Oh, Behave! Personal Skills Your Child Needs Before Next Year

Oh, Behave! Personal Skills Your Child Needs Before Next Year

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Updated on Apr 8, 2013

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.”

First Grade

"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.
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