What Should a Kindergartener Know?

Updated on March 13, 2017
What your kindergartener needs to know to succeed in the first year of school.
What your kindergartener needs to know to succeed in the first year of school. | Source

My baby started Kindergarten right after his 5th birthday. He's nine years younger than my oldest son, and the rules have certainly changed. Kindergarten is much more focused on curriculum and is a lot more like 1st grade now than it was only 8 years ago, never mind what it was when most of us parents were kids.

Whether we agree or disagree, kids now spend most of their time being prepared to take standardized tests and these now start in – you guessed it! Kindergarten. For those who have it available, a good pre-k program can make all the difference. We were unable to participate in that, so I spent a lot of time over the past summer preparing my son so that it wouldn't be overwhelming to him. It paid off! He's thoroughly enjoying Kindergarten despite having no previous school experience.

For those of us who have children born right on the cutoff as we did, the decision to send them or wait for a year can be a daunting one. Here is a checklist of some things your Kindergarten teacher will expect your child to know prior to entering Kindergarten to be successful in school. If your child has had the Pre-K experience, he/she will likely know most of this already. For others, start practicing these things right away.

* Dominant hand. Most children have a dominant hand by this time. A few children, like my son, may be wholly or partially ambidextrous. Although I disagree with making them only use one, in our school system, they require that your child choose the dominant hand they wish to use. It is important to allow your child to make that decision - they know what they are comfortable with.

As a child I was also ambidextrous and was forced to choose the right hand and it caused some problems for me initially. Let your child pick, even if you think "right handed" is easier, if it isn't what they actually are, it makes learning difficult. Most ambidextrous kids, when given full choice, will become lefties :) - embrace it! My son was the exception, he actually chose his right and has since stopped doing anything with the left :(. I think it would be great to just let them be both!

Pre Kindergarten Skills Checklist

Prior to Kindergarten your child should...
*Have a dominant hand and be able to cut along lines with scissors.
Sit quietly and listen without disturbing others.
Recall and follow 2 – 3 step directions (for example:pick up your paper, take it to your cubby and put it away)
Speak in understandable language using complete sentences.
Be able to fully take care of personal needs like dressing, going to the bathroom alone etc.
Be able to listen to a short story and then answer questions about what they just heard.
Be able to express emotions appropriately and at the right times. Raises hand, no disruptions etc.
Recognize and be able to write their first name.
Recognize shapes and colors.
Recognize numbers and count to 20.
Recognize several letters by sight and know some letter sounds.
A list of what every child should know and be able to do prior to the start of Kindergarten to ensure success.

If you are confident in your child's ability to do all of these things, chances are they will be ready for school. Over the summer, I worked with my son on cutting with scissors and writing his name. We also did numbers up to 20 and he knew all his letters by sight.

Core Kindergarten Curriculum

There are a lot of things Kindergarteners learn throughout their first year of school. It is so exciting to watch them grow at this time, because they change SO much, so quickly. Within a few weeks of school starting, you will see them take off.

Throughout the year they will learn all kinds of exciting things. Many items on the curriculum surprised me, like telling time on an analog clock and learning to count money for example. They also start addition and subtraction problems in Kindergarten now instead of first grade and they learn dozens of "sight words" as well. I remember my oldest son not doing much of this until first grade, so Kindergarten is definitely changing to a much more academic setting than years past!

Here is a more extensive overview of the core fundamentals our school district uses. Yours will probably be similar.

Kindergarten Sight Words

These 40 sight words are introduced to Kindergarteners now in our district and they are required to know them before moving on the 1st grade.

Super Readers is a neat, inexpensive app that makes learning the Dolch sight words easy and fun for your child. It's interactive and will keep them engaged.

Kindergarten Curriculum Overview by Subject

Kindergarten Language Arts (includes reading, writing and oral language skills)

  • Left to right progression
  • Attentive listening
  • Rhyming words and sounds
  • Letter and sound association
  • Recognizing both upper and lowercase letters in random order
  • Introduction to KWL charts (see links for more information on these)
  • Understand the difference between authors and illustrators
  • Respond to stories through drawings
  • Combining drawing and writing
  • Articulation of words / polishing of speech
  • Retelling stories in proper sequence
  • Makes predictions about the outcome of a story
  • Refining active listening skills (eye contact, no distractions or disruptions)
  • Expression of complete thoughts using full sentences

Kindergarten Math Skills and Concepts

  • Positioning (top, center, over, above, below etc)
  • Counting to 100
  • Counting by 5's and 10's
  • Sorting by colors, shapes etc.
  • Pattern recognition
  • Same, lesser and greater than
  • Ordering numbers 1 – 20
  • Writing numbers 1 – 20
  • Beginning addition and subtraction
  • Counting pennies
  • Identifying all coins
  • Measuring longer/shorter, heavier/lighter
  • Measuring with non-standard units
  • Introduction to graphs and interpretation
  • Time concepts: first, next and last
  • Telling time on digital and analog clocks (hour and half hour)

Kindergarten Science Concepts

  • Living and non-living things
  • Sink and float
  • Weather and seasons
  • Recycling
  • Five senses and how you learn from them
  • Comparing objects and contrasting (cold/hot, light/heavy etc)
  • Plants and how they grow
  • Animals - various animals, their habitats, how they live etc.


  • Basic concepts of being healthy
  • Making good choices
  • Recognizing unhealthy and healthy foods
  • Understanding feelings
  • Personal hygiene and dental health basics
  • Personal responsibility for behaviors

Social Science

  • Good citizenship characteristics
  • Flag and pledge
  • Introduction to economics: needs vs wants / goods and services
  • History basics: Influence of past on the present, customs and traditions
  • Concepts of time, locations, place and movement
  • Introductions to maps and globes
  • Similarities and differences among people
  • Cultural heritage through music, dance and literature

Wow, now that's a list. Do you remember learning all of that in Kindergarten? Not me :), then again I think it would have made it more exciting. Of course, this also means it is much more challenging and many parents are looking for ways to help their child succeed.

This age group is the best at learning, they truly are sponges and they absorb everything! It's by far the best time to instill a natural curiosity and love of learning in children; one that will hopefully stick with them throughout their school experience. Unfortunately, for those who struggle it can also set them up for a lifetime of struggle with learning and no parent wants that for their child.

Kindergarten Learning Activities:

  • Build learning into their everyday activities. Math for example is an important part of everyday life, whether we recognize it or not. Allow your child to count things like stairs, the number of cookies on the plate, etc.
  • Have your child put things away and sort them by size and color.
  • Keep a calendar and have your child help plan and write down important activities and events. This helps them develop concepts of time and also allows them to know what is expected of them when.
  • Give your child coins to count as they put them into their piggy bank. Let them buy something and count out the money they need.
  • Look for shapes wherever you are and have your child identify them, make it a game.
  • As you travel, you can play travel games and look for patterns or shapes, count cars or trucks, or items of a particular color etc.
  • Read to your child daily, make it a routine habit.
  • Say a word and have your child help you think of words that sound the same.
  • After you read a story have your child retell his favorite part.
  • As you read, stop and ask your child what he/she thinks will happen next.
  • Play games where your child has to listen and follow directions. “Simon says” is a good one.
  • Go outside and explore, talk about the things you see in the neighborhood, out in nature. Let your child discuss what he is interested in learning more about and then find materials on those topics. For example if your child points out an interesting insect, when you return home, “Google it” with your child.
  • Provide opportunities for experiments. You can do this with simple recipes in a kitchen, or by asking questions as you do regular activities. What, when and how questions are a great way to engage in conversations.
  • Highlight science in everyday activities to pique your child's interest. When you garden for example, explain how the light and water make the seeds grow and why you need to water the plants etc.
  • Plan activities using things like lists, maps and charts to help your child get a feel for them.

All of these activities can be made very natural, so that your child actively participates and finds it fun. It also allows you to instill learning without having to set aside blocks of time to only focus on learning activities. Kids succeed when learning is fun for both the parent and the child. No one wants to sit and just memorize things or be bored – kids this age want to explore and engage all of their senses in the learning experience, so do what you can to encourage that.

The difference you will see in your child between the start of Kindergarten and the last day of school will astound you. I was floored by how much my oldest son grew mentally and emotionally in that first year of school.

How do you help your child embrace and love learning? Do you think Kindergarten has changed a lot?

How do you feel about Kindergarten?

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Questions & Answers


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      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        Thanks Faith, I worry too about burnout when it comes to pushing kids so hard. I think learning is important, but it should be engaging and fun for the young ones so they can develop a life-long love of learning.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        Thanks Erica, I completely agree on proper balance and I hope that schools continue to push programs like ours have with the good citizenship things they do each month. Appreciate the read and comment.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        Thanks Kristen, glad you enjoyed it :)

      • Faith Reaper profile image

        Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

        Congratulations, Christin, on the well-deserved HOTD!

        Yes, let's not think about our Kindergarten classes ...

        Insightful hub here. My youngest granddaughter just started Kindergarten ...hard to believe. She loves it being she tells me she made 10 new friends LOL.

        I've seen children pushed so hard, that at an older age they just shutdown on education and seek other interests that are not so good. They just burnout it seems. Then when they come home from school they are pushed to so many other activities that they just don't have any downtime whatsoever be a kid.

      • profile image

        Erica L 2 years ago

        I really enjoyed your article. It's especially interesting to me as I wish to become an elementary teacher. I teach pre-school right now and I absolutely love it!

        There are always pros and cons to everything. However, I do think that they are placing too much of a demand on the little ones. I think that increasing what they learn to this extent will cause more harm than good. This way of going about things will eventually teach children that all of their worth should be based off of how much they know, not who they are as people.

        I still believe the academic side of school is extremely important. I guess I wouldn't mind how much information children are getting as long as it is balanced by allowing the children to have more time to socialize as well. I think there just needs to be a balance.

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Christin, congrats on HOTD! This is an interesting hub on how the school's curriculum have changed and expanded over the years for Kindergarten.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        Thanks so much, ChitragadaSharan so glad you enjoyed the hub - and I didn't realize it was HOTD until I read your comment. That's cool :)

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

        Congratulations for the well deserved HOTD!

        A very informative hub and useful for parents. Kindergarten has really changed over the times and it is more academic in its approach.

        Small kids are required to undergo entrance tests before they enter kindergarten and it is the responsibility of the parents to prepare them so that they perform well.

        Quite appropriately, 'Well begun is half done.'

        Thank you for sharing this enlightening hub!

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        We can agree to disagree Jennifer, but I respect your opinion. I am of the opinion that pushing too hard to early stifles young ones - Learning is a natural thing that little ones do, it doesn't have to be so structured at 3 years old.

      • profile image

        Jennifer 2 years ago

        I believe most of this is preschool material. Preschoolers are capable of learning a lot. Waiting till 5,6,7 is a waste in my opinion. I have seen 3 year olds write their name, identify letters and numbers, colors and even the combination of two colors making another. We, as a community, do not realize that education starts at birth...kids could be way beyond this if we were incorporating it in their lives from the start.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        Thank you Charito I agree with reading early - it's a great foundation. One of my earliest teachers told me that if you learn to read well; you can do anything. That always stuck with me and I believe it's true. It's always interesting to learn how other countries approach early education as well. Thanks for commenting :)

      • Charito1962 profile image

        Charito Maranan-Montecillo 2 years ago from Manila, Philippines

        Kindergarten has really changed today, Christin. I agree that it is now academic in its approach.

        In my country, kids are required to undergo pre-school before they enter kindergarten. I recall that my son even had to take an entrance test. (Imagine that!)

        I perfectly agree with you that parents - especially us moms - have a duty to prepare our kids to face this new challenge in their lives. Before my son went to pre-school, I made it a habit to read him books for children. He performed well since then.

        A most informative hub! Good job!

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        Thanks Duane, this is pretty much what the common core standards are now and what public schools are doing requirement wise. I have mixed feelings about it myself in kids that young, but my son is now entering 2nd grade and is doing very well, so I am keeping an open mind :)

      • Duane Townsend profile image

        Duane Townsend 2 years ago from Detroit

        Very informative Hub. I'm not sure how I feel about five year olds having this kind of achievement checklist. But still...this is a very impressive, well researched Hub.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        Awesome Eric, I'm sure he'll do well. Such a great age they change so much in just that one year - how exciting :)

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        So cool I got a notification when Maria commented and came back to visit. My boy is now going to go to Kindergarten in August. This article spring boarded us into getting ready. It has been a wonderful process for the whole family. You started us off right. Thank you so much, from the whole Dierker family.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

        Awesome Maria, so glad it is helping your brother prepare. I thank you for taking the time to comment :)

      • profile image

        Maria 2 years ago

        This was so helpful my mom has beebeen debating on whwhether or not to send my little brother to kindergarten and I sent this sight to her and we'll my brother is going to be prepared thanks to this

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

        I can't speak for all schools of course, but ours has done a wonderful job balancing common core with socialization skills and they don't just focus on both in Kindergarten, they do it throughout K - 3. If only every school did that, or if every parent was willing to actively participate in the education of their children instead of just expecting the school system to do it for them. You raise some very valid points corellabair. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • corellabair profile image

        Corella Bair 3 years ago from Illinois

        When I went to school, we were taught these types of things in 1st grade. Kindergarten was about coloring, socializing and taking a nap.. This was a time of transition where children learned to get along with each other, ask for permission to use the restroom and how to say their ABC's. Children now days are expected to know so much before they begin school. Even now days, not all children go to preschool. Some children do not have a parent or someone in their life who works with them at all, which puts them at an extreme disadvantage. This will likely be an issue unless preschool were mandatory. The lack of parent involvement will always be an issue and give some children a slower start. So, while all of these requirement are necessary, hopefully teachers will realize the disadvantages that some people have and work with those children to build their confidence and maybe group activities that can assist those children into getting up to speed without embarrassing unintentionally them.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

        Hi AConger; I understand about isolation and living in more rural areas. We do as well and my youngest is 9 years younger than the oldest. They are very close, but totally different age ranges so it's hard. He'll get a lot of that in school.

      • AConger profile image

        Ann Conger 3 years ago from Alabama

        This hub is very useful to me. My grandson just started pre-school and while he knows a llot of this type stuff as an only child his social skills are lacking. We live in a rural area and it is hard to get that social activity.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

        thanks incomeguru I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

      • incomeguru profile image

        Oyewole Folarin 3 years ago from Lagos

        This hub is very informative and useful. My wife was very pleased to have stumbled on this valuable content. Thanks for sharing.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

        Thanks Peeples :) It seemed daunting when they handed us this list at first - like wow! that's a lot, but my son just finished his Kindergarten year and he picked up all of it and more like it was nothing. They are truly sponges when they are young - it's amazing :)

      • peeples profile image

        Peeples 3 years ago from South Carolina

        My daughter is 3 and we have been trying to work on a lot of kindergarten things with her. Having a go to list will certainly help. Great article!

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

        Home schooling could definitely be an advantage for some kids, but I feel it could also be a detriment to those with parents who are not able to adequately educate and don't pursue their own educations. I think home schooling has become "trendy" - and many parents take it up not realizing that it is a full time job in itself on top of one's other responsibilities. Don't get me wrong, I see plenty wrong with our public schools whole teach to the test thing too. It's just not an easy answer anymore. When I grew up I went to a private school and I was one of the kids that was reading at a college level in the 6th grade. At grade 7 I went into public schools and was bored out of my skull in some classes, and failed others because my private school gave excellent reading foundations and failed to teach math at the appropriate levels. It was very frustrating. That foundation in reading (phonics, spelling, grammar, reading were all separately taught as individual courses!) has always benefited me though - allowing me to teach myself to do almost anything I needed later in life and to be able to think more abstractly and critically. My big thing with public schools has always been why are we grouping by age and not ability? As you mentioned so many kids are at such drastically different levels.

      • Vvitta profile image

        Kalai 3 years ago from Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

        Kids at the ages of 4-6 know more these days than before. Today this is a problem as the take off point at age seven can at times seem to simple and hence boring to the kids while others from different neighbourhood struggle to grasp the basics. i have come across kids who read like ten year olds at age six and need better reading materials. This is where home schooling has an advantage of allowing kids to progress at their own pace.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

        Thanks Vandynegl :) I appreciate the positive feedback and glad you enjoyed the hub.

      • vandynegl profile image

        vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

        I am an early childhood teacher, my son is currently in kindergarten and my youngest will enter next year. Like you, I hesitated on signing my younger one up since he has an early summer birthday, but he is ready. Two years of preschool has helped too. Your tips are great and the requirements are pretty close to what is required of our kids in Ohio. We follow common core standards and I believe it is implemented in the majority of the states now. My son will not do coins, money, and clocks until next year, but I will be going over that this summer.

        Good info!!

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

        thanks HSchneider I agree of course :)

      • profile image

        Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

        Great information and tips, ChristinS. The more we teach to our youngsters especially in their most formative years the better. Engaging and nurturing them is vital. They learn to be inquisitive and not afraid to try new things.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Glad I came back I forgot to add Awesome!!

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

        Thank you Eric for the read and share :) much appreciated.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Dang this is interesting. Thank you much for assigning labels and explanations to what is going on in my boy's pre-K. Very cool and printing this off for my wife -- who really likes instructions from a pro. At three and a half my boy just loves all this stuff, so we are taking advantage.

        Also sharing with others. Great info here.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

        Thank you Stephanie - you're very welcome and I am glad you found it helpful!

      • Stephanie7889 profile image

        Stephanie Constantino 4 years ago from Fountain, CO

        This is so excellent. I am hopeful that my daughter can master all of these skills by the time she gets to kindergarten. This provided a ton of great info, and it really easy to follow. Thanks so much!

      • floridahotelguide profile image

        Florida Travel Concierge 4 years ago from Florida

        My 4 yr old daughter has been in Montessori since 22 months, and I'm a convert to early, serious education. The world has become hypercompetitive and the idyllic economy of the 1950s-1990s is long gone. It's not enough to be nice, pretty smart, and hardworking, not for people born after 1970. Good article and actually the check list is a pretty low bar from watching my kid and many of her peers.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

        Stephanie, I agree especially for the younger ones. It seems to be a bit much, but then again they learn so readily at this age.

        Jenny- totally! Most of the stuff now they did teach in Kindergarten even just 9 years ago when my oldest started. :)

      • StephanieBCrosby profile image

        Stephanie Bradberry 4 years ago from New Jersey

        My son just started kindergarten. He is the youngest (started at 4 and his birthday is today) but is holding his own. I do feel as though certain milestones are just an exercise in futility and wasting time. I was a bit shocked when a math teacher came up to me when I picked him up and said, "We started testing their math skills and..." As an educator, I found it odd that not even two full weeks have passed and they are testing kids's ability in math. And then they might start pulling students out who are essentially not up to par. Give them time to learn something first before putting labels on them. I can only imagine how a parent who is not an educator would feel about children being tested so early.

      • Jenny-Elizabeth profile image

        Elizabeth Reeve 4 years ago from Cornfields of Indiana

        This is a great list! Kindergarten becomes an information overload for children. I remember half day Kindergarten, back then they taught you everything in school. Now when you are start Kindergarten you have to know everything they used to use Kindergarten just to teach lol.

      • ChristinS profile image

        Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

        I don't know that it would be possible to teach all of this in half-day Kindergarten. Our district used to have optional half-day or full-day, but now even Pre-K programs here are full day to prepare kids for Kindergarten. There's certainly a lot expected of these little ones these days. Hopefully it pays off.

      • Rock_nj profile image

        John Coviello 4 years ago from New Jersey

        Thanks for all this useful information. I was wondering what is taught at the Kindergarten level.

        My state recently enacted Kindergarten standards for all schools in the state. Apparently, the state standards are a real challenge for some towns because they only have 1/2 day Kindergarten, and to meet those standards in 2 and 1/2 hours per day is impossible.

      • epbooks profile image

        Elizabeth Parker 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

        I wish I could remember what we learned back then but it is over 35 years ago for me. I suppose in a way, it's good that they are learning so much so early, but then again, I don't have children, so not exactly sure what they should be learning! :)