Ready or Not? Here Comes Kindergarten!

By Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD

Happy friends

Today’s parents likely remember kindergarten as a year they learned to share toys, separate from their caregivers, and sit on the floor for weekly show-and-tell sessions. They probably also learned the names of all the letters, as well as the sounds some of them make. As the standards for public school curriculum have become more and more rigorous across the country, however, five-year-olds are now expected to master a variety of literacy and arithmetic skills that were once not taught until first grade. Today, being “ready” for kindergarten means that a child already possesses the behavioral, emotional, and academic skills that they were once taught during this first crucial year of formal education.

Most children in the United States are eligible to enroll in kindergarten if their fifth birthdays occur before state-specific “cut-off” dates that typically fall sometime in the month of September (Saluja, G., et al., 2000). Some enter school after having attended a high-quality preschool with its own strong pre-academic curriculum, but some do not. Some children’s parents have been reading to them nightly since they were infants; some have not. Some children have been raised in a household with several siblings, or in a very large extended family. These children have more than likely learned to take turns, share, and socialize effectively with others. The “only child,” in contrast, might have had very little interaction with the world outside his or her parents. Despite these differences, all five-year-olds are all expected, more or less, to enter a formal education environment, sit quietly at a desk or table for an extended period of time, and listen attentively to a relative stranger as she or he teaches literacy and numeracy skills. Obviously, the playing field is not going to be level for each and every child.

Since kindergarten teachers are the ones who will be molding and shaping the minds of our budding students, it makes sense to ask them what characteristics they believe makes a child “ready” for kindergarten. Hains, et al. (1989) asked teachers almost two decades ago what characteristics made a child “ready” for kindergarten, and the following were deemed most important:

  • Being able to identify at least four colors
  • Being able to identify major body parts
  • Being able to respond to one’s first name
  • Being able to respond appropriately to essential warning words

A few years later, 75 percent of kindergarten teachers polled felt the top 3 “readiness” characteristics were for a child to be in good physical health, to have the ability to verbally communicate wants and needs, and to be curious and enthusiastic about participating in new activities (Heaviside & Farris, 1993). Fifty percent of the same group of teachers felt that behavioral control, empathy, and being able to take turns and share were also important skills for students to possess prior to entering kindergarten. Academic skills, such as holding a pencil, knowledge of the alphabet, and ability to count were ranked as less important “readiness” skills, both by teachers in these earlier studies as well as more recent ones (Dockett & Perry, 2003).

Parents can help foster these non-academic kindergarten readiness skills via the following guidelines and suggestions.

  • Have a structured, daily routine for your child, including morning wake-up times, meals, playtime, and naps.
  • Encourage your child to dress him or herself independently, as well as take care of his or her own needs in the bathroom.
  • Encourage your child to listen quietly while others are speaking.
  • Involve your child in activities with other children that require sharing, following rules, and/or taking turns.
  • Give your child the freedom to play by him or herself with minimal supervision from you, as long as he or she is in a safe environment.

While teachers might view academic skills as less essential to readiness for kindergarten, the bottom line is that in this era of increasing rigorous standards in public education, no child can be “too prepared” for kindergarten. It is therefore essential that parents engage in as many activities that promote academic readiness in reading and math as they can (Rafoth, et al, 2004). Most reading experts these days agree that developing a skill called phonological awareness is the most important predictor of later success with reading. Phonological awareness is the understanding of the way words sound, including identifying beginning and ending sounds in words as well as words that rhyme.

The following activities can help facilitate this skill, and can also be fun for children.

  • Read nursery rhymes.
  • Sing songs and clap your hands along with the rhythm.
  • Draw his or her attention to words that rhyme or “sound the same” in everyday life.
  • Play games where the object is to find items that begin or end with the same sounds.

The push for reading readiness tends to overshadow math skills during kindergarten; however, students are still generally expected to be able to verbally count, recognize numerals, and understand quantity.

The following activities are simple things parents can do with their children to get their minds ready for math:

  • Working with puzzles
  • Identifying basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, and rectangle)
  • Counting to 10, including counting objects (one-to-one correspondence)

Of course, many of these skills, both academic and nonacademic, are covered in preschool and daycare settings. Many large-scale research studies have shown that high-quality preschool experiences positively influence children’s kindergarten readiness. Parents who choose to enroll their children in preschool should look for the following characteristics when choosing a center:

  • Children stay engaged in a variety of hands-on activities throughout the day.
  • Children receive both individual attention and group instruction.
  • Children produce work that is frequently sent home or put on display in the classroom.
  • Children are allowed time outside for unstructured playtime.
  • Children are frequently exposed to pre-academic skills such as the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and colors.
  • Children are read to by their teachers daily.

Kindergarten is an important first year in a student’s educational career. These days students are expected to come to school ready to learn, and those who have been taught some of the skills discussed above will clearly be at an advantage over those who have not. Whether parents choose to enroll their child in a high-quality preschool or do the legwork themselves, it is certainly possible to get a child “school ready” prior to their first day of school.

© 2013 Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD
Dockett, S., & Perry, B.(2003). The transition to school: What’s important? Educational Leadership, 60(7), 30-33.
Hains, A. H., Fowler, S. A., Schwartz, I. S., Kottwitz, E., & Rosenhoetter, S.(1989). A comparison of preschool and kindergarten teacher expectations for school readiness. Early Childhood Research Quarterly,4, 75-88.
Heaviside, S., & Farris, S.(1993). Public school kindergarten teachers’ views on children’s readiness for school. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
Rafoth, M.A., Buchenauer, E. L., Crissman, K. K., & Halko, J. L. (2004). School readiness – preparing children for kindergarten and beyond: Information for parents. NASP School and Home. Retrieved from
Ramey, S. L., Ramey, C. T., & Lanzi, R. G.(2004). The transition t school: Building on preschool foundations and preparing for lifelong learning. In E. Zigler & S. J. Styfco (Eds.), The Head Start Debtes. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Saluja, G., Scott-Little, C., & Clifford, R. M.(2000). Readiness for school: A survey of state    policies and definitions. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 2(2). Available at

REAL life activity: Picture Journaling

Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD, SSP

Did you know? Picture journaling for young children can give empowering experience through telling and recording of their experiences.  Journaling also has valuable cognitive and emotional gain.

Journaling is a valuable, educational, and FUN way for children to record meaningful experiences in their lives and document them in words and pictures. It allows them to relive, validate, and express their feelings about those meaningful experiences.


Journaling not only reinforces the importance of your child’s efforts (the words and drawings they record), it also helps them process the experience they wish to journal about in a meaningful way.

Here are FIVE simple steps to start journaling with young children:

Step #1: Discuss

    • The process begins with a discussion about what experience or event your child might like to put in his or her journal. We recommend that you keep the discussion brief to keep your child interested and attentive. The goal is to engage your child and make him or her receptive to the idea of journaling.

Depending on age, some children may have trouble with this step. If your child is having difficulty honing in on an event or past experience to journal about, begin by asking him or her to recall something that happened the day before or in the morning. You know what excites your child or when he or she has experienced an important event or situation, so you can remind your child if he or she can’t remember.

Step #2: Detail

  • Once your child has decided on the event that will be the subject of the journal, ask what he or she remembers most about the experience. If your child becomes overwhelmed by too many memories, you can facilitate the process by asking what are his or her top five recollections. And if your child names only one, go with that!

Here’s another approach: After deciding what to journal about, count the number of pages of the journal together. Ask your child what he or she would like to put on the first page and the last and what else should be included in the journal. If your child does not have ideas, you can suggest that he or she draw a picture (or insert a picture) of the event.

Step #3: Design

  • This is the fun part. Introduce your child to the stencils and ruler, and teach him or her how to use those tools. Younger children can easily become sidetracked with the artful process of making designs with stencils, but that’s okay. If you do not have access to stencils, you can make simple basic shapes for them and have the go on from there. One way to help keep the project on track is to teach how to use stencils or making simple shapes before beginning the actual journaling project a day or two before the journaling project.

Keep in mind that the process is more important than the finished product.

Step #4: Gather

  • Gather things that your child wants to include in the journal. It might be the pictures that he or she drew, photos you took (or will take) on a vacation trip, a ticket to a show, an airplane ticket, and so on. Use tape or glue to paste these items onto pages.

It’s a good idea to ask your child where he or she would like to put the item first before placing it on a page. This allows the child to practice thinking ahead (planning skills).

Step #5: Review

When the journal is complete—in an evening, two days or a week later, or however long the process takes—ask your child to tell you what is happening on each page. 

And ENJOY  the process!!

© Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD 2010

REAL life activity: Storytelling

Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD, SSP

Kids LOVE hearing stories, and very often they want you to make them up!

Out of ideas to “make up” your stories?  Don’t worry. Just pick a theme –sad, happy, or good old action– then, make up a character that resembles your child (same gender, age, appearance), then make him or her into a hero in your story.

Storytelling is a great way to have your child experience and overcome, through the main character, who learns an important lesson, saves the day, and/or have an adventure…all the while you’re spending time together with your child!

You can also make your stories into homemade books.  Nothing fancy, just pick four to five scenes from your story (if your child is older, you can do more) then draw those scene together or by him or herself and you add the words.

Here are some simple steps to begin the storytelling and book making activity.

  1. What kind of story?
    • Ask your child to name his or her favorite book or stories.
    • Ask who his or her favorite character(s) is and why.
  2. Try out some stories. You can also use a short story you both know in order to explore the following:
    • What is the title of the book? Who are the author and illustrator?
    • How does the story begin? What is the setting?
    • Who are the characters in the story?
    • What events happen in the story?
    • How does the story end?
    • What are your favorite parts of the story?
    • Was the story a funny, sad, angry or happy story?
  3. Ask how their story will go by revisiting the above questions.
  4. Count together the pages that will be used for the story.
  5. Discuss and decide which scene will go on the each page.
  6. Draw the scene for each page.
  7. Create the cover—what will be the book title?  Include the author’s and illustrator’s names. And, PRESTO, you have a book!