5 Cognitive Skills That Are Important for Kindergarten

by Becton Loveless

Kindergarten is a period of tremendous cognitive growth. Children this age are undergoing a large amount of change very quickly and are learning to see the world in many new and interesting ways. However, it’s also important to realize that even at this early stage, there are fundamental skills that children need to acquire in order to be successful later in life. These core cognitive skills will help them be successful at an early age, but kids will also build upon those skills as they get older. Here are just five of the cognitive skills kids need to learn in order to be successful throughout their schooling.

The 5 Most Important Skills for Kindergarten-Aged Children

1) Speaking in short sentences (5 to 6 words long) and speaking them clearly enough to be understood most of the time.

This skill is absolutely crucial. It will allow your child to become an independent student, who can express their needs, ask and answer questions, and communicate effectively with their classmates and teachers.

Communication is a skill that many people fail to pick up as they get older. One of the biggest problems in many industries is the lack of effective communications between people and departments. Poor communication can lead to breakdowns within teams that then lead to organization wide issues.

On a personal level, it’s important for kids to learn how to communicate what they want or need. Being able to effectively communicate what they’re feeling and what they need is important because it will help them manage their personal relationships. The ability to communicate is so important because it gives kids the ability to be direct about how they’re feeling and why. This ability can help adults more easily address a child’s concerns. These same communication skills will spill over into all parts of the child’s life as they start to get older.

For this reason, it’s important to teach kids conversation skills as early as possible. There are several ways this can be done. Puppets, for instance, can be used as a role-playing tool. This can help students open up and conversate even if they initially feel shy. Teachers can also model conversations and how to express feelings or ask questions. Setting examples for students can be the most direct and easiest way of showing them how to communicate with one another and adults as well.

Teachers can also engage with students directly by asking them open ended questions. These questions require students to answer at length in their own words. The advantage of this approach is that teachers can also provide rapid feedback to students in order to guide them in sharpening their conversation skills. Combining multiple approaches can help to address the learning styles of multiple students also.

2) Telling a story in sequential order.

This skill is a precursor to being able to read and write. Once a child can relate an event in the correct sequence, they will understand the structure of stories more easily, and, as a result, strengthen their ability to communicate more sophisticated ideas and concepts.

The ability to tell a story will be useful for students throughout their lives and will be particularly useful in school and when kids become adults and enter the workforce. Being able to tell a story requires kids to tie related concepts together and order them in such a way that they have a natural flow. As adults, they’ll have to continue to rely on those skills whenever they need to put together presentations or even just organize their ideas and arguments for a paper.

Learning how to organize ideas in this way can be a struggle for students, and one way of helping them learn how to be storytellers can be through the use of a graphic organizer. Teachers can first help them learn how to retell stories by boiling those stories down to core scenes. Those scenes can then be turned into images that an instructor then asks students to organize on a board, effectively helping to retell the story in image form from start to finish. Then, once they have some experience doing this, they can put together their own stories. Students can pick images and put together their stories that they can share with the class.

There are other ways of experimenting with storytelling, of course. One of the most fundamental ways of doing so is by simply letting kids explore stories on their own, choosing those that interest them. So long as the quality of the story is high, kids should latch onto the narrative. Teachers should have resources available in the classroom that kids can explore with on their own time, delving into different topics that are educational but age appropriate.

Also, while communication and language skills are important, not all books needs to be written with words. Humans are visual creatures, and picture-based books can serve a similar purpose to graphic organizers. These books give students a highly visual example of how ideas can be strung together to create a larger narrative.

3) Counting from 1 to 10, correctly and consistently.

This skill is the foundation of all math and will come in very handy as your child's kindergarten class begins writing numbers, learning simple addition, understanding the concepts of "more" and "less", and sorting groups of items.

Being able to count from one through 10 is a core skill that all kids should have before moving beyond kindergarten. The ability to count that high is actually a relatively complex skill for kids in kindergarten. It requires them to be able to recognize what each number means, understand how to arrange those numbers in the appropriate order, and finally count those numbers without needing any sort of external help. Without this basic skill, it will be impossible for kids to progress in their math studies as they move into more advanced grade levels.

There are also many activities that you can integrate into your lessons when you want to make counting fun. Christmas tree counting is one activity that kids can participate in to make learning to count more enjoyable. In this game, kids get into the holiday spirit by drawing Christmas trees, cutting them out, and pasting numbered stars onto the trees. Kids then decorate the tree with the same number of Play-Doh balls as those written on the star. This helps kids to identify the number and count out the appropriate number using the Play-Doh.

Another activity that’s appropriate for young children that still teaches them to count is the Clothespin Counting game. In this game, 10 clothespins are numbered from one through 10. Afterward, kids have to attach the clothespins in the appropriate order, from one through 10, to a clothesline. This is a particularly useful activity for helping kids identify what each number means. By attaching the clothespins to the clothesline, it also helps them better understand how numbers are supposed to be arranged.

4) Distinguishing between a story and a fact.

Kindergarten students spend a lot of time working with stories. They listen to stories, write their own stories, and read simple stories. Of course, many will be works of fiction, and it will very important for them to understand that not all stories are true. It's important for them to understand and appreciate that factual events are not in the same category as fictional events.

The ability to identify what is a fact is a critical skill that everyone needs throughout their lifetimes. Well into adulthood, it’s important to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction. This skill is important both because it’s needed in school and because it will help kids as they become adults and learn to distinguish the difference between facts and stories. This is a skill that kids should learn early in life since it will continue with them well into adulthood.

As reported by Cory Turner for NPR, a not insignificant number of American secondary and post-secondary students have trouble identifying real and fake news stories. This struggle is also found among American adults. Even when looking at advertisements, it’s hard for many people to distinguish between what’s an ad and what’s an article. More than ever, kids need to be taught from an early age how to identify what is a fact and what is not.

Older kids in more advanced grade levels can be taught advanced tactics for identifying factual information, such as researching the publisher of a piece or confirming the facts by using other sources. Teaching kids in kindergarten how to do the same thing can be a little harder. One way to do that is by partnering kids together and just asking them to justify why they think something is a fact or fiction. Kids get to engage critical thinking skills by asking each other why something’s a fact. Teachers can give examples of what is a fact and then ask students to justify why they think something is a fact once they’ve been paired up.

5) Understanding and following multi-step directions.

A typical day at school is full of multi-step directions, and the number of steps will only increase as students grow and progress. In kindergarten, most directions come in a series of two or three steps, and your child will need to be able to understand and follow these directions without too much confusion, and without consistently asking for the directions to be repeated.

Being able to complete multi-step directions is another kind of skill that kids will need well into adulthood. It’s important for all people to be able to hear multiple steps in a process and follow directions. Being able to follow multiple steps can help everywhere from baking a cake to performing complex duties inside of a laboratory. By adulthood, being able to follow multi-step direction can mean the difference between physical safety and bodily harm. For this reason, it’s important to engrain within kids the ability to follow multiple steps in order to get a task done.

For young kids, being able to do this may be hard because their memories are shorter and they’re less capable of following multiple steps, especially if those steps are particularly complex. At a young age, it’s important for directions to include short and simple phrases. Instructors should try to make each step as short and direct as possible. Each step should be distinct instead of having vague instructions that overlap with one another.

Teachers may also benefit from using pictures to illustrate each step. A “first, then” approach may also help. Specifically says what should be done first, followed by specifying what should happen as a result. As a student gets better at following smaller steps of instructions, you can implement more and more steps. Teaching multi-step directions is a cumulative process that builds upon itself. Each time a student can successfully add an extra step into the directions they’re supposed to follow, it’s a natural sign that the student is ready to progress to the next stage of their learning.

Conclusion

An overview of these five skills should make it clear that each skill can help kindergarten aged children develop skills that they’ll use not only in elementary school, but throughout their lives. It’s important to begin teaching kids critical thinking, communication, and other core skills as early as possible. These are building blocks upon which students will continue to rely as they grow older. Without establishing these skills early in life, students will be left at a disadvantage as they continue to move into higher levels of education.

Teachers should combine different ways of learning to appeal to different types of students. Finding different activities that teach the same lessons can help appeal to different students with different learning styles. Even at an early age, it’s important to reach out to students of all learning styles to help them establish these core skills.

Learn more about Kindergarten Readiness

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