Is your little one ready to leave preschool behind? Traditionally the average starting age for kindergarten has varied, but kindergarten curriculums are becoming increasingly academic — which means the majority of states and districts now require new students to be at least five when they start.

If you do live somewhere that allows children to start kindergarten at a younger age, and you want your child to begin kindergarten sooner rather than later, that’s totally fine — as long as your child is equipped with the right tools and skills. Because despite all the developmental timelines, parenting books, blogs and rhetoric out there, no one knows your child better than you do.

So what are some of the essential skills children need before entering kindergarten? We’ve put together a list of kindergarten readiness skills for you to check that will help you determine whether or not your child is ready for school.

Language skills. We’re not saying that your child needs to have an extensive vocabulary, but they should be able to understand and communicate what they see around them. They need the background knowledge about their world, and the words to describe it. Some of the more important vocabulary to teach young ones has to do with position, direction, size, comparison and spatial relationships (like, different, top, bottom, first, last, big, little, up, down, etc.). Tip: Kids in Pre-K learn about 5-6 vocabulary words per day. Use new vocab words repeatedly in context and in conversation to help the meaning stick.

Listening skills. It’s no surprise that a child’s ability to listen is directly related to their vocabulary and comprehension. Listening skills are important for children to learn social rules (like when to be polite and wait their turn to talk), to foster vocabulary and comprehension, and to develop critical thinking. Tip: Help your child work on their listening skills by reading a book and asking for them to clap when they hear rhyming words.

Understanding and following directions. More specifically, the ability to follow directions with at least two steps. For example, “Take off your boots and put on your sneakers,” or “Take out your book and turn to page 20.” Not only is the ability to listen and follow directions an important part of comprehension, it’s an important part of the next skill on our list.

A desire to be independent. Also called self-help skills, these tasks are simple yet essential to the development of a well-adjusted individual. Even children need some level of independence and self-sufficiency in order to adjust to school. While shoe-tying is still considered a developmental skill that doesn’t come until first grade, there are a few other self-help skills you can teach your child: taking off and hanging up a jacket; how to blow their nose with a tissue; to cover their mouths when coughing; how to fasten and unfasten snaps or simple buttons; how to go to the bathroom and wash their hands once finished; and how to open a juice box and insert the straw.

Basic number and letter recognition. It’s still the teacher’s responsibility to teach your children how to write and make letter sounds, but it’s up to you to instill that recognition in them. One thing teachers hope for is that children entering kindergarten can count to 10, identify numbers, and know what a few shapes and colors are. Tip: Help teach your child by showing them all the different shapes, letters, numbers, and words that are around them in every day life. Make learning a fun, immersive process.

Fine-motor skill development. When children enter kindergarten they use their fine-motor skills every day by coloring, cutting, holding pencils, and pasting. If your child struggles holding writing instruments or cutting with scissors, they may fall behind the rest of the class. Tip: To improve your child’s fine-motor skills, engage in activities that make the child pinch their fingers (the same motion needed for grabbing a pencil), like making pipe cleaner bracelets; or ask your child to water the houseplants with a spray bottle (an activity that boosts both scissor and writing skills).

Playing nice with other children. It’s normal for your kindergartener or pre-kindergartner to be a bit selfish and egotistical at their age, but it’s important they develop sharing, problem-solving, and turn-taking skills by the time they reach kindergarten. Tip: Practice sharing toys by role-playing with your child, and make sure to give plenty of positive reinforcement when you do see them sharing with others.

Speaking their mind. One strong signal that your child is ready for kindergarten is that they can speak in complete sentences of five to six words. It’s important that children are able to understand what’s going on around them and to communicate about it. Tip: You know your own child better than anyone else. If they are timid or shy, they may not like to speak a lot. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings by asking questions and always giving positive feedback.

Working in teams and groups. A child’s ability to put his or her own needs aside and compromise, or work together within a group, is a big part of emotional competence. Tip: Visit a kindergarten class and observe the children at play or working together on an activity. Can you picture your child there, participating and playing along? Do the other children play and interact like your child behaves and interacts? Use your observations as a gauge.

Recognizing groups of similar objects. This skill reflects a child’s approach to learning and cognition. Are they able to tell things that go together, like a baseball and a bat or a shoe and a sock? Tip: Practice by showing your child pictures and asking them to group the pictures together in twos. Once they’ve grouped the similar objects, ask them to explain why they did so.

Keep in mind that these are just general guidelines — you shouldn’t decide whether or not your child is ready for kindergarten without a professional evaluation by your child’s future school. That said, you know your child better than anyone else can. If they exhibit the majority of the skills listed above, they probably are ready for kindergarten. And if you think that your child needs a little more time before entering kindergarten, that’s totally fine too!

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