Important milestones for preschoolers

Many of you will have children starting preschool very soon. What an exciting time for your child! Sending them to a quality preschool program prepares them for kindergarten and for the years to follow. Parents often are curious as to what their children should be learning and what is important for them in order to be successful when they start school. Preschool may look like all fun and games (music, story time, dancing, art), but there’s an intense amount of brain work involved as well. Young children learn through play and creative activity, so your preschooler’s building blocks and train tracks aren’t just entertaining; they’re teaching problem solving and physics. Preschool is also a time for developing good learning habits and positive self-esteem. If children feel good about themselves and know how to feel proud even if they make a mistake, everything else will fall into place. Cheer children’s successes at this stage but also allow them to fail; they move on and learn from it for the next time. Here are the important learning milestones children will typically achieve in preschool, with tips for helping your child stay on track at home.

Letters and Sounds

At School: Kids will learn to recognize and name all 26 uppercase letters and some lowercase letters (lowercase letters are harder to learn at this age). They will recognize their own first name and be able to print it, along with other letters and meaningful words like “Mom”, “Dad” and “Love”. Preschool children will also develop a connection between letters and sounds and know some of the sounds letters make.

At Home: Reinforce letter-learning by having your child play with letter refrigerator magnets. Sing the “ABC song” together and look at the beginning sounds of words in your everyday lives; show them on a Cheerios box that ‘Cheerios’ has a Ch in front, or when you go to Walmart tell them, “Walmart starts with a W”. They’ll recognize this the next time they go.

A love of language, reading and books starts early, and it starts at home, so encourage this by talking with your children and reading to them regularly. One of the most amazing things parents can do is read to their children every day. Even 10 minutes each night makes a difference; make it a warm, cozy experience by looking at pictures together, pointing out words and talking about what’s happening in the book. Ask questions (“What is this?” “What is she doing?”) and discuss your children’s observations and thoughts. Songs, nursery rhymes and tongue twisters also teach your child about how sounds work and get plenty of giggles.

Colors, Shapes and Objects

At School: Preschoolers will learn the names of many colors, basic shapes, and body parts.

At Home: As you read through books together, ask questions about color: “What color is that car?” and “Which hat is yellow?” Point out shapes of household objects and ask questions like “Does that picture look like a square or a triangle?” When your children are getting dressed, talk about the colors of their shirts, pants, shoes and socks. Turn everything into a game. In the car or on bus rides, play a game where you ask about an object and they have to figure out the shape and color.

Numbers and Counting

At School: Teachers will help kids learn to recognize and identify the numbers one through 10 and correctly count 10 or more objects. Learning what numerals 0 to 9 look like and being able to name them correctly is one of the first math skills preschoolers learn. Counting is a separate skill that usually starts with memorization; kids will memorize the order of numbers and say them proudly as they “count” objects. As they advance, they will learn that the numbers and objects actually correspond.

At Home: When you see numbers in everyday life – in books, on food cans, even on TV – ask your child to identify them, and count everyday things together: the stairs you walk up, the crayons in a box and the blocks on the floor. Ask your children,”How many cereal boxes are in the cupboard?” and “How many oranges are left in the bag?” or when they’re having a snack, ask, “How many crackers do you have?” Line the crackers up and have them point with their finger and count each cracker one at a time.

Cutting and Drawing

At School: Before entering kindergarten children should be able to cut with scissors. As they develop better hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, they will start drawing and coloring beyond just scribbles and will learn to use pencils, paintbrushes and glue.

At Home: Be sure to give your kids plenty of jumbo crayons and markers, thick sidewalk chalk and ample opportunities to draw. Use Play-Doh to help build their fine motor skills. Squishing it and squeezing it will really work the muscles in their fingers.

Socializing and Sharing

At School: Developing important social skills is necessary before starting kindergarten; preschoolers will learn how to share and cooperate, to work together and take turns, to participate in group activities and follow simple directions and communicate wants and needs. When they start kindergarten, they get dropped off, and the parents have to leave, so children have to be able to speak up for themselves so they need to know how to ask for help.

At Home: Develop your kids’ social skills by arranging play dates and going to play groups and to the playground. At home, be consistent about simple rules they must follow, such as making the bed or putting toys away. Let them take responsibility for cleaning up, but remember you as a parent need to model appropriate social interaction and politeness.

Info from “What Your Kid Will Learn in Preschool”

Sue Junge is an Early Childhood support specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit