Does my toddler need to know anything before Pre-K?

Take a peek inside any preschool classroom and you’re likely to see kids busy at work. Building, drawing, playing dress-up, coloring, looking at books, pushing trains and cars around a track, and of course, singing and dancing. Their “work” is defined by play, which is the primary method of learning at this age. The learning that goes on for three-year-olds during their time in preschool provides a solid foundation for years to come.

Skills preschoolers are working on

While this list doesn’t include all of the skills a preschooler or child entering Pre-K should be proficient in, it does provide some of the basic tasks teachers want three-year-olds to know and understand.

But before you get your red pen and highlighter out to mark what Baby can and cannot do, it’s important to remember that school readiness should be approached with realistic expectations. A child’s temperament, how they learn, and what can be expected of them developmentally at this point should all be taken into account. After all, a child’s social, emotional, and behavioral readiness is exceedingly more important than academic checklists.

Personal skills

  • The ability to dress and undress, including putting on and taking off socks, shoes, and jackets.
  • The ability to eat on their own.
  • Basic hygiene such as how to use a tissue and cough into their elbow.
  • The basics of bathroom use. Knowing how to use the toilet and wash hands, which bathroom to use, and how to ask to use the bathroom.
  • Basic kitchen skills such as pouring from a pitcher, putting away silverware, mixing, or setting the table.
  • Having basic organization skills.
  • Mastering fine motor skills such as the ability to work with child-safe scissors, crayons, and crafts.

Social development skills

  • Practice cooperation through play by being able to take turns and be part of a group or team.
  • Ability to follow directions and understand new rules.
  • Helps with clean-up activities.
  • Can use manners such as saying “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and maybe even remembering to say “excuse me.”
  • Understands and follows simple routines.
  • Can separate from parent/caregiver for several hours at a time.
  • Knows how to be curious.
  • Has an eagerness to learn.
  • Willingness to do things independently.
  • Can express emotions, needs, and requests.
  • Can follow two-step directions such as “please pick up your empty cup and put it in the garbage.”

Academic skills (cognitive, language, and math)

  • Uses scribbles, shapes, and letter-like symbols to “write” words or ideas.
  • Has basic number- and letter-recognition skills.
  • Speaks in 4- to 6-word sentences and can carry on a conversation using 2 to 3 sentences.
  • Sorts large objects.
  • Copies a circle with a pencil or crayon.
  • Knows some colors and shapes.
  • Knows basic personal information such as their age, their first and last name, and their birthday.
  • Counts by rote to 10.
  • Starts understanding time in terms of morning, night, and days of the week.
  • Understands how books work, including how to hold a book, turn the pages, describe and point to the pictures as the story is being read out loud, and understand that words convey the message in a story.

About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son. 

  • “Grade-by-Grade Learning: Preschool.” PBS Parents. PBS. Retrieved July 11 2017.
  • “Important Milestones: Your Child By Three Years.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 16 2016. Retrieved July 11 2017. 
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