What Kindergarten Teachers Wish Children Knew

Kindergarten today is not like it used to be – a place characterized by engagement with social skills and exploring through play.  Over the past twenty years Kindergarten has become much more concentrated on academics as a result of federal, state, and local policies as well as parental concerns that emphasize acquisition of basic skills and passing standardized tests. In fact, there’s research that supports the idea that Kindergarten is the new first grade. In response, preschools have become more academic, especially promoting early reading and math skills.  Children now know more than they ever have at this age about these subjects.

However, this shift has also resulted in Kindergarten teachers facing more challenges in the classroom.  Some children arrive with extensive preschool and enrichment experiences while others have very few.  Likewise, children vary in how much they have developed the social-emotional skills to function well in the classroom.  Some important social and emotional skills allow children to thrive by working well with others, solving problems, and soothing themselves emotionally.

APA’s Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education sought to find out what Kindergarten teachers in the US thought about children’s readiness to start Kindergarten.  They surveyed Kindergarten teachers across the US and received over 500 responses. (1)

What they found out may surprise you.

Despite the academic emphasis in Kindergarten, teachers prioritized social and emotional skills over academic skills at the start of Kindergarten.  In other words, teachers would rather that children know how to get along with others than count to 20.

Teachers thought that too many children who come through their doors aren’t ready for Kindergarten.  Most teachers (56%) that 71-80% of the class was ready, but 44% of teachers stated that half or fewer of children were ready for Kindergarten. Over a quarter of teachers reported that half or more of the children had difficulty working independently, following directions, or working as part of a group.

Together, the results of the study underscore the notion that being a teacher is challenging work.  According to Kindergarten teachers, preschools should provide children with ample opportunities to learn social and emotional skills – as well as academic skills. Let us know what you think the most important skill is for Kindergarteners to know in the comments below.


Curby, T. W., Berke, E., Alfonso, V. C., Blake, J., DeMarie, D., DuPaul, G. J., Flores, R., Hess, R. S., Howard., K., Lepore, J. C. C., & Subotnik, R. (in press). Kindergarten teacher perceptions of kindergarten readiness: The importance of social-emotional skills. Perspectives on Early Childhood Psychology and Education.

About the Author

Dr. Tim Curby is an associate professor of psychology and director of the applied developmental psychology program at George Mason University. Dr. Curby’s work focuses on examining the role teacher–student interactions have in promoting children's development, particularly regarding children's social–emotional development. His work consistently applies advanced statistical models to school-based research. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles. Dr. Curby is a member of the American Psychological Association Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. He has done work with that group to examine the transition to Kindergarten.
Vincent C. Alfonso, PhD, is professor and dean in the School of Education at Gonzaga University. His previous roles include Coordinator of the School Psychology Programs at Fordham University, former Executive Director of two University-based assessment centers, and former Acting Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham. In November 2003 Dr. Alfonso received the Leadership in School Psychology Award from the New York Association of School Psychologists and more recently (2014) received the Trainers of School Psychology Outstanding Contribution to Training award. He was elected Fellow of Divisions 16, 5, and 43 of the American Psychological Association and served as president of Division 16 in 2013. Dr. Alfonso is a member of the American Psychological Association Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education and is a certified school psychologist and licensed psychologist who has been providing psychoeducational services to individuals across the life span for more than 25 years.