Skills kids need going into kindergarten

Two young children at a desk — one poised with a pencil above a notebook, the other smiling and observing.

At a glance

  • Many kids who are ready for kindergarten can say the alphabet and count to 10.

  • Kindergarten readiness includes motor skills like holding a pencil and using scissors.

  • Self-care like getting dressed and not needing help in the bathroom are important kindergarten skills.

When kids are getting ready for kindergarten, many families wonder about academic skills. But self-care and social and emotional skills are important for kindergarten readiness, too. For example, does your child need help using the bathroom? Learn about the different kinds of skills kids are expected to have when they start kindergarten.

Language skills

  • Speak in complete sentences and be understood by others most of the time

  • Use words to express needs and wants

  • Understand two-step directions

  • Make comparisons and describe relationships between objects like big/little, under/over, and first/last

Reading readiness skills

  • Enjoy listening to stories

  • Know how to find the first page of a book and which way to flip the pages

  • Recognize familiar logos and signs, like stop signs

  • Recite the alphabet and identify most of the letters

  • Recognize and try to write their own name

  • Recognize when two words rhyme (like cat and bat)

  • Start to connect letter sounds to letters (like the sound of the first letter in their name)

  • Draw a picture to help express an idea

Math skills

  • Count from 1 to 10 without skipping numbers

  • Match a number to a group of five or fewer items (“I see three cats”)

  • Recognize and name basic shapes (square, circle, triangle, rectangle)

  • Understand more than and less than

  • Arrange three objects in the right order (like from smallest to biggest)

  • Name or point to the colors in a box of eight crayons

Self-care skills

  • Use the bathroom and wash up on their own

  • Get dressed on their own (but may still need help with buttons, zippers, and shoelaces)

  • Know and can say their first and last name and age

Social and emotional skills

  • Separate from a parent or caregiver without getting overly upset

  • Interact with other kids

  • Pay attention for at least five minutes to a task an adult is leading, like listening to directions for an activity or discussing the day’s weather during circle time

Fine motor skills

  • Use a pencil or crayon with some control

  • Use scissors

  • Copy basic shapes

  • Make distinct marks that look like letters and write some actual letters, especially the ones in their name

  • Put together a simple puzzle

Gross motor skills

  • Run

  • Jump with feet together

  • Hop on one foot

  • Climb stairs

  • Bounce a ball and try to catch it

How to help your rising kindergartner

Kids develop skills at different rates. It’s not unusual for kids to have strong skills in one area and weak skills in other areas. Some states use kindergarten readiness tests to get a sense of which early learners might need extra help in some areas.

If you’re concerned your child isn’t ready for kindergarten, talk with your child's preschool teacher and work together to come up with a plan to address any trouble spots. You might also want to talk with your child’s health care provider. Learn about the pros and cons of delaying kindergarten for a year.

If your child is headed for kindergarten, explore these steps for a smooth transition. You might also want to see a set of videos on what kindergarten academic skills look like in action.

Key takeaways

  • Kids develop skills at different rates and might be strong in some areas and weak in others.

  • Some states use kindergarten readiness tests to see if kids need extra help in certain areas.

  • If you’re concerned your child might not be ready for kindergarten, talk to your child’s preschool teacher about how to help.


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