What Kids Need to Succeed in Kindergarten

Kindergarten is the first grade that kids spend in school without their parents. It’s an important year to help students get used to their classroom routine and learn to follow a schedule.

Kids develop their social, emotional and thinking (cognitive) skills in kindergarten. They also build their large and fine motor skills.

Language and Literacy

Children learn to develop their language and literacy skills through play, relationships, interactions and well-rounded learning opportunities. They need access to age-appropriate early childhood curriculum that allows them to explore, experiment and discover.

Kindergarten focuses on the foundational academic skills of reading and writing as well as working with basic numbers. These are the most essential core competencies for young children to be prepared for school.

While kindergartners may not leave the year able to read on their own, they will gain the skills that are important for later academic success-learning their upper and lowercase letters, recognizing individual letter sounds and using their phonological awareness skills to identify rhyming words.

Educators should ensure that students who are DLLs have access to high quality literacy instruction that provides explicit code-based language teaching and supports the development of reading and writing skills. They can do this by incorporating strategies into their Multi-Tiered Support System (MTSS) framework that are consistent with the Head Start Early Learning Outcome Framework.


In kindergarten, kids start to develop a strong foundation of math skills that are critical to their success in elementary school. These skills include number recognition, simple counting and understanding number relationships and decomposition.

At the same time, kids learn to make sense of addition and subtraction. Adding and taking away are the building blocks of all future mathematical adventures, so it’s important for kids to experience them at this age.

Children also sort and classify objects by their characteristics like size, color or shape. They may even upend a dish of seashells on the floor to organize them into groups of tallest to shortest, for example.

Teachers should carefully consider how much academic content they push kindergarten students to handle. Pushing them beyond the basics, some argue, can be seen as unpleasant “work” that takes away from valuable play-based learning experiences.

Social and Emotional Development

In kindergarten, kids need to learn how to express themselves clearly, get along with their peers, and respect other people’s feelings. These skills can help them succeed in the classroom when it’s time to take turns at a toy, line up for a snack break, or work together on an assignment.

Social-emotional development is important because learning is a social process. When children’s emotional and behavioral health is healthy, they are better able to focus on learning, have higher test scores, and are more likely to engage with their peers in the classroom.

This study used an ethnographic qualitative mode of inquiry with participant observations and semi-structured and structured interviews to understand how teachers optimize opportunities for children’s social and emotional learning. The results suggest that the three elements—environment, play, and relationships—work in synergy to support children’s guided participation. This article presents findings from three teachers from the original eight in the larger study. They represent a diversity of teaching styles.

Physical Activity

At this age, it’s important that children have a chance to be active. Regular physical activity helps improve their focus, mood and sleep. It also strengthens their muscles and bones. Kids need moderate to vigorous activities, such as running around, playing sports and dancing.

Before starting the data collection, the first author spent a week in each kindergarten to get to know the kids and teachers and to establish relationships that would allow natural behavior during the time of the research. This helped to guarantee that the PA assessments were conducted in conditions as close as possible to the normal routines of the schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The analysis showed that the kindergarten that complied with higher best practice indicators in PA (e.g., daily teacher-facilitated PA, limited screen time, outdoor play and learning written policies) had better motor skills scores than the other school. However, this relationship did not translate into social-emotional competence scores. Future studies should explore this relationship more holistically, including other factors that influence the PA affordances in the school environment and the home context.

What Kids Need to Succeed in Kindergarten
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