An OT’s perspective on kindergarten readiness

By Maria Kucmanic, OTR/L

Spring can be an exciting yet overwhelming time for parents of preschoolers, as this is when kindergarten registration begins for the upcoming school year. At the Center for LifeSkills, we’ve heard the concerns of many parents about the kindergarten expectations. These concerns are well justified as the kindergarten curriculum has become considerably more difficult since we were kindergarteners.

Below are important milestones that will set your child up for success in kindergarten. These skills include: play skills, fine motor and pre-writing skills, gross motor skills, and cognitive skills.

Play skills milestones:

  • Participates in elaborate pretend play that imitates real life characters (firefighter, ballerina, etc.), and real life situations
  • Play is becoming a social activity with preferred playmates
  • Participates in games with rules including: board games, pretend play with a specific role, and organized gross motor games (kickball, tag, duck-duck goose, etc.)
  • Constructive play such as simple art projects and three dimensional designs with blocks or Legos can be completed from a model; children can also complete 10-20 piece puzzles
    • The final product becomes the emphasis with constructive play at 5 and 6 years. Children at this age are motivated to display a completed product.

Why are play skills important for kindergarten?

  • Pretend play lays the foundation for abstract thinking and helps children develop creativity, problem-solving skills, and how to understand other’s emotions and relate to their peer’s feelings.
  • Constructive play helps children develop spatial perception and how objects relate to each other; this helps to lay the foundation for a child’s academic career.
  • Participating in games with rules assists in learning how to follow directions, prepare to follow classroom rules, and tolerate winning/losing.

Fine motor/pre-writing skills milestones:

  • Smoothly rolls ball shapes and worm shapes with clay or Play-Doh
  • Shows a strong hand preference and rarely alternates between hands during eating, writing, and cutting tasks
  • Automatically uses non-preferred hand to help stabilize paper during cutting, coloring, and other tabletop activities
  • Holds a writing utensil using a tripod grasp (in the tips of thumb, index and middle finger with ring and pinky fingers neatly tucked away), and uses movements from only the fingers to make all writing strokes
  • Draws a person with multiple body parts; draws animals and imaginary creatures
  • Copies vertical and horizontal lines, circle, cross, diagonal lines, X, and triangle shapes
  • Cuts 3 inch or larger shapes: circles, squares, and triangles, with scissors adhering to lines within a half inch
  • Prints name from a copy, traces letter and begins to copy letters

Why are fine motor and pre-writing skills important before entering kindergarten?

  • The ability to form different shapes in clay indicates good hand strength, which helps children tolerate holding onto writing materials and other school tools without fatiguing.
  • Demonstrating hand preference while using the non-preferred hand to assist, allows children refine tasks that involve writing and drawing.
  • Drawing detailed pictures and copying various lines and shapes lays the foundation to learn how to write numbers and letters.
  • Scissor skills improve children’s eye-hand coordination and strengthen small muscles in children’s hands.

Gross motor skills milestones:

  • Demonstrates good balance when walking on a curb and does not frequently fall off
  • Skips with good coordination
  • Begins to kick toward a target/goal
  • Balances on one foot for around 10 seconds

Why are gross motor skills important for kindergarten?

  • Balance and core strength are closely related; both are required for kindergarten-age children to maintain an efficient, upright seated position at tabletop level or while seated on the floor.
  • Strong balance assists children in climbing and maneuvering playground equipment and allows them to easily adjust to different terrain while running on playgrounds.
  • Ball skills lay the foundation for potential participation in team sports and for active participation in physical education classes.

Cognitive Skills milestones:

  • Demonstrates early abstract thinking by pretending objects are something completely different during play (pretending a book is a car)
  • Answers simple logic questions
  • Is able to identify larger of two numbers
  • Sorts items in different way (color, shape, etc.) and sequences objects from smallest to largest
  • Categorizes known objects by their function
  • Is able to copy complex block designs such as a pyramid and stair pattern

Why are these cognitive skills important for kindergarten?

  • Abstract thinking plays a large role in just about every subject in school, especially reading and writing, math and science, and language development.
  • Planning and constructing three-dimensional block designs improves children’s ability to distinguish different shapes and sizes, strengthen problem solving skills, and understand spatial relationships.
  • Categorizing and sequencing objects strengthens children’s ability to learn organization skills.

Case-Smith, J. & O’Brien, J.C., (2010). Occupational therapy for children, sixth edition. Maryland Heights, MI: Mosby Elsevier
Cronin, A., & Mandich, M., (2005) Human development& performance. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning



If you are interested in learning more, or scheduling an appointment, please call 440-498-1100 or send an email to grow@center4lifeskills.com

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