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Is Your Child Ready to Start School?

Every parent will address the question of when their child is ready for school. Legally, the only requirement is that the child is five by a certain cut off date. Most parents realize children should be ready by knowing their name and perhaps most of the alphabet, but there is so much more to be considered in answering the question of readiness. The good news is that with a little time and attention many of the following considerations can be taught by the parent even if they do not consider themselves experts in early childhood education.

Personal Identity

Children should know their full name and that of their parents. They should know their address and phone number. They should understand their sex of male or female. A child should know their body parts and be able to identify them verbally. Every child at this age should know their own birthday even if they don’t understand the concept of calendars.


Does your child know how to tie their own shoes, button buttons, zip zippers? Can they dress themselves? Are they independent in the bathroom? Picture them in school with other children; would they be embarrassed by their lack of skills in personal care? Your child should have hygiene skills to brush their teeth and wash their hands properly. Do they know when to use a Kleenex?

Life Skills

Is your child able to be away from you for the entire school day including time on buses? Do they understand the routine of going to and from school? Have you set regular sleep hours or taught the importance of regular healthy meals? Can your child carry his or her own plate of food? Have you taught your child to do simple chores and to clean up after themselves? Can your child follow directions and respect the teacher? These life skills will be important for them to have.

Children need to know relationships of opposites, sizes, positions and directions. They should know big/little, tall/short, empty/ full, right/left, etc. Prepositions show things such as over, under, around and through. Children should understand next to, behind, before, after and other prepositional relationships between two things.

Attention Skills

Can your child pay attention and focus on tasks? After listening to a story, can they relate the sequencing of simple events? They should be able to show comprehension by correctly answering prompts from a story. When given directions is your child able to follow through? Can your child work independently? Are they able to remember more than one thing at a time?

Social Skills

Children need to have manners and know when to use them. They should politely use "please", "thank you", "excuse me", etc. Is your child able to share and take turns? Do they know what it means to treat others the way they want to be treated? Are they pleasant and cooperative with both adults and peers? Is your child able to follow rules and routines? Your child should also be able to meet new people and talk with them without being overly shy. Can your child contribute to conversations? Are they able to make their needs known?


Is your child excited to go to school? You should make learning fun for your child. Help them to anticipate what school will entail for them. Help them to understand school is part of growing up and learning is something to look forward to. If they have older siblings, can they walk or ride with you to pick them up? That way, they will also see and hear the things your other children learned in school.

Writing Skills

Early writing skills like the alphabet and copying letters seem to be most people’s idea of being ready for school. Children should be able to write their own name. Understanding concepts of upper-case and lower-case letters are also important, though they may not remember them all; they should be able to match some of them, especially the upper and lower letters of their own name. Is your child left or right? Do they know what that means?

Do they know how to hold a pencil? Children should know how to copy lines, both vertical and horizontal (up and down and across may be easier for them to remember at this point). Can your child copy circles, crosses, squares, triangles and V shapes? Be sure your child can write numbers at least to their own age. These abilities will help them to learn how to write. One more thing in this area is knowing that reading and writing is from left to right.

Reading Readiness

Writing preparedness will make the idea of reading come easier. The best place to start is reading to them at a very young age. This will help them to enjoy reading. You might even plant the idea that when they go to school they will learn to read, too. Tell them you learned to read and write in school. When you do start having them read or just recognize letters and words, remember to keep the learning session short and praise their efforts.

Other Academic Skills

Children should know some common sounds; barks, quacks, sirens, and car horns to name a few. It can be fun to learn to make the sounds. Try singing Old Mc Donald with them. It is helpful to know at least the basic eight colors in a box of crayons along with black and white. Have you taught your child how to color? Show them how to hold the scissors. They should know how to cut shapes within a quarter inch of accuracy. Teach them how to paste shapes or other items to a piece of paper. Another skill is to put together puzzles with 4-5 pieces. Counting to ten out loud is good, but can your child count things? Are they able to identify simple patterns and relationships between items, numbers, and counting?


After reading this article, you may want to make a list for yourself and check it off as they are able to do them. A smaller list could be made for your child, so they can see their progress. Find ways to practice skills they know and perhaps add new dimension as they go. With a little time and practice, you should be able to answer the question of when your child is ready for school.

References and Helpful Resources

71 things your child needs to know before kindergarten

Getting Ready for Kindergarten: Tips from Teachers for What Your Child Really Needs to Know Becky Mansfield Jenae Jacobson

10 Things Your Child Needs to Know before Kindergarten Brochure Adapted from United Way of the Quad Cities Area Portland ConnectED Portland ConnectED is a community-wide initative working to build and sustain a citywide culture

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