Things your Child Should Know before the First Day of Kindergarten

Your child starts kindergarten next month, and you're worried.

Is she prepared?

Does she know everything she needs to know?

How does she compare to other kids?

We consulted educators and compiled a list of the top 10 things a child should know before she starts kindergarten. Don't worry if you haven't nailed all of these -- you still have time to catch up, these teachers said.

But don't wait, because these skills are important.

If a child is behind, it can affect her attitude toward learning, said Melinda Wyssmann, kindergarten teacher at Mark Twain Elementary in Springfield.

"If they can't read or write or do the math like other boys and girls, they start feeling frustrated and not wanting to come to school," Wyssmann said. "It can set a pattern of how they feel towards academics."

The academic rigor in kindergarten has increased, and parents aren't always prepared for it, she said.

So here's what your little one needs to know and how you can help her learn:

Know the alphabet. Just because your preschooler knows the alphabet song doesn't mean he knows the alphabet, said Wendy Russell, a kindergarten teacher at Bingham Elementary who has been teaching for 26 years.

Children should know the alphabet without singing it, said Mea Childers, kindergarten teacher at Espy Elementary in Nixa who has been teaching for 15 years.

Children need to understand that the alphabet is made up of letters and that letters make up words. It's just as important that he can grasp that concept as recite the song, said Russell.

What you can do: Talk to them about this concept, and practice the alphabet without singing it.

Know the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters. On the first day of school, most children write their name in all uppercase letters, said Debbie Hightower, a Wanda Gray teacher who taught kindergarten for four years.

It's important to teach both upper and lowercase, these teachers said.

What you can do: Buy or make your own flashcards with upper and lowercase letters, Wyssmann said. Leap Frog products are great for teaching letters, she said.

As you read to your child, point out the difference between lowercase and uppercase letters, Hightower said.

Counting and number recognition.
Your child should be able to count to 10 at a minimum, although 20 is becoming more mainstream.

Thirty is ideal, Russell said.

It's also important that numbers are not an abstract concept. Children should understand the difference between one spoon and three spoons, Wyssmann said.

What you can do: Numbers can be a hard concept for kids, so take every opportunity to count with them, suggested Jennifer Newberry, former kindergarten teacher who now teaches preschool at the Nixa Early Learning Center.

A mother of three, she counts when she cooks, when she reads to the kids, when they look at the stars.

Use objects to demonstrate numbers: one cookie, three spoons, four plates etc., Wyssmann said.

Random letter recognition.
This means your child actually knows her letters, instead of just memorizing the order of the alphabet, said Karen Evans, Wanda Gray teacher who taught kindergarten for six years.

She may know ABC, but does she know FSQ?

What you can do: Buy alphabet magnets and work with your child to identify letters. This is also good for learning upper- and lowercase, Wyssmann said.

You can also give your child random letters to trace or shape out of modeling dough, Wyssmann said.

Pencil grip
: If your child learns improper pencil grip, it's hard to unlearn it.

Improper grip affects the neatness of a child's handwriting, Hightower said.

What you can do: Practice and demonstrate it for your child. He should grip the pencil with the pointer finger and thumb, resting on the middle finger, Hightower said.

More things your kids should know

Social skills
: Social skills are almost more important than the academic, said Childers.

The reason: when school starts, the teacher knows she will have children on different academic levels.

"What makes it more difficult is if they are not mature enough, not ready to sit still, can't take care of personal needs. Probably a parent's most important job is to make sure their child is ready to come to school," Childers said.

Russell agrees.

"I always tell parents the academics are very important, but even more important is that they learn good social skills: how to get along, how to make decisions, how to cooperate, take turns. Those are life skills," Russell said.

What you can do: Make sure your child knows she will have to share toys, take turns, line up, take care of bathroom needs, zip her own pants, etc ...

If your son has never seen one, the urinal can be surprising for boys, so parents should talk to sons about this in advance, Newberry said.

Children also need to be able to express their views and listen to other people's views without arguing, Newberry said.

Talk to your child about each of these social skills and practice scenarios in advance.

Be able to focus
: Listen and sit still for at least 15 minutes.

Children do this when they watch television, so it can be done, Hightower said.

What you can do: A good way to teach this is by reading to your child or telling your child stories, Hightower said.

"Reading to them helps them clam down and focus and pay attention," Russell echoed.

Also try making your child sit at the dinner table, Childers said.

: Children need to be responsible for their belongings, Childers said.

If she has 18 students, she can't help all 18 put on their coats or track their jackets.

What you can do: Make them demonstrate responsibility at home by taking their plate from the dinner table to the sink, Childers said.

Have them do daily tasks, such as putting their toys back, and picking up after themselves, Evans said.

Give them different instructions and have them practice, Evans said.

How to use classroom tools.
It's surprising how many children haven't used basic tools such as scissors, pencils and paper, said Russell.

Parents sometimes fear their child may cut themselves or color on the wall, but children need to know how to use those tools.

What you can do: "Let them cut things out of magazines and make collages. That develops their fine-motor skills, which in turn helps with handwriting," Russell said.

Children are more confident when they are familiar with something, teachers echoed.

What you can do: If you haven't already, take your child to his school, let him play on the playground, meet the teacher, walk the halls, Childers said.

Talk to him openly about school and familiarize him with school as soon as possible, Newberry said.

When he has these skills, he will be more ready to learn as an individual and a class.

"Then they will absorb everything I throw at them," Childers said.

Source:, MO


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This entry was posted in Best of Parenting News, Child Brain Development, Child Discipline, Early Learning, Parenting & Education, Preschool & Kindergarten.

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  1. Kirstin Davis says:
    October 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    This article was so helpful! My son will be starting school next fall, and now I know that we still need to work on lowercase letters. Other than that, though, I feel very confident that he’ll be just fine! Thanks!

  2. Dellisa says:
    January 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    I am so glad I found this article! I think I’ve treated my child like a baby for far too long. I have a long way to go but I am determined to help my daughter without making it hard on her. This coming school year will be her first time in a school so I am very nervous. Thank you for posting an article that will be a guide for my daughter and myself.

  3. Roxana says:
    February 11, 2012 at 2:11 am

    So if I teach my child all these things, what’s the point in sending them to school? And counting to 20 is the new “mainstream”? The only thing my child has learned from school is bad behavior. Maybe and hopefully, other schools are different. I learned my ABC’s IN Kindergarten and did just fine. I feel society is teaching our children to grow up too fast, thinking they can make “adult” decisions at 12. Just not happy with the school system in general, sorry for the rant.

  4. Frank bennin says:
    May 3, 2012 at 11:32 am

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