kindergarten readiness doesn’t just mean knowing how to read and write. It’s about having the skills to be successful in a more structured learning environment. That’s why kindergarten readiness activities for summer are so important. They help kids transition smoothly into their first year of school.
While summer break is a time for relaxation and fun, it’s also a great opportunity to prepare young children for kindergarten. Take advantage of the long days and find happiness in the fact that water balloon fights are totally a kindergarten preparation activity.
Here’s all the info on kindergarten readiness and activities that will help ready children for their first year of school.
What Is Kindergarten Readiness?
Kindergarten readiness sounds like an adjective, but it’s a noun. It’s not, “on a scale of 1-10, how much kindergarten readiness does my kid have?” (This is not something that can be understood with a Buzzfeed quiz.)
Kindergarten readiness describes skills and abilities. Specifically, what children should know and be able to do when starting kindergarten.
This readiness refers not only to academic milestones (like counting to 10), but also social-emotional awareness. There are five areas, or domains, that relate to specific kindergarten readiness skills and abilities.
The 5 Domains of School Readiness
No one domain is more important than another. The goal is well-roundedness rather than expertise.
- Language Development and Literacy: How a child communicates, verbally, non-verbally, phonetically, etc., and early literacy skills.
- General Knowledge: How the world works, how things go together, ability to follow instructions/schedules, understanding cause and effect.
- Approaches Towards Learning and Self-Regulation: Whether a child is more likely to keep trying or give up on problem solving, the child’s ability to calm themselves.
- Health and Motor Skills: Does the child have enough sleep, nutrition, physical strength, motor skills, etc., to attend to school tasks?
- Social and Emotional Development: Pro-social skills, ability to cooperate with others, displays empathy, and rudimentary understanding of emotions.
Why Is Kindergarten Readiness Important?
The obvious answer is that attending to kindergarten readiness aids early childhood development. The 5 domains of school readiness are important skills for all 5 year olds, enrolled in public school or not.
But I truck in the not-so-obvious answers.
Do you know the average kindergarten class size these days? And the average teacher pay and working conditions? Yeah. It’s not good.
Kindergarten teachers have a lot on their plate. With so many kids to teach and nurture, you don’t want yours to be the one who always needs a coat zipped, snacks opened, emotions co-regulated, etc.
Working on kindergarten readiness before kids hit the classroom helps teachers focus more on their curriculum and less on (essentially) running errands for a roomful of small people (well, less than they already would be, we are talking about 5 year olds after all).
Do it for the teachers.
What Should A Kindergartner Know?
Your five-year-old is probably excited and a little nervous about starting kindergarten. It’s a big change – new friends, new teachers, and lots more learning. What should a new kindergarten know before the first day of school?
There are a few key areas that most teachers agree need to be addressed for kindergarten readiness. These include more generic ones like early literacy/numeracy. But there are also more specific skills, such as cooperation or self-regulation.
A child entering kindergarten should be able to:
- Communicate wants and needs: Either verbally, with a communication device, through ASL, etc.
- Have “book” smarts: Most kindergartners aren’t going to read, but they should know where the book cover is, how to turn pages, hold it in the right direction, locate the text.
- Know the difference between upper and lowercase letters.
- Throw a ball.
- Independent life skills: ideally, kindergartners will be able to get themselves dressed, wash their own hands, open snacks/drinks, be independent in the bathroom, zip clothes, wipe their nose, hang up coats/backpacks, clean up after self, etc.
- Count to 10.
- Recognize some letters and letter sounds.
- Use scissors, glue, and crayons.
- Say or sing the alphabet.
- Be able to separate from parents: Maybe not perfectly, but not nuclear meltdowns either.
- Write some form of first name.
- Recognize simple symbols, like stop signs.
- Be able to stand in line.
- Name colors and parts of body.
- Rhyme. Rhyming is a great way to increase phonological awareness.
- Follow multi-step directions (2-3). Things like, “Put your cup in the sink, grab your shoes, and wait for me by the door.”
- Use finger to accurately touch count ten items.
- Classify objects by size, color, quantity, etc.
- Listen attentively without interruption for a few minutes and raise hand to speak.
- Say at least one parents full name and phone number.
- Walk in a straight line forwards and backward.
- Be able to take turns, or at least understand the concept.
- Hold a writing instrument correctly.
- Knows to cough into elbow.
- Be able to talk about the weather, seasons, month, and week.
- Recognize a few basic sight words.
- Create and identify simple patterns.
Ok, I know that’s a lot. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic. But don’t shrug, either.
Anxious parents often stress about all the things to learn, wrapped up in comparisons and worries of falling behind. The other extreme may scoff at the idea of kindergarten readiness, refusing to mar a perfectly good summer with “academics.”
I’m calling for a middle way.
It can be tempting to sign up new kindergartners in every enrichment program and educational summer camp or buy 100 different workbooks (talking to you, anxious types). But let’s remember that children learn best through play.
Did you hear that, freewheeling types? Through play. There’s no reason to make a huge production out of kindergarten readiness.
Simple summer activities like using sidewalk chalk, catching lightning bugs, or going to story hour helps children prepare for kindergarten as much as costly, at-home “programs.”
Kindergarten Readiness Activities for Summer
These activities are designed for lazy summer days. I bet you’ll be surprised (and encouraged!) by how many you’re already doing.
Active Activities To Prepare for Kindergarten
These games focus on moving the body, getting the sillies out, and tiring out restless kids, all while helping them get ready for kindergarten.
- Red Light, Green Light: This game is a great way to work on lessening impulsivity in young children (very helpful in the kindergarten classroom!)
- Simon Says: It’s hard to listen when one is excited, and this game is perfect, low-stakes practice of following directions
- Water Balloon Name Game from Fantastic Fun and Learning: Help kindergarten-aged kids learn pertinent information like addresses and phone numbers in a fun way
- Clapping Hand Games: a great way to work on rhythm and rhyming
- Link tag: this variation of tag (one person begins as “it,” as other players get tagged, they link arms with the person chosen to be “it,” forming a chain) encourages players to communicate and work together to tag the remaining players
- Bean bag toss: aim bean bags for empty totes and such to work on motor skills
- Follow the leader: encourages watchfulness and mimicking (which helps develop mirror neurons!)
- Musical chairs: requires focus and sure-footedness that will be helpful in kindergarten
- Hopscotch: helps with gross motor skills, moving and counting forwards and backward
- Obstacle course: improves problem-solving and motor planning skills
- Duck, Duck, Goose: helps future kindergartens enjoy taking turns
Cognitive Activities To Prepare for Kindergarten
Cognitive refers to the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
It can also refer to the ability to use that knowledge and understanding. Cognitive skills include reasoning, critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making (definitely skill sets used in school settings).
- Make finger puppets: use glue, scissors, and other craft materials kids will use in the classroom. Have the puppets act out the first day of school and other kindergarten scenarios
- Puzzles: check out your local library and see if you can check out unfamiliar, more difficult puzzles to take home and try
- I Spy: encourages focus, attention to detail, and communication skills
- Literally play “school”: Practice standing in line, do craft activities, re-enact circle time, practice the alphabet, the whole kit-and-kaboodle (you can do this with the kids themselves, the finger puppets, dolls, you can draw pictures about it, charades).
- Read books: Adults read to kids and kids to adults. Read all kinds of books (it’s literally the easiest way to cover early literacy kindergarten readiness bases), but especially read some books about kindergarten and starting school.
- Hot and cold: Pick an object or landmark to be “it,” kindergartner wanders around the space trying to find “it,” the person who picked “it” guides by calling “hot” or “cold.”
- Make “musical instruments” and play them: aAguitar out of a tissue box, paper towel roll, and rubber band, a decorated oatmeal canister drum, noisemakers made with old containers and dried beans.
- Play with blocks: Any kind of building activity, really.
- Sand and water play: Just messing around in different elements helps hand-eye coordination and neurological development.
- Hide and Seek with toy: Use a small figurine and hide around a room, in increasingly harder places.
- Memory and matching games
Increasing Social Skills for Kindergarten
In kindergarten, kids learn more about interacting with other children and adults. This can be a difficult transition for some, especially if they’ve been home with a caregiver all day.
Kindergartners must learn to share, take turns, and resolve conflicts. Help increase those life skills with activities that increase social skills.
- Feeling charades: Act out feelings and ask kindergartners to guess what they are (identifying and naming emotions before the child is in a room with dozens of their peers).
- Feeling mimic: Ask players to copy the mood/feeling the adult is showing in facial expression.
- Roll the ball: Work on aim and taking turns.
- Staring contest: Normalize eye contact.
- Play dress-up: Practice story-telling and independent life skills while imagining being someone else (developing empathy).
- Play telephone: Not the one where people whisper in each other’s ears, pretend to talk on the phone with kindergartner as a way to role-play conversations (introduction, small talk, giving and receiving compliments, back and forth dialogue, wrapping up the conversation).
- 21 (or 10) Questions: Encourages communication to problem solve.
- Set up a calm corner: It doesn’t have to be a big production, maybe just a comfy pillow in a corner with some favorite books, just teach your future kindergartner how to safely excuse and then preoccupy and calm themselves in a quiet space.
- What will happen next?: Tell small snippets of stories and ask listeners to guess what will happen next.
- Word games, jokes, and riddles: Teaching children the extra fun parts of conversations.
Kindergarten Readiness Board Games
These board and card games are short and sweet, ideal to help 5-year-olds prepare for kindergarten.
- Chutes and Ladders: This classic board game is a secret weapon for teaching self-regulation.
- Sight Words Bingo
- Balance Board Game: There’s lots of opportunities to increase early numeracy with this game.
- Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! Board Game
- Coogam Wooden Letters Practicing Board
- Little Treasures Matching Letter Game
- Peaceable Kingdom Get Ready for Kindergarten All Around Town Game
- Hi-Ho Cherry-O (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Edition)
- HOMER Explore Numbers Kit
- Emotional Rollercoaster Anger Management Board Game
While kindergarten readiness is an important part of early childhood development, it’s nothing to stress out over. Your child doesn’t need to be able to diagram sentences, just sit still for a few minutes at a time.
And these easy and fun kindergarten readiness activities can help with those realms in surprising ways. So put all those workbooks away, ok? Go play Red Light, Green Light.
I hope this article provides clear direction and takes some of the pressure off.
See these articles detailing other games and activities:
- Communication Activities and Games for Nonverbal Toddlers
- 40+ Games for 3-Year-Olds: The Complete Guide
- Everyday Ways to Increase Hand Strength in Toddlers
- 7 Educational Toys That Aren’t Lame
- Sensory Activities For Autism
You Tell Me
How did you and your family deal with starting school? Ever considered homeschooling? (I don’t think it’s for us.) Let me know in the comments!
Happy preparing for kindergarten!