Confessions of a Kindergarten Teacher: What Your Child Really Needs to Know Before Starting Kindergarten

It’s that time of year again! Summer is in full swing. Vacations, long days at the pool, and laid back schedules have become the norm. With each passing day, we are inching closer and closer to the beginning of another school year. Whether you are a “cheers” or a “tears” kind of mama at the prospect of sending your little one to kindergarten, one thing all future kinder-mamas lose sleep over is wondering whether or not their kids will be ready for their very first year of school.


As a kindergarten teacher for more years than I care to admit and the mother of an incoming kindergartner, this topic has weighed heavily on my own mind. A simple Google search on the subject will reveal hundreds of skill checklists, tips, assessments, and articles dedicated to the topic of kindergarten readiness. From letters and sounds, to zipping and snapping clothing, these checklists offer valuable information for curious parents. What many of these checklists do not offer are the simple, sometimes obvious skills that are often left forgotten. So, without further ado, here is the inside scoop on what your child really needs to know that you will not find on a checklist:

Independence/ Self-Help:

  • Self-Help: Remember that shiny new backpack sitting in the closet ready to go? Can your child zip, unzip, put things in, and pull things out? I know this sounds easy, but new backpacks with their buckles and zippers that haven’t been used much can be tricky! Nothing kills confidence faster than having to ask for help opening their own backpack. Have your child practice getting it on and off of their back and hanging it up. They will stroll into the classroom cool, confident, and ready to go!
  • Bathroom Time: Can your child use the latch on public bathrooms? Can they go in a stall, lock it, take care of business, and come out? I can’t tell you how many times we’ve giggled over precious, little kinders who can’t figure out why the door won’t stay closed in the bathroom! Afterward, remember to practice proper hand washing technique!
  • Information: It is absolutely imperative that your children know a few key pieces of vital information prior to the first day of school. This information includes: First and last name, teacher’s name (this is their lifeline), what they are having for lunch, and how they will get home from school. With this knowledge in their back pocket, they will feel calm and collected when it comes to knowing where they go and what they need to do.


  • Reading: As a kindergarten teacher, I always tell parents that incoming kindergarten students should have a good “working knowledge” of letters and sounds. Some students will come to kindergarten reading, and some will come with minimal knowledge of letters and sounds. I have a secret . . . almost all of them have an extremely successful year! When it comes to reading, readiness is less about the individual skills and more about the importance of understanding literature, the purpose of reading, and what reading looks and sounds like. Can your child identify his or her favorite part of a story? Can he or she tell you who his or her favorite character was? Most important, can your child explain why he or she has that particular opinion? These are all important building blocks when it comes to kindergarten and reading readiness.
  • Writing: Many checklists highlight proper handwriting techniques for letter formation. While letter formation and handwriting are necessary skills and certainly worthy of inclusion on readiness checklists, many resources fail to include important building block skills for writing in kindergarten! Can your child draw a picture of an event like a family vacation or a party? Can he or she include details from that event in the illustration? Can your child tell a story by putting events in order telling what happened first, next, and last? Many important early writing skills are more about spoken word than actual written word.
  • Math: When it comes to numbers, readiness includes moving beyond memorization and formation of numerals. Does your child know what “5” means? Can they show you the number five in several different ways (jumping five times, holding up five fingers, counting to five)? Can your child identify shapes that are similar and shapes that are different and explain the similarities and differences?

The truth is that there is no “one size fits all” approach to kindergarten readiness. While we can read every article under the sun and mark every check on every available checklist, children are each amazingly unique individuals with their own timetables for academic and social growth and development. The most important thing that your child needs to know before starting school is that they are valued and loved.

Kindergarten readiness is a much easier topic to discuss than parent readiness! Who is with me new kinder parents?

What questions do you have about your child starting kindergarten? Are you a “cheers” or “tears” mom when it comes to starting school?

Kristen D
Kristen D began her motherhood journey as a stay-at-home mom after the birth of her 1 pound, 8 ounce miracle daughter (2011). After two eventful years at home, she returned to teaching and swears that a day in a kindergarten class would be the greatest reality show ever made! When she isn’t molding minds, she can be found enjoying her hysterically inquisitive daughter. Together, they are navigating the uncharted waters of pediatric feeding disorders, feeding tubes, blended diets, and of course elementary school fashion. Kristen’s favorites include monogramming anything not moving, consuming brunch as often as possible, restarting the dryer to avoid ironing, and life as a newlywed!


    • Nicki, I’m sure you will both do great! The first couple of weeks are hard for everyone but after that it will be something you both look forward to!

    • Thank you, Emily! I’m not sure if we as parents are ever ready. It usually goes in a “tears, cheers, tears” cycle. Many parents have just as many tears at the end of the year when kinder is over!

  1. Kristen,
    Thank you so much for posting this! Easton starts Kinder this year and I’m a nervous wreck because Embry (now a 4th grader) knew so much more at this point. But, they are two different people and both have their strengths. Your blog post made me feel like all my worries are normal, and better yet, it’s going to be ok. You would think that since I’ve been a first grade teacher for 12 years I would be a little more in the loop of what is vital for them to know walking in the door, but I feel unsure.
    Again thank you.

    • Dinah, I sure miss your sweet family! I am so glad that this helped! Remember, just making it to the classroom, being able to sit and listen to a story, and going home the RIGHT way, defines a successful first day of kinder! He will do great!


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