The Things Children Must Know to Start Kindergarten

With over half of all U.S. children attending some form of early child care or education program -- according to the National Center for Education Statistics -- it's no wonder kindergarten teachers expect kids to enter school with at least some prior academic knowledge 1. While it's unlikely your child's school will have specific requirements, here are some things she should know before her first day.

Literacy and Language

Although your child is learning language skills -- such as how to speak and listen -- long before he starts kindergarten, there are some early literacy and communication abilities which demonstrate school readiness. The child development experts at PBS Parents note that by the time a child starts kindergarten, he should be able to understand basic grammar, listen to and re-tell more sophisticated stories and identify short or simple words by sight 34.

Additionally, by the end of preschool, most children should have the literacy and fine motor skills to write a few letters and maybe even some words. While every child will come to kindergarten with a different degree of literacy development, your child will get off to the best start if he at least knows the alphabet and how to write basic words (such as his first name).


According to PBS Parents, older preschoolers who are ready for kindergarten should have the math skills and knowledge to count up to at least 10 (if not well into the double digits), understand order terms such as:

  • 1+ 1 = 2)
  • identify two-dimensional shapes
  • combine shapes into a larger picture,
  • recognize patterns 34

Competency with all of these skills is ideal, but at the very least your child should know how to count up to 10, identify and name geometric shapes and point out patterns.

Social Skills

Academic skills aren't the only things your child should know before he starts kindergarten. Social skills are crucial to his success in school. Without knowledge of pro-social behaviors, your child will struggle with the teacher's expectations of classroom behavior and may have trouble making friends with his classmates.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that by the end of the preschool years most children should have the ability to make friends based on like interests. Your child should also be able to cooperate and share with other children, as well as take turns and show empathy for others. These skills are essential for getting along peacefully in the early elementary learning environment.

Emotional Development

For example, instead of throwing a tantrum when she feels overwhelmed, your ready-for-kindergartner should have the ability to use words to express her emotions. She should have an emotional vocabulary that includes a variety of feeling words such as:

  • happy
  • sad
  • mad
  • frustrated
  • worried or angry along with the ability to comfort
  • control herself