What Your Child Needs to Know for Kindergarten (And What You Need to Know Too)

When my oldest went to kindergarten, I was certain she was ready. She loved the concept of school and learning new things and making friends. She was born early in the year and could already write her name. It was going to be great! What I didn’t know was that socially, she still struggled a little.

The next year, I sent my middle daughter off to kindergarten at just 3-years old. I fretted over everything from her being able to open up her lunch containers to her being exhausted all day long. How was she supposed to learn to read and write on top of all this?

When I look back at it, I think I may have learned almost as much as my kids did after their kindergarten years. Which is why I feel like now, with a little experience under my belt, I can safely say that, yes, there are some things your kids should know—but it’s not all about reading and writing. And they absolutely don’t have to be mastered by day 1 of kindergarten.

So, if you’re worried about sending your weeble off to kindie, here are a few things that are good to know.

What Your Child Should Know:

Letter Recognition – Knowing most of the alphabet, being able to sing it, being able to identify some letters, being able to identify their name. These are all things that will help your child feel more confident about school. My oldest had it down cold. My middle needed more work at it. So if your child can’t recite the entire alphabet backward and forwards, don’t worry too much. Starting with letter recognition is key.

Writing & Fine Motor Skills – This is an area where they don’t have to have it mastered, but you can help them along. Try tracing letters, especially the letters in their name. You can do it with a pencil or marker, but you can also try it with finger painting, shaving cream or sugar in a pan.

Number Recognition and One-to-One Counting – Can they point to items and count them one at a time? (1, 2, 3, 4 cats!) or do they see them and count all in a jumble (123456 cats!)? If they can recognize numbers and do some beginning counting, it will help them along the way.

How to Open Lunch Containers – Ensuring they can open their lunch containers is key. They’ve got little hands, so make sure you practice with easy-to-open containers like the ones mentioned here.

Manners – This might be their first time without you in the big world. They should know how important it is to be polite and respectful to their peers and their teachers. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ goes a long way.

How to Use the Washroom Alone – If they’re still mastering buttons and zippers, maybe get them some jogging pants and leggings for the first little while. They should also be able to wipe effectively. Time to get practicing!

How to Say What They’re Feeling – My oldest struggled with this one a little. Instead of using words, she would often cry. I wish I had prepped her for expressing her emotions with her teachers and friends through words. It’s a good idea to let your child know they don’t have to like everything, but they have to follow rules and they have to use words to express their feelings. (My daughter’s an expert at it now at 8-years old!)

How to Put Their Shoes on the Right Feet – Here’s a handy little hack: get them labels with pictures that they match up so they can tell their left from their right. Genius!

What You Should Know:

It Will Be Exhausting for Them – No matter how old they are or how ready they are, kindergarten is tough and tiring. After seeing how exhausted my little 3-year old was at the end of the day, I pushed her bedtime WAY back for the first few weeks. (I’m talking like 6:30 at night, she was in bed and snoozing). I know that’s not always possible, but the earlier the better. Just until they start to adjust.

It’s Okay to Be Emotional. And It’s Okay to Not Be Emotional – I can sob at pretty much anything, so watching my babes march off into their school without me was pretty rough. I ugly-cried for my oldest. I cried a little less for my middle. I might throw a party when my third heads to JK for the first time. The point is, this is a big step for everyone and no matter how you process it, it’s completely normal and perfectly okay.

You Can Be Your Child’s Advocate – Ask your child questions. Ask the teacher questions. Be involved. Listen to your child when they tell you things. (This can be a rare occurrence at the end of the school day). If you’re not sure about something, talk about it. It’s important to get to the bottom of things and speak up for your child when you feel like you need to.

But Remember, Most Teachers are Really Great and Are On Your Side – Teachers, for the most part, love kids. That’s a big part of why they do what they do. And they are there to help your kids. My experience has taught me that they want their students to do well. They want them to learn. And they grow attached to the little weebles, just as much as your kids do to them.

Even if your child doesn’t know everything right from the start, try not to worry too much. Yes, you should work at things with your kids. But there’s a whole year ahead of them. And with your involvement, some time and a whole lot of fun (kindergarten is a great time!), you’ll all have an awesome experience.


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