What Should a Kindergartener Know by the End of the Year?

What should a kindergartener know before the first grade? Your child should be able to meet these 12 milestones by the end of kindergarten.

What Should a Kindergartener KnowBefore you know it, your kindergartener is about to end the year in a few weeks or months. It seemed not too long ago when you walked her to her classroom as she held onto her school supplies, anxious about her first day. Now, she’s headed off to first grade, leaving you wondering where the time went.

But if you’re like many parents, you’re wondering how she has fared this whole year in kindergarten. Did she meet the end-of-year milestones? And where does she need to improve before school starts with first grade next year?

Whether you’re confident with your child’s progress or know she has room to improve, having guidelines will help you know where to focus.

I can certainly relate. My kids did well in kindergarten, but I also wanted to ensure that they met the criteria for the year.

I found a section on greatschools.org where I learned the milestones kindergarteners should be able to master before the end of the year. These were the 12 academic skills I checked my kids could do, so that if they couldn’t, I would know what they needed more help with.

Covering three topics—reading, math skills, and writing—you can check if your child can do these challenges during kindergarten. If she can, great! If not, now you’ll know what she can work on before the year ends.

So, what should a kindergartener know before going to 1st grade? Let’s dive into the three categories:


All children will have a wide range of reading levels, kindergarten and beyond. Still, certain language skills, regardless of level, are crucial to learn in kindergarten. Take a look at whether your child can do these six things. Four of these are “post-reading” skills—things he should be able to do after reading a story.

A simple way to check for these skills is to read with him as part of your routine, focusing on one skill each day. That way, he won’t feel like you’re bombarding him with a series of “tests.”

Read with Kids Every Day

Instead, use regular reading time to see if he can…

1. Correct words he misses

The goal with this skill isn’t so much to read perfectly, but to be able to self-correct when your child gets a word wrong.

Have him read books aloud with you. When he says a word incorrectly, can he recognize that he had read it wrong, as well as correct himself? If he doesn’t, correct a few words for him to encourage him to do the same.

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2. Tell you what he thinks a new word means

While reading together, point out an unfamiliar word and ask your child what he thinks it means. Don’t worry if he gets it wrong—this will help him practice not just reading vocabulary words, but thinking about their meaning.

If he struggles with coming up with a definition, help him place the word in context so he can make a guess. He might not know what “exclaimed” means, so you can say, “It looks like the boy was really excited when he said ‘wow.'”

If he’s still stumped, tell him what the word means—this is, after all, another way he’ll learn!

3. Retell a story he read

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After reading a book, ask your child to tell you what the story is about. His summary could be short, but he should be able to explain it in a way where someone who hadn’t read the story has a good understanding of what happened.

If he feels “put on the spot,” ask later in the day when he’s more relaxed and less suspicious of your intentions. And ask him casually, “Remember that book we read earlier today about the numbers going up the tree? How did that go again?”

Read with Kids Every Day

4. Answer a question about the story

Just as your child should be able to summarize a story, so too should she recall enough to answer questions.

Read a book together, then ask a question about the story. You can ask open ended questions like, “Why do you think he doesn’t want to give up the tail?” or fact-based questions like, “Why couldn’t they put the tail back on the dog?”

Open Ended Questions for Kids

5. Find a picture referencing something that happened in the story

After reading a picture book, ask your child to turn to the page where a particular scene happened in the story. This shows that he’s able to recall a certain part of the story and match it to the part of the book using pictures.

Let’s say you were reading The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane Auch. You might say, “Can you show me the page where Henrietta decides to make her own books?”

6. Tell you what he learned from the story

Reading offers everyone—child and adult—information we never knew until having read it. After reading a book, ask your child to tell you something new he has learned.

Be specific and don’t just ask, “What’s something new you learned from the book?” (that might be too overwhelming to answer). Instead ask, “How many people built the Golden Gate Bridge?”

Little boy reading a book and smiling


Some of these milestones focus on math skills kindergarteners should know before the year ends. Mastering these skills will help your child feel ready and confident for first grade. See whether she can meet these three benchmarks:

7. Add numbers between 1 to 5 in her head

Your child will have learned basic addition, especially using numbers between 1 to 5. For instance, ask her to answer addition questions using any number combination between 1 and 5, like “What’s…

  • 1 + 3?”
  • 4 + 5?”
  • 3 + 3?”

By the end of the school year, she should be able to tell you the answer from her head, instead of counting with props like her fingers. She doesn’t have to respond quickly, but she should be able to answer without counting props.

Check out these children’s books about numbers.

children's books about numbers

8. Show you a math problem between 1 and 10 using props

Here’s a simple task you can try using building blocks of different colors:

Place several red, yellow, and blue building blocks in front of your child. Ask him to pretend that the red blocks are apples, the yellow are lemons, and the blue are blueberries. Then present several math problems using a fictional farmer who needs to add or subtract:

  • “The farmer needs to put together a basket with 8 fruits. Can you put 8 fruits in a pretend basket for me?”
  • “Now he needs to make another basket, also with 8 fruits. Which fruits can he put in this basket?”
  • “The farmer put all 5 apples in the basket, but he still needs 8 fruits in it. What other fruits can he put in there?”

9. Show you how to add or subtract

Your kindergartener should be able to show you the math concepts of adding and subtracting. For instance, have her draw circles to illustrate a math problem like:

  • “Can you draw for me, using circles, what 3 + 2 looks like?”
  • “If you had 7 circles and I took away 3, would you be able to draw that for me?”

With addition, she should do something like draw 3 circles, then 2 more. With subtraction, she should be able to draw 7 circles then cross out or color 3 of them.


Kindergarten isn’t too early to develop writing skills. We’re not talking lengthy papers here, but more like writing a title, a quick introduction, and the main ideas of a story. Still, even at this age, learning how to research, draft, and eventually write are important skills.

Here’s a checklist with three steps to do just that:

10. Learn about a topic

Your child should know how to do basic research, information gathering, and writing composition. Just like writing a paper—kindergarten-style. It’s not as impossible as it seems, I promise.

First, choose a topic he can learn about. Let’s say he wants to read about how a seed grows. Grab a few books like How a Seed Grows that illustrate this process.

Then, print or bring “props” that can give more information. (In the adult word, “props” are what we would call the “notes” we refer to when writing a paper.)

In this example, your props can be an avocado seed or a picture of a seed with roots sprouting beneath. Which brings us to the next step…

11. Write an introduction or topic sentence

By the end of the kindergarten year, kids should know how to write a coherent introduction or title to a story.

Have your child tell you what the topic of his paper should be, which will be the title of the paper. Then ask him to write this topic sentence down—for instance: “How a Seed Grows.” This title or introduction sets the stage for the main body of the paper, which we’ll talk about next…

12. Use notes and props to write and draw the main body

Using the book and props in front of him, have your child write the main body of his paper.

Help him along by asking what step goes first. He can refer to the book or the props for help. Then, talk about all the following steps first before he commits to writing it down on paper.

A typical answer might be: “Put the seed in the soil. Give it water and sun. The roots will grow. Then the leaves grow out of the stem.” Lastly, have him draw pictures that illustrate what he had just written about.

Once he can say a general sequence of the steps, now it’s time for him to write it down.


Do all these questions happen on the same day, or from reading the same book? No, your child will feel overwhelmed if he’s quizzed in what has been a leisurely activity. Instead, ask one question per day or every other day at most.

Don’t pressure him to know more than he should, and set realistic expectations. The best way to see if he can do these skills is over time. (For instance, there’s no way you can “plan” to see if he can correct himself after missing a word.)

Remember when your pediatrician would ask if your child can follow two-phrase directions? Or if she can track an item moving across her face? It’s something like that. Sometimes you’ll remember, other times you have no idea and will need to keep an eye out for. Same thing here.

And like all milestones, not everyone reaches them at the same time. The even better news about milestones is they give you a goal or a benchmark to measure progress. And now you have the tools to achieve them.

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