Kindergarten Readiness: 10 Survival Skills

Kindergarten readiness is not only about identifying numbers and letters.

Although many children starting preschool or kindergarten can recite the alphabet, print numbers, and letters and count to 10, there are other skills necessary to survive in a classroom.

A child who has had opportunities to be independent, to listen and follow basic directions, to solve problems, to lose games gracefully and to wait for their turn patiently, will feel more confident and successful in the classroom and in group activities.

Don’t expect perfection. Any steps closer to the independence goal are worthy of celebration!

1. Teach your children to be independent

Ease out of tying laces, buttoning jackets, and doing other personal care jobs for children the year before they enter kindergarten. This may slow you down but teachers with 15 -20 students do not have the time or hands to do these jobs for all their students. Independent children get out the door faster and have more recess time.

Each task that children learn to do independently, helps their days go more smoothly.

Here is a list of some of the things children may struggle with for the first few months of class:

  • personal hygiene skills for sure!
  • opening lids on plastic food or drink containers or packaged foods
  • peeling oranges or eating whole apples or pears
  • knowing what to eat for snack and what to save for lunch (full day kindergarten)
  • using scissors – teach safety first, then begin with stiffer paper and good quality children’s scissors
  • using a glue stick
  • folding and packing papers into his/her backpack
  • hanging  jackets on hooks
  • opening heavy outside doors
  • changing from outside to inside shoes
  • taking off or putting on sweatshirts or sweaters if they get too hot or cold

Knowing how to manage these little things helps kindergarten students feel more capable in the classroom.

2. Train your kids to listen and follow directions

Teach children to listen and follow directions with household activities. Say, “I want you to take these dirty clothes and put them in the blue laundry basket.” If they have difficulties following a few simple directions, have them say them back to you. “Tell me what I asked you to do.” As the child succeeds following one or two steps, add more.

Tell don’t ask. Instead of, “We’re going to put our coats on, okay?”, which often leads to arguments, just say, “Please put your coat on.”

Help children to focus by requiring them to finish and clean up one activity before starting another. Sometimes children need prompts to spend more time on an activity. “Have you tried pressing these items into the modeling clay? Look at the different designs you can make.” Give them 2 choices when starting a new activity. “Would you like to paint first or would you like to use the modeling clay first?”

3. Teach children to wait

Some parents are so delighted by their children they tend to place them on a pedestal. There’s a fine balance to affirming that your child is unique and wonderful and imparting a sense of too much self-importance and cultivating a demanding attitude.

Children who are used to getting their every need met immediately may have a hard time in school where children are required to wait for many things and may be the last to get a turn at an activity or the last in line when things are being passed out. As silly as it seems, purposely set up situations where your child is last.

In a busy school setting, a teacher does not have time to reason with each child in the class. Kindergarten readiness includes letting your child have experiences where you just say, “No”, without explaining or reasoning with them.

4. Encourage your children to be problem solvers

Teach children to be problem solvers. When your children come whining to you with a problem, pay them a nickel for each problem they solve themselves. Often children get into the habit of expecting adults to fix all the difficulties in their life.

“I’m bored or I can’t find a pencil” are examples of problems that most children can solve with a little effort and a change of mindset. Having practice and confidence in problem-solving will go a long way in the classroom. I used to tell my own kids that they were problem-solving detectives and their job was to identify the problem and then find a solution to it. “You say you are bored. How many things can you think of to do so you would not be bored anymore?”

5. Teach children to lose gracefully

Kids need to know how to lose. When playing games don’t always let your children win. When they get to school they won’t receive this advantage and children not accustomed to losing may pout or get angry and upset when playing with their peers. This doesn’t help them make or keep friends.

6. Teach children to work

Expect children to partake in family chores. Teach them that they’re a vital part of the family structure and that their participation is necessary. Children need to feel needed and those used to helping will join in more readily when required to take part in classroom clean up and routines.

7. Teach children to identify their name in both upper and lower case letters

Put your child’s name on the fridge and/or other places where he or she will see it often. Print it twice, once with a capital for the first letter and then lower case letters, as well as with capital letters only. Let him/her know their name can be printed both ways. I have had more than a few, tearful children who have had a meltdown on the first day when they saw their name printed in an unfamiliar way above their coat hooks, as they had previously only seen it printed with all capital letters.

Use cookie dough, modeling clay, a stick in the sand, paint and a brush, as well as paper and pencil to teach your children the letters in their name. Most teachers ask kindergarten students to print their names on their papers. Children who already know how to print their name quickly move on to the next activity, while the ones who are still learning sit longer to practice this skill. To begin with, learning how to print the shorter form, Ben rather than Benedict may be easier on the child.

8. Teach children basic classroom hygiene

If kids are going to sneeze and there’s no time to grab a tissue, teach them to sneeze on the sleeve part of their upper arm (gross but not as bad as covering all the Playdoh™!). Also teach them to have independent toilet skills, to wash their hands after using the toilet and to always wash their hands before eating. They will have fewer chances of giving and getting germs.

9. Build their classroom vocabulary

Show your child what the term “line up” means. For some kids, this is a mystery when they arrive in class. Unfortunately, lining up is part of school life. Going to the gym, to the library, or out for recess all require lining up quietly so teachers can count heads and children get out the doors safely. Other terms such as front, back, behind you, in front of you, forward, backward may be used as children move around the classroom.

Teach the term “trace”. Put a cup on top of a piece of paper and show them how to drag their pencil around it while holding on firmly to the cup with the other hand.

Point out “capital” and “lowercase” letters and use terms such as “first, last, second” when sharing food. Use “rectangle, circle, triangle, square” throughout the day.” Pass me the rectangular pot holder please” or “Let’s cut your sandwich into triangles”.

10. Teach your child basic friendship skills

Making friends is not easy for all children. Those that know how to share, take turns, and express their feelings and wants are more successful than those without these basic skills.

  • Teach children to be polite, to say thank you and please
  • Teach them to listen to friends and to not interrupt repeatedly
  • Give your children time to speak up for themselves when an adult talks to them
  • Role-play how to join in a game. Pretend you are part of a group of kids playing and show your child how to join in by saying, “What are you playing? How do I join the game?” rather than, “Can I play with you?” which can result in a, “no” reply.
  • Some kids will call your child names, will hit your child, and will be pushy with your child. Don’t convey to your children that they are being bullied, rather explain to them that there are children who have not learned how to behave with other kids. Role-play things to say, and how to say them, so your child will feel empowered, rather than feel like a victim.
  • Role-play the power of “I” statements spoken loudly and firmly. “I do not like it when you hit. Stop it now.” “I will share the blocks and give you a turn soon but you will have to wait.” Also, role-play how to get adult help if the other child will not listen.

Speak enthusiastically to your child about how they’ll make friends and do well at school. If you had unpleasant school experiences, don’t assume your child will follow in your footsteps and don’t let your past affect what you tell your child about school.

Source: Studies, S., topics, U. and Me, C. (2015). KINDERGARTEN READINESS SURVIVAL SKILLS – Kindergarten Lessons. [online] Kindergarten Lessons. Available at:

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