What to Know About Your Child's Kindergarten Experience

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 23, 2022

Going to kindergarten is a huge milestone for young children and their parents. If your child is about to head off to kindergarten for the first time, you might have mixed feelings — pride, relief, nervousness, excitement. Many parents look forward to the kindergarten experience but might worry that their child isn't ready or won't fit in. Your own positive or negative school experience can also color how you feel about this time — if you didn't enjoy kindergarten, you might be worried that your child won't either. 

Fortunately, information and preparation can go a long way toward ensuring that your child has a positive experience that sets them up for a lifelong love of learning. Read on to discover what you should know about your child's kindergarten experience. 

When Does Kindergarten Start?

In the U.S., the exact age that a child becomes eligible for kindergarten varies by state. But students are typically considered kindergarten-age if they turn 5 years old before the beginning of the school year. 

Some states offer waivers that allow children to attend kindergarten at a younger or older age. The process required to get a waiver is determined at the state level. 

Kindergarten is not required in every school district — 11 states don't require school districts to offer full- or half-day kindergarten, and 31 states make participation in kindergarten optional.

What Do You Learn in Kindergarten?

In general, kids will learn basic literacy, math, and social-emotional skills to help prepare them for grade school. Kindergarten expectations vary by state and school district. 

Common Core sets academic standards for Language Arts and Mathematics. Reading about Common Core standards can help you prepare for what your child will be learning and decide if they're academically ready. For example, kindergartners are expected to learn to read and understand texts designed for new readers during the school year. 

Some states require screenings to determine if a child is ready for kindergarten. Kindergarten screenings don't bar your child from entering kindergarten — they help educators identify children that will benefit from additional educational services.

There are some things you can do to help make sure that your child is ready to enter school academically, socially, emotionally: 

Recognize that your child is learning — it's your job to guide them, not punish them. Behaving well is a complex skill that requires many layers of development. Children have big emotions but poorly developed impulse control and limited experience expressing themselves in a safe and healthy way — these are skills they need to learn. 

Children who are regularly punished for their mistakes may be reluctant to try new things and may have a hard time trusting authority figures like teachers, which are essential skills for kindergarten. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against spanking, slapping, yelling, and shaming, which can lead to misbehavior and mental health difficulties that lead kids to struggle in school. 

Encourage independence and participation at home. Take the time to consider what you might be doing for your child that they can do independently, like putting their shoes on, pouring a drink, or putting toys away. Encourage your child to take charge of basic tasks that they can handle on their own. Invite them to help you with other household tasks like meal preparation and laundry. 

Showing your children that they're capable can give them confidence and teach skills that are necessary for a communal environment like a classroom, where most children don't have one-on-one assistance.

Promote literacy in everyday life. Have your young child help you write or read a shopping list, read signs, and identify letters at the store, and take dedicated time to read together every day. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests promoting a love of reading by following your child's interests.

All reading is good reading, whether it's a novel, a picture book, a magazine, or a comic. It's never too early to start reading to your child — even infants benefit from reading aloud. 

What Kindergarten Is Best for My Child?

Different kindergartens can be the best fit for different families and children. If you have a choice of kindergartens, keep in mind that there's no one-size-fits-all method to choosing the right kindergarten. Some things you may want to keep in mind when deciding how to choose a kindergarten include:

Your educational philosophy

Do you prefer a play-based kindergarten or one that's more academically rigorous? Would your child benefit from a child-directed philosophy like Montessori or teacher-directed instruction?

Student-to-teacher ratios

Will your child be able to get sufficient attention from the teacher? Are there other adults present in the kindergarten classroom, like a class parent or a teacher's aide?

The teacher's educational philosophy

Do the teacher's educational philosophies line up with your own? This doesn't have to be a perfect fit, but if you're a world away from agreeing on anything, it may set you up for a tense year. Does the kindergarten teacher seem to enjoy working with young children? Are they respectful of your family's culture and values.

Proximity to your home or work

Is it easy for you to drop off and pick up your child, or is there a bus service provided by the school? Will you (or your emergency contact) be able to get to your child quickly if they're sick or injured or if there's an emergency school closure?

What current parents think

If you have the opportunity to speak to parents of children who already attend this kindergarten, they can provide great insights into how the school year might go for your family. What are they happy with at this kindergarten, and what do they think could improve? What are the expectations for parental involvement? Are their kids comfortable with the school? How does the school handle conflicts with other parents, students, or teachers? 

Show Sources


Common Core State Standards Initiative: "English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Foundational Skills » Kindergarten."

Education Commission of the States: "50-State Comparison: State K-3 Policies," "What age exemptions or waivers exist for kindergarten entrance?" "10 Tips to Help Your Child Fall in Love with Reading," "What's the Best Way to Discipline My Child?"

National Association for the Education of Young Children: "Readiness: Not a State of Knowledge, but a State of Mind," "Ready or Not Kindergarten, Here We Come!"

National Center for Education Statistics: "Table 5.3. Types of state and district requirements for kindergarten entrance and attendance, waivers and exemptions for kindergarten entrance, by state: 2018."

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info