Going to kindergarten is a big deal. Whether your child has experienced school for years at this point or will be entering the school setting for the first time, it marks a major transition. If your child is nearing kindergarten age, it’s important to determine if they’re ready, or if they might benefit from waiting another year.
To help you figure out whether your child is ready for kindergarten, we’ve gathered together eight developmental milestones children ought to achieve before they take the next step in their education. As you read through them, keep in mind that while most children hit certain milestones at roughly the same developmental rate, each individual child will reach some milestones earlier and some later. Take note of where your child excels, and where they can use a little extra guidance.
8 Developmental Milestones Your Child Should Achieve Before Kindergarten
When your child is on the verge of entering kindergarten, they should be able to:
1. Speak Clearly
For children to thrive in school, they need to have some mastery of speaking (or have an alternative form of communication such as sign language.) Children who are effective communicators feel more confident speaking up in school, which helps teachers better understand when they understand a concept, and determine when that child needs more guidance. Communication skills also help children socially, giving them stronger connections with their peers and helping them become a part of the school’s learning community.
If your child is approaching kindergarten and has trouble forming sounds or words, seems confused when directions are given, doesn’t ask questions like other children their age or otherwise seems delayed, don’t panic. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, preschool language disorders are fairly common. Just make sure you talk to a speech therapist for advice on how to help your child get back on track.
2. Understand Questions
Questions form such a backbone of teaching during the inquiry based learning process and are critical to helping fuel creativity. As a result, it’s important that children understand how to respond to questions and ask them on their own before they go to kindergarten. Look for your child to start asking basic, curiosity-fueled questions about the world around them between the ages of two to four years old. They should also be starting to respond to your questions (and those of non-related adults such as teachers) and understand the meaning of the main question words: Who? What? When? Why? Where? and How?
Many children in this age ask “Why” about everything, but if your child is less expressive, gently encourage them to ask questions. Prompt them by saying things like, “Is there anything you want to ask about this?” or “Do you have any questions?” Sometimes children are brimming with questions under the surface and just need a little encouragement to speak up.
3. Recognize Numbers and Letters
While children don’t need to master the alphabet when they enter kindergarten, they should be able to pick out most letters on their own. Many kindergartners will also be able to associate sounds with them, though this is a skill that teachers will work on with students on throughout kindergarten and in the coming years. Numbers are also crucial. By the time they reach kindergarten, children should be able to count to 10 most of the time. By age three or four, your child should be able to connect the written form of numbers one to five with the correct number of objects.
To help your child develop their skills as recognizing numbers and letters, make it a game. Ask them to point out specific letters on signs and challenge them to identify single digit numbers when they see the numbers on clocks or even scoreboards.
4. Comprehend the Concept of “Time”
Many parents mistakenly think that “understanding time” means that their children should be able to tell time. That’s not actually the case. When children are four or five years old, they should understand that time passes and understand concepts such as “now,” “before,” “soon,” “later,” “yesterday,” “tomorrow,” and so on. Many children will also recognize the fact that adults use clocks and watches to identify the time—even if they don’t know how to tell time themselves.
Keep in mind that at this age, children tend to use events to mark the passage of time. As a result, they may not be able to tell you the time on a clock or remember the days of the week. They will, however, remember that they’re going to the zoo tomorrow, that they visited their grandmother last week and that they’re taking their dog to the park tonight. As long as your child is marking time in a way that is personally meaningful, they have hit this milestone. If they find the concept of time to be a challenge, help them by including references to time more frequently in your conversations with them.
5. Be Able to Tell a Story
By the time your child is ready for kindergarten, they should be able to tell a simple story with a recognizable beginning, middle and end. The stories your preschooler tells don’t have to be long or complex stories, but their stories should have a recognizable beginning, a middle and a distinct ending. This ability to tell a simple anecdote is a major speech and language milestone—and one you can help them develop just by encouraging them to tell you about their day.
Most children will begin a story with “Today I … ” or “Yesterday we … ” or “Guess what Grandpa did?” or another opener they’ve heard their parents or older adults use. Then they will explain what happened, such as saying “Grandpa rode the rollercoaster!” You may not always completely understand exactly what happened, but the gist should be there. Then they should wrap up the story in a distinct way: “It was so fun!” or “I wish we could go again!”
6. Recognize Patterns
Learning how to recognize patterns is critical to helping children understand basic mathematical concepts. For preschoolers, these pattern recognition can be very simple, such as recognizing two repeating shapes in a sequence. Kids should also be able to recognize patterns in daily life, such as knowing that they brush their teeth after eating breakfast, and then head to school after brushing their teeth.
To help your child learn to recognize patterns, keep your routines consistent at home and work with them if they need more help in this area. For instance, you might practice making that simple repeating pattern with two different types of blocks or shapes.
7. Grasp Basic Math Skills
Beyond patterns, children heading to kindergarten should be familiar with a few other basic math skills. These include understanding one-to-one ratios—which means they can see or hear the number five and use that information to pick out five objects. Sorting, the ability to distinguish between different types of objects, is another important math skill. You can help your child practice this by providing math manipulatives for them to play with, or even by asking them to sort colored objects into different containers.
8. Possess Fine Motor Skills
It isn’t necessary for your child to be able to hold a pencil and write by the time they enter kindergarten, but they do need the fine motor skills to pick up a crayon or pencil and make marks on a piece of paper reliably. If your child is struggling with those skills, the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends encouraging them develop their muscle coordination with everyday activities. Help your child get used to using objects as tools by encouraging them to do basic tasks such as eating with utensils or painting with a paintbrush. Pouring juice can help children practice keeping a steady hand, while Play-Doh and clay help children to strengthen the muscles in their hands.
What If My Child Isn’t There Yet?
All children develop at different rates, and if your child isn’t yet hitting one of these milestones, that’s okay. You can help your child accelerate their learning by playing word and number games, practicing conversations, reading books, and providing a rich and stimulating learning environment at home. Look for Montessori toys that will encourage your child to practice their motor skills and exercise their imagination.
Another way to ensure your child’s development stays on track is to look for a school where they will receive a continuous educational experience. Instead of sending your child to one preschool and then another school for kindergarten, look for a program that keeps your child with the same educators during these crucial developmental years. Whitby School’s nursery to grade eight program, for example, helps children excel by eliminating the stress of changing schools and ensuring that children receive an education that continually builds on what students learn each year.
To learn about how a Montessori preschool can help your child reach developmental milestones, schedule a tour or download our guide to Nursery to Grade 8 (N-8) schools below.