What Your Child Should Learn Before Kindergarten

Playing and talking with your child really is important for getting your child ready for school. Creative Images via Getty Images

You want to make sure you do everything you can to prepare your child for kindergarten.  But - what does "prepared for kindergarten" really mean in this day and age?  

Maybe you worry that since kindergarten is the new first grade, you need to teach your child how to read before  they even begin school (you don't.)  Or you worry that if you teach them too much they will be bored sitting in a classroom where they know everything, but aren't really socially and developmentally mature enough to be advanced a grade.

Before we delve into what you can teach your child that will help them in kindergarten without teaching them kindergarten skills, let me point out that kindergarten teachers know that children vary a lot when they start kindergarten, and classes are designed to reach this widely varying group of kids.  Some kids will have just barely turned five while others will be almost six.  Some will recognize just a few letters of the alphabet while others will be reading short words.  All of these widely varying academic skills are fine to start kindergarten.

What matters most isn't what your child already knows when they begin kindergarten, but that your child is ready to learn.  

Of course, having some background pre-academic skills can make the transition to kindergarten easier.  That's why I created this resource for parents.  I looked over the Common Core State Standards in Language Arts and Math to see what kindergarteners across the nation are learning.

 You will then find  a list of particular skills to teach your child that prepares them for kindergarten, or an activity that introduces an idea or concept.  In many cases just being familiar with an idea is enough, your child will not need to master it before kindergarten.

The goal of this list is simply to have a child that is prepared for kindergarten.

 If you think your child is ready to learn more than what is here, you can certainly teach your child beyond what is here without concern that they will be overly prepared.  The idea here is to present the minimum for a child to be very well prepared.  Knowing a little extra doesn't hurt.

What Math Skills Are Taught in Kindergarten:

In kindergarten children learn:

  • To count to 100
  • Count by twos, fives and tens
  • Add and subtract within five
  • Understand how to add or subtract to get to ten
  • Describe objects using measurement -- the length and wieght of objects
  • Learn to compare two objects -- such as bigger/smaller, greater than/ less than
  • Sort and categorize objects
  • Identify shapes that are 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional -- triangles, square, rectangle, rhombus, circle, pyramid, cube, prism and sphere

What Math Skills To Teach Pre-K

  • Verbally count to 20
  • Get familiar with counting objects up to ten. For example counting up to ten toys.
  • That bigger numbers can be reached by smaller numbers (for example, when you have five toys, count them up to five.  Then separate the toys into two  and three toys, count the two and three, put them together and count to five.  Don't worry about whether or not your child can fully understand this, just show it to them to spark the idea.

  • If your child has mastered counting to 20 verbally, demonstrate skip counting by twos.  You can line up ten pairs of shoes to demonstrate this.  Count the shoes by one by one, then skip count by two with each pair.  Once again, your child does not need to master this idea, you are just introducing the concept.

  • Talk with your child about different measurements  Show them that objects can be measured by weight.  You could weight yourself or your child on a scale to demonstrate.  You can also show them a ruler and that objects can be measured by length. Point out the numbers on a clock, and tell them that clocks measure time.  At this stage, you are just pointing out that numbers are used for different types of measuring, not teaching how to measure

  • You probably already use position words when talking with your child. Call attention to them and talk about the opposite i.e. in front of/ behind,  on top/ below, next to and beside.  Your child will learn the meaning by hearing you talk about this concept in context.  The bonus on this one - it is also a reading skill.

  • Talk about the differences between flat shapes and solid shapes.  Paper circle, compared to a ball, a square compared to a block. Talk about shape names regularly, describe things with the name of the shape, pizza is a circle shape.  Once again, your child doesn't need to memorize this.  Introducing the idea is enough.

What Reading Skills are Taught In Kindergarten

In kindergarten children learn:

  • The full upper and lower case letters of the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes.
  • How words are read: from left to right, and top to bottom of a page. That words are separated by a space, and that spoken words and represented by written letters and language

  • How to read single syllable words

  • know the long and short vowel sounds

  • to read and understand very beginner level readers ie "phonics readers" or "leveled readers'

  • To recognize the Title, Author, Illustrator, along with the front, back and title page of a book

  • Show understanding of a story by identifying the main characters, setting and events in a story

  • Understand how the illustrations support the text in a story

  • Recognize common types of text, such as storybooks and poems

What Reading Skills To Teach Pre-K

I am sure you have heard about the importance of reading to your child regularly to develop good pre-reading skills.  

  • Teach your child nursery rhymes and children's songs to help your child recognize the patterns of language.
  • Read a variety of different books to your child.  Read them storybooks, books of rhymes and poetry, non-fiction books with facts about animals or nature, books that describe real events and situations.  Spread these out over time, you don't want to overwhelm yourself or your child.   
  • When reading a book, point out at least once that you read the book from front to back, trace under the words at times when you are reading, and explain that since the letters and words on the page represent the words you are reading out loud, that your read the words in the order on the page.  For silly exercise just once read the words on page in reverse order, or randomly to show that it doesn’t make any sense when not read left to right.  Just showing this to your child to peak curiosity is enough at this point.

  • Teach your child to sing the alphabet song
  • Teach your child to recognize at least ten letters.  A good place to begin are the letters of their first name, as they will be of great interest to your child.

What About Writing in Kindergarten?

The writing skills taught in kindergarten include:

  • using drawing, speaking, or writing to explain what happened in a story or text that was read to the child
  • use drawing, writing or speaking to explain events, such as what they did during the weekend or at an event.
  • With support, answer questions and add detail to their drawing/speaking/writing of a story or event
  • Explore using digital tools to produce and publish writing - with adult help.
  • describe familiar places, people and settings with some help
  • work in a group to answer questions or explain and event using drawing, speaking or writing
  • Write all upper and lower case letters of the alphabet
  • Use nouns, verbs, and prepositions properly

  • Understand what a question is and that who, what, when, where, why, and how are question words.

  • Spell simple one syllable words

What Writing Skills To Teach Pre-K

There is a great deal of overlap between reading and writing skills in the pre-K stage.  This list will be a little shorter because the reading activities above directly support pre-K writing skills.

  • Make lots of small talk with your child.  Ask them all kinds of questions for them to think about answering.  Ask them what are their favorite stories, colors, clothes, or animals.  Ask them how they feel and what happened that led to them feeling the way they do. Feel free to offer some suggestions if they don't seem to have the words to express themselves.  Not only will this give them foundational writing skills, but it can also enhance your relationship with your child.
  • Specifically ask your child questions about familiar things that have an order to them, such as "What did you do today?"  "What did you do at your play date with your friend?" you can extend this to books you have read to your child by asking them to tell you what happened in a storybook.
  • Encourage your child to color and draw pictures.  Being familiar with writing tools and knowing how to do even simple drawings will prepare them for using drawing to tell a story.
  • Let your child use a few digital tools before attending school.  Playing games on a tablet or cell phone will familiarize your child with digital media which will prepare them for the new standard of using digital media to produce and publish writing.
  • Teach your child to write their name

Remember, while this list is inspired by the new rigorous standards for kindergarten being used throughout the United States, there are no single hard lines for kindergarten readiness.  

 Mathematics Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2016, from http://www.corestandards.org/Math/  

English Language Arts Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2016, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/  

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