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10 Skills to Teach Your Toddler Before Kindergarten

Without a doubt, the demands of kindergarten have changed over the past several decades. The half-days of play-based instruction and lengthy naps are long gone, replaced by desk work, limited recess, and direct instruction. Overall, programs are much more academically rigorous than most parents anticipate.

But it’s not just the academic content that overwhelms students. In my role as a school occupational therapist, kindergarten teachers are constantly approaching me in the hallways begging for tips on how to improve their students’ fine motor and self-help skills. So I was inspired to create a list of the ones that students struggle with the most upon entering kindergarten. With a little practice, your child can be the shining star in kindergarten in no time!

Remember, however, that these are just some suggestions to get you started. Feel free to use your imagination and get creative, and, most importantly, don’t panic if your child hasn’t mastered everything on the list before August rolls around. As long as your little one practices a number of these activities, this will build her confidence, and you will find (as will her teacher) that she has a strong foundation to build upon, come fall!


  • Using glue 1 of 10
    Using glue
    Have your child practice using a glue bottle, including removing the dried piece of glue that gets stuck over the cap. She should practice twisting the cap to open it, then squeeze the bottle with just the right amount of pressure to place one drop of glue onto a specific spot. Use a pen to mark small dots of different sizes on a piece of paper so that she can practice squeezing different amounts of glue to cover
    the dots.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Getting paper towels and soap 2 of 10
    Getting paper towels and soap
    Help your child get her own paper towels and soap from dispensers in public restrooms. Teach her to push the dispensers with the correct amount of pressure, using only one or two pushes for the soap and two to three pushes for the
    paper towels.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Fastening her clothes 3 of 10
    Fastening her clothes
    Your child should be able to manage clothing fasteners as independently as possible prior to starting school. If she needs a lot of assistance with her belt or fastening her pants, consider having her only wear them at home when there's more opportunity and time to practice, until she can manage in a timely manner.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Carrying a cafeteria tray 4 of 10
    Carrying a cafeteria tray
    Purchase a cafeteria tray and have your child practice carrying a tray full of items from one room to another without spilling. Include items such as a milk carton, silverware, and a sandwich.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Opening and closing lids 5 of 10
    Opening and closing lids
    Have your child practice opening and closing tops and lids, such as those on markers and glue sticks. Practice with packages and containers that you plan to send from home for snack or lunch, including chip bags, straws, juice boxes, Ziploc baggies (both the zipper-type and press-and-seal type), and milk cartons.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Coloring 6 of 10
    Coloring
    Practice coloring inside the lines, using a coloring pattern going in various directions, like up-and-down, side-to-side, diagonally, and in circles. You can even outline the edges of the picture with a thin strip of glue to give your child some "sensory feedback" as to where to stop coloring.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Drawing shapes 7 of 10
    Drawing shapes
    Teach your child to draw basic shapes and figures, such as a circle, square, triangle, cross, and rectangle. Have her practice forming them in a variety of "sensory media" rather than with just using a paper and pencil. For example, have her form them using her index finger in pudding on a piece of foil, in sand, or using play dough or a piece of string.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Holding a pencil 8 of 10
    Holding a pencil
    Teach your child to hold a writing tool correctly. If she is having trouble with this skill, try showing her how to "pinch" the pencil with her thumb and index finger and then let her other fingers fall behind for extra support. You may also want to have her hold a small object, like a button or coin, against the palm of her hand using just the fourth and fifth fingers so that she is left with the middle finger, index finger, and thumb to hold the pencil when writing.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Using scissors 9 of 10
    Using scissors
    A great suggestion for learning to use scissors is to have your child pick up, sort, and place items using kitchen tongs before actually beginning with scissors. Have your child stack and sort blocks or other small items using the tongs. Once she can use the tongs well, let her start practicing with scissors. Begin by giving her small items to snip, such as a narrow strip of index card or a straw, then progress to regular paper.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com
  • Writing her first and last name 10 of 10
    Writing her first and last name
    Teach your child to write her first and last name. Start by having her practice copying from a written example on the same piece of paper. Once she's mastered this, transition to having her write the letters in her first and last name
    from memory.
    Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com

— Anne Zachry

About the author: Anne Zachry is a pediatric occupational therapist, wife, and mother of three. She has a PhD in Educational Psychology.

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Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com

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