Beyond pencils and crayons: what does “kindergarten readiness” really mean?

By Carolyn Koesters, United Way of Southwest Virginia


“Kindergarten readiness” is a phrase we all hear, but what does being ready for kindergarten actually mean?

Preparing to enter kindergarten means a lot more than having a brand-new backpack, matching lunch box, pencils, and crayons. In fact, kindergarten readiness looks different now than when we grew up; it may even feel a little more like the first grade you remember. The focus on reading and math skills has increased dramatically, and the amount of unstructured playtime has decreased. The focus on reading at grade level by third grade has also increased as well, and with good reason. Reading by third grade is the number one predictor of a child’s academic success, on-time graduation, and even future career success.

Lauren Jackson, a kindergarten teacher at Spiller Elementary in Wytheville, Virginia said, “Kindergarten readiness is not just about academics. Yes, there are some academic skills desired and they are important, but readiness is more than that. It is having social skills, working independently, using fine motor skills (like holding a pencil and using scissors), and following two step directions.”

Many children find the shift to kindergarten a challenging one. A study released in 2017 found that more than one-third of Virginia’s children were not fully ready to enter kindergarten, primarily because they lacked the social skills and ability to regulate their own behavior.

To help your child get ready for kindergarten, take a look at this checklist. The items listed are certainly not required, but might help your little learner feel prepared.

Teacher Lauren Jackson says kindergarten readiness might include:

  • Saying his or her first AND last name
  • Writing his or her first name (or attempting to!)
  • Telling an adult if something is wrong
  • Telling an adult when he or she needs help
  • Taking care of basic needs like going to the restroom, or getting tissues when he or she has a runny nose
  • Pretend-reading (as you read)
  • Singing or reciting nursery rhymes
  • Using scissors and glue correctly
  • Following two-step directions
  • Singing the alphabet
  • Tying shoes
  • Counting to ten
  • Taking turns and sharing
  • Reciting his or her phone number
  • Knowing his or her teacher’s name
  • Saying his or her parents’ names

About United Way’s education initiatives
United Way of Southwest Virginia is fighting for the education of the region by making sure children and youth can start school ready to succeed, become proficient readers at a young age, stay on track in middle school, earn their high school diploma, and pursue a higher education or career. To learn more, visit

About United Way of Southwest Virginia
United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life. Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change. With a footprint that covers nearly 15% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia programs and initiatives serve the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe, and the cities of Bristol, Galax, and Norton. For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit

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