What Should A Child Know Before Kindergarten?

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kindergarten readiness checklist
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It always feels like a shock when you have to start thinking about your child starting school. After all, didn’t you just welcome them into the world, like, yesterday? That’s the way it seems, so it can be a bit jarring to send your sweet baby off to kindergarten (gulp). But this is where a kindergarten readiness checklist comes in handy. When your brain starts to spin off in a million different directions, being able to gauge at a glance whether your child is ready for kindergarten can help keep you grounded.

Of course, every child is different and unique. So, there’s no perfect formula to determine whether children are truly ready for kindergarten. But as you probably know by now — or will learn soon enough — there is no such thing as perfection in parenting. To have kids is to live in beautiful, imperfect, controlled (sometimes, ha!) chaos.

Having said that, you can use this kindergarten readiness checklist to see what typical kindergarten skills your child has already mastered and where you need to devote a little extra attention. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what should be on the list to begin with, you’re not the only one who is unsure. In fact, according to the latest search data available, kindergarten readiness checklist is searched for nearly 2,400 times per month. And if the list feels overwhelming at first glance, don’t freak out. Kids’ brains are amazing sponges. Even if they can’t do something on the list today, they might pick it up and knock it out in no time flat next week.

What skills are needed for kindergarten?

If you’re wondering what a 5-year-old child should know before kindergarten, you’re certainly not alone. At some point in the first few years of a child’s life, every parent has to start thinking about how to prepare their little one for the future. When it comes to what every child should know before entering kindergarten, the following is a helpful checklist of language, math, motor, and social skills most kids will have mastered before or in the early stages of kindergarten.

These skills encompass some of the key things your child should know before entering kindergarten. Just remember — not knowing all of these things or not possessing all of these skills yet won’t keep your child out of kindergarten. This should simply serve as a guide to help you support your preschooler’s growth.

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Language Skills

  • Speaks using complete sentences most of the time
  • Uses sentences that include two or more ideas
  • Understands and follows directions with at least two steps
  • Recognizes some common “sight” words, such as “stop”
  • Repeats a familiar song, poem or nursery rhyme by heart
  • Makes simple predictions and comments about a story being read
  • Repeats address and birthday (and, ideally, a home or emergency phone number as well)


  • Matches two like pictures in a set of five pictures
  • Plays simple memory matching games
  • Classifies objects by physical features, such as colors, shape, and size
  • Groups objects that go together
  • Grasps concepts related to position, directions, size and comparison (of in/out, front/back, on/off, big/little, up/down)
  • Correctly puts in order up to three story pictures
  • Completes simple puzzles (up to four pieces)
  • Identifies around five colors
  • Understands actions have both causes and effects
  • Draws a picture to help express an idea

Reading Skills

  • Identifies some letters of the alphabet
  • Recognizes their name in print
  • Attempts to write the letters of their own name
  • Writes first name using upper and lower case letters
  • Recognizes familiar words and logos, like stop signs
  • Identifies two rhyming words
  • Matches at least three letters with the sounds they make
  • Pretends to read books
  • Relates stories to personal experiences


  • Counts numbers of objects in small groups (up to five)
  • Matches a number (up to five) to a group with that number of objects
  • Understands the concept of “adding to” or “taking away” using objects (up to five)
  • Arranges numbers in order 1 to 5
  • Identifies at least three shapes (typically circle, square, triangle)
  • Counts in sequence from 1 to 10
  • Arranges objects in size order

Physical/Motor Skills

  • Builds using blocks
  • Attempts to tie own shoes
  • Buttons, zips, laces and buckles
  • Pours liquids without spilling
  • Gets dressed on their own or demonstrates the ability to
  • Uses tools like pens, pencils, and safety scissors with relative control
  • Can use scissors to cut simple shapes
  • Grips pencil, marker, or crayon using thumb and forefinger
  • Copies basic figures (think straight line, “x,” circle, plus sign)
  • Demonstrates gross motor skills by jumping, running, and/or bouncing a ball
  • Can kick a moving ball while running
  • Takes personal responsibility for routines such as hand washing, brushing teeth, dressing and using the toilet
  • Can use scissors, glue, paint, and other art materials with relative ease


  • Knows first and last name
  • Knows parents’ first and last names
  • Identifies age
  • Listens to a story without interrupting
  • Expresses basic needs
  • Interacts with other kids
  • Can play independently or with other kids for up to 10 minutes
  • Works cooperatively and shares during playtime
  • Exhibits personal-care independence (i.e. washing hands, using the potty)
  • Uses words like please, thank you, and excuse me
  • Adapts to new situations with relative ease (if social and/or sensory disorders are not an issue)
  • Understands it’s okay to make mistakes
  • Participates in cleaning up
  • Cleans up after self
  • Separates from parents or caregivers easily

How can you help prepare your child for kindergarten?

It’s totally normal for children not to have mastered all of the skills on the kindergarten readiness checklist yet. In fact, they won’t master some until kindergarten (they cover a lot of ground in that first year!). But there are some kindergarten readiness activities you can do with your future student to help them prepare.

Start by using the checklist above when playing with your child. When interacting with your little one, pick a handful of skills and address them. Does your child know their first and last name? Can they count from 1 to 10? Anytime you hit a snag, note it. Then you can find activities that bolster those particular skills. For instance, if your sweet little nugget is struggling to identify some letters of the alphabet, you can buy a book that teaches the ABCs and start reading it together on a regular basis (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a fun pick).

You can also begin talk of kindergarten by easing it into conversation in a positive way, try not to let your anxiety show as this might affect your child. If the kindergarten offers visiting days, take advantage by bringing your child along with you so they can familiarize themselves to the environment.

How can you help your special needs child transition to kindergarten?

Transitions can be hard on all kids, but can be especially daunting and difficult on children with special needs. That’s why it’s important parents, teachers, and administration work together to help acclimate the child to their new environment. Educator Maddie Bodine put together a list of what has worked with her students for Edutopia, using her years of experience to help other educators and teachers.

Here are her recommendations:

Use Social Stories: Social stories such as “Next year, I will be in a new classroom with a new teacher and new rules”, “I may feel scared or nervous in my new classroom”, “I will work on learning the new rules and listening to my new teacher” can help students share information that is descriptive and safe.

Observations: It’s important to give the student the opportunity to visit their new classroom, cafeteria, and new environment.

Photo Book: Teachers can help parents by creating a photo book for the incoming student of their classroom, play areas, eating areas, and even photos of the teachers and assistant teacher ahead of their first day. This will give the parents time to study the book with their child.

What is on the kindergarten readiness test?

Although federal law doesn’t require states to assess how much students are learning each year until third grade, many states have adopted standardized testing for younger students, too. And in some states, that includes testing for kindergarten readiness. These tests are not meant to decide if a child should spend another year in preschool. Rather, they’re meant to identify students who may need special education services.

So, what do they consist of? Well, they’re unique in that they’re designed to be administered to one child at a time. A teacher or proctor tests the child by asking them questions and writing down their answers. This might include things like asking a child for their first name and last name, or asking them to use building blocks to solve a math problem.

In some schools, parents are asked to fill out a kindergarten readiness checklist for them, to help the parent identify the note what areas their child may need extra help and attention with. Here’s a sample list from Michigan State University:

Initiates his own leisure-time activities.

Can follow directions.

Does tasks when asked the first time.

Finishes one activity before starting another.

Can work independently.

Can trace or draw a line with control.

Tells full name when asked.

Orally identifies letters in name.

Identifies picture likenesses and differences.

Counts by rote to … select highest number.

Cuts with scissors.

Uses a fork properly.

Is able to hop on one foot.

What if your child isn’t ready?

If you go through the kindergarten readiness checklist with your child and are worried they aren’t, in fact, ready, reach out to your little one’s preschool teacher. They can help you come up with a plan to tackle any trouble areas as well as discuss the pros and cons of delaying kindergarten.

How can parents prepare for kindergarten?

Children are not the only ones that should prepare for kindergarten, parents should take steps to prep themselves. First things first, once you’ve chosen the school, it’s important to take a tour. Many schools offer orientation nights just for parents, giving them a chance to check out the facilities the school offers, see the classroom where their child will spend most of their days and meet the teachers and teacher’s assistants.

This is also the perfect opportunity to ask important questions about drop off and pick up policy, study your child’s daily schedule so you can implement a few of the changes ahead of the first day of school, and find out how the teacher’s discipline techniques and policy.

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