The Guide to Kindergarten

Review general curricula for kindergarten, learn what to expect for each subject, and discover the books and activities you can use at home to support learning in the classroom.
By Shira Ackerman and Kelsey Kloss

Ages

4-5

The Guide to Kindergarten

On the first day of kindergarten, your child officially becomes a student! It’s an exciting transition as young learners blend the playing, singing, and craft-making from preschool with more writing, reading, and math lessons. Kindergarteners get used to school routines, practice working together in groups to build teamwork and sharing skills — and learn how to be successful students for years to come.

Kindergarten classrooms are typically organized by different subjects and various types of play. For example, a typical classroom may have areas for reading, arts and crafts, building and math toys, and "pretend play." The school day is structured with time for free play (during which children can choose which centers to play in), and structured scheduled lessons devoted to each subject. The expectations for what students should achieve, and specifically whether they should know how to read and write by the end of kindergarten, vary across schools, so talk to your child’s teacher for details regarding the specific curriculum.

Research has shown that participants in full-day kindergartens often achieve higher standardized test scores in the future, and generally excel in school. In addition, they develop strong social skills as they engage in more child-to-child interactions and develop their interpersonal skills. But here’s what’s especially exciting: By laying the right foundation for your child’s success in kindergarten, you can prime her for accomplishing great academic strides for years to come. Make sure she is prepared for kindergarten and excels throughout the year with this comprehensive guide to success.

Reading: Kindergarten 

In kindergarten, children begin to grow as independent readers and become more comfortable with reading, which is now part of their daily life. A kindergarten classroom is packed with words and labeled objects, and students read books, the day’s schedules, class letters, songs, and poems throughout the day.

To build reading skills, your kindergartener:

  • Learns all of the letters of the alphabet (upper case and lower case) and their sounds.
  • Begins to “read” books himself, mainly by memorization (short books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? are ideal for this!).
  • Reads and listens to stories and then talks about the stories, including their plots, characters, and events.
  • Follows words from left to right, top to bottom, and page by page.
  • Recognizes and can produce rhyming words.
  • Recognizes several basic sight words such as I, my, you, is, and are. (You can help him practice with this Sight Word Readers Parent Pack, which includes 25 little books that teach 50 of the most frequently used words in print.)
  • Adds or substitutes individual sounds in simple, one-syllable words to make new words, such as replacing the “C” in “Cat” with an “R” to create the word “Rat.”

Your Kindergarten Book Checklist for Reading

Kindergarten Is Cool! — Told from a second-person narrative, this rhyming book will reassure students anxious about their first day of kindergarten that school can be filled with fun! What’s more, the sweet and bouncy tale will help boost your child’s early reading skills in preparation for the big day — and throughout the year.

We Are in a Book! (An Elephant & Piggie Book) — Best friends Gerald and Piggie discover the joys of being “read” in this mind-bending, interactive story that teaches children how books are set up, all while using vocabulary just right for beginner readers in kindergarten. 

The Day the Crayons Quit — A kindergartener’s book collection wouldn’t be complete without this famous tale! When Duncan wants to color, he finds out that his crayons have quit: Blue is tired of coloring skies and oceans, orange and yellow aren’t speaking because they both believe they’re the true color of the sun, and black is tired of just outlining things. This story provides endless laughs and teaches kindergarteners about plot and characters.

The Lorax — This Dr. Seuss classic uses large, vibrant illustrations paired with word plays and rhymes to introduce kindergarteners to the building blocks of language, and introduces students to the importance of protecting the environment around us.  

Clifford Goes to Kindergarten — In an adorable tale about preparing for and going to kindergarten, Emily Elizabeth explores her new school—and Clifford even makes an appearance in the classroom! This book will prime your kindergartener for his first day of class and further build his growing reading abilities. 

Bonus Reading Activities

Read and Repeat: Ask your child to “read” his favorite book to you, using his memory, associations, and clues from the pictures.

Alphabet Books: Use drawings or pictures from magazines to create an alphabet book with a letter and an object that begins with that letter on each page.

Fill in the Blank: When you read a favorite picture book to your child and come across a short word that rhymes or is familiar to your child because he knows the story, stop and let him say the word. Point to the word as he says it and spell it out.

Act it Out: Get theatrical! Perform parts of or the whole story from your child’s favorite and well-known books.

Writing: Kindergarten 

In kindergarten, your child begins to truly grow as a writer. Kindergartners start to write words (often using their own creative or invented spellings), and may even write their own mini books and stories about their lives or what they’ve learned.

Don’t worry if she’s spelling most words incorrectly: Creative or invented spelling is a crucial part of developing writing skills at this age. Spelling words based on sounds helps your child consider our language’s building blocks and gain a deeper understanding of them. Most of the words your kindergartner will learn to spell correctly are one-syllable words which often follow the pattern of CVC, or CONSONANT, VOWEL, CONSONANT — think “cat,” “big,” or “rug.”

To build writing skills, your kindergartener:

  • Writes uppercase and lowercase letters (make practice fun with these Learning Mats: Match, Trace & Write: Alphabet)    
  • Writes her name.
  • Writes some letters and words when they are dictated.
  • Uses invented or creative spelling to write a variety of words.
  • Uses conventional spelling to write some words (CVC and basic sight words).
  • Writes, draws, and dictates about a variety of topics, including her opinion and descriptions of objects or moments and events in her life.

Your Kindergarten Book Checklist for Writing

Scholastic Early Learners: Write and Wipe ABC 123 — Reinforce your child’s writing skills by practicing capital and lower-case letters (plus numbers) with this interactive book, which also provides full words like “fox” or “xylophone” for tracing! Practicing with this book throughout the year will help her with alphabet recognition, counting and numbers, and early writing skills.

Scholastic Early Learners: Jumbo Workbook: Kindergarten — Help your little learner succeed with this exciting book, designed to support the learning activities she’s exposed to in the classroom.Packed with activities, colorful photos, and illustrations, and 24 pages of stickers, this giant workbook helps children learn skills such as pen control, sorting, math, and early phonics.

Write with Clifford the Big Red Dog: Activities for Building Fine-Motor Skills — This pack of six books helps kindergarteners master the fine-motor skills they need to be successful writers. It includes fun-filled workbooks focused on writing, drawing, coloring, counting, tracing, and matching, all of which help your child build early literacy and writing skills.

Scholastic Early Learners: Mix & Match Silly Sentences  — Created for kindergarteners, this mix-and-match book with flash cards allows students to combine words to create hilarious new sentences—providing the building blocks for sentence construction. With hundreds of possible combinations, the wacky results make writing fun and interactive!

Diary of a Worm — A worm isn’t all that different from people — except for that he might eat his own homework! This hysterical journal about the daily happenings and hidden world of a lovable underground dweller introduces kindergarteners to the practice of journaling, a skill they’ll eventually need to use in schoolwork.

Bonus Writing Activities

Label Everything: Create labels with your child for different objects in your house, like books, toy bins, foods, kitchen objects, and clothes. You or your child can write the names of the objects, and your child can draw a picture to go along with it. (As a bonus, you’ll have an organized home!)

Play Guessing Games: Draw a picture and have your child guess the spelling of that word, giving him a few letters in the word as a hint. Alternatively, show your child two letters (like this: “_at”) and ask her to make as many words as she can with it.

Create a Photo Album: When you take pictures of events or people, ask your child to label the picture. Glue it to a piece of a paper so she can write a description of the event, what happened, who was there, etc. If other people were involved in the event, send them a copy!

Have a Letter Treasure Hunt: When you’re in the car, at home, or in the store, ask your child to find certain uppercase and lowercase letters. She can keep a list of all the letters she finds and write them down as she discovers them (you might even raise the stakes by offering a small prize if she can find all of the letters!).

Math: Kindergarten 

In most kindergarten classes, math is woven throughout the day’s activities, because it becomes more meaningful — particularly for young children — when it’s experienced in real-life contexts. This year, your kindergartner will go beyond simply counting numbers to understanding what they represent and actively using them to represent quantities.

Daily kindergarten math activities include learning numbers, counting, addition and subtraction, and learning concepts of time, measurement, and categorization. What’s more, playing with puzzles, building toys, blocks, and games allows kindergarteners to practice and build math skills in a fun, engaging way.

To build math skills, your kindergartener:

  • Understands that numbers represent quantity and uses them to do so.
  • Counts and writes numbers from 1-20 (and potentially higher).
  • Counts out and compare quantities, usually up to 20.
  • Counts out and groups objects in order to solve single-digit addition and subtraction problems. 
  • Begins to recognize and understand the meaning of the plus and minus signs (as your kindergartener expands his skills in this area, use these ü  colorful Addition Flash Cards to help him further grasp the fundamentals of addition).
  • Uses drawings, objects, actions, and sounds to represent and practice addition and subtraction.
  • Practices beginning measurement and graphing skills, often through the creation of class-wide graphs, such as graphing favorite snacks or how kids get to school.
  • Learns about and begin to count to 100, specifically through tallying the days of school and a celebration on the 100th day of school (many but not all kindergarten classes do something like this).
  • Creates patterns (the book Math-terpieces can help encourage your kindergartener to look for patterns in a whole new, number-orientated way!).

Your Kindergarten Book Checklist for Math

Scholastic Learning Express: Shapes and Patterns — Packed with teacher-approved activities, this kindergarten math workbook helps children learn to identify shapes, understand patterns, and solve problems—essential skills for math success.

Scholastic Early Learners: Write and Wipe Counting — Your child can sharpen his number-writing skills before and throughout kindergarten with this interactive wipe-clean board book. In addition to teaching kindergarteners how to write numbers 1 to 10, it offers practice in ordering and counting numbers.

Count My Cupcakes 123 — Numbers have never been so fun! Disappearing touch-and-feel cupcakes star in this rhyming board book, which helps kindergarteners practice their counting skills with irresistibly yummy characters—including a cup of cocoa and a rolling donut.

Math Fables — This winsome collection of fables teaches concepts relevant to life’s youngest mathematicians, such as sharing and teamwork! The fresh, fun tales encourage children to see the basics of addition and subtraction in entirely new (and relatable!) ways.  

Groovy Joe: Dance Party Countdown — One fun-lovin’, guitar-strummin’ pup is always ready for a dance party that will get your kindergartener singing, dancing, and learning math to a whole new beat. In this tale, Groovy Joe hosts his very own dance party — but when more and more dogs knock on his door, he must use savvy counting and addition skills to determine if there will be enough room for everyone!

Bonus Math Activities

Cook with Patterns: The opportunities here are endless! Make patterns with cereal necklaces, decorate cookies, layer sandwiches out of bread or crackers, or create simple patterns using your child’s favorite colored candies.

Make Math Realistic: Use everyday objects to practice addition and subtraction. If you have a bowl of five apples, ask your child to help you figure out how many you will have left if you take three away.

Build Things: Use blocks, Legos, or any other building toys to construct houses, towers, and vehicles. As your child builds, ask him to count pieces, create patterns, and talk about the shapes.

Take a Poll: Ask family members a question, then create a simple and fun graph of the answers using numbers and pictures.

Find Sizes in Nature: Go outside and collect objects like leaves, stones, and pinecones. Next, count how many things you found and describe their sizes using words like “larger,” “smaller,” “biggest,” and “smallest.” For extra practice, add up the objects that are the same (for instance, all of the leaves). 

Science: Kindergarten

Very often, kindergarten teachers will give specific science lessons once to a few a times a week. During this time, the class will learn about a certain topic — for example, water, weather, animals, plants, or nature — through the use of books, demonstrations with actual objects, explorations outside, or interactive activities.

What’s more, kindergartners are natural scientists as they play and explore the world around them with their curious minds. Science lessons typically overlap with math and literacy as kindergarten teachers use tools such as books and graphs to help students learn. Since specific science topics presented in a kindergarten class vary across schools, find out which topics your child will be learning about, then explore and learn about them using the book checklist below.

To build science skills, your kindergartener:

  • Is a natural born scientist, constantly exploring, observing, questioning, and experimenting as she plays and interacts with her surroundings.
  • Learns new facts about a variety of topics.
  • Explores and experiments with the world around her and with objects provided by the teacher.
  • Makes observations and records what she sees and learns using graphs, pictures, and words.

Your Kindergarten Book Checklist for Science:

Mae Among the Stars — Pique your kindergartener’s interest in science with this inspiring story about Little Mae, a girl with a supportive family, unbounded passion, and a big dream to dance among the stars and become an astronaut one day.

Guided Science Readers: Parent Pack  This collection of 16-page books will provide a valuable foundation for your kindergartener’s science know-how by teaching her about birds, sloths, tigers, honeybees, horses, bears, and much more! Engaging text is paired with just a few lines of age-appropriate text per page for your growing reader.

It’s Spring! (A StoryPlay Book) — Teach your kindergartener about the changing seasons with this rhyming story about the arrival of spring. StoryPlay Books like this one provide questions, prompts, and activities that encourage your child to explore her natural curiosity about science.

Now You Know How It Works — This book takes infographics to an exciting new level with bright, colorful visuals perfect for your kindergartener. She’ll explore easy-to-understand explanations about how everything works, from paper airplanes to pencils, satisfying the questions she has long wanted answers to—and those she didn’t know she had at all!

Bear Sees Colors — Hues are one of the prettiest parts of science, and this book helps your kindergartener notice them everywhere, just like Bear! The adorable illustrations creatively introduce colors to young readers, who will delight in discovering a rainbow of scientific fun.

Bonus Science Activities

Observe Nature: Pick something in nature — plants, the moon, a rainstorm, etc. — and observe it with your child for a few days or even weeks. Ask your child to draw pictures of what she notices, including patterns and differences over time. (You can jot down her observations, too.) Do this repeatedly, keeping scientific journals on different objects.

Inspect Your Food: Cut open various fruits and vegetables and see what you find inside! Talk about the seeds, the difference between fruits and vegetables, and other things you notice.

Make Science Collages: Use pictures from magazines, newspapers, or the Internet (with supervision) to create collages of different science objects, organizing plants, birds, fish, and more into various categories.

Learn About a Favorite Animal: Pick an animal your child loves and learn all about it. Buy kindergarten-level books about it (there are many that cover specific types of animals, like this Scholastic Discover More: Birds book about our feathered friends!), visit it at a zoo or farm, or look at pictures of it online. Then help your child create a collage of what she learned about that animal using pictures and words. 

Social Studies: Kindergarten

In a kindergarten classroom, social studies learning occurs throughout the day, beginning with a class meeting (often called “morning meeting” or “circle time”) at the start of the day. During this time, many classes review the calendar and the weather, the number of days of school so far, and any other “class news” for the day. Students may also share their own news during this time.

Social studies learning continues throughout the day as kindergartners follow classroom rules and build their social skills, interacting with each other and practicing sharing, taking turns, and working together, all of which ultimately helps them become successful students and classroom citizens. Most kindergarten teachers in the United States also help children learn about the community outside their home and the American holidays. 

To build social studies skills, your kindergartener:

  • Works in groups, sharing and taking turns.
  • Develops conflict resolution skills (practice this and other social situations with your child with these What Do I Do? Conversation Flash Cards).    
  • Develops communication and conversation skills.
  • Learns about his community outside of his home.
  • Learns about the calendar.
  • Learns about American holidays.

Your Kindergarten Book Checklist for Social Studies

Llama, Llama Time to Share — Emphasize the importance of sharing in this story about a little llama and his new neighbors. Llama Llama isn’t so sure he wants to share with Nelly Gnu (maybe he could share just his blocks so they can build a castle together?), but when the fun turns into tears as a favorite stuffed animal is ripped into two, the benefits of sharing become much more clear.

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters — Begin to teach your kindergartener about our country’s history with this book written by former President Barack Obama. Told through tender narrative and breathtaking illustrations, it’s a moving tribute to 13 groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that shaped our nation.

Rookie Read About American Symbols: The Bald Eagle — Young students will get acquainted with the symbol of the United States in this majestic book about the proud, powerful bald eagle—a perfect nonfiction pick for kindergarteners just becoming familiar with history. 

Peppa Pig: Peppa Plays Soccer — This adorable book about two soccer teams that play against each other and can’t agree on what’s fair is a great primer for kindergarten social studies lessons such as conflict resolution and fairness.

Nelson Mandela— Start showing your child communities outside of his own with this graceful and stunning tale of Nelson Mandela, who was born during the apartheid but joined the fight to create a new South Africa that would belong to all of its people.

Bonus Social Studies Activities

Study Your Community: Walk around your local neighborhood and help your child take photos, draw pictures, and write about what he notices. Encourage him to talk to different people in the community (with your supervision) and ask them questions. Then make a poster or short book about your town — he can send this info to a family member who lives somewhere else.

Take a Trip: Compare your own town and community to others around you. If you live in a city, visit a more rural or suburban area — or vice versa. Talk about the differences and similarities between your town and others, or make a chart illustrating them.

Act it Out: Use role play to help your child work on his conflict resolution skills. Act out small situations of conflict. For instance: What happens if someone is playing with a toy you want, or what happens if you don’t agree with someone? Help your child figure out specific strategies he can use in different situations.

Make a Group Plan: Work with other family members or friends on a specific task such as cleaning up a yard or room, cooking, or setting up a meal or party. Assign everyone specific roles and figure out how to work together in the best way possible. 

Continue the Fun Through Play!

Sharpen your kindergartener’s skills further by integrating learning with these exciting activities.

United States Geography Bingo — Expose your kindergartener to the wide variety of places in the United States with this award-winning toy! It features illustrations and information describing each state in a fun, interactive setting.   

Clifford the Big Red Dog: Bubble Science Kit — Your little scientist will learn all about one of her favorite things—bubbles!—with Emily and Clifford by using this exhilarating kit. Tools such as a colorful lab tray, measuring cup, and funnel help your kindergartener perform adventurous experiments.

Learning Puzzles: Rhyming — This set comes with 20 self-checking puzzles designed to help children recognize and generate rhyming words, which will lay an important foundation for kindergarten reading and writing skills throughout the school year.

Good Manners Flash Cards — Help your kindergartener get along with others by using these sweet cards about polite piggies. Each card asks what approach or response might be right for a certain situation, and the reverse side offers a handy suggestion!

Puzzle Sticks: Geometric Animals — These fun puzzles encourage kindergarteners to recognize and think about patterns, shapes, and categories as they sort sticks by color and place them in a tray to reveal different animals from around the world. 

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