There’s no doubt about it—sending your child to kindergarten can be nerve-wracking. The days/weeks are longer, the school is bigger, and the academic pressure is ramping up, leaving many parents stressed about just what their incoming kindergartner will learn this year.
We spoke with Emily DiFabio, a former teacher with a bachelor’s in childhood education and a master’s in literacy education for children from birth to 6th grade. She laid out the main things your child will learn, when it might differ, and what you can do to best prepare your future kindergartner.
Emily DeFabio is a former teacher with a Masters Degree in literacy education for children from birth-6th grade.
What They’ll Learn in Kindergarten
By the end of their kindergarten year, your child will learn so much—from beginner math and reading to new social skills. Here’s what you can expect:
Number-based skills such as identification, formation, decomposing and composing numbers of under 10, plus basic 2D and 3D shapes, DiFabio says. They’ll learn basic early literacy skills like letter identification and formation, phonemic awareness, and reading behaviors such as reading left to right or the differences between a word, letter, and sentence.
And while it may vary by state, basic science and social studies concepts are usually covered, as well. Think, basic plants and animal life cycles or learning about community helpers.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills such as holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, and coloring inside the lines are also on the list.
Social skills are another piece of the puzzle, DiFabio noted. Your child will learn essential skills such as playing with others and how to make friends. And while it may seem that kindergarten has become more academic, that may be a result of caregivers’ misplaced expectations, DiFabio explained.
“As far as my time teaching, standards have not really changed,” she said of her eight years in the classroom. “I think that parents, grandparents, and guardians expect it to be a lot of play and naps. And that is just not the case.”
“The amount of times myself or colleagues have told parents that they are in school learning just as much [as they’re spending playing] and we have just as much academic material to cover usually really surprises them,” she added.
When It Might Vary
While what your child will learn may vary slightly based on your state, kindergarten learning standards are largely consistent across the board, said DiFabio.
“In public schools in the United States, yes, generally speaking the K standards are similar,” she said. “While it will vary from state-to-state the basic concepts learned will be more or less the same.”
The biggest differences occur between public, private, and charter schools, she explained. “If parents are looking between charter, private, or Montessori schools, they need to take into consideration that these schools do not always have to meet the same standards as public schools,” she said.
Additionally, she noted charter schools’ requirements vary greatly from state-to-state.
How to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten
There are a few things parents or caretakers can do to help their new kindergartner be successful.
First, make sure your child can go to the bathroom independently. Teachers will not help a child use the bathroom, DiFabio warned. Being able to undress and dress themselves (including jackets and shoes) is another big one. Accidents happen, even in kindergarten, she noted.
And keep in mind your child’s skill level when choosing items such as shoes. If your child cannot tie their own shoes, don’t send them to school in shoes that tie.
Having a consistent bedtime and morning routine will also set your child up for success in kindergarten. As will making sure your child memorizes important information such as their legal first and last names, plus those of their parents’.
And what about lunch? Most parents feel the pressure to pack a nutritious lunch for their child. But there’s more to it than that.
“Be sure they can open up everything that is in their lunch box by themselves,” DiFabio explained. “There is maybe one adult per class at the most in the cafeteria supervising and they cannot open up everything. [Plus,] school lunches are typically between 20-30 minutes.”
And if you find yourself getting emotional about this huge change in your child’s life, try to breathe deeply and relax.
“Allow for an adjustment period for both yourself and your child,” she said.
“If you’re worried about them starting school, don’t let your child see you worry. Put on a brave face, if you’re nervous, they will be, too.”