What Happens in Kindergarten?


Kindergarten provides children with many opportunities to flex their curiosity and explore the world around them. This is also a time when kids learn how to interact with others in a classroom setting.

Students will build basic math skills – counting, recognizing numbers up to 10 and sorting objects. They will also begin learning about calendars, days of the week and weather.

Physical Development

In kindergarten, children make significant advancements in their gross motor skills, which involve whole body movement, and their fine motor skills, which involve the coordination of small muscle movements. These developments help prepare children for school by allowing them to participate in more structured activities.

For example, an infant who pushes a button on a toy to hear an exciting sound is learning how to use their fine motor skills to interact with the environment and explore the possibilities of objects around them.

Understanding these developmental milestones can help you provide safe and supportive environments for all children. The Apply activity in this lesson can help you deepen your knowledge of children’s needs and development by exploring the resources listed in the References & Resources section.

Social Development

Children’s social competence – their ability to share, solve conflicts and cooperate with others – predicts their well-being in early adulthood. Those with better social skills are more likely to earn higher incomes and have full-time jobs, while those with less skills have lower educational achievements, trouble finding employment or experience substance abuse problems.

This classroom excerpt demonstrates how environment, play and relationships interact to support kindergarten children’s guided participation in social emotional learning. The teacher, T2, provided an environment of educational resources and created centers in which children could freely choose to participate in activities of their choice.

In some countries, kindergartens are known as creche or nursery schools. They are usually non-mandatory and cover ages three to five. Children then start formal schooling – in P1 in England and Wales, or Reception in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Emotional Development

In kindergarten, kids learn to understand and manage their emotions; develop and maintain positive relationships with others; and behave in ways that foster learning. These social emotional skills help kids get ready for school and remain engaged throughout their academic journey.

If a child isn’t emotionally well prepared for the classroom, they won’t be able to complete tasks independently such as going to the bathroom or using utensils during lunch. They may also have trouble staying focused in class and might require constant reminders to pay attention to their teacher’s instructions.

Parents can prepare children for the emotional challenges of kindergarten by playing role play with them. Reading stories with them and asking them to name the emotion that characters are feeling is another great way to build their emotion vocabulary.

Language and Literacy Development

Children develop receptive and expressive language, which is the basis for learning. They also develop literacy skills.

Children who have early and meaningful language experiences are more likely to become readers (Kuhl, 2011; Strickland, 2004). Kindergarten is the first opportunity for most children to have regular literacy experiences outside of their homes. Parents and caregivers can continue to encourage reading and writing in their children by providing books and other activities and engaging in daily conversations.

During the kindergarten year, children begin to recognize stand-alone letters and string them together to read three- to five-letter words. Children with strong alphabet knowledge can then start to read simple sentences and stories.

Thinking (Cognitive) Skills

Children need to develop thinking skills in order to understand and learn new things. They must be able to think about ideas, make comparisons and use their senses to explore the world around them.

Children in kindergarten are typically in a stage called pre-operational thinking. They view the world through their own frame of reference and come to conclusions that may not be logical, such as believing the sun is alive because it reflects light onto them.

Children can improve their cognitive skills by playing with blocks and other toys that help them learn to sort, organize and categorize objects. They can also work on their attention skills by following a series of instructions, such as when they’re putting together a puzzle. Their memory will also improve when they learn concepts rather than rote activities.

What Happens in Kindergarten?
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