Today I’m excited to share a guest post from Kate Dowling, a former kindergarten teacher who shares my passion for literacy and teaching preschoolers at home. She also happens to be my sister! It’s such a blessing to have Kate guest post at The Measured Mom while I’m busy with our new baby girl.
Is your child entering kindergarten this fall, or in the next year or two? Then this post is for you! Do you wonder if your home activities or your child’s preschool will be enough? Kindergarten readiness surely includes social skills such as sharing and being a friend, but those things are hard to measure, and they depend on your family’s values. This post will give you helpful, concrete goals that every kindergartner needs to meet.
The purpose of this post is not to alarm parents with a list of skills their child does not have. Instead, it’s to empower them! It’s fun to teach our children basic skills, like counting and the alphabet. We’re not recommending that you buy workbooks or push your child to do things he or she is not ready for. Instead, approach these basic skills in fun and engaging ways. You’ll find links throughout the article to help you.
Based on my years as a kindergarten teacher, I’ll tell you what’s most common, what’s at the top of the class, and what needs improvement — as well as HOW to improve. I’ll share with you a few red flags you should recognize… and what kindergarten teachers love to see in their students.
Plus, at the end of the post, download your free Ready for Kindergarten Checklist.
On Target: Your child is doing great!
Mastery: Your child is doing even better than expected on this skill.
Red Flag: No need for panic! But it’s time to find some playful learning activities to help your child grow in this area.
- On Target: Counting to 29 or 39
- Mastery: Counting to 100+
- Red Flag: Counting to 12
In a class of 18 kindergartners, I can predict that one or two children can only count to 12, several can count to 100, and all the rest will get stuck at 29 or 39. If your child can count to 29 or 39, he’ll likely have no trouble counting to 100 before the year is out. If he can count to 100 already, congratulations!
Bonus: Count back and forth with him to 1000 sometimes. He’ll remember it with a big sense of accomplishment.
Red Flag: If your child gets stuck at 12, that’s a normal developmental milestone…that he should be past before starting kindergarten. Otherwise he might not reach 100 before the year’s end. What to do?
Count anything and everything, and just count aloud without counting things. You are the model. Speak those teen numbers slowly and clearly: thirteen — fourteen — fifteen — and so on. Your child will soak it all in, and one day he will go from 12 to 29 with no mistakes! Here’s a secret: sometimes use an abacus. No choking hazards for the baby, and no clean up for you. Check out this blog’s Teaching Math page for many learning ideas.
- On Target: Names all capital letters and some lower case letters. Names half the sounds.
- Mastery: Names all capital and lower case letters and every letter’s sound.
- Red Flag: Names only a few capital letters and very few lower case letters. Names only a few sounds.
It’s completely normal for young children to have trouble with certain small letters that look similar (p,d,b), (f,t), (i,j). If these are the only problems, they are quickly resolved in the first quarter of school. Don’t panic.
Bonus: If your child has mastered letters and sounds, it’s time to work on reading. Some parents believe it’s not their place to teach their children to read. I disagree.
As a kindergarten teacher, I was always thrilled for the few children who entered school reading (usually one per class). These kids still enjoyed every group activity, with the bonus that they could quietly read real books while the other kids worked on phonics. They always enjoyed this, and it never led to a behavior problem or a child feeling “bored.”
Double bonus: For the child who can already read, what’s next? More reading!
Red Flag: If your child hasn’t picked up letters and sounds yet, this is definitely something you should work on.
But keep in mind that it’s FUN for little ones to learn letters. Don’t think of it as work. This blog is packed full of great letter ideas. My number one tip: Read alphabet picture books together. Get stacks from your library. Read alphabet books every day until your child starts pointing out letters he sees on food packages, books, and signs. Enjoy seeing it all come together.
- On Target: Is comfortable wearing his or her school clothes and operating the buttons, snaps and zippers independently.
- Mastery: Can easily operate all kinds of fasteners on clothing without assistance.
- Red Flag: Needs help removing and fastening clothing to use the bathroom.
Let’s take a break from academics and discuss the bathroom, shall we? You might think, “My child is fully independent in the bathroom.” Well, maybe at home that is true, but you might be surprised by something unexpected.
School uniforms or school clothes: I know you want to keep them clean, but please have your child wear these around the house to get used to them. Some buttons, belts (please avoid belts!), and so forth are tricky for little ones. I saw this as a teacher, and I personally still remember the panicky feeling I had when I wore button-fly pants for the first time. I pulled and pulled and thought I would wet my pants, because I didn’t realize these were different. What shock and relief when I accidentally undid the button just in time.
Whew! I am stressed out just typing it!
- On Target: Uses all capital letters (first name).
- Mastery: Begins with a capital letter and follows with lowercase letters (first name).
- Red Flag: Cannot recognize her name, cannot spell it, or cannot write it.
Name writing is FUN! Kids are so proud when they write their names all by themselves. Why let the teacher have all the fun? You deserve to enjoy this experience with your child.
Bonus: Write first and last name.
There is no need to stress about this one. It’s just something to work on if your child is ready.
Red Flag: If your child cannot write her name correctly, it’s time for daily practice.
How to do it? Start with a pad of large, unlined paper. Each day have your child write her name exactly one time. Each day, flip to a new page. In the beginning, hold your child’s hand while saying each letter. Soon she will be doing it all on her own. Eventually give her large-lined paper, but don’t rush.
- On Target: Enjoys listening to a stack of picture books. Makes personal connections to stories and answers simple questions. May be recognizing a handful of familiar words.
- Mastery: Asks to be read to every day. Will listen to a large stack of picture books and beg for more. Enjoys listening to simple chapter books with good attention. Makes personal connections to stories and answers both simple and complex questions correctly. May be reading some books independently.
- Red Flag: Does not sit for more than 1-2 books at time. Does not talk about books or ask basic questions. Cannot answer simple questions about a story. Usually prefers a screen to a book.
My husband and I were charmed when our three-year-old started calling his stuffed animals his “very eager helpers.” This phrase came from Paul Galdone’s The Little Red Hen. It is hilarious, surprising, and simply incredible what kids pick up from books. You need to read aloud to your child from infancy. This really cannot be stressed enough. But if you didn’t start at the beginning, take heart! You can start today and still do great things.
Bonus: If your child is already reading by himself, you still need to read aloud. Try chapter books with your preschooler!
In fact, you should read aloud to your children as long as they live in your house. Really! My favorite moments in college were when my Children’s Literature professor read to us the historical fiction novel, Letters from Rifka. My mom read Where the Red Fern Grows to her five teenagers when we were on vacation. My mother-in-law read Animal Farm and The Hobbit to my husband when he was in middle school. He still remembers that she took the time to explain the political meaning behind Animal Farm.
For over 50 chapter books to read to your preschooler, visit this post from What Do We Do All Day?.
Red Flag: If your child does not enjoy being read to, put more limits on screen time and make use of your library card.
Vocabulary development comes from language, not images. So turn off the TV, computer or iPad, and read! If one child is given a story by video and another child hears the book, the one who heard the book heard many more words. The brain is passive while watching, because the image is right there. The brain is active when reading or listening, because it must create images from words.
Get your Ready for Kindergarten checklist!
Please remember that whether or not children have mastered these academic skills, it’s important that they are ready socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. For more information, check out this excellent post from a former kindergarten teacher at Fun-a-Day.
So what do you think? Do you now know how to prepare your child for school? I hope this post gives you the confidence that you, the parent, can teach your child. I’d love to hear from other kindergarten teachers about what they’d like to see in their new students. Feel free to ask me questions in the Comments as well!
Before having children, Kate Dowling taught school for seven years in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Beijing. Four of those seven years were in kindergarten. Now she lives in Canada with her husband and children. She homeschools her kids.
Is it normal to have an almost kinder who can count 1-20 w/o help (gets to 30 if we count together), but every single time leaves out the same number. Every. Single. Time. He can be just counting, counting numbers, counting M&M’s, doesn’t matter, we hop from 12 to 14. If I remind him, he can start from 13 and keep going. If he starts over, he skips it again. I’m scratching my head over this one.
I’ve never heard of that, Nicole, but it doesn’t sound especially strange to me. That 12 to 13 count is a tough transition sometimes, for whatever reason. I’ll ask my sister who used to teach kindergarten and see if she has some insight!
This is Kate, guest writer of this post. Don’t panic. This is completely normal for some children, and I saw it every year. Some kids take an extra long time to go from 12 to 13. It is a developmental step, and it will happen one day. Just keep counting, and be careful to count “twelve, THIRteen, FOURteen, FIFteen,” slowly with emphasis. It appeared to me that some kids entering school don’t get it that thirteen and fourteen are two different numbers. Maybe they don’t register the difference because they sound so much alike. Really emphasize the two distinctly. These developmental milestones can be frustrating because there is no way to force progress. Just keep modeling the correct way to count, and I guarantee it will click. One day the child will count to 29 without mistakes, and another day he will count to 39 without mistakes. After that the hard part is over, and it’s only a matter of time to 100! Don’t forget to have fun along the way. A child who can count 14-19 is doing great. Thirteen will come!
Thank you for this list. I teach students that are 3-4 years old that have disabilities and are ESL. This is concise and neutral and I love the way you broke down each skill. This will be one of the lists I will share with parents as we decide kindergarten placement for their child.
I’m glad this is useful for you, CJ! Thanks so much for commenting.
As a seasoned educator of Kdg. I love your checklist and your website. Found you on pinterest! Thanks for helping so many!! You are right on the dot-doing a great service. Thanks, cb
Please do not share my info.
Thanks so much, Carolyn – I hope you follow along for many more ideas and freebies! If you’d like me to edit your comment so it just says your first name or “Anonymous,” let me know by replying to this comment … your contact information will never be visible to readers.
Thank you so much for the feature, Rebecca!
I love this check list. I am glad to know my young four year old is ready for Kindergarten. He is at Mastery on almost all of the points mentioned. He will be young for school, but he is so ready.
Hello, Amy! I’m glad your little guy is doing well academically. I would also encourage you to check out the link from Fun-a-Day for emotional/social readiness. It’s just as important as academic skills for future success in school.
Our son had met all of these skills this past fall (he turned 5 in September), but we did not push it because we wanted him to not be socially immature for his class. The extra year at home has been good for him.
Alison at NOVA Frugal Family
My son can do all of the things at a mastery level and he goes to K next year so I guess we are ready. He loves to learn and would do activities and reading all day if I let him. I do send him to school in elastic waist pants because he gets so into doing what he is learning that he doesn’t leave enough time to make it to the bathroom otherwise 🙂 No accidents but not ready to go to the buttons and snaps on the pants just to make sure there aren’t any problems 🙂 I hope that he still finds everything fun and challenging at school next year but mostly I send him to school to socialize with other kids his age and get used to the schedule because he does so much learning all the time. Great list!!
Hello, Alison! Sounds like your son will have a great year in kindergarten. At our house my oldest two have achieved these goals well in advance of starting school, but as mentioned in the post social development is so important as well. It makes me glad that my son missed the kindergarten cut off by a few days so that he had an extra year to mature. He loves reading and writing, but this extra year has been good for him in learning to get along with others, be independent, etc. Sounds like your son is getting a great chance to practice those things too. Thanks so much for commenting!
Thank you for the post. It was quite useful seeing where a child should be to be ready for kindergarten in the fall. I really appreciated that you included the three ranges: red flag, target, and mastery.
I’m so glad you found it useful, Sara! I really appreciate your comment.
Looks like my daughter is ready for Kindergarten! She can write her name with a capital C and lowercase for the other letters. Guess I should get her practicing writing her last name. I’ve begun teaching her to read. I get frustrated easily with it, but I know if I work with her on her reading she will excel in Kindergarten next school year. 2014-2015!
Sounds like your daughter is doing great, Adama! I think that’s wonderful that you’ve taken such an interest in helping her learn. I have a lot of resources for teaching reading on my blog, but I do feel it’s important to take it at our kids’ level and not frustrate them (or ourselves ;). When something is tough for one of my kids I back off a few weeks (or months) and try again to see if they’re developmentally ready later. Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions! firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you, Anna, for the succinct list. I really appreciate that you provided three levels. As a librarian, I have several moms that get so focused on the top expectations that they don’t realize the great–and on par–things their child may be already doing. I’m hoping to give this out a storytimes. Thank you!
Thank you, Kelsey! I’m glad you feel that the post did not come off as demanding more than kids can do or putting unrealistic expectations on parents. We tried to be clear about what we feel is necessary and what’s “icing on the cake.” Thanks for being willing to share!!
Thanks for your comments, Mary Catherine. It’s great to hear from other K teachers! In case there is any confusion as to the purpose of this post, it is for parents who look to education blogs like this for ideas. It is not an official checklist that I would give to parents enrolling their child in my classroom. There is no entrance requirement for kindergarten. It’s the beginning, and of course all children are accepted, no matter their abilities. Basic kindergarten readiness is really just bathroom readiness, and yet I don’t think we turned a child away who still needed help there. But I’ll give a real example of why I included what I did. My very first year, 17 students in my class could write their first names before school started. This means some wrote with all caps, some wrote with incorrect strokes, some wrote letters backward, and some took up a whole sheet of paper. But those 17 kids could write their own names, at their own levels. One child could not write his name at all, nor could he spell it. I happily taught him to write his name each day. Sadly, even though I always worked VERY hard to never let a child feel bad for that kind of thing, he was a sensitive, observant child, and he quickly figured out on his own that he didn’t yet do something the other children could do. He actually went home and told his parents he was dumb. In kindergarten!! You better believe it broke my heart when the mom told me this. The parents and grandma also told me, with complete honesty, “We just never thought of teaching him to write his name.” I’ve never forgotten it, and now given the chance to guest post, I want parents to know that most children entered my classroom writing their names. Why have your child feel bad about something so personal? I’m doing what I can to let parents know it’s GOOD to teach name writing before school. I never had a child whose parents regretted teaching the child anything, but I did have the opposite.
Thanks again for your comments.
It breaks my heart, too, when kiddos are too observant when comparing themselves to their peers! 🙁 That’s my biggest concern with learning independence in the restroom, as you mentioned above. My K experience was in a very low socio-economic area, and most of my students came in with little or no English so I think I just had a different experience. I completely agree that parents shouldn’t feel like they can’t teach their kiddos! Thanks for the discussion!! 🙂
Would you address the issue of when to seek special help? For those of us new to pre-school, it can be a little tricky to know when our child just needs time, when we need to adjust, and when there is a need for some extra intervention.
Great question, Christy! I’m not an expert on special needs, but I can offer an opinion and seek outside input if you have a specific question. I belong to a large network of education bloggers, and within that group I’m sure there’s someone who could answer specific questions regarding when to seek extra help.
I have to COMPLETELY agree about bathroom skills! That is so very important for the kiddos to know. And I love what you said regarding listening to stories. 🙂 While I respect your opinions about counting, letters, and name writing — I have to disagree. I’m a former K teacher as well, and I also feel like we expect too much in terms of academics before school begins. Counting, letters, and name writing are part of kindergarten curriculum. Children should be learning these skills while IN kindergarten, not before. I worry about checklists scaring parents just because their children might not meet each criteria. Again, I respect where you’re coming from — just wanted to share an alternate opinion.
Whoops — I meant to say that the kiddos can of course learn and explore the concepts before kindergarten. However, I don’t think it should be expected that they arrive in K knowing how to count past 30, etc. I love the playful learning activities you included, as well — it’s just the academic expectations for the beginning of K that I disagree with.
Mary Catherine, as a Head Start teacher, I completely agree with you about early academic skills and scaring parents with checklists. Of course some children are ready to learn some of these skills in a playful and engaging way but I feel that too much emphasis has been placed on early academics. In my job, I work primarily with lower income families and for many of them English is their second language. I feel that what is most important for these children and families is a balance of exposure to open ended materials that will encourage exploration of academic skills (counting, sorting, classifying and investigation), meaningful language and literacy activities (listening to and discussing books and stories; writing children’s thoughts and ideas for them; singing; and a variety of explorations with letters, especially those in their names) and social emotional (self regulation, social problem solving, identifying and appropriately expressing feelings, etc) and self care (toileting, dressing, hand washing, covering coughs and blowing noses).
In my experience children need a good foundation in their social emotional development before they are able to truly progress in their academic development.
I would LOVE to see articles and checklists for parents titled “Is Your Kindergarten Ready For All Children?” I would like parents to feel empowered to ask schools to meet the needs of the children they will be serving rather than feel pressured to push their children to count to 30+ before entering kindergarten. Parents without a background in early childhood education should be informed about developmental milestones rather than school expectations.
Erica @ What Do We Do All Day?
This is an amazingly thorough article! And thanks so much for including a link to our chapter book list!
Love that post, Erica! I hope a lot of people refer to it.
Here in Illinois children do NOT need to know their upper and lower case letters BEFORE kindergarten. Children should be learning their letters IN kindergarten. There is way too much emphasis on early academics. Please let children enjoy their childhood! Check out your school districts website. They will have the best information on what your child will need to know before they go to school.
First of all, I agree that children are “over schooled” before kindergarten. That’s part of the reason we’ve chosen not to send our own children to preschool (both my sister, the author of this post, and me, the writer of this website). In fact, I am one of the 10% of parents at my children’s school who chooses half day versus full day kindergarten for my kids.
If you’d look at my alphabet activities, you would find that they are playful and creative — you will find very little traditionally academic work (like worksheets) among them.
I believe in teaching kids what they are ready and willing to learn. If that means that my two year old is excited about the alphabet, I let him learn it. If he shows no interest, I don’t push it. If my five year old is excited to sound out words, I teach him. I don’t believe in “holding back” because kids are young. I believe in letting them spend most of their day in play – lots of their day listening to books – and a very small amount doing learning activities with me.
I’m interested in helping parents (with no background in education) get their children ready to go to a real kindergarten class — and the kindergarten classrooms I am familiar with — unlike those from 30 years ago — expect children to be comfortable with the alphabet before the first day of school. The goal of kindergarten used to be learning letters. Now, in many kindergarten classrooms, the goal is teaching kids to read. And you know what? They can! And they love it!
Thanks, Carly. I’ve enjoyed quite a few posts on your blog lately ever since the “what not to say…” Really enjoyed your sweet video of your adoption journey also.
Great list! The only thing I would change is writing names with all capital letters. That is such a hard habit to break and one of my biggest pet peeves as a Kindergarten teacher.
Yes, if you can start teaching your own children to write with lowercase from the beginning, or before they start school, that’s great. Then they will never have to make the transition. But it’s not what I saw as a teacher, so I wrote about what I actually saw. In my classroom, every student wrote his or her name every day on a large pad of paper, as described in the post, and they were all required to write with lowercase from day one. I didn’t expect the children to already be able to do that on their own without me holding their hands and looking at their name card. Most could not, but the ones who could write with caps were developmentally ready to move to lowercase. The ones who couldn’t do that yet were farther behind.
As a parent, my son is not yet ready to write his name. I used to write it for him in all caps when he was 2, because he could recognize it that way, and not with lowercase letters. Now at age 3 I write it with a capital letter followed by lowercase letters. I suspect he will start writing with capitals because of the straight lines (we do some of the capital letter handwriting activities on this blog), but I will certainly teach him lowercase before kindergarten. I’m very interested in the answer to this, because I’m not there in my parenting yet: Do you think children should be taught to write with lowercase from the first time you teach them to write their name, or is it okay to start with capital letters since it’s so much easier? I’d love to hear, Becky, and anyone else. Anna, what did you do with your kids?
Thanks, Becky. Great point.
With my first, I taught her to write her first name in all capitals. She has slowly made the transition to writing using the lowercase letters, but it has taken lots of practice. With my younger 2, I am teaching them to write with a capital letter followed by lowercase letters.
I started teaching my oldest to write her name at about 3 1/2 (little past). It hadn’t occurred to me to start earlier. At this point she was capable of writing with upper at the beginning and all the rest lower. But my two boys started at younger ages and were not ready to use lower case letters yet. My older boy (will start preschool in the fall) has observed his sister’s and my writing and has moved to the correct letter formation on his own. His younger brother (now 3 1/2) is putting in lower case letters where he is able, but is not yet developmentally ready to handle letters like the lowercase “a.”
Kate! Great to read an article from you. Thanks for the resource links, especially the chapter books. We’ve just started chapter books with the kids and it’s always beneficial to have another set of recommended books. Now, send me an email and fill me in on this diet change and how homeschooling is going for you!
Thanks, Rach! Anna added the link to the chapter books, so those thanks go to her:) I’ll write you soon.
I have been following you since Fall 2013. Love this site and all you do for my 3’s to grow. I have already seen so many changes in my 3’s! Thank you for this post esp.! Keep up the great work busy lady!
Thank you so much, Jen! I so appreciate your encouraging comments!!