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What Should a Kindergartener Know Before Starting School?

School’s quickly approaching and your little one is eager to start. Learn essential social emotional skills your kindergartner should know to flourish in class.

Summer is winding down, and a big milestone is on the way: Your little preschooler will soon be entering kindergarten. It’s an exciting time for both caregivers and kids, but it also comes with lots of questions. Kids are wondering what school is like, what they’ll do, and who their friends will be.

Meanwhile, parents find themselves wondering, “What should a kindergartener know before school starts?”

The basics of reading, math, and listening are only part of the kindergarten curriculum. In fact, kindergarten teachers say that social-emotional skills like self-awareness, self-regulation, and cooperation are just as important as academic skills when it comes to setting young students up for success.1 In this article, we’ll cover the core academic and social skills to brush up on at home before school begins, along with some tips on how to practice them with your child every day.

What Should Kids Know Before Kindergarten?

Kindergarteners are expected to have a few practical skills in place before beginning school. Many schools have a short kindergarten readiness screening your child will need to pass to be sure they’re ready. Schools and states have different standards for kindergarten readiness, so it’s a good idea to contact your child’s school to find out specific requirements.2

In most states, kindergarteners need to know:3

  • How to use the bathroom alone – Almost every school district requires kids to be fully toilet trained. At home, have your child practice using the bathroom independently, including washing hands, flushing, and managing clothing.
  • Basic number concepts – Kindergarteners are usually expected to be able to count out loud up to 5 or 10. They should also understand how to put numbers 1–5 in order and be able to count up to five items. Practice number concepts by asking your child things like how many apples they see on the counter, how many pets you have, how many people are in your family, and so on.
  • Basic literacy concepts – Reading is a skill your child will develop throughout the year and beyond, but they need a few concepts in place first. Make sure your child can say the alphabet, recognize the letters in their name, and understand how books work (front and back cover, which way pages turn, etc.). Be sure to read together often and share pre-reading activities like telling stories from pictures and playing rhyming games.
  • Home address and phone number – For safety, help your child memorize your home address and phone number before school begins. Make it a fun memory activity that you practice together so they’re ready to share this information with trusted adults if needed.
  • Fine motor skills – Kindergarten involves lots of activities that require skills like holding a pencil or crayon, cutting with scissors, tracing, tearing, gluing, and coloring. You can practice these skills at home with drawing, coloring, and crafts.
  • How to listen and follow instructions – In the classroom, your child will need to be ready to sit quietly for at least 5–10 minutes at a time, wait their turn, listen to instructions from their teacher, and follow simple directions. Practice with tasks that involve at least two steps (“Pick up your toys and put them in the bucket”).
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What Social-Emotional Skills Does a Child Need Before Kindergarten?

Besides these basic practical skills, your child will also need to develop some foundational social and emotional skills that will help them get along with peers, navigate conflicts, and meet expectations for classroom behavior. Here are five key areas to work on.

#1 Cooperative Play

Cooperative games for kids are fundamental to developing healthy social skills. In fact, all of the skills we’ll cover next can be learned and practiced through cooperative play.

In cooperative play, children learn to take turns, share, work on a common goal, work out disagreements, and solve problems with their playmates. You can help your child has plenty of opportunities to develop their cooperative skills by:

  • Arranging playdates – This is especially helpful if you are raising an only child. Also, siblings will often develop cooperative play skills together in their early childhood. Overall, observe whether your child can play cooperatively or if age differences or sibling rivalry are preventing your pre-K child from practicing their cooperation skills.
  • Playing cooperative games as a family – Choose board games where players work together to beat the game instead of competing with each other. (Tip: Try Feelings Adventure to incorporate emotional learning in a fun interactive activity with your child.)
  • Working on puzzles together – Problem-solving games and puzzles that require teamwork help your child practice sharing ideas and listening to others.

#2 Teamwork

Teamwork goes hand-in-hand with cooperative play. The ability to collaborate with others and contribute to group tasks is essential for a kindergarten student’s successful transition into the classroom setting.

Teamwork activities for kids can naturally blend into your day-to-day activities. One easy habit you can build is incorporating “we” language as you carry out chores, projects, and errands with your child. Try phrases like:

  • “Let’s try it together”
  • “We can both…”
  • “Do you think we should try it again?”
  • “Do you want to help carry this or put this away?”

#3 Self-Acceptance

Building self-acceptance is vital for a kindergartener’s confidence and self-esteem. According to Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset, a child’s belief in their ability to learn and overcome challenges is key to their achievement and motivation.4

One of the best ways for kids—and adults—to develop positivity and self-acceptance is a daily affirmations practice. As a family, try beginning or ending your day with an affirmation that’s relevant to a young child. Some examples might be:

  • I accept myself for who I am
  • With every breath, I feel calmer
  • My mistakes help me learn and grow
  • I love myself

#4 Conflict-Resolution

Kindergarten presents lots of new social situations, and it’s crucial for your child to know how to handle conflicts peacefully and constructively. You can help your child build their conflict-resolution skills by modeling active listening, empathy, and cooperative problem-solving.

Conflicts are also harder to manage when children can’t name or express their emotions.5 Help them prepare for this by:

  • Talking about emotions openly and honestly at home
  • Using feelings flashcards to practice identifying emotions
  • Practicing calming strategies like deep breathing to use when emotions are too big to handle

#5 Creativity

Creativity isn’t just about art projects or crafts. It’s a valuable life skill in its own right that encompasses traits like curiosity, flexible thinking, willingness to explore new ideas, and self-expression.

Try to engage your child with a wide range of creative activities and tools, such as:

  • Construction toys
  • Immersive activities with books, cards, and more in our Kinspiration Kits
  • Homemade musical instruments
  • Storytelling games
  • Puppets
  • Dress-up materials

Most of all, you can foster creative expression by allowing your child freedom to experiment. Try not to discourage their ideas or take over their projects. Let the sky be colored purple and the grass be pink—there’s no right or wrong when it comes to creativity.

How to Teach These Skills at Home

It doesn’t need to be complicated or time-intensive to teach your kids valuable social-emotional skills at home. In fact, you can do it simply by being the wonderful caregiver (and role model) you are.

  • Lead by example – Children learn through observing, so try to model the skills you want to instill in them. Demonstrate cooperation by involving them in chores and projects. Show good communication by listening attentively and taking turns speaking.
  • Create a safe and supportive home environment – When the home environment feels stable, secure, and encouraging, children feel more empowered in the outside world. Let your child know that it’s safe to express their emotions at home, tell you about mistakes, and share worries.
  • Use storytelling and play – Stories and play are some of the most powerful tools we have to teach children social-emotional skills. Read books together that highlight empathy, teamwork, and resilience. Engage in pretend play that lets your child practice conflict resolution and cooperation.
  • Practice mindfulness – Simple stress management techniques are a helpful tool for your child to build self-regulation skills. Try practicing a mindfulness exercise together, such as grounding yourself with what you can see, smell, feel, and touch. This can be done any time they might feel anxious or overstimulated.
  • Encourage independence – One of the biggest adjustments children face as they begin school is accepting that you won’t be right by their side. You can help your child handle this big change by providing opportunities to make choices and do things for themselves at home. Picking up after themselves, choosing their own clothing, and dressing themselves are all small ways you can show your child that they are smart and capable.

Build New Skills for Kindergarten and Beyond With Slumberkins

With a little help and preparation, your new kindergartener will be ready to thrive this school year and beyond. By building social-emotional learning into everyday activities and embracing the power of play, you can create a home environment that naturally leads to a lifelong love of learning.

Developing a growth mindset is the foundation of preparing your child for their learning journey. Slumberkins is here to help with books, characters, affirmations, and more.

At Slumberkins, everything we do is designed to guide children toward essential emotional skills like self-acceptance, resilience, and mindfulness. Whether it’s what kids should know before kindergarten or how to foster social-emotional learning through play, we’re committed to supporting caregivers and educators as they work to raise a generation of healthy and resilient children.

That’s why we provide an extensive collection of free resources and activities that make social-emotional learning accessible to everyone. Try one of our fun and engaging activities with your child today and take the next step toward kindergarten readiness.


  1. Wenz-Gross, Melodie et al. “Pathways to Kindergarten Readiness: The Roles of Second Step Early Learning Curriculum and Social Emotional, Executive Functioning, Preschool Academic and Task Behavior Skills.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 9 1886. 4 Oct. 2018, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01886
  2. Slutzky, Carly. "State‐level perspectives on kindergarten readiness." ETS Research Report Series. 27 February, 2019.
  3. "Transitioning to kindergarten." American Federation of Teachers.
  4. Dweck, Carol. "Carol Dweck revisits the 'growth mindset'." Education Week. 22 September, 2015.
  5. Juliann, Garey. "Teaching kids how to deal with conflict." Child Mind Institute.

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