Kindergarten Entry Skills
Nancy McEntire

What skills are considered necessary for a child when entering kindergarten? Why do these vary in different locations?

Most school districts apply a chronological age and a residency requirement for eligibility for kindergarten admission. However, most studies show that chronological age is not the only factor in a child's adjustment to kindergarten. Readiness for kindergarten depends on the level of social, perceptual, motor, and language development expected by the teacher. 

The following table shows the importance of various kindergarten entry factors as rated by kindergarten teachers.

Table 49-Percentage of kindergarten teachers and parents indicating the importance of various factors for kindergarten readiness, by school type: Fall 1998.

Teacher and parent perception of student skills

Perception of importance for public school children

Perception of importance for private school children

Not important

Not very important

Somewhat important

Very important


Not important

Not very important

Somewhat important

Very important













Kindergarten teachers[1]

Can count to 20 or more

12 (0.7)

38 (1.3)

36 (1.2)

11 (0.7)

2 (0.3)

10 (2.0)

37 (3.1)

34 (3.0)

12 (2.0)

6 (2.3)

Knows most of the alphabet

9 (0.7)

30 (1.2)

43 (1.2)

14 (0.9)

4 (0.5)

6 (1.4)

26 (2.8)

41 (2.7)

19 (2.6)

8 (2.3)

Takes turns and shares

(\2\) (0.1)

1 (0.2)

25 (1.1)

58 (1.4)

16 (1.0)

(\2\) (0.3)

1 (0.4)

25 (2.5)

58 (3.2)

16 (2.4)

Sits still and pays attention

1 (0.2)

4 (0.4)

36 (1.4)

47 (1.3)

13 (0.8)

1 (0.5)

3 (1.1)

35 (3.8)

52 (3.1)

10 (2.7)

Is able to use pencils and paint brushes

4 (0.5)

14 (0.9)

47 (1.3)

29 (1.5)

6 (0.5)

5 (1.4)

12 (2.2)

42 (3.1)

32 (3.3)

9 (2.5)

Kindergarten parents[3]

Can count to 20 or more

1 (0.1)

6 (0.3)

30 (0.6)

46 (0.7)

17 (0.4)

2 (0.2)

9 (0.6)

33 (1.0)

35 (1.1)

21 (1.0)

Knows most of the alphabet

1 (0.1)

4 (0.3)

25 (0.6)

51 (0.8)

19 (0.4)

1 (0.2)

7 (0.6)

29 (1.1)

41 (1.0)

22 (1.0)

Takes turns and shares

(\2\) (0.0)

(\2\) (0.0)

5 (0.2)

63 (0.6)

32 (0.6)

(\2\) (0.0)

(\2\) (0.1)

7 (0.5)

55 (1.0)

38 (0.9)

Sits still and pays attention

(\2\) (0.0)

1 (0.1)

14 (0.5)

60 (0.6)

25 (0.5)

(\2\) (0.1)

2 (0.3)

22 (1.1)

51 (0.9)

25 (0.8)

Is able to use pencils and paint brushes

(\2\) (0.1)

2 (0.2)

23 (0.5)

53 (0.7)

21 (0.4)

(\2\) (0.1)

3 (0.4)

27 (1.0)

43 (1.1)

26 (0.9)

[1] Estimates pertaining to teachers are based on the responses of a nationally representative sample of kindergarten teachers.
[2] Less than .5 percent.
[3] Estimates pertaining to parents are based on the responses of a nationally representative sample of kindergarten children's parents.

NOTE: Standard errors appear in parentheses. Detail may not sum to totals due to rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study,
Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, Public-Use Base-Year File. (This table was prepared February 2003.)

The skills needed also depend on the nature of the curriculum, especially the extent to which it is focused on academic instruction, and expectations of what is to be achieved by the end of the program. Different approaches to reading and writing, for example, might make different demands on a young child. A child may be ready for one type of instructional program but not another.

A further issue is that of the expectations of the teachers and school systems for what the child will accomplish by the end of kindergarten. As expectations become more academic and assessments more formal (for example, standardized tests that compare children to a national sample of kindergarten children), pressure on the child increases. Parents sometimes hold their children out a year past the date they are first eligible for kindergarten in the belief that beginning school at an older age will give their child an advantage. This practice, known as "redshirting," may also increase the teacher's expectations for all students (Saluja et al., 2000).

What social skills will ease a child's entry into kindergarten?

Kindergarten teachers' expectations of beginning kindergarten students vary. They may include the social and emotional ability to function within a cooperative learning environment, in which the child works both independently and as a member of small and large groups. Children may be expected to attend to and finish a task; to listen to a story in a group; to follow two or three oral directions; to take turns and share; to care for their personal needs, such as going to the toilet and putting on outdoor clothes; and to care for their belongings. They may also be expected to follow rules, respect the property of others, and work within the time and space constraints of the school program (Peth-Pierce, 2000).

What cognitive and motor skills are generally expected by kindergarten teachers?

Teachers expect children to develop certain physical skills before they enter kindergarten. Children are expected to have mastered many large muscle skills, such as walking, running, and climbing, and fine motor skills requiring eye-hand coordination, such as use of a pencil, crayons, or scissors. Some may expect the child to be able to print his or her own name.

Teachers may assume children can see and hear when objects or sounds are alike or different. Many children will learn the names and sounds of letters as well as the names and quantities of numerals before or during kindergarten.

Children are expected to have developed the concepts of "same" and "different" so that they can sort objects into groups that share a similar characteristic, such as "all are red" or "all are something you can wear." Usually, the kindergarten teacher expects the children to recognize their own names in writing, and to name colors, shapes, and sizes. Children may be expected to know their own address and telephone number.

Most 5-year-olds can express themselves fluently with a variety of words and can understand an even larger variety of words used in conversations and stories. They may be expected to be able to retell a simple story in their own words and understand that words are read from left to right (Florida Center for Parent Involvement, 1999).


Florida Center for Parent Involvement. (1999). 80 skills that help to ease kids' transition into kindergarten [Online]. Available:

National Center for Education Statistics. (2001). Digest of Educational Statistics 2000 [Online]. Available:

Peth-Pierce, Robin. (2000). A good beginning: Sending America's children to school with the social and emotional competence they need to succeed [Online]. Available:

Saluja, Gitanjali; Scott-Little, Catherine; & Clifford, Richard M. (2000). Readiness for school: A survey of state policies and definitions. Early Childhood Research & Practice [Online], 2(2). Available:


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ERIC database search through 06/2007 on Kindergarten entry skills

  • Children's School Readiness in the ECLS-K: Predictions to Academic, Health, and Social Outcomes in First Grade EJ747496
  • The Role of Emotion Regulation in Children's Early Academic Success EJ748947
  • Transition to Kindergarten: Family Experiences and Involvement EJ769679
  • Identifying Skills for Promoting Successful Inclusion in Kindergarten EJ691331
  • Planning for Terrific Transitions: A Guide for Transition-to-School Teams. Participant's Guide. Revised ED485212
  • Indicators of Early School Success and Child Well-Being. Childs Trends Data Bank. CrossCurrents. Issue 3. Publication # 2004-24 ED484685
  • Is My Child Really Too Young for Kindergarten? EJ702982
  • Readiness: School, Family, & Community Connections. Annual Synthesis, 2004. ED484507
  • Kindergarten Teachers' Views of Children's Readiness for School. EJ675231
  • Emergent Curriculum and Kindergarten Readiness. EJ673578
  • Teacher-Rated Family Involvement and Children's Social and Academic Outcomes in Kindergarten. EJ671968
  • When Children Aren't Ready for Kindergarten. EJ666037
  • Improving Early School Success. EJ666024
  • School Readiness Study. ED475167
  • Children's Reading and Mathematics Achievement in Kindergarten and First Grade. EJ653042
  • Early Childhood Education Issues. EJ648683
  • Children Entering School Ready To Learn: School Readiness Baseline Information, School Year 2001-02 by State and County. ED463060
  • Using Testlets To Identify Cognitive Domains Measured by a Kindergarten Diagnostic Assessment. the underlying construct, and evaluated. (Contains 5 tables and 40 references.) (Author/SLD) ED456129
  • The Mommy and Daddy Guide to Kindergarten: Real-Life Advice and Tips from Parents and Other Experts. A to Z. ED456894
  • Ready--Start--School! Nurturing and Guiding Your Child through Preschool & Kindergarten. ED455964
  • Honoring Children's Rights to Quality Experiences in Preschool That Are Valued by Public School Kindergarten Educators and Administrators. Early Year's Summit. ED451952
  • Evaluation of a Kindergarten Diagnostic Assessment Instrument by Gender and Ethnicity. ED453250
  • Entering Kindergarten: A Portrait of American Children When They Begin School. Findings from the Condition of Education, 2000. ED448899
  • Early Childhood Development and School Readiness: Some Observations about "Homework" for New Century Working Parents. ED447952
  • Readiness for School: A Survey of State Policies and Definitions. ED446875
  • Children Who Enter Kindergarten Late or Repeat Kindergarten: Their Characteristics and Later School Performance. Stats in Brief. ED443570
  • Parents' Conceptions of Kindergarten Readiness: Relationships with Race, Ethnicity, and Development. EJ617214
  • Preschool Attendance and Kindergarten Readiness. EJ610232
  • A Good Beginning: Sending America's Children to School with the Social and Emotional Competence They Need To Succeed. ED445810
  • Still! Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement. A Position Statement. Revision and Update. ED445775
  • Children's Initial Sentiments about Kindergarten: Is School Liking an Antecedent of Early Classroom Participation and Achievement? EJ607003
  • Which Is the Best Kindergarten? EJ604846
  • A Six-County Study of the Effects of Smart Start Child Care on Kindergarten Entry Skills. ED433154
  • Teacher and Parent Expectations for Kindergarten Readiness. ED437225
  • Recipes for School Success: An Interview with Dorothy Rich. EJ587669
  • Readiness To Learn. 1997 Kindergarten Survey Report and County Data. ED428866
  • Chalkboard. Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten? EJ568093
  • Getting a Good Start in School. ED412025
  • When Are Children Ready for Kindergarten? Views of Families, Kindergarten Teachers, and Child Care Providers. ED399044
  • Helping Your Child Start School: A Practical Guide for Parents. ED404026
  • Your Child Goes to School: A Handbook for Parents of Children Entering School for the First Time. ED401041
  • Welcome to School: Questions Parents Might Ask. ED400120
  • Learning Partners: Get Ready for School!, Get to School Safely!, Let's Succeed in School!, Being Responsible, Let's Be Healthy!, Let's Use TV!, Let's Use the Library!, Let's Do Geography!, Let's Do History!, Let's Do Art! ED399004