4 essential skills kids need on the first day of kindergarten

As your child nears age four, it’s natural to begin thinking about sending your child for his or her first day of kindergarten. After all, within a year or so they will be venturing out to school and you want them to be ready. Kindergarten “readiness” skills are often thought to be along the A, B, C variety. While it’s true that the benefits of reading with children every day are impressive, there are a few other “readiness” skills that come to mind before the big day!

  • Self-feeding. For many children, this is their first time feeding themselves a meal. Help your child practice opening and manipulating her lunch box and water bottle. While there will be adults nearby, no one is going to make sure he can open each container or help him put them all neatly away. Dining in an organized way takes a lot more practice than you would think, so start early.
  • Dress for success. Teach your child to manage his clothing easily to avoid bathroom accidents and unnecessary embarrassment. Belts and buttons are cute, but if they make her feel trapped and helpless then you are undermining her independence. Consider elastic waist shorts, pull-over shirts, and Velcro on shoes — and then give them ample time to learn how to dress and undress each day.
  • Name and phone number. I ask every child their full name and phone number at their 4- and 5-year-old well-child check because they often don’t know them yet. We take for granted that kids know things like this, but if it hasn’t been drilled, they might not. Parents get bonus points for teaching them YOUR name (first, last) and their address. This gives a child confidence that if they were ever to be separated from you, they would be able to find you with the help of an adult.
  • Teach them basic hygiene skills. They need to be toilet trained, of course, but also able to wash hands and blow their own noses! Washing hands is another process that adults take for granted but that really needs to be taught step-by-step and practiced often. Make it easy for them by supplying access to a sink, soap, a towel, and a step stool. Nose blowing can be much more difficult to teach. Children are naturally resistant to it, so being gentle is really important. I instruct parents to hold one nostril gently closed then blow. It is easier and more comfortable to attempt to clear one side than the other. Once the child gets the hang of it, they need to be taught where to dispose of dirty tissues.

Giving them skills that allow for some independence fosters confidence. It also gives you, the parent, peace of mind that they will be okay eating, toileting, and doing basic self-care — things we don’t always consider before they head off to school.


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