The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

What Should Children Know and Be Able to Do when they Enter Kindergarten?

on August 3, 2017

On July 24th I read a piece in“ The Hechinger Report” contributed by a kindergarten teacher in a Mississippi public school. Her purpose in writing it was to inform local parents about what their children should know and be able to do when they entered kindergarten. Although I have never taught kindergarten, I supervised those classes in two schools when I was a principal, and formed my own opinions about what was reasonable to expect from children just beginning school. Next week I will give my opinions and describe what the kindergarten teachers I worked with did to help children who were lagging behind their expectations.

 In the meantime I would like to hear readers’ opinions. I will post their views, with or without names, as they request.


Recently “The Hechinger Report” posted an article by Sonja Murray, a kindergarten teacher who has been teaching for 21 years. In addition, she has earned National Board Certification and a master’s degree from Mississippi State University. Below, I offer key quotes from her letter to parents of children who will be entering kindergarten this year and a quote from The Hechinger Report.

Ms. Murray begins by introducing herself and her school:

I teach kindergartners at East Mississippi’s Southeast Elementary, about 40 miles from the Alabama line.

At our preK-12 Title 1 School, 78 percent of our students are on free or reduced-price lunch.

After 21 years as a kindergarten teacher, I believe the most important thing children need in order to be ready for kindergarten is for their parents or other caregivers to take the time to give their children a firm foundation of language and math skills while their children are small.

Next, she gives a brief justification for her high expectations:

Research tells us that the brain is developing quickly between birth and five years of age, making connections that will impact future learning.

Following that, she offers a list of the skills she expects from beginning kindergarteners:

In language arts, children should be able to recognize and write their names, with an uppercase letter at the beginning and the rest lowercase, and to pick their names out of a list of names.

They should be able to recognize and name at least 10 lowercase letters (which we focus on because they are harder to learn than uppercase letters). They should be able to say the color of an object when shown the eight basic colors – red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, black and brown.

Children should be able to speak in complete sentences. They should be able to identify when words sound the same.

Children should be able to take turns, share, listen and be able to play together at centers with other 5-year-old children and know it is OK that they do not always get their way. They should to be able to sit and listen to a story.

Essential math concepts include being able to recite numbers 1 to 30 in correct order; recognize, name and write the numerals 0 to 10; be able to say the name of the number when shown a numeral and write the number correctly (not backwards).

The children should be able to count a set of objects and tell the number of objects in the set. They should be able to correctly name and identify four basic shapes – the circle, square, triangle and rectangle.

After that list Ms. Murray  goes on to explain that she and her colleagues have created workshops for parents so they can prepare children for kindergarten. She adds information about “Family fun Nights” that involve children in a scavenger hunt and literacy questions in order to receive a prize. She further explains that the scavenger hunt and its rewards are “a fun way to get kids excited about reading and to inform parents of the many benefits of reading to and with their children every night.”

 At the end of the article Hechinger explains– to some extent—why it chose to post this article:  The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education, produced this story.

I will withhold my reactions to this article and it publisher until after readers have had time to express their own.

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3 responses to “What Should Children Know and Be Able to Do when they Enter Kindergarten?

  1. Gary R Hargett says:

    Ms. Murray’s advice offends me. She places yet more burdens on young children and their families, especially families that are struggling. Many school systems around the world do not begin literacy or math instruction until first grade, and they have no expectations of children starting school with any such skills. Yet they produce highly literate citizens. My schools had no such expectations when we started kindergarten. In fact, we never even saw the alphabet until first grade. Yet my classmates and I learned to read quickly enough and became avide readers.

    I want to scream.

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  2. pauleck47 says:

    Most of the should know items sound like second semester first grade to me. I think of the pressure these developmentally inappropriate should know items on the parents and on their children. To me, starting kindergarten should be a pleasurable transition from home or pre-k to the more formal setting of school. Play is still the work of kids this age. I ran a NAEYC accredited early childhood program in Bovill, Idaho. My teachers were highly trained and our program had excellent results. Pushing first grade into pre-kindergarten is malpractice in my opinion.

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  3. Allen Koshewa says:

    It would be nice if all kids entered kindergarten with these skills, but they are not nearly as essential as a sense of inquiry and social/emotional strategies such as ways to invite or join others in play, showing empathy, and the ability to delay gratification. In addition, Ms. Murray has not shown how universal achievement of these objectives might be possible, given that many parents are not equipped to teach the skills Ms. Murray lists. Instead of expecting all parents to teach academic skills before kindergarten, she would probably gain far more by figuring out ways to have parents share in her nurturing of these and other skills and strategies once the school year has begun.

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