Kindergarten readiness: What you can do to ensure your child’s success

Kindergarten readiness is a concern for many parents. What do experts recommend children know to start school?

As children mature and get closer to school-age, parents may begin to wonder what developmental milestones their children should have conquered.

Many adults think children need to know their ABC’s, be able to count, write their name and tie their shoes before they go to kindergarten. However, kindergarten teachers often have a different perspective. The skills kindergarten teachers cite as most important for school success pertain to social and emotional skills. Children who do not have these skills are more likely to experience rejection by their peers, have negative contact with teachers and parents or eventually, school failure.

According to Barbara J. Smith, Ph.d, in the article “Linking Social Development and Behavior to School Readiness,” the social skills identified as essential for academic success include:

  • Getting along with others (parents, teachers and peers)
  • Following directions
  • Identifying and regulating one’s emotions and behavior
  • Thinking of appropriate solutions to conflict
  • Persisting on task
  • Engaging in social conversation and cooperative play
  • Correctly interpreting other’s behaviors and emotions
  • Feeling good about oneself and others

How can parents and child-care providers help their children enter kindergarten with a strong grasp of these social and emotional skills? As with many other skills in life, practice makes perfect.  The following are some suggestions for activities and strategies parents and child-care providers should consider:

  • Provide children with the opportunities to play with peers or in small groups, either in a formal setting such as preschool, or through play dates.
  • Give children opportunities to remember and follow multi-step directions. Use every day events such as preparing for dinner or cleaning play areas as opportunities to practice these types of directions. For instance, “Wash your hands and come to the table for dinner.”
  • Teach children how to share and take turns with others.
  • Take time to teach children about their feelings and emotions, and help them learn how to label them with words.
  • Help children learn to pay attention by playing games, singing songs, reading and by listening to them.
  • Provide children with the opportunity to feel proud of themselves by giving responsive feedback such as, “You used lots of colors in that drawing!” Instead of “good job!”

Some of these tips and more can be found on the Better Kid Care "What Do Children Need to Know to Start School?" handout from Penn State Cooperative Extension and on

More extensive resources on supporting children’s social and emotional development, including free downloadable resources and an extensive book list can be accessed at the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning website.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.


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