School is about more than reading, writing and math—it’s where we learn to play nice, follow instructions and develop a strong work ethic. But don’t wait for your child to embarrass herself at school to teach some behavioral basics. Take it from the teachers and learn what personal skills your child should have before next school year.
"Being able to use the bathroom is a helpful must." –Debin Farrar, former preschool teacher and current kindergarten teacher at Richmond College Prep School in Richmond, California
Accidents are inevitable, but they should be a rare occurrence in preschool. Just in case, make sure your child has a change of clothes at school.
What else should your child be able to do to be ready for preschool?
- Wash her hands: Add this simple step to your child’s potty training routine, and encourage her to be thorough and take her time.
- Button and zip clothing: You might pick out your child’s outfits, but before preschool, you should be past helping her get dressed every morning.
- Be away from parents for at least an hour: To avoid triggering separation anxiety for your child the first time you drop her off at school, schedule a few playdates at another kid’s house to see how she handles being away from you.
- Focus on a task independently: Let your child play with toys or create art, and watch to see if she stays focused for any length of time.
"I would love for them to be able to tie their shoes." –Ivana Evans, kindergarten teacher at KIPP Philadelphia Elementary Academy in Philadelphia
Tying shoes is one of many fine motor skills you can practice at home with your child. Encourage her to notice when the laces come undone and work to fix it.
What else should your child be able to do to be ready for kindergarten?
- Play, share and work with other kids: If your child had trouble socializing in preschool, try a few playdates or trips to the park to allow her more time to be around other children.
- Have basic identification abilities: Your child should know her age, her first and last name and her parents’ first and last names.
- Listen attentively and follow directions: To get ready for kindergarten, read your child stories for up to 20 minutes at a time, and give her plenty of practice following two- and three-step directions, such as “brush your teeth, put on your pajamas and choose a book to read.”
"Children should be able to put on their own shoes, coats, pull up their pants, put their book bag away and be able to find the classroom or bathroom independently.” –Lenae Madonna, first grade teacher at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School in New York City
First graders should start showing more independence than they did in their kindergarten year. These are all actions that you and your child can practice at home so that she’s ready.
What else should your child be able to do to be ready for first grade?
- Understand basic time and scheduling concepts: Your child will be introduced to a day that’s far more structured than kindergarten. It will help if your child understands how to read clocks and know which day of the week it is. Practice following basic schedules at home. For example, take a family walk on Wednesdays, go grocery shopping on Thursdays, then have movie night on Fridays.
- Ask for help: Many children are unwilling to ask for help or express confusion. In first grade, with academic rigor ramping up, children need to be past this behavior and feel comfortable admitting that they don’t know how to do something.
- Stay energized for a full school day: For most children, first grade introduces the seven-hour school day. Practice for this transition with longer activities and days out during the summer.
"Students should be able to own up to and try to make amends for their mistakes." –Jon's Cardoso, second grade teacher at Brooke Roslindale Charter School in Roslindale, Massachusetts
Your child should know right from wrong in the classroom and be able to apologize when mistakes are made.
What else should your child be able to do to be ready for second grade?
- Solve personal conflicts civilly: Arguing and fighting are bound to happen in the social atmosphere of second grade, but your child should have some ability to talk through differences. If she can prevent conflicts before they happen, that’s even better.
- Accept blame: Second grade is a year of heightened moral responsibility for many children. If you have a child who blames everyone but herself, help her get over this behavior as a first step to a mature understanding of morals.
"Some parents think their kid is great with technology because he plays video games. Just because a kid plays video games doesn't mean he has computer skills." –Charlotte Christensen, third grade teacher at Frank L. Huff Elementary School in Mountain View, California
Third graders aren’t expected to be master typists, but in the digital age, they should be able to open a document, save changes, change fonts and understand where to find things on a computer desktop.
What else should your child be able to do to be ready for third grade?
- Raise hands, not yell out: First and second grade should have given your child enough practice raising a hand to ask or answer a question that she no longer “yells out” in class.
- Focus on a task in a small group: Third graders should be able to sit down in a small group, read directions and work together to get the assignment done. “Group work is not just social time,” Christensen says.
- Work quietly for 10 minutes.
"Students should have passed the ‘tattletale’ mode by fourth grade and be able to talk out a lot of their problems with other students." –Audrey Mannion, fourth grade teacher at the Christian Academy in Brookhaven, Pennsylvania
In fourth grade, teachers expect students to take responsibility for their relationships and be able to work out issues with peers. "Students should be maturing to the point where they don't call each other out on things in class," Mannion adds, "but instead are encouraging when a classmate does something worth praise."
What else should your child be able to do to be ready for fourth grade?
- Organize school supplies: By fourth grade, kids should be able to write down their homework and take home the necessary books, as well as keep their desks and binders organized.
- Walk through halls quietly: While children of all grades are taught to walk in quiet, single-file lines and keep their hands to themselves, but this is a basic expectation in fourth grade.
- Work quietly for 15 to 20 minutes.
“With a majority of my students, no one had talked to them about wearing deodorant and basic hygiene. It's kind of awkward to bring up but I feel it's something they should know.” –Merisenda Bills, fourth and fifth grade teacher at San Antonio Elementary School in San Jose, California
By the time kids have reached fifth grade, they should be aware of the physical changes that await them in the future and the basics of personal hygiene. It might be time for an awkward but necessary talk with your child!
What else should your child be able to do to be ready for fifth grade?
- Organize school supplies: This can’t be stressed enough. Fifth graders should have organized binders and assignment books ready to go so they can focus their time on the increasing academic demands they will face instead of making sense of their disorganized notes.
- Be a good sport: The hyper-competitive, win-at-all-costs attitude of early elementary school won’t be as tolerated in fifth grade, when children are expected to show more maturity.
- Work quietly for 30 minutes.
Worrying about your child’s academic future can be overwhelming enough, but the personal milestones reached along the way can be just as important. Have fun with it and celebrate the new things your child does. The first time she ties her shoes or gets through the day without an accident, for example, celebrate with cookies and a movie. With preparation, your child can make behavior second nature and focus her efforts toward a great education!