Starting kindergarten is a big step – and an exciting rite of passage – for young children (and their parents). You love your child and want him to get off to a good start in school. Maybe you have doubts about his development, or you simply don’t know what will be required of him in the kindergarten classroom.

Below are some of the key developmental milestones a child will ideally have reached by the time he starts kindergarten. These requirements aren’t set in stone, however, and not every child will have mastered every skill by the time he sets foot in the classroom.

Kindergarten readiness involves four areas of development: Intellectual, physical, social/emotional, and self-care.

Intellectual Development

The ABC’s of academic success in kindergarten require that your child:

  • Is interested in books and reading.
  • Holds a book upright and turns the pages.
  • Knows some songs and rhyming games.
  • Identifies some letters (especially those in his name).
  • Identifies labels and signs at home and in the neighborhood.
  • Pretends to read and write.
  • Knows his first and last name, names of family members.
  • Can describe an experience and tell a familiar story.

Physical Development

Kindergarteners use their bodies as well as their brains! To thrive in kindergarten, your child will need both small and large motor skills, such as:

  • Drawing with crayons, pens, and pencils, with control.
  • Copying simple figures and shapes, such as a straight line, circle, and square.
  • Running, jumping, and hopping.
  • Bouncing and catching a ball.

Social and Emotional Development

School and learning involve more than academics. A key to success in kindergarten (and beyond) is being able to get along with others. In kindergarten, your child should be able and willing to:

  • Listen to an adult and follow simple directions.
  • Cooperate and play well with other children.
  • Sit still for short periods (15 minutes or less).

Taking Care of Personal Needs

Taking care of one’s personal needs is not only practical, it’s also a sign of independence and growth. And, for most young children, it’s a source of great pride! To start kindergarten, your child should be able to:

  • Use the bathroom without assistance.
  • Wash his hands.
  • Eat without help, using utensils.
  • Dress himself and work snaps, buttons, and zippers
  • Tie his shoes.
  • Recognize his own belongings (such as a jacket or lunchbox).

Want more details? Check out this kindergarten readiness checklist

How You Can Help Your Preschooler Gear Up For Kindergarten

As your child’s first teacher – and her loving parent – you’re in a perfect position to prepare her for kindergarten. If she attends preschool, make sure she’s in a program that provides a fun and stimulating learning environment. Whether she’s in preschool or not, you can help her grow if you:

  • Read to your child daily. Visit your public library for children’s story hour, and borrow books to enjoy together at home. Snuggle up and read bedtime stories.
  • Build her vocabulary with everyday conversation. Discuss your daily routines, interesting experiences, and feelings. Listen to what she says, and correct her gently when necessary. Avoid using “baby talk.”
  • Support her “social/emotional I.Q.” Classroom learning will require your child to listen and follow directions and cooperate with others. She’ll also need to manage her emotions – and be sensitive to the feelings of others. Be sure you provide clear guidance in these skills, and let her practice them one-on-one (with a sibling or friend) and in groups (both formal and informal).
  • Let your child play and create. Whether it’s exploring outdoors, building a castle out of Lego’s, or finger painting, play is a critical to developing your child’s imagination, creativity, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving ability.

Find more helpful tips for nurturing learning in your preschooler

Let the Professionals Weigh In

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s readiness to start kindergarten, don’t think you have to go it alone. If your child attends preschool, her teachers should be able to help you decide whether she needs extra time or special help to prepare. And your child’s pediatrician can also be a source of insight and information regarding your child’s development.

Related Articles:

Kindergarten Readiness Info Center

Kindergarten Readiness Checklist

What Your Child Should Know and Be Able to Do Upon Entering Kindergarten

How Do I Know If My Child Is Ready for Kindergarten?

What Can I do to Get My Child Ready for Kindergarten?