Readiness guide because it includes 10 questions you can ask yourself or of professionals to inform your decision to enroll this year or next.
In the meantime, here are a few other proactive steps you can take to choose the placement that’s best for your child:
Starting kindergarten is a big step for your child. It helps to know what a preschooler should know before kindergarten. And by following the tips in this blog post, you can help your child prepare for this exciting new chapter in their life.
If I could leave you with anything, it’s these 5 key understandings—
I want to help make this blog post as approachable + actionable for you as possible. Inside this free, PDF guide you’ll find:
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