What every parent needs to know about kindergarten readiness

Kindergarten readiness involves all aspects of your child's development, including their social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and motor skills.

Is your child ready to start kindergarten? Kindergarten readiness can serve as an important foundation for the rest of your child’s educational career — but it’s about more than academics. School readiness involves all aspects of your child’s development before they start school, including their social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and motor skills. These form the foundation when it comes to your child’s overall success upon entering a school setting and their ability to thrive in it.

Parents play a vital role when it comes to kindergarten readiness: You are your child’s first and greatest teacher. According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, school readiness starts at birth. Regular check ups with your child’s pediatrician can help ensure your child is reaching developmental milestones at the appropriate time. These early developmental milestones can help your child with kindergarten readiness when they reach the age to start school. Signs of readiness may include communication and listening skills, social skills (like cooperation and sharing), adequate potty training, physical skills (like running and playing with other children) and motor skills (such as holding crayons and pencils).

Norton Children’s Medical Group

Our pediatricians are ready to assist parents with their child’s back-to-school routines and health check ups.

How do I know if my child is ready for kindergarten?

A pediatrician can help parents understand whether their child is ready for kindergarten, but parents know their child best, and there are several developmental milestones to consider when determining if your child is ready to start kindergarten.

Developmental milestones for kindergarten readiness can include:
– Language and communication skills
– Cognitive skills
– Motor skills
– Independence and tolerating separation from caregivers
– Social and emotional readiness
– Hygiene and self-care 

Language and communication skills
Before starting kindergarten, your child should be able to express themselves verbally, follow simple instructions and engage in basic conversations with others. This may include telling a story they heard or made up that involves at least two events. For example, “We went to the grocery store, and then we bought apples.”

A child also should be able to display basic comprehension skills, such as answering simple questions about a book, story or event. When engaged in conversation, your child should be able to continue it with at least three back-and-forth exchanges.

Cognitive skills
As part of kindergarten readiness, your child should demonstrate curiosity, problem-solving abilities and an eagerness to learn. They can recognize and name colors, shapes, letters and numbers. Your child should be able to count to 10 and use words involving the passage of time, such as yesterday, tomorrow, morning, night, etc.

Attention span and focus at this age should involve being able to sustain attention and focus on a task or activity, such as story time or making crafts, for five to 10 minutes. Early reading and writing skills include an interest in books, recognition of some letters and attempts to write or draw. Children may be able to write some letters in their name or recognize certain letters. A natural curiosity and an eagerness for learning about the world are good indications a child is ready for school.

Motor skills
Before kindergarten begins, your child should have developed fine motor skills necessary for tasks like holding a pencil, using scissors and manipulating small objects, such as buttoning clothing. They also should show coordination in gross motor skills such as running, jumping and climbing. A child should be able to balance or hop on one foot.

Social and emotional readiness
An important part of a child’s kindergarten readiness involves their social, emotional and behavioral skills. At this age, your child should be able to interact with other children and adults, take turns, share, and engage in simple cooperative play. They should display age-appropriate emotional regulation and show signs of independence, curiosity, and empathy. A child should be able to follow rules, take turns, make friends and limit aggressive outbursts. When it comes to playtime, the child should be able to sing, dance or act. As for chores, the child should show a basic sense of responsibility to follow instructions, such as picking up their dishes or helping with laundry.

Hygiene and self-care 
In order to be ready for kindergarten, your child should understand how to take care of themselves with basic bathroom habits. Your child should manage self-care tasks independently, such as using the bathroom, washing their hands and dressing themselves to some degree. These lessons are an important part of self-responsibility and socialization in a school environment.

Independence and tolerating separation
As part of school readiness, your child should be able to handle brief periods of separation from you or their primary caregiver without excessive distress or anxiety. Separation anxiety may occur during this time, especially during the first week of school. Alert the school if your child continues to struggle saying goodbye after the first week or so of school, so the teacher can provide additional support and reassurance to your child. Some children can handle being away from their caregivers without any distress, while other students may become fearful or cry. While both responses are normal, no one wants their child to experience unnecessary or extreme anxiety. There are additional ways to prepare for and prevent separation anxiety, which are discussed below.

Easing separation anxiety during the transition

Separation anxiety is common among kindergartners. Even though the experience of separation anxiety is typical, it is important to help your child deal with it to avoid distress and encourage their independence. Preparing for the first day of kindergarten can be a way to help relieve stress and anxiety. If your child knows what to expect and when they can expect it, it can be easier to establish and settle into a routine.

Strategies to help your child with smooth transitions and school drop-offs:

  • Establish a consistent routine: Create a predictable routine for drop-offs, including specific timings and activities. Consistency helps children feel secure and know what to expect each day.
    • Visit the kindergarten in advance: Take your child to visit the kindergarten before their first day. Familiarize them with the environment, show them the classroom and introduce them to their teacher. This can help alleviate anxiety and make the actual drop-off less overwhelming.
    • Create a goodbye ritual: Develop a special routine or ritual for saying goodbye to your child at drop-off. It could be a hug, a special handshake or a comforting phrase. This ritual provides reassurance and signals that you will return later.
    • Communicate with the teacher: Establish open communication with your child’s teacher. Share any concerns or information that may help with the transition. The teacher can offer support and keep you updated on your child’s progress during the day.
    • Encourage independence: Foster your child’s independence by encouraging them to handle certain tasks on their own, such as carrying their backpack or finding their cubby. This builds their confidence and promotes a sense of autonomy, making drop-offs smoother.

Ongoing separation anxiety could be a sign of a mental health issue. This can involve excessive worrying and anxiety about being away from the child’s caregiver that does not ease or reduce in frequency or intensity over time. If you are concerned that your child is experiencing separation anxiety that is not improving over time, reach out to your child’s pediatrician for help.

Understanding the requirements for starting kindergarten

Ahead of kindergarten registration, there are several kindergarten requirements. Here’s what parents need to know:

Age and enrollment guidelines vary by state. In Kentucky and Indiana, children must be registered for kindergarten at age 5. According to these state guidelines, that means your child should be 5 before Aug. 1 of the year they enter kindergarten.

Immunization and health requirements must be met in order for your child to start kindergarten. All kindergartners are required to complete school physicals with a pediatrician. A school physical exam assesses your child’s overall health and development and serves as an annual check-in with their pediatrician. During this exam, the pediatrician will evaluate the child’s physical and mental readiness for school. This exam can check for any new or existing health issues, plus any concerns with development that may impact whether they need additional physical, behavioral, and/or learning interventions or support in the school environment.

Other requirements may vary by state or school district. Check with your child’s school district for any other entrance requirements for kindergarten.


Preparing your child for kindergarten is an important step in their educational journey. Encouraging your child to learn, helping them reaching milestones and guiding them through important physical, emotional and social skills are a key part of preparing your child for kindergarten readiness.

You should schedule an appointment with a pediatrician to ensure your child is kindergarten-ready and has completed their required school physical.

The pediatrician offices of Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, provide annual well-child checks, school physicals and sports physicals, plus vaccinations for new and existing patients. Making your child’s pediatrician office part of your family’s medical home makes it easier for you and your child to start the new school year healthy, happy and ready for a great year ahead!