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What Kids Should Know Before Kindergarten

By Alex Hazlett for

Updated on January 1, 2023

If you're enrolling your child in school for the first time this fall, these are the basic kindergarten requirements they'll be expected to know.

It is not uncommon for parents of young kids to be anxious about whether their children are ready for kindergarten. After all, entering school often means big changes for little kids, from learning to read and write to navigating classroom rules and playground politics. And not all kids will enter school with all the same skills; some kids will already know how to spell their names, while others may struggle to recite the alphabet without help.

While you can find myriad lists of "what kids should know before kindergarten," the reality is much simpler according to experts. Most typically developing children will have mastered the skills they need for kindergarten readiness, and most of those who haven't will do so with some help from parents and teachers. The small subset of kids who still struggle with the requirements of kindergarten can be aided by formal special education evaluations and assistance.

Think 'Readiness' Instead of 'Requirements'

There isn't one definite list of "kindergarten requirements." In many places, age-eligible kids can't be prevented from attending kindergarten even if a school district's screening suggests they're not quite ready.

The things kids should know before kindergarten track the typical developmental milestones for children their age. You can see the full list from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but by age 5, most kids can do things such as:

  • Tell a simple story in full sentences

  • Differentiate between reality and pretend

  • Count 10 things

  • Know their first and last name

  • Stand on one foot

Broad signs of school readiness

Generally speaking, kindergarten readiness breaks down into areas like separating from parents, socialization with other kids, and communication. Kindergartners need to be able to express their wants and needs to their teachers, manage their own clothing in the bathroom, and follow simple directions.

Children who have been in preschool or pre-K will likely have practiced these skills. Unless your child's pre-k teacher has raised an issue, parents and caregivers shouldn't worry that a child isn't ready for kindergarten.

While having some exposure to these pre-academic skills is helpful as kids transition to kindergarten, it's not a hard requirement, and teachers are used to kids arriving with a wide range of experience.

"One of the reasons I love teaching kindergarten is because it is sort of like everyone enters with a blank slate," says Mollie Bruhn, an early childhood educator in New York City. "I think the last thing we need to do is put more pressure on families or kids," she says.

Screenings and evaluations for kindergarten

School districts generally screen rising kindergartners for academic and developmental readiness in the spring or summer. If there are things a child needs to work on, parents can practice with them before school starts, says Jamie Broach, MA, CCC-SLP, the preschool and school-age speech-language pathologist for a public school district in southeast Ohio.

In terms of communication, Broach says she'd expect a child starting kindergarten to be able to be understood by an adult who doesn't know them well and to be able to follow directions with two steps. For instance, "get a pencil and put it on the desk."

Children who haven't been in center-based care may have had fewer opportunities to practice some skills, such as being around other kids or following a routine. For these kids, Broach says, some structured activities—like storytime at the library or swim lessons—can be beneficial. She also encourages all parents to read to their children.

Parents don't need to prepare their kids for a kindergarten evaluation, Broach says, beyond telling them the procedural details. In addition to advising individual families on their children, school districts use the results of the evaluations to plan out their classes and understand what support students might need, she says.


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