Is Your Child Kindergarten Ready?

School starts back up in a few short weeks, and the youngest students will embark on an entirely new adventure - kindergarten. As they stock up on newly-sharpened pencils and colorful lunchboxes, many parents are wondering, "is my child really ready for this first big educational step, and what does it mean to be kindergarten-ready anyway?"

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students enter kindergarten at very different skills levels, which is natural given that children may be coming from a variety of early childhood experiences, ranging from highly-skills-focused pre-K programs, play-based preschools, Head Start, or no preschool at all. An average kindergarten class may have children with a five-year range of reading ability, from children who don't recognize letters or letter sounds to those who can read short books. This range makes the kindergarten teacher's job particularly challenging. But it's also perfectly normal.

As founders of Learn With Homer, the #1 Learn-to-Read app, we spend a lot of time thinking about what skills can help make the beginning of school easier for kids and families. Here are a few tips:

It is important to note that children do not need to be able to read before entering kindergarten. Still, there are certain skills that give children a strong early literacy foundation as they enter school. One top study on kindergarten readiness reports that "before children can read, write, or calculate, they must acquire rudimentary skills that serve as stepping stones toward mastery of the more advanced and complex skills" (Snow, Burns, and Griffin 1998). For reading, these rudimentary skills include:

  • becoming familiar with the conventions of print (such as the English-language convention of reading from left to right and from top to bottom)
  • learning to recognize letters by name
  • associating sounds with letters or letter combinations
  • and understanding the meaning of many spoken words and phrases

Children who are familiar with phonics upon entering kindergarten tend to advance more easily and quickly than those without exposure to the connection between letter sounds and symbols. In addition to phonemic awareness, here are some of the key readiness skills that make beginning kindergarten easier for children:

  • Attentively listens to stories
  • Recognizes rhyming words
  • Speaks in complete sentences of five to six words
  • Makes up stories from images or using pictures as prompts
  • Hears individual sounds in words
  • Recognizes and names some letters in the alphabet
  • Has an interest in books
  • Recognizes some common words like "stop"
  • Understands that words you can say can also be written using letters from the alphabet
  • Counts to ten
  • Recognizes colors

Starting school can be anxious-making for children and for parents, and while there are certain skills that make a child's first steps as kindergarten students easier to take, it is entirely normal for children to enter their first formal experience of school at varying developmental stages. The best advice we can give to prepare for kindergarten: read lots of books, have an extra cuddle or two, and get a good night's sleep! If you are looking for some good bedtime reading before your little one starts kindergarten, here are a few books we'd recommend:

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
I am Absolutely Too Small for School by Lauren Child
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come by Nancy Carlson
The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing
Kindergarten, Here I Come! by DJ Steinberg
Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate