Friday, March 16, 2012

9 Skills to Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten

My name is Andrea and I am an Army wife, mommy, blogger, and teacher.  I've taught both in Arizona and for the Department of Defense here in Germany.  I absolutely adore teaching Kindergarten and today I'm going to share some important things your child should know before school starts.

I know you're thinking, "But it's only March!" but trust me, it's never too early to start!  Whether your child is two years old or five, these skills are vital to his/her success in school.  Build a strong foundation at home before your child starts school.  Kindergarten isn't what it used to be.  Most adults think of Kindergarten as an extension of preschool - a time to play, explore, and nap - but it has become much more academic.  By the end of the school year, Kindergarten children are now expected to read, write, and complete simple addition problems!  We even start working on telling time and basic money concepts, not to mention science and social studies units!

Still think March is too early to start working with your child?  I always advocate starting early and building a foundation at home.  Maia and I already work on some of these concepts even though she's only 15 months old - although she doesn't even know we're 'working' yet!  But I'm a teacher and I know what to expect for her first year (and those that follow.)  I want to share with you too, so that your child can be prepared for an exciting and fun first year of school!

*Each child is different and some have obstacles to overcome before these skills can be mastered.  Know your child and seek help from a qualified source if necessary.*

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1. Sing the ABC's.  

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be shocked at the number of students who enter Kindergarten without being able to recite the alphabet!  If you don't know how to sing the ABC song, how on earth could you be expected to write them?  Sing the ABC song with your children throughout the day.  Sing it as you change your baby's diaper, or give your kids a bath, or set the table for a meal, or when you're driving in the car…  It takes less than a minute to sing and there are plenty of minutes in a day where you can sneak them in!

*Hint: Be sure to sing clearly and slowly through the "L, M, N, O" portion of the song.  When we sing it quickly, it sounds like one long letter - and your child will learn it that way!

2. Write his/her first and last name.

Start by concentrating on the first name.  Be sure to encourage proper grip on the pencil or crayon!  Say each letter as you write.  Don't worry about writing on lined paper or making each letter perfect - it's not developmentally possible at three or four years old!  Help your child learn how to write first and last name and worry about making it look nice a little later.

3. Identify all 26 letters - capital and lowercase.

This is a skill that would be great for your child to know when entering Kindergarten, by the truth is: it might be too much to know by September.  I would expect most children to know by January though.  Start with the first letter of your child's first name.  Whenever you see his/her name in print, point out the first letter and say its name.  Pick random letters as you encounter them: on a cereal box or license plate, in a book, on a toy…  Be creative.

*Hint: Capital letters are easier!

4. Write all 26 letters - capital and lowercase.

A great way to practice writing the letters is by tracing them.  Write the letters on a piece of paper with plenty of space around each one.  Have your child trace the letters with a pencil, crayon, or marker.  After your child can trace them, see if he/she can do it without the tracing as a guide.  Again, start with capital letters.  There are even fonts available for download that print letters (and numbers!) with dashed lines for tracing!

*Hint: Use unorthodox materials to learn how to write!  Finger paint the letters, laminate a piece of paper and give your child a dry-erase marker, write in the sand at the beach or in a sandbox, make a letter with cheerios or veggies during meals…

5. Know all 26 letter sounds.

This is obviously dependent on actually knowing the letters first!  Be sure to build up to letter sounds once your child can identify each letter.  This is a crucial skill as your child learns to read and must "sound out" a word.

*Hint: Want a great educational video to help?  Try Leapfrog's The Letter Factory.  It's one of my favorites!

6. Count from 0 - 20.

This is another skill that is essential!  Be sure your child knows at least 0 - 10 before starting Kindergarten.  Just like with the ABC's, you can count anytime!  Spend a minute here or there counting, point out how many of something there are ("Wow!  There are two doggies walking outside!") and eventually start asking your child to identify how many there are ("Look at the doggies outside!  Maia, how many doggies are there?")

*Hint: Many kids get confused after 10 so be patient!  Always correct your child's mistakes calmly and then move one!

7. Identify numbers 0 - 20.

As your child is learning the numbers, be sure to point them out when you see them in day-to-day life.  Point to and identify numbers in a recipe, on a sign, in a book, at the store, or write them yourself!

8. Write numbers 0 - 20.

Again, start by tracing!  It's fun and it will help your child learn how to correctly form each letter.  Don't stress that each number is perfect - there is plenty of time to help them write on the lines later.  Developmentally, it just isn't possible yet!

9. Basic sight words.

Sight words are a great way to give a child a "head start" in reading.  These words occur often in beginner reader books.  Knowing these words will eliminate the need to "sound out" every. single. word.  Help your child identify (and eventually spell) the following words: a, at, am, and, can, I, like, me, my, no, said, see, the, to.  Add to this list as your child masters the words.

*Hint: HeidiSongs makes GREAT videos that incorporate song and movement to help your child learn sight words.  We started each day in my classroom with a word or two from a video to reinforce what we were learning.

Please don't try to tackle all of these skills at once.  Build upon what your child already knows and gradually incorporate new information as you go along.  These are all skills that can be taught in a fun and stress-free environment!  Your child does not have to sit at a desk for 30 minutes a day in order to be successful.  (You'll both end up going crazy if you try to do it that way!)  Spend a few minutes here and there throughout each day.  Capitalize on 'teaching moments' - moments when you can slip in new information, reinforce what you have already been working on, or ask your child to demonstrate what he/she has learned.

Read to your child everyday.  It exposes him/her to the letters, words, and a great model.  Let your child choose books out of the library or bookstore, let them "read" to you, point out letters, sounds, and words as you go.

Remember, POSITIVE reinforcement is by far the most effective way to encourage your child.  Give lots of high-fives, hugs, smiles, cheers…you get the idea.  Help your child feel proud of his/her accomplishments.  Incorrect answers are not a cause for stress or anger.  Patiently repeat the correct information and then move on!  Don't harp on a mistake.  Children learn at different rates and in different ways.  Be patient and positive.  Your child will be willing to try again if the environment is nonjudgmental and fun.

Thanks so much for having me today, Bonnie!

Thanks so much Andrea!

Please go follow Andrea today for more tips! :)

Have a great day!


  1. Thank you for sharing, Andrea.

    Love this post(such an essential subject matter).

    You have a beautiful family.

    Enjoy your weekend ladies! :)


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  2. Great info…thanks so much for sharing! Andrea has a beautiful family!! :)

    1. I love talking about Kindergarten! :) Thanks!

  3. Hi Andrea,
    Great post. I am a Primary School Teacher in the Republic of Ireland and taught Junior Infants/Kindergarten for 6 year and Senior Infants/1st Grade for 4.
    It is so important for children to be properly prepared for school. It makes that transition less stressful as things are familiar. The familiarity with number, letters and words in turn allows them to experience early success which will build their self-esteem and a positive attitude towards school.
    I have lots of free educational resources,games and advice for parents on


    1. Cathriona,
      I completely agree!! I can tell within a couple minutes which student has had someone helping prepare at home! Those kids have SUCH an advantage for the rest of the year!!
      Thank you for your website - I'm on my way over to check it out!!

      Andrea :)

  4. Though my kids are well past prekindergarden age, the military and German reference in my reader caught my attention. My brother is in Germany, retired army.. still working for the army though. Great article and a thankyou from this US citizen to your military family for your service, sacrifice and dedication!

  5. Hi Sherri,
    I bet your brother loves it here!! We'll be leaving this spring after almost 5 years. It's been such an amazing experience. We're so blessed to have been stationed here! Thank you for your kind words.

    Andrea :)

  6. I agree that these are important skills but as an art teacher in a public school I am asking parents to PLEASE work on some other basic skills as well: holding and cutting with scissors (do NOT be afraid to give young children scissors and supervise them learning the RIGHT way to use them), using liquid glue without squeezing out the entire container in one sitting, and holding a pencil or crayon the right way without fist gripping it! Those are equally important and there are many parents that are hesitant to do these things because their child might cut hair or clothes, but it's essential to be successful for writing and Kindergarten!

    1. YES!!! Jennifer, everything you mentioned makes the first month of Kindergarten pretty crazy too!! I'm not sure why some parents don't let their kids use glue, glue sticks, scissors, etc before starting school. I've had so many papers glued to the desk, I've lost count!! Not to mention how many shirts I've seen experimented on with scissors!! With 25 or more kids in a class, it's impossible to watch everyone at every moment. You are absolutely right: these are additional skills that should be worked on BEFORE starting Kindergarten! Thank you!!

  7. I'm surprised to hear that kindergarten in Germany is like that, I've heard they are different. I'm a kindergarten assistant in a Waldorf inspired school here in the US. It is a non-academic kindergarten, it is an extension of home...a time to play, explore, be creative and learn socialization. It makes me so sad the schools have come to this kind of learning (or memorizing) this young in life :(

    1. Misty,
      I taught for the Department of Defense Education Activity - they are US schools on military installations for children of US military, government contractors, and government employees. We have our own standards and curriculum to try to keep children on pace (or ahead) since they move so often. But you're right: Kindergarten in Germany is actually preschool. A lot of Americans put their children in German Kindergarten before they go to the American school. German Kindergarten is typically for ages 3-5, but can vary (the town I live in has extended it to 2yr olds!) The school you describe is exactly what a German Kindergarten is like! German children start school in what we consider 1st grade, at about age 6, and that's when they begin the majority of their academics. Thank you for clarifying!


    2. Misty,
      My thoughts exactly!! My son will be entering kindergarten next year in a Waldorf school. He will not be tracing letters or memorizing sight words to prepare. He will be doing what we are already doing: hiking, gardening, playing, painting. Just being a child.

    3. I agree. I'm not sure that early memorization equates to mastery of a subject.

    4. I agree. I'm not sure that early memorization equates to mastery of a subject.

  8. Hi Andrea, love your blog, I just found it as I was looking for some learning activities for kids. Just wanted to give you a big thank you for putting out so much effort giving quality information for parents.

    I'm subscribing to your posts so I'll be sure not to miss any of your tips. I'm sure I'll be sharing some of your posts with my own Pinterest, Facebook and email subscribers which I'll be sure to credit you as the source. Looking forward to reading more tips from you. Keep up the great work!

    Founder of

  9. As a parent of a 3 year old, I just have started looking into the end-of-year expectations for a kindergartener, and, yes! I was surprised to learn that 5 year olds are expected to read, write, and do math! This is not how kindergarten was when I went, as I worked primarily on developing motor skills (cutting and coloring) and learning the preparatory steps to learn to read (learning the alphabet and how to write the letters). I feel like I have a lot of work cut out for us in the next 2 years.

    I'm curious though, how does knowing the alphabet in alphabetical order (i.e. being able to sing the ABC song) have to do with writing? My son does recognize and identify all 26 letters at sight (using signs, foam bath letters, random run-ins with letters) and is learning the phonetic sounds as he learns to trace the letters. We have yet to introduce the song to him as we didn't think it important for any step than for alphabetization. So, I would be interested in knowing how the song aids in writing!

  10. Wow. As a kindergarten teacher, and Early Childhood Curriculum Leader, with a Master's degree in child development, I have to say that I disagree strongly with your take on school readiness, and think that your expectations are unrealistic and unfair to both children and parents. I teach at a private school with an enriched academic curriculum, serving a highly educated population, and many of my kindergarten students don't start the year with all of these skills. In fact, I am DELIGHTED if they manage to finish the year with these skills. It is not children's job to BEGIN the year with the skills they need to have at the END of the year. It is a teacher's JOB to teach these skills, one child, one skill, one day at a time. You can read more on my take on this here:

    1. I an glad to see other educators expressing disagreement with these Kindergarten readiness skills. As an Occupational Therapy Assistant who has worked in the schools for 19 years, many of my students come to me because of poor hand strength, poor pencil/scissor grasp,and/or inability to correctly and efficiently form letters. Yes, some preschool age children have the hand skills to be able to hold pencils in a mature tripod grasp, but many do not have those skills. When children are forced to hold writing tools when their hands are not ready, they often develop alternative and inefficient grasps, that become a problem as writing demands increase. If children are not provided the opportunities to learn and use their hands skills, it can make more mature fine motor skills difficult. There are so many ways to practice names and CORRECT letter formations without using a writing tool!! And if a child is left on his/her own to trace or try to form the letters, they will make it the way it looks, which is most likely not the correct way. Then, in 1st or 2nd grade, they are referred for OT because they cannot hold a pencil or make their letters correctly. Bad habits, whether in grasp or letter formation, are difficult to change. For many ideas and resources about fine motor skills, you can go to the fine/visual motor page of my website

    2. Thank you both! I have been in the early childhood field for 17 years and constantly dissapointed by kindergarten teachers expectations. I feel that they want children coming into kindergarten knowing everything they need to be learning througout the kindergarten year. I am not sure why this expectation has become the norm but we need to find a way to educate the masses that these expectations are not developmentally appropriate!

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I am a Kindergarten teacher and a mom of a four year old. I believe that all these things should be introduced but not expected. It is my job to teach these skills to my students. Parents have fun with your children, dont feel bogged down with all of these steps.

  12. I have a background teaching kindergarten and preschool. I most heartily agree with the above two comments. Most of those skills are what a child should be taught IN kindergarten. Self-care skills and exposure to different materials (like scissors) are much more important. Parents, read to your kiddos. Play with them. Talk with them, and have fun with them. PLEASE don't "drill and kill" with young children. And PLEASE don't worry if your child doesn't live up to the expectations listed here.

  13. My nephew is turning 5 this month and he can already do all of these things and then some (could for a few years actually). My 2.5 year old niece can do about 1/2 of them already. My 18 month old daughter already knows most the letters of the alphabet and numbers. It's really easy if you start learning from day 1 - and you'd be surprised what children can learn! A lot of my friend's kids are on the same path.

    We don't "drill" anything into her. Some days we will just play with the blocks and not pay attention to the letters, other days I'll ask her what letter that is and she'll either say it or look to me to find out what it is. She's so proud of herself when she sees something and knows what it is before I say it. Almost all the games we play and toys we have are learning based. We also talk to her a lot. I tell her what everything is that she comes across and what people are doing all the time. Now it's the cutest thing ever when she says "dada working" or "gramma home". Of course we still do lots of mindless activities that are really just for fun - but she gets a lot of learning and loves it all.

    In summary - I think it's great that this blog encourages parents to start teaching their children early. Parents need to take an active roll in education instead of relying on the teachers to do everything. I have many teacher friends that whine about parents who don't help their children.

  14. Pro Social Skills are important to work on before Kindergarten as well (manners, taking turns, sharing, waiting patiently, good sportsmanship, cleaning up after yourself, using inside voices etc).
    Kristin, Licensed School Social Worker

  15. Pro Social Skills are important to work on before Kindergarten as well (manners, taking turns, sharing, waiting patiently, good sportsmanship, cleaning up after yourself, using inside voices etc).
    Kristin, Licensed School Social Worker

  16. Thank you for your post! I came across it while looking for pre-k activities on pinterest. My son is 4 and will start kindergarten next year. He is writing his letters and name very well at this point, and we are working on letter sounds and sight words now. I am shocked to see that teachers and other parents are disagreeing with this list. Children under five learn things at an incredible rate, and I can't imagine not expecting them to know most of these things before kindergarten. I don't drill my son, we make it fun, using games, flash cards, dry erase boards, etc... Most days he asks to do the writing activities. I am hoping that having these skills will make kindergarten fun for him, as opposed to having him struggle just to keep up and barely get by.

  17. I would add a couple of "skills" to this list (as someone who works at an elementary school with all students k-6). First, think that they should know how to tie their own shoes. For most kids I don't find this unrealistic as both of my kids could do so when they entered kindergarten at five. Some will argue that they don't have the motor skills needed at that age bit as someone with Cerebral Palsy who has limited use of my left had it is still difficult for me but I learned how to do it and must tie my own shoes with that limited motor skill. Also, just talk to your kids about situations and what is expected from them and how they should behave or react. Instill a respect for school and the importance of learning. It is their job to do their best for the next twelve years and it is for them and their future success.

  18. I was interested to note that the skills you listed as necessary for kindergarten included no social and emotional areas at all. If a kindergartner is unable to be a good friend, resolve conflicts with his peers, or be self reliant, it won't matter if he recognizes his letters or can count to 20. The absolute most important part of preschool is teaching young children to be social creatures, and how to navigate successfully in their world. If a child can't negotiate how to play with a friend in the Math Center, his counting skills are not noticed because his behavior is the focus.

    Parents should be encouraged to introduce children to activities that include the opportunity to play with their peers. A quality play-based preschool, play groups, etc. Be confident that when you send your child to Kindergarten, that she won't burst into tears if someone plays with a toy she wanted, or is unable to open up her Lunchable in the cafeteria. A confident, self-assured kindergartner who knows how to successfully navigate her world will be a stellar student, because she can handle any social issues that come her way, clearing her mind for all the academic stuff.

    Just my opinion, but I have seen first hand, over and over again, that children who are socially prepared for Kinder are far more successful than those who are not.

    Marin Velarde M.Ed.
    Early Childhood Teacher

  19. It makes my heart sad that some parent might read this and think that he/she is is failing his or her child. Every child learns in different ways and in their own time. Kids who don't master these skills before kindergarten are not necessarily any less bright than those who do.

  20. It makes my heart sad that some parent might read this and think that he/she is is failing his or her child. Every child learns in different ways and in their own time. Kids who don't master these skills before kindergarten are not necessarily any less bright than those who do.